Live service games have set impossible expectations for indie hits like Valheim

(Image credit: Iron Gate Studios)

Serpent stew isn't worth the effort anymore. Blood pudding is ruined. Now I need a spice rack to cook sausages? These aren't comments left beneath a cooking blog, but a few complaints about Valheim's revamped food system introduced in the Hearth and Home update.

Hearth and Home changed how food works in Valheim, with most meals now giving a buff primarily to either health or stamina, instead a more even blend of both as they used to. This, in turn, changes how players approach combat, since blocking and parrying is now based on max health, and attacking and movement are based on stamina. Having to choose between a mostly health- or stamina-based approach to combat was intended to give players more options—according to Iron Gate Studios, tank-types could overdose on health while rogue-sorts could focus on stamina.

I don't think the change is a huge success. It's especially tough for solo players who, like me, loved a balance of health and stamina because we switch between combat styles in most fights, starting with arrows at range and switching to melee weapons and shields close up—while still needing enough stamina to run like hell when things get bad. Plus, I thought the pre-patch system already made the game pretty darn challenging as it was.

Plenty of player feedback about the update has reflected similar concerns, valid criticism. Early Access, after all, is prime time for players to have their voices heard. The Valheim devs even quickly patched in a rebalance to tip the new system a few clicks back toward how food used to work. I expect plenty more readjustments in the months ahead.

But there have been a few other types of complaints about Hearth and Home. There's been a lot of anger that the update took too long to arrive. That it doesn't contain enough new stuff for players to do. And since Valheim was a huge success and made money, some think Iron Gate Studios should be delivering updates faster and that the development team should be much bigger.

These complaints are, frankly, absurd, and here's why.

(Image credit: Valve)

Complaint: Hearth and Home took too long to get here!

Did it, though?

As hard as it is to believe, Valheim only launched into Early Access in February of this year. That's only seven months ago, and Hearth and Home was announced the following month, in March. That isn't really that long to wait, especially considering the dev team is small (five developers, with a few more added to the team recently).

Plus, the game was a hit, and as Iron Gate stated in June, success can make things more complicated: "We weren’t prepared for such a large influx of players, and this highlighted a thousand new problems and bugs that needed to be fixed urgently. Our priority has been to make the current experience as stable as possible and this has meant new content has taken a backseat. To put it clearly; we haven’t been able to focus all of our resources on Hearth & Home until May."

Also—and it's been in a few papers—there's been a pandemic, which resulted in lots of delays to lots of games, films, and just about everything else. I definitely sympathize with people wanting the update to arrive earlier (I did too), but is it that hard to understand that this year, of all years, just about everything took longer than we wanted it to?

Complaint: Hearth and Home didn't give us enough new stuff!

True, Hearth and Home didn't add new bosses or new biomes, just a new monster type and some new areas in one of the biomes. There aren't dozens of new weapons, just a handful. The food system has been changed and new building options have arrived, and there's a new learning curve when it comes to health, stamina, and combat, especially if you start over with a new character. But to stand back and look at it, it's essentially the same Valheim.

But that's been the plan since we first saw the development roadmap. New bosses and biomes are on the list for the future, but H&H was always going to come first. If anyone was expecting otherwise, I have to assume they weren't paying attention to anything the devs have said over the past several months.

One version of this complaint was so ridiculous I read it several times. The player said Valheim was "amazing" the first time through but after "60 or so" hours there wasn't anything new left to do, and Hearth and Home clearly didn't add much more.

My question is… and? You paid $20 for a game and played it for 60 "amazing" hours? What's your beef, exactly? That you can't play the game forever for hundreds of hours and constantly find it infused with new stuff?

(Image credit: Steam)

This shouldn't need saying, but Valheim isn't built as a live service "forever" game. It's a survival game that will be in Early Access "for at least one year, but depending on player feedback and the amount of content we choose to put into the final game, it may take longer." The page also states that "Feature-wise the game is about 75% complete and content-wise it is about 50% complete."

We owe it to developers to not apply the same expectations to every game we play. Valheim doesn't have a season pass or a stream of quarterly updates. If you get 60 hours of enjoyment out of an unfinished game, that's an outcome PC gamers should be happy with.

Complaint: You have lots of money now! Just hire more people!

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(Image credit: Iron Gate Studios)

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Originally Valheim was only being worked on by a team of five developers, and following its massive success a few more were hired recently. But more people on the team doesn't mean development will suddenly accelerate.

If one person can build a brick wall in 60 minutes, that doesn't mean 60 people can build a brick wall in one minute. That wall would be a mess. If you double the size of a development team, that doesn't mean development suddenly starts happening at twice the speed.

Plus, just adding people is a time-consuming process. It takes time to find them, interview them, vet them, hire them, train them, and for a small team working on a project, all that time spent getting new people up to speed takes the original team away from what they were already doing. (And, again, pandemic.) I'm sure for a company like Ubisoft, adding 5 or 10 people to a team of hundreds probably doesn't have as big an impact, but for a small team it could really slow things down for a while instead of speeding things up. If you've been following the breakout success of Among Us from a year ago, a lot of this will sound familiar.

OK. Lecture over. If you have legitimate gripes with changes to an Early Access game, by all means, keep giving the developers feedback because it can help shape the game. 

But as a community, we need to temper our expectations. Not every game is a live service game. Doubling the size of a development team doesn't instantly double that teams' output. Game developers aren't robots. Delays are gonna happen, because delays happen, and also: pandemic. If you can't accept those basic realities, then you should probably stop buying Early Access games completely. 

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.