Developer Singularity Six has worked very hard to establish Palia as a cozy refuge away from real-world stressors. The loading screens welcome me home, and the game’s environments are vibrant, beautiful, and well-lit. There is no combat; I have to opt in to interpersonal conflict by talking to villagers every day and accepting their personal quests. You likely wouldn’t realize that there’s a conflict in the fan base that occasionally flares up on social media or even in the game itself.
Many players have jumped on-board for Palia’s soft, sweet, and comfortable vibe, and they’re largely content with the systems as they stand. Another faction of the fan base craves active endgame content that requires hands-on cooperation and coordination with other players.
This desire manifested recently in an activity called “cake parties.” Players used wikis, Discord, and considerable trial and effort to figure out the best endgame money-maker. Cake parties were determined to be the best way to get gold. Here’s how it works: Four players gather in a kitchen, each bringing jam, fruit, sweet leaves, and baking supplies. They then run around, like a little game of Overcooked, and bake dozens or hundreds of cakes to sell for gold. It’s an activity that isn’t signposted in any way, nor even deliberately planned by the developer. Singularity Six recently stepped in to nerf the activity’s gold gains, while promising that the studio wanted to keep cultivating opportunities for group cooking in future updates.
Players who organized cake parties aren’t doing anything wrong; they’re simply pursuing the modern MMO endgame content they want. Palia is in early access, and the game is constantly being iterated upon as it approaches its eventual full release and port to the Nintendo Switch. That means there’s plenty of time to appease – or anger – different kinds of players who want different things.
Palia is already no stranger to fan outrage and controversy. The tone on the game’s Reddit and Discord can range from cautiously optimistic to annoyed and argumentative. Early in Palia’s life, the response was downright rancorous. The early days of community forums were defined by the phrase “toxic positivity,” with fans complaining that their feedback often felt like it was shipped straight into the void. Complaining about bugs, wonky climbing, or weirdly balanced elements would often be met with chiding by fellow fans with “It’s only in beta,” or encouragement to be nice to the developer.
Occasionally, these frustrations are made manifest in the game itself. I’ve met dozens of astoundingly kind community members; the game’s group chat is usually surprisingly nice. I’m an online gaming veteran, and I’m used to being assailed with slurs and insults everywhere I go. This is rare in Palia … unless someone violates an unwritten endgame rule.
There are valuable resources that spawn in Bahari Bay, like magical flow trees and palium ore. Players will gather around one flow tree and wait for everyone else in the zone to approach, turning the task of cutting one tree down into a 15-minute group activity. Running up and chopping down that tree is considered the height of rudeness. Mining palium ore without letting other people run up and take a hit can get you chewed out. Bahari Bay can feel tense when there are unwritten social rules that some people will be very annoyed if you unwittingly break.
This tension is worsened by the fact that Palia is an early access title, with early access problems. I’ve spent dozens of hours in Palia since its early access launch in August. I’ve experienced a few frustrating technical issues, like days when I could not apply fertilizer to my crops or fish in the harbor without crashing to the desktop. I’d love to see what’s up with the new Temple of Flames, but the hardy blacksmith Sifuu won’t give me the torch I need to proceed. These flaws mean that sometimes I put Palia on the shelf, but if a player decides to keeps playing through them, it can significantly worsen their experience. It’s the opposite of cozy.
Every game as a service will occasionally infuriate or divide its player base, so it’s no surprise to see the same patterns play out in the cozy farming community of Palia. MMOs are often defined by their endgames and group activities. So far, these activities are often organized out of game, by people who are all dedicated to learning the ins and outs of Palia. For new players, this can be an intimidating venture to stumble upon. If you play alone or with a couple of friends, it’s hard to find something to do as a group, and it’s unlikely you’ll stumble upon a solution like cake parties yourself.
So far, I’m optimistic that Singularity Six will be able to keep the game in a healthy spot. But my biggest concern is the inevitable confrontations between these two factions in the playerbase. How do you maintain an endgame that is accessible to both the casual player who puts in an hour here and there and the hardcore MMO fanatic who carefully optimizes their gardening plots using an external website?
The concept of an MMO and a cozy life sim aren’t necessarily in conflict, but I’m interested to see how Singularity Six introduces new challenges to Palia. In a game with no combat, no craftable cosmetic gear, and few big group activities, it’s easy to see how players can get restless. Palia is a work in progress, and it will need to find ways to please both groups of players for long-term success.