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Farming Simulator 19: A Redneck’s Response

Red Thomas Posted:
Columns Not So MMO 0

Farming Simulator 19 is not my normal type of game.  I’m a huge fan of realistic sims, but this current genre that simulates cross-country trucking and agricultural occupation isn’t really the sort of thing to be on my radar.  FS19 has gotten some time among some of the streamers I tend to watch and adding multiplayer got me interested but finding out I could run cattle and horses got me to actually pick the game up for a try.

I grew up on a ranch in southern Oklahoma and spent the first twenty years of my life bailing hay, feeding cattle, and riding horses.  Cows are stupid, bulls are mean, and they all smell terrible.  That means they’d be easy to program and I wouldn’t have to smell them, which sounds like a total win to me.

The Successes

There are a lot of things that Farming Simulator 19 nailed really well.  They have a lot of equipment to select from, nearly all of them multi-taskers, and they did a great job with things a lot of non-tractor-drivers would typically miss.   For instance, you can technically throw a large mower or bailer on your smaller tractor.   You won’t have a problem at all driving around with it, but you better just plan on driving downhill the moment you turn it on.

The European map actually reminded me a lot back home in what’s called “Lake Country” part of Oklahoma.

There’s something called a PTO that sticks out on the back (and sometimes front) of a tractor.  When you attach a device that requires power (such as a brush-hog), that odd-shaped gear is where the device plugs into for power.  The gear turns, powering whatever machine you’ve attached or have under tow.  The problem is that the PTO shares power with the gear that turns the wheels and when it’s engaged, it sucks horse-power away from your tractor’s giddy-up.  That’s exactly what happens in the game, as well. 

Giants Software nailed the feel of their tractors.  They sound dead on from what I remember, and the seats bounce up and down with that long slide you only ever see with heavy machinery. The bounce my character had while going across the field was so nostalgic that I could almost smell the fresh-cut grass as I mowed my old hayfield.  Combined with the very well-done power-draw from starting the bailing machine later, it was almost eerie in how well it captured the sense of being in a tractor back home.

The selection of devices from the store allow the player an endless combination of tools for an amazing number of random tasks.  Nearly all those tasks are even real jobs that any farmer or rancher could be engaged in, and it’s cost-prohibitive enough that you can’t just buy everything until after your operation is incredibly profitable.

My family had an offset mower almost exactly like this one when I was a teenager, but we didn’t have fancy windows on our tractor.

Typical agricultural operations have a couple pieces of equipment that are ideal for specific tasks, and then they make do with what they have to accomplish other tasks.   That may mean never bailing uphill because your tractor doesn’t have enough horse-power to run the hay-bailer and pull uphill at the same time.   It might mean using your mower to brush-hog the sides of the road as you wrap up hay season.   Maybe it’s using your front-end loader to pin the door shut behind your brother while you go eat the rest of the pie your grandmother brought over.

Whatever the task, it may not be the right tool, but it’ll work.

The Misses

I decided not to call this section “The Fails,” because I don’t think these are really failures.  FS19 just got a few things wrong and had a few easy opportunities that they missed on.  It’s a developer decision in the end.  With only so much time and money to spend developing a game, you can’t hit everything perfectly, but here are a few issues I take with the game.

My biggest problem is that ranching just doesn’t make sense in general.  It’s like someone’s impression of what ranching is supposed to be based off a web search and maybe reading Wikipedia articles, but without actually talking to a rancher.  It’s not that they specifically got it wrong, but rather it’s just that they force you to run your startup operation like a full-scale dairy operation.

For one, not all cattlemen operate a dairy.   We had one dairy back home where everyone got milk from and every other ranch in the area raised beef cattle.  The devs clearly thought about this because they have generic cattle and they have Brahma, which they make a distinction between.  Dairy operations are going to run Jersey cattle, where beef operations are usually going to run Brahma, Angus, or one of the other many breeds (ProTip: breed Brahma and Angus to get Brangus, which is the best beef on the planet).

Why would you mow grass and haul it to the cattle instead of just fencing in your pasture and letting them graze?

Dairy operations have barns, but beef operations (which account for the vast majority of cattle) are run in pastures.  It also doesn’t make sense to go out and cut grass to feed your cattle, when you’d normally just turn them out in the pasture to graze.   You only hay cattle when there’s no grass, rather than feeding both.   You also supplement winter haying (due to lack of nutrients… because it’s old dead grass) with what we call “cake,” small pellets of feed that usually comes in 50-pound sacks.  “Total mixed ration” is something you really only ever see with dairy cattle and large operations, and even in those cases TMR is just all the other feed mixed together by weight.

The problem with mixing together beef cattle and dairy as they’ve done is that they’ve made small-time cattle operations in the game really unfeasible.  Real mom-and-pop ranches just don’t operate that way.  The labor is in bailing hay in the summers, feeding hay and cake in the winters.  Either in the spring or fall, ranchers lot their cattle for yearly vaccinations, worming, de-horning, and… well… turning young bulls into new steers.  Which by the way is another ranching mistake, all the cattle in FS19 are female.  Female cattle are heifers until they have a calf and then they become a cow, where steers were bulls that will no longer be making any calves of their own.

Probably the most egregious of mistakes in the game is the lack of coffee shop, café, or truck-stop.  Every small ag community on the planet has the local place where ranchers/farmers gather for coffee, tea, or beer (depending on the nationality) to talk about the weather, the market, and everything else.  You’ll know it when you walk in because there’ll be a group of tables pushed together in a convenient location that also has visibility from the door.

Big time! We used to park our equipment under the big oaks near the house. Of course, we also used John Deer back then. These days John Deer will put a hit out on you if you dare to repair your own tractor, though…

A coffee shop would have been the ideal in-game way to learn about the prices of products and to get missions from your neighbors.   Additionally, it would have been a great way for the different groups of players in online sessions to come together and socialize.  It’s also just such a fundamental part of living the agricultural life that I’m shocked they haven’t already added it to the game.

The Conclusion

The lack of community social hub is really indicative of what turns me off from Farming Simulator 19 in the end.   Because it looks like the devs basically studied really large operations to learn what farming and ranching activity looks like, they ended up really just creating “tractor simulator” and not a farming simulator.  While they succeeded incredibly well at modeling the equipment and creating a lot of it to use, they just didn’t really capture the feel of actually existing in those rural communities, much less the quiet joy to be found in running your own small herd of cattle or horses.

That seems to be the saddest missed opportunity because the game really screams for some larger meta-strategy to make everything else worth-while.  By adding in breeding programs for cattle and horses (but not sheep, because no one likes pasture-maggots), they could have added desperately needed depth to the animal husbandry portion of their game.  Even the farming portion could be improved with simulated land-surveys that encouraged players to use different types of fertilizer to improve crop yields or grass production.

In real-life, cattle purchased from the stockyard will be price-per-pound, and it’ll be different for each.

Large operations create efficiency through standardization, but that model breaks when you scale it back.  Running a small operation the way you’d run a larger operation will bankrupt you in a hurry. The shame of it is that the smaller operations are where the biggest personal rewards are, and that’s what the devs missed out on.

Farming Simulator 19 won’t be a game I keep installed for long.  I’ve driven the tractors and played with the critters, such as they are.  It was enough to make me miss my youth, even to the point that I offered to help my mother’s neighbor feed his cattle while I was home over the holiday.  Despite that, the game just never felt authentic enough for me to want to go back to it, though.  Not even after I’d been reminded of how much I hate the smell of cattle after a rain…


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.