A game about love, work, and burnout. Play using arrow keys or swiping.
Read the creator's statement after playing.
Your interpretation of the game is more important than my intention, and likely more meaningful to you. Please play Produce before scrolling down.
First off: This game isn't supposed to be fun. Heck, you can't even win (or lose). So if you're confused, overwhelmed, or frustrated, that's by design.
Let's back up.
Produce was conceived around 3 AM. I couldn't sleep. It was during a period in which running my software business had left me burnt out and disillusioned. The idea formed quickly and made a fitting metaphor for everything I was experiencing.
Before I explain further, I must say that the game itself is the de-facto standard for its meaning. If I could've made this statement more effectively in writing, or any other medium, I would've done that. This text can guide your thoughts, but the game says subtle things that are not covered here. Early play testers shocked me by describing feelings they had while playing that I struggle to convey verbally.
Produce is similar in spirit to Jason Rohrer's Passage. The story and meaning of the game is embedded in its mechanics. No cut-scenes needed. The abstract visual style allows multiple readings of the elements.
From Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics
You play as a red square harvesting green circles. Each time you harvest a green circle, several more circles appear. Work begets work. It's easy to spread yourself too thin and become overwhelmed and frustrated. Repeatedly pressing the arrow keys moves you faster than holding them down. This adds to the feeling of frantic work.
Circles can be in two other states. Growing circles are like new ideas or tasks. Harvest too early or execute poorly and you get nothing. On the other hand, waiting too long to take care of a customer, or task, and it becomes a problem. A black circle prevents fresh circles from springing up, and gives nothing when harvested.
I've failed to mention the yellow squares. When you harvest a green circle, 4 yellow squares appear on your screen. These represent money, happiness, or success. Their similar shape to the player alludes to how one's identity can become tied to output. Some players get distracted and start to chase them. They discover the yellow squares are immaterial and have actually started to disappear. Others make it their goal to fill the screen with yellow squares thinking something will happen — but it's an empty accomplishment. After a circle is left unattended, it begins to flash red. Each flash removes one yellow square.
Those are the basic elements of Produce. There are additional meanings in the emergent play styles. For example: one way to control the explosion of work is to focus on a little area of circles and only harvest the ones inside the perimeter. This scopes your work to what you can handle. I've done this to some degree with my business. Alternatively, you can squash new circles before they turn problematic, leaving little to no payoff. Circles harvested at the edges or corners of the play area have half as many spots to reproduce as a circle in the center. Work bears less fruit when too far on the fringes of what is needed, wanted, or feasible.
No matter your play style, eventually you think "why am I doing this?". It's a fair question. There is no way to win or lose, after all. Much like life, the game is what you make of it — the accrual of accomplishments, the pleasure of mastery, or the joy of play.