Hooded Horse CEO hits back at claims that Manor Lords slipped up in early access: 'Not every game should be aimed at becoming some live service boom or bust'

Manor Lords promo art - knight on horseback looking at a medieval village in the distance, viewed from behind
(Image credit: Slavic Magic)

Over the last couple of weeks, the same old debate about what makes a game successful and how devs can hold on to that success emerged yet again. Some decided that Helldivers 2 losing 90% of its playerbase was an issue despite the live service game having a healthy 40,000 or more concurrent players each day. And now Manor Lords, the small city builder that managed to climb to the most wishlisted game spot on Steam, is also apparently showing cause for concern. 

Over the weekend, Hinterland's CEO Raphael van Lierop posted a lengthy take on the city builder and how it's failed to make the most of early access to LinkedIn: "Manor Lords is a pretty interesting case study in the pitfalls of Early Access development when a game with a small team (and heavily marketed as such) hits the reality of a hungry audience." 

Lierop stresses his love for Manor Lords and how these comments are in no way a reflection of a lack of quality or passion. Instead, the problem is that "there's very little to it." 

"It launched with a pretty strong base game but without much content," Lierop says. "A heavily systems-centric game needs either a range of maps, game modes, or some amount of proc-gen dynamism to keep it fresh. Manor Lords has none of those things. So once you [have] played 5-10 rounds of the game, there's nothing more to do."

This problem is then apparently exacerbated by the lack of major updates that developer Greg "Slavic Magic" Styczeń has released. "As a result of the lack of updates, the CCUs (concurrent users) have plummeted since launch (which isn't that unusual—it's the current trend for a lot of Early Access titles that blow up these days)," Lierop says. "But given the number of wishlists and hype around it leading up to launch, this is something the developer and publisher should have been better prepared for, IMO." 

Manor Lords burgage plot under construction

(Image credit: Slavic Magic)

It's fair to say that you've personally had enough of Manor Lords and have found a natural end to it while still hoping for more added content in future updates to encourage you to return to the medieval city builder. However, coming to the conclusion that it's failed to properly grasp early access is perhaps too harsh, especially after conceding that drop-offs in popularity are common at this stage of development. 

Manor Lords' run has been nothing if not impressive. Surpassing 100,000 players within hours of release and breaking the Steam city builder record with over 170,000 concurrent players is a remarkable feat for a solo dev, but the success didn't stop there. Since Manor Lords entered early access two and a half months ago, there have been three patches, one of which was a pretty impressive update that saw a lot of issues addressed and some new features added. It currently sits at around 10,000 concurrent players daily, which is a solid feat for a non-live service game. 

Tim Bender, CEO of Manor Lords publisher Hooded Horse, also thinks Lierop's comments were a bit too harsh. "This is exactly the kind of distorted endless growth/burden of expectations/line must go up perspective that causes so much trouble in the games industry," Bender says in a reply post to LinkedIn

Manor Lords trade - A small town

(Image credit: Slavic Magic)

Bender also says that he had warned Styczeń about this kind of assumption before Manor Lords was released: "I had a chat with Manor Lords’ dev. I told him that after release, he was going to hear from all sorts of commenters talking about missed opportunities because he failed to grow as fast as they wanted and judging the game a failure by some kind of expectation they formed."

"If this industry is to find a more sustainable path forward, we need to move away from takes like the below," Bender says. "Success should not create an ever-raising bar of new growth expectations. Not every game should be aimed at becoming some live-service boom or bust. And a release should not begin an ever-accelerating treadmill on which devs are forced to run until their mental or physical health breaks down."

Both arguments fall short of understanding each other, and Lierop points out in a subsequent LinkedIn post that he feels as if his advice was misrepresented. Attempts to correct this were "stymied as the publisher deleted all my comments, leaving me unable to explain my POV, while they happily fuelled the flame sparked by their twisting of my position." While also claiming that "content collapse is real, and it would be nice if people would READ your words." 

While I think it's true that both arguments dance around a similar subject without actually understanding the point both are trying to make, this confusion stems from Lierop's initial statement about Manor Lords being an "interesting case study in the pitfalls of Early Access". I think it would have a lot more ground to stand on if it was done from a personal perspective, talking more about his experience with falling out of love with playing the game and less about using a drop in concurrent players as proof that this sentiment is widely held and an objective view that Manor Lords' time in early access is some sort of failure because of it. 

Like most LinkedIn posts, it's full of buzzwords that do make it sound as if it's an attack on the developer instead of what it really is: a fan of the game sharing their experience with it and why it's interesting that said experience is common for many early access games. 

Elie Gould
News Writer

Elie is a news writer with an unhealthy love of horror games—even though their greatest fear is being chased. When they're not screaming or hiding, there's a good chance you'll find them testing their metal in metroidvanias or just admiring their Pokemon TCG collection. Elie has previously worked at TechRadar Gaming as a staff writer and studied at JOMEC in International Journalism and Documentaries – spending their free time filming short docs about Smash Bros. or any indie game that crossed their path.