'My kids weren't born yet, and now they're in primary school learning how to make their own games': Game Dev Tycoon studio head talks taking 10 years to make his upcoming inn sim, Tavern Keeper

An image of a richly-textured book welcoming the player into Tavern Keeper, releasing in early access later this year.
(Image credit: Greenheart Games)

Game Dev Tycoon, a fun little management game about running a development studio that went viral in the early 2010s, turns 11 years old in August—an age it'll reach around the time its creators, Greenheart Games, are ready to send their next title into early access.

That's a long old time, even by game development standards. I recently had a chance to sit down at a roundtable with the studio's director and manager Patrick Klug to get an early peek into Tavern Keeper

Tavern Keeper, even though it's only headed into Early Access later this year, is a game rife with little details. In it, you maintain a series of fix-'er-uppers throughout a fantasy setting inspired by Discworld—designating rooms, hiring and managing staff, and buying questionable barrels of booze from swamp ogres. It's a management sim in the vein of Two Point Hospital, only you're dolling out pints instead of prescription pills.

It also has an obscenely detailed furniture customisation option under the hood that lets you tear apart furnishings plank by plank, rotating and scaling them to your heart's content. If you're at all familiar with what people do with MMO housing, it's easily on that kind of level. Klug showed me that there's even a map dedicated to letting players build their own furnishings (which they can share via code) without restrictions—with literal hundreds of pieces pre-loaded. 

It's overall a huge step up from Game Dev Tycoon, but that's still a long time to spend fine-tuning a game. When I asked about the how and why of that, Klug responded: "It's emotional to talk about this, because it's easy to say on paper 'we took ten years'—but ten years is a long time. Like, my kids weren't born yet, and now they're in primary school learning how to make their own games." 

Tavern Keeper's long journey, however, clearly wasn't intentional: "I don't want to say that we set out to work 10 years in a game, I don't think anyone in their right mind would do that … In a way, though, we're super lucky—our team is very stable, we've had very few changes over the years, and that in this industry is quite rare for that long." 

Klug doesn't have a specific answer for me as to why Tavern Keeper took so long, necessarily, other than chalking it up to the genre: "What people always say is that you should have a playable game from day one—but management games don't work like that, they usually come together at the end, so that just makes it more and more difficult—but look, we're super happy where we're at now."

While the game's releasing into early access, that can mean a lot of different things. Klug reveals that while the studio is "close to having everything" developed, it "won't plan to release everything at early access simply because, like, I think it works better to polish your early game [first] and then apply these lessons."

Greenheart Games' story isn't necessarily rare in the industry at all. In fact, Johan Pilestedt of Arrowhead Games (which made a little thing called Helldivers 2) recently revealed that his team had started with the intention of building the game out in three years. Instead, it took seven.

"It's an interesting thing," Klug reflects. "Because when we started [making] a lot of these mechanics, they were quite new—but since we've taken so long, the industry's very different …  But I think for us it's the sum of all parts. It doesn't matter if this system exists elsewhere, it's what the combination is in our game that makes it special for us."

I find it somewhat of a relief to re-emphasise that, from what I saw, Tavern Keeper looks to be a game flooded with loving detail and a really great time—though we'll have to see if our inn has any fantasy bed bugs when the game has its early access grand opening later this year. 

Harvey Randall
Staff Writer

Harvey's history with games started when he first begged his parents for a World of Warcraft subscription aged 12, though he's since been cursed with Final Fantasy 14-brain and a huge crush on G'raha Tia. He made his start as a freelancer, writing for websites like Techradar, The Escapist, Dicebreaker, The Gamer, Into the Spine—and of course, PC Gamer. He'll sink his teeth into anything that looks interesting, though he has a soft spot for RPGs, soulslikes, roguelikes, deckbuilders, MMOs, and weird indie titles. He also plays a shelf load of TTRPGs in his offline time. Don't ask him what his favourite system is, he has too many.