Hooded Horse CEO claps back against Manor Lords Early Access criticism

Manor Lords

Tim Bender, the CEO of indie publisher Hooded Horse recently responded to a post calling Manor Lords a “case-study in the pitfalls of Early Access” by calling out the “distorted” expectations of critics and gamers.

Manor Lords is a recent indie city builder which made headlines earlier this year for selling over 2 million copies in its first weeks. However in the current climate of “games as a service”, it seems Manor Lords is being held to task by some players who demand constant content updates.

As an Early Access title, some expectation of updates is understandable, after all you’re buying a game that’s admitting that it’s not completely finished. But it seems sometimes that criticism goes a bit too far and Bender holds a critic to task:

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.

Manor Lords just sold 250,000 copies in the last month — after selling over 2 million copies in its first 3 weeks — and has a Very Positive review rating of 88% with a median playtime of 8 hours 48 minutes per player (very long for any game, especially a recently released one). Players are happy, the developer is happy, and we as publisher are thrilled beyond belief.

And yet here we are — Manor Lords is apparently a “case-study in the pitfalls of Early Access” because the “game has been out for 2.5 months and there have been three fairly small patches” (one of the patch notes being called ‘small’ here runs over 3,000 words and over 10 single-spaced pages) leading to “CCUs have plummeted since launch” (yes, we didn’t maintain the 173,000 concurrent player peak) and the apparently dark reality that some people, after enjoying their purchase of a premium, single-player title, might decide to go on and play another game (The horror! The horror!).

Before the release, 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. I told him to ignore all that — to focus on his core vision for the game, and to keep in mind that the Early Access road is long and that he should not feel any sense of pressure from the expectations of others — for both his own health and stress levels over the coming years and for preserving the state of calm and peaceful mind that supports his creative vision.

If this industry is to find a more sustainable path forward, we need to move away from takes like the below. 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.

Manor Lords is available now on PC (via Steam) as an Early Access title. It is also set to launch for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S sometime in the future.

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A basement-dwelling ogre, Brandon's a fan of indie games and slice of life anime. Has too many games and not enough time.

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