You’ll want to give this LinkedIn post a thumbs up from the publisher of Manor Lords


Publisher Lords of the CourtsThe popular medieval city-building game from lone creator Slavic Magic has drawn flak from critics for the game’s tolerant update schedule since launch: “It’s exactly the kind of distorted, never-ending growth/burdened expectations/perspective-needs-to-go-up that causes so much trouble in the games industry,” said Tim Bender, CEO of Hooded Horse he said on LinkedIn.

Bender was responding to another LinkedIn post by Raphael van LieropCEO of Hinterland Studio (developer Long Darknesshit Steam game that launched in Early Access in 2014). In his original post, van Lierop said Lords of the Courts “is a pretty interesting case study in the pitfalls of early access development.”

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Van Lierop said that despite the high quality, Lords of the Courts lack of content, and due to the size of the development team (which is basically one person), the pace of game updates is snail-paced. He noted that the number of concurrent players Lords of the Courts dropped quickly since launch, writing, “Given the massive wishlist and hype surrounding it leading up to launch, this is something the developer and publisher should have been better prepared for.” He advised Early Access developers to plan for “2-3 major updates with new content and features” within three months of the game’s release.

Bender passionate answer It is worth reading van Lierop’s critique in its entirety:

This is exactly the kind of distorted, endless growth/burdened expectations/perspective that the queue has to go up that causes so many problems in the games industry.

Manor Lords has 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 an average play time of 8 hours and 48 minutes per player (a very long time for any game, especially a recently released one). The players are ecstatic, the developer is ecstatic, and we as a publisher are delighted beyond belief.

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

I spoke with the developer of Manor Lords before launch. I told him that after launch he would hear from various commentators that he had wasted opportunities because it hadn’t developed as quickly as they wanted it to, and that he was judging the game as a failure based on some expectations they had created. I told him to ignore all that—to focus on his core vision for the game, and to remember that the road to Early Access was long, and that he shouldn’t feel any pressure from other people’s expectations—both for his health and stress levels in the years to come, and to maintain a composed and peaceful state of mind that supported his artistic vision.

If this industry is to find a more sustainable path forward, we need to move away from approaches like these. Success shouldn’t create a constantly rising bar for fresh expectations of growth. Not every game should be geared toward some kind of live service boom or bust. And release shouldn’t start a constantly accelerating treadmill that developers are forced to run on until their mental or physical health collapses.

Van Lierop later explained that he himself is “deeply anti-crunch” and that he was merely commenting on the Early Access release strategy. Still, Bender effectively reveals how the thinking behind van Lierop’s comments can be limiting and even harmful.

Essentially, Bender says it’s critical to change the idea of ​​success around Early Access game releases — or, arguably, all single-player game releases. Criticizing the “boom or bust live services” mentality that’s permeated the industry, he argues that it’s okay for people to buy a game, play it, enjoy it, and then put it down — a completely normal gaming habit that’s not accounted for in the increasingly dominant narrative about Steam’s player count. And he agrees with van Lierop that Early Access is a “marathon,” but he comes to a very different conclusion about how to handle it: Go at your own pace, and trust that players will come back to see what you’ve created.

Bender’s post made me think twice about how I cover things like Early Access games and player counts; reporting on update schedules and Steam charts without context can contribute significantly to the impression of a game’s success or failure, which can be distorted or simply irrelevant. If Bender’s words encourage even a few gamers, publishers, and developers to think twice about how they approach these games, then he’s done the entire industry a favor.

Oh, and come on Lords of the Courts try it. There is nothing like it.

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