Developers should not be ‘forced to run on a treadmill until their mental or physical health gives out’, says publisher

Developers should not be ‘forced to run on a treadmill until their mental or physical health gives out’, says publisher

The publisher of Manor Lords has responded to claims that the game is an “interesting case study in the pitfalls of early access”, saying the assumption that games can “grow indefinitely” causes “so many problems in the games industry”.

Responding to a LinkedIn post from Hinterland CEO Raphael van Lierop, Tim Bender – head of publishing house Hooded Horse – responded with a lengthy message suggesting that “if this industry wants to find a more sustainable way forward, we need to move away from these kinds of views.”

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“This is exactly the kind of distorted, endless growth/burden of expectations/the-line-must-go-up perspective that causes so much trouble in the games industry,” Bender wrote.

“Manor Lords has sold 250,000 copies in the past month – after selling over 2 million copies in its first three weeks – and has a very positive review score of 88 percent with an average playtime of 8 hours and 48 minutes per player (very long for a game, especially one that was released recently).

“Players are happy, the developer is happy, and we as a publisher are extremely happy.”

“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 minor patches’ (one of the patch notes referred to as ‘minor’ here is over 3,000 words long and over 10 single-spaced pages), leading to ‘CCUs have plummeted since launch’ (yes, we haven’t maintained the peak of 173,000 concurrent players) and the seemingly grim reality that some people, after enjoying their purchase of a premium single-player title, might decide to move on and play another game (The horror! The horror!).”

Bender goes on to say that before the release of Manor Lords, they had a “conversation” with solo developer Greg Styczeń.

“I told him that after release he would hear all sorts of commentators talking about missed opportunities because it wasn’t growing as fast as they wanted, and that they were judging the game as a failure based on some kind of expectation they had formed. I told him to ignore all that – to focus on his core vision for the game, and to remember that the Early Access road is a long one and that he shouldn’t feel any pressure from other people’s expectations – both for his own health and stress levels in the years to come, and for maintaining 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 these kinds of attitudes,” Bender concluded. “Success should not create an ever-higher bar of new growth expectations.

“Not every game should be designed to be a live-service boom or bust. And a release shouldn’t lead to an ever-increasing treadmill that devs are forced to run on until their mental or physical health gives out.”

Recently, a number of ‘experimental’ changes have been made to Manor Lords to improve balance, including reduced beer consumption.

The update fixes a number of common issues, including “None” people spawning without working; the game getting stuck on the summary screen after a win; weak archer damage; and excessive beer consumption.