Don't say Manor Lords was made by a 'solo developer,' argues competing city builder maker: 'The team size on it is maybe even larger than ours'

 A medieval city.
A medieval city.

Hit medieval town builder Manor Lords is frequently said to have been created by a single developer, Greg Styczeń, and its marketing has leaned into that notion: The official website says it was "hand crafted by a solo developer." Crate Entertainment CEO Arthur Bruno, whose town builder Farthest Frontier is also in early access, takes issue with that characterization.

On a call with PC Gamer this week, Bruno expressed annoyance over receiving feedback that assumes Farthest Frontier is being made by a huge development team—it's actually a team of seven—especially when it's compared to the "solo" Manor Lords developer.

"Like, people somehow think we have 60 people, or the entire [Crate Entertainment] team's working on Farthest Frontier, and that we're so slow, but 'one guy is developing Manor Lords,' and it drives me nuts," said Bruno. "And then you look at the credits for [Manor Lords], and the team size on it is maybe even larger than ours."

The Manor Lords credits include two "extra programming" acknowledgements and a number of 3D artists, animators, illustrators, concept artists, history consultants, writers, and other contributors. In a recent interview with PC Gamer, Tim Bender, CEO of Manor Lords publisher Hooded Horse, described its development setup as "solo developer plus contractors," where Styczeń is the main creative force but has brought on outside talent to help.

Styczeń clearly did have a good amount of help, but it also feels fair to say that he has been the primary creator of Manor Lords. He began working on it over six years ago as a part-time hobby, according to a recent interview, and it was only after he launched a Patreon in 2020 and received an Epic MegaGrant in 2021 that he began outsourcing some work to contractors.

But Bruno asks us to consider whether a "solo developer" who hires a bunch of contractors is really all that different from the seven-person team making Farthest Frontier. "I'm going to start telling people I'm a solo dev that's just being helped out by a number of employees," he joked.

After this article was published, Styczeń said on X that Bruno made a "fair criticism," but argued that the difference is that the future of Manor Lords entirely depends on him, whereas Crate Entertainment could go on making games under new leadership if Bruno quit.

Greg Styczeń:
Greg Styczeń:

(Image credit: Greg Styczeń)

Before I accidentally start some fake game developer beef here: Bruno doesn't have a problem with Styczeń or Manor Lords. We got onto the topic because I mentioned that Manor Lords had already received an unreasonable "is this game abandoned" comment, and Bruno could sympathize.

"We get that all the time," said Bruno. "Recently, we got a negative review where people were asking if we had abandoned the game, and we had literally released a major update like two weeks before that."

But it's feedback like that which has caused the Manor Lords "solo developer" distinction to become a sore spot for Bruno: It's another piece of ammunition used in complaints that Crate Entertainment isn't moving fast enough.

We've been comfortable saying that Manor Lords was made by a solo developer on PC Gamer, but I have been somewhat swayed by Bruno's perspective. Maybe it's too literal to restrict the designation to developers who literally did it all, but surely there is a fairly small maximum number of collaborators you can work with before you lose your claim to solo dev valor.

Medieval village
Medieval village

The bigger picture, I think, is that as much as they may try to grin and bear it, the pressure to rapidly deliver updates and respond to constant feedback clearly weighs on today's indie game developers. It reminds me of streamers who say they can't take a single day's break without losing followers. As we put it in 2019, "The pressure to constantly update games is pushing the industry to a breaking point."

Neither Manor Lords nor Farthest Frontier are "abandoned," for the record. Styczeń is working on the first Manor Lords patch now, and in the leadup to Farthest Frontier's 1.0 release, Bruno says its team at Crate Entertainment is working on adding a tech tree, improving optimization, and "prototyping some new aspects to the military component of the game."

This article has been updated to include a response from Styczeń.