Opinion

Manor Lords’ Success Highlights the Biggest Video Game Trend of 2024

The people demand it.

Manor Lords
Hooded Horse Games

Manor Lords is a brand new city-builder title released on Steam in Early Access this past Friday, and it managed to wrack up a staggering 1 million copies sold in just 24 hours. It’s a massive success for a strategy title, eclipsing every record set by other strategy games, like Civilization, for players on Steam. But much more than that it highlights the biggest trend developing in 2024: players want more mid-priced games. As the industry continues to question the sustainability of blockbuster games, it begs the question if more of these kinds of mid-range titles could flourish.

The three most successful games of 2024 all have that mid-price point in common: Palworld, Helldivers 2, and now Manor Lords. All three of these games come in at a bargain price compared to your typical big-budget experience, with Palworld and Manor Lords for $30 and Helldivers 2 just above that at $40. Coincidentally, all three games have also blown up records and player counts on Steam. Your average big AAA game these days costs $69.99, so, understandably, players would be more willing to take a chance on a game that costs half that or less.

But there’s much more at play than just a lower price point, as each of these three games provides a highly specialized experience that offers something unique. Palworld offers a more mature take on Pokémon by giving you guns, but also taps into the craze for the crafting and survival genres. Helldivers 2 revels in multiplayer mayhem and unpredictability, but also features an evolving live-service conflict that encourages continuously playing and “liberating” planets. Then you have Manor Lords, a richly detailed medieval strategy game putting a massive emphasis on city building, as well as complex economic and social simulations.

Interestingly, all three of these are highly complicated games with lots of interworking systems, but they’re also easy to pick up and play. More than anything, their popularity suggests that players want games that are doing something different, experiences that are breaking off from the norm and aren’t just the latest in a long line of generic big-budget open world, shooting, or action games.

Palworld is one of the biggest Early Access success stories, selling an overwhelming 15 million copiesP in just a month, and ballooning from there.

Pocket Pair

Each of these three put unique spins on established genres, but also promise evolving experiences. Palworld and Manor Lords being in Early Access inherently mean that the games will change, and presumably improve, over time. While there have certainly been Early Access games that don’t pan out, the recent success with this approach may be enough to encourage players to jump on board. Recent years have seen some huge success stories with games leaving Early Access to massive success, including the likes of Subnautica, Vampire Survivors, and most importantly Baldur’s Gate 3. And now we’re seeing hugely anticipated titles from trusted developers, like Hades 2 and No Rest For the Wicked, opt for the Early Access strategy.

It seems like, more than ever, players are willing to give Early Access games a chance, especially when the price point is so much lower and there’s good word of mouth. Interestingly, despite Helldivers 2 being a feature-complete game, it still mimics the Early Access experience in some ways.

Helldivers 2 mirrors an Early Access experience in some ways, with a highly reactive live service model that has grown and changed since the game’s launch.

PlayStation

Developer Arrowhead Interactive has dutifully updated the game with fixes, patches, and new content. There’s been a constant stream of communication between the studio and players, with real transparency on the state of the game, what’s coming, and what’s being worked on. That’s absolutely vital, as it’s becoming clearer every day that communication is important to gaming audiences.

People want to feel like the developers are listening, and that the games they invest in are going to pay dividends, so to speak. That applies to Manor Lords too, as publisher Hooded Horse Games has been extremely open about the nature of Early Access. A launch-day note from the publisher reads, “Please, don't feel any pressure to buy the game if waiting is better for you. If money is tight right now or you're still uncertain, we'll run those 25 percent discounts often and give you plenty of opportunities to get the game later as well, no one should feel any fear of missing out or any kind of pressure.”

It feels like the tides are turning in video games. Huge AAA games that spend years in development aren’t guaranteed hits anymore. But remarkable Early Access games that bring unique ideas turn into gargantuan successes. The release of Manor Lords is another stark reminder that players want more diverse experiences, more smaller games with lower price-points, and more direct communication with developers. If the first four months of 2024 are any indication, those trends won’t stop anytime soon.

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