Steam's most-anticipated city-builder is set to make millions, but for Manor Lords' CEO, "I don't think the money weighs that heavily"

Manor Lords
(Image credit: Slavic Magic)

Manor Lords is poised to become the next big indie hit on Steam. A medieval city-builder with a development narrative to match Stardew Valley, the weeks ahead of its release have seen it become the most-wishlisted game on Valve's platform, with more than three million prospective buyers. If everything goes to plan, it stands to make its solo developer an awful lot of money, pretty much overnight. But that's not really what the people behind the game care about.

"The things that Greg cares most about are the game being good and players being happy. That's where his focus is." Tim Bender is the CEO of Hooded Horse, a strategy game-focused publisher that's also primed to get a healthy influx of revenue when Manor Lords releases. As I speak to Bender, we're only three days out from release. Manor Lords' single developer, Greg Styczeń, is busy ensuring that the game is ready for launch.

"I don't think the money aspect weighs that heavily," Bender continues. "I mean, I think it's been clear for a while that things will end up financially good." Even the simplest back-of-the-napkin math supports that claim; a traditional baseline expectation is that a game will convert around 10-20% of its wishlists in its first week. At three million and counting, that's 600,000 sales. Valve takes a cut, of course, and Hooded Horse's regional pricing means that pinning down a single figure is tricky, but there's millions of dollars in potential revenue on the table for Manor Lords.

Manor Commoners 

Manor Lords

(Image credit: Hooded Horse)

But just like Styczeń, that's not a figure that seems to concern Bender too much. Baked into Hooded Horse's company values is the idea that "we can ignore profits when we should. We're not non-profit or anything, but everyone agrees on it not being the only motive." The company's entire investor base is private individuals, and so while making money is the long-term goal, "our staff getting paid well and treated well, and the customers being happy with our product" remains more important. 

In the context of the last 18 months, it's a refreshing strategy. While several major companies have laid off tens of thousands of staff since 2023 - often in the pursuit of constant growth - Hooded Horse takes a different approach. Bender's wife, Snow, is the company's CFO and president, and he speaks at length about the effort she's gone to to make sure that the publisher remains sustainable. It's her efforts that ensure that monthly costs are always covered, and that any extra money is put aside to cover any extra expenses - expenses like Manor Lords' six-month delay.

At the start of our conversation, I ask Bender how he's feeling about launch. He seems remarkably relaxed, pointing out all the work that's been put in before now to ensure this goes smoothly. Pressed on that, he mentions marketing, localization, quality checks, but "probably one of the biggest things was the decision to delay back from October of last year, and to allow an additional six months to really allow development."

"We could have released it back then. People have been clamoring for a release ever since the October 2022 demo." That demo, part of Steam Next Fest, was what really set Manor Lords on its path to success, but Styczeń and Hooded Horse committed to taking another year before release, and then adding another six months after that. "It was really not about 'when can we release?' Or 'What's the shortest time we can release it? What's the minimum thing that we could try to offer, but really doing our best to deliver a really good experience?'"

History Boy 

Manor Lords

(Image credit: Slavic Magic)

That decision seems to have paid off. In its last six months, Manor Lords' growth has been exponential. It crossed two million wishlists back in January. Not long after that, it dethroned Hades 2 to become the most-wishlisted game on Steam, before hitting the 2.5 million mark earlier this month. It had only taken 12 weeks to garner those extra 500,000 players, but it took less than one week to do it all again - just six days after hitting 2.5 million, Manor Lords topped 3 million wishlists.

I ask Bender what's drawing all those players in, and indeed what drew Hooded Horse to Manor Lords in the first place. As a strategy-focused publisher, he says that Hooded Horse was uniquely placed to understand the game's potential, not least its ability to be multiple things to multiple different kinds of players. Styczeń has made clear that this isn't an RTS or a Total War-killer, but Bender notes that there are still multiple ways to play. "You can set it to a very peaceful mode and just raise sheep, build up the town, or set it to battle modes in which you're facing more and more pressure." That potential to craft their own experience, from something akin to a 'cozy game' all the way up to a high-pressure horde defense, is a big part of Manor Lords' universal draw. But there's another aspect too.

Bender cites 1994's Lords of the Realm, a medieval strategy game with a similar focus on feudal life, as evidence that people have been enticed to games like this for a long time. In another life, Bender says he might have been a history professor, having undertaken a PhD at Harvard, studying the social and cultural history of China's Late Imperial era - an era that encompasses the european medieval era that Manor Lords is set in - because he was "fascinated" not by the wars and dynasties of the high cultural elite, but "how the common people lived their lives, how they interacted, what their customs were." That's what Manor Lords, and the other medieval city-builders and strategy games that came before it, have to offer: "You feel like you're connecting with another age, you feel like you're understanding something about our history as humans. It's something beautiful, to connect with that aspect of humanity and see, across the ages, how we lived."

Ahead of launch, check out our early access Manor Lords review.

Ali Jones
News Editor

I'm GamesRadar's news editor, working with the team to deliver breaking news from across the industry. I started my journalistic career while getting my degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick, where I also worked as Games Editor on the student newspaper, The Boar. Since then, I've run the news sections at PCGamesN and Kotaku UK, and also regularly contributed to PC Gamer. As you might be able to tell, PC is my platform of choice, so you can regularly find me playing League of Legends or Steam's latest indie hit.