Opinion & Analysis

The Cross-Play Opt-Out “Controversy”

Groan. Update: now with actual stats.

Update #2: June 27, 2019

Rare have confirmed that cross-play opt-out is still being worked on.

We are actively developing input-split matchmaking. This feature has been more complicated to create than expected and we continue to work hard to get you all the right approach. When there is news, Joe will let you know through the Developer update.

Update #1: Feb 6, 2019

Now that Joe has appeared on Inside Xbox, and following on from Craigs tweet about “sharing stats soon”, we now know details about the PC/console player split, which allows us to better understand any impact that cross-play opt-out might have.

During the show Joe confirmed that over the previous weekend, PC players made up 35% of players who set sail, with the remaining 65% being console players. This is significant because we can use those percentages to estimate how the cross-play and console-only pools might split, depending on how many consoles users actually do opt out of cross play.

For example: if 10% of console players opt out, that means a whopping 93.5% of the total player-base would remain in cross-play.

If we bump that up to a (very unlikely) 50% of console players opting out, that still means a significant 67.5% of the total player base would remain in cross play.

Related to this, Joe also explained that their goal is to design the setting in such a way that it’s not obvious for Adventure mode, however they will potentially up-front the option as part of the loading into The Arena.

Finally, Joe covered off how the player base has grown since the release of Shrouded Spoils:

Through December and January our player base has doubled in terms of monthly active users, so more than double are playing on a monthly basis – and it’s still growing, we look at the last 30 days and that number [monthly active users] is still going up.

Original post:

Even though we’ve known about Rare’s plan to allow console players to opt-out of cross play since last week, for some reason Reddit went bananas this weekend with a deluge of posts as one of the more popular Streamers out there made a few comments about the upcoming change.

The crux of the controversy seems to be PC players bemoaning the fact that they will experience “empty servers” due to the overwhelming percentage of SoT players play on Xbox, who they assume will all opt-out of cross play.

It’s a garbled, ham-fisted argument that ignores a lot of what we know about how Sea of Thieves works, and what the goals of the game are.

In response, Rare Studio Head, Craig Duncan posted a short series of tweets that we quote here (emphases added):

Wanted to address a few concerns we see some folks have about our future Sea Of Thieves plans. Rest assured our goals are ALWAYS to do the right thing by our players and community; there broadly seems to be 4 key points that needed clarity:

We aren’t removing crossplay; we are adding an option for console players using controller to opt out of crossplay if they choose. We expect most players, especially in Adventure, to still play using crossplay, but this is important option to add with The Arena coming.

The crossplay option is not coming in the February update, see Joe’s last dev update for more info, the team is working now on implementation of the option settings & our goal is to have this in & tested prior to The Arena.

Servers will still have the same density they do today as we spin up Azure servers as players join & backfill new crews into live servers. Our server density is architected to not be affected by the size of our player pop, but to vary the player encounter frequency & stories.

Our player population is super healthy on both PC and Xbox & has been since launch. While we don’t tweet usage data reactively, we will figure out how we share more stats on this soon to give context why players don’t need to worry about our live player or platform populations.

As I said at the top, we have always strived for everyone to enjoy Sea Of Thieves whether you are a brand-new player or someone that has been with us from the start, we prioritise all players & all platforms together – thanks!

Executive Producer, Joe Neate, chimed in with the following in relation to Craigs tweet about server density:

For me this is one of the most important things here. We have designed Sea of Thieves to always keep the world with the same frequency of player encounters. You don’t get “empty servers”. It’s not how it works. We want encounters to be infrequent, and special when they happen.

In spite of the above, some PC players remain unconvinced and are willing to eschew all evidence and logic in their crusade. It’s strange behaviour, and to me it’s quite worrying that a single streamer can so dominate the conversation around a game. Undoubtedly this comes with the territory as the game continues to gain popularity. It’ll be interesting to watch the dynamic continue to evolve with the Rare dev team being so committed to communication and transparency while other parties with huge audiences continue to discuss the game’s development from the outside.

If you have thoughts on this issue let me know on Twitter – I’d love to hear a wide range of views on this one!


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