Sea of Thieves executive producer, Joe Neate, was at EGX Rezzed this weekend for a chat. The talk was titled The Story Continues, with a focus on Tall Tales. However, the chat was wide-ranging and covered lore, development, the community, and a couple of teases too.
As always, we recommend watching the whole thing – but for those who just don’t have time, here’s a time-stamped summary of every question.
The Hungering Deep (3:02)
Joe mentioned they “fudged together” the shared world narrative of The Hungering Deep using “the tools that were available to us”. But the success of that update, and the way the narrative aspect worked with the freedom and emergent gameplay of a multiplayer environment, inspired the team to build on that idea. The Result of that is Tall Tales. Joe calls Tall Tales “the start of proper narrative and story in the shared world.”
Comics and the Novel (4:33)
Characters from the novel and the rest of the expanded lore are now bleeding into the game. As well as the comics (with DeMarco and Lesedi Singh being the leaders of The Arena’s Sea Dogs) there’s some crossover from the novel into Shores of Gold (the first collection of Tall Tales) too.
Joe dropped an exclusive, confirming there’s a new novel in the works. Chris Allcock, the author of Athena’s Fortune, returns to pen the second instalment. Another set of comics is coming too.
A Sea of Thieves movie? (6:16)
Joe: “Wouldn’t that be cool? …that is not confirmed.”
The Anniversary Update: Tall Tales (7:49)
There’s a series of tales in Tall Tales. Joe said he’s avoided playing much of Tall Tales. He’s had very top level involvement, but hasn’t been hands on at all so he can enjoy them as a fan. Before the press visits to Rare last week, Joe, Mike Chapman, Shelley Preston, and Craig Duncan played through the first tale. Joe: “Honestly, it delivered more than even I was expecting…” Joe went on to describe the “nostalgic joy” he felt during the play session – evoking Indiana Jones, The Goonies etc. Joe mentioned the press feedback was great too.
Chris, the interviewer, observed that the production values were “a step up from what we’ve seen before”. Joe confirmed they’ve used professional voice actors for Tall Tales.
The mix of narrative and unpredictability (10:43)
Joe explains the core of Sea of Thieves is the shared world emergent gameplay. Most other games have split up their single player and multiplayer modes. The Sea of Thieves dev team saw an opportunity to potentially open up the game to an audience that might prefer story campaigns, and introduce them to the rest of the multiplayer experience.
Does Tall Tales introduce new mechanics? (12:20)
Joe: “Absolutely”. The new tools will live on in the open world beyond the tales themselves.
How Rare are developing Sea of Thieves over time (13:00)
It was a very conscious decision to combine everything into a huge update to give Sea of Thieves another “moment in time”. But Joe mentioned it’s also really hard work. He mentioned the reason it’s only him doing the talk at EGX is that the rest of the team are all at the studio working on the release.
Joe went on to discuss bringing more balance to the dev cycle as they move forward – a combination of bringing new things to the game and managing the team’s workload. As they start working on new things, part of the ongoing process will be ensuring the development is sustainable.
The Arena and Tall Tales feel like platforms? (16:21)
Joe clarified that Arena and Adventure are the two pillars of the game and both will be worked on and expanded. He followed up repeating that Shores of Gold are the first set of Tall tales, “a platform for us to expand on”.
The Arena (17:21)
The Arena feels like a really different mode and, Joe says, different than anything else that’s out there. Joe described getting a bit carried away during an Arena session when he talked some smack to an IGN journalist. 🙊
Q&A: How does Sea of Thieves financially sustain itself? (20:33)
Joe explained that the most important metric is “people playing it”. Being part of Microsoft means there’s a different view of what success is. While revenue through sales is one measure, they also look at Game Pass players (the game is regularly in the most popular list), and you must have a Live Gold account to play too. All of those things feed into the broad evaluation of success. Joe: “We are being successful [with] all of those metrics”.
Post launch monetisation through pets is on the way.
Q&A: How will the upcoming ship damage be balanced? (23:35)
Joe explained that they’ve been testing internally and with Insiders. The hit zone on the masts has been tweaked as a result of testing – “it feels good” and “adds a level of strategy to any encounter”.
How important is Game Pass? (25:27)
Joe mentioned the player split is “almost 50/50” between Game Pass players and people who have bought it outright. Monthly active users more than doubled with the release of Shrouded Spoils and “carried on through January, through February, up till now”.
Shrouded Spoils seemed like small changes that made a big difference (26:59)
“The most effective thing we did was the least glamorous: the World Event Scheduler”. Joe explained that having more control over the emergent events in the world, in combination with dropping loot for the Kraken and Megs, made the world feel so much more alive.
Did you see a lot of Pirate Legends leading up to the birthday? (28:17)
They did, but Joe explains Pirate Legends are still a very small percentage of the total player-base – “low single figure percentage”.
There’s “about ten” Pirate Legends at Rare – which may not seem like a lot, but consider that they make the game for their job then play the retail game in their spare time. Joe mentioned it gives the team some valuable real-world insight into the retail build of the game.
Q&A: Has the team considered a smaller “one-man” ship? (29:48)
Joe reveals he is Brig-Solo. 👀 He said the team feels that the balance is good right now, but looking forward they have an opportunity to improve balance for solo players.
Q&A: Will there be more tools for crews who speak different languages? (31:55)
Joe confirms that Pirate Chat does work across languages. In regards to choosing a language to enter an open a crew, they’ll need to give it more thought.
Q&A: Will power progression ever come to the game? (34:41)
Having no power progression is a very deliberate design aspect of the game. Joe said they want people to play for years, and it’s important to removes any barriers to entry. Getting good at playing the game and using the game’s tools, “that’s your progression”. Joe goes on to say “we won’t deviate from that”.
Lastly, any tease? (38:21)
Joe: “We often get questions around the soundtrack… There might be something in the works. We might be doing something a little more special than people would imagine for that.