Sea of Thieves - A Week at Gamescom
Get a glimpse into Sea of Thieves' showing by sneaking a peek into Emma's Gamescom journal!
Gamescom in Cologne is a big event for anyone in games. Over the course of a week, more than half a million games fans come through the convention centre doors to get their hands on the latest titles and tech. This year the Sea of Thieves team headed to Germany to let real players try the game for the first time!
The real way to settle who gets to lead the next Sea of Thieves booth session.
Day 1: Whilst there’s 17 of us going to Gamescom plus our pirate band The SkullDuggers, we’re all flying out in phases. I’m heading out on Monday, the day before the Xbox Showcase whilst our engineering team set up the booth. I hurry through the sweltering airport alone since I'm flying by myself. It's probably a good thing as I’m a very nervous flyer, this way no one is at risk of having my fingernails dug into their arm during take off and landing!
The journey goes smoothly and I arrive in Cologne with a sea of passengers wearing gaming inspired T-shirts and a Gamescom video playing at the bag collection. I try to remember the basic German I picked up 12 years ago at school to direct a taxi to our hotel.
The hotel is modern, arty and next to the river. Very nice! After unpacking I head to the hotel bar to meet the others who arrived today. We bump into a couple of the Forza Horizon 3 team who join us for a riverside drink. Afterwards we follow animator Steph’s GPS to a square of restaurants via a couple of stops to collect water Pokémon along the way! After deciding that a German restaurant full of puppets isn’t what we’re looking for, we settle for a Thai restaurant named Kitty Chai. I spot the Xbox On team on the other side of the square (seems everyone’s gathering in Cologne!) whilst we have our dinner. A brass trio is playing the Cantina music from Star Wars whilst we eat and the waitress gives us all candy watches as we leave!
Some of the group head to find somewhere showing the football match and the rest of us head back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep ahead of the first day! The engineers are occupying a table in the hotel’s sushi restaurant so we say hello and goodnight on the way past. They tell us the flaming sushi is definitely worth a try!
Day 2: The Xbox Showcase is today – four hours of private access to the booth for press and content creators ahead of the show properly opening the next day. As it doesn’t start until 2pm, I have some time to eat breakfast and catch up on email before grabbing a taxi with Adam (Lead Producer), Pete (Marketing Art Lead) and our pirate band. I’ve not met the band before as they’ve only attended our US shows so it’s great to see them in person.
We go through security – the woman doing the bag search is delighted to see the band in full pirate costume – and head to the Xbox booth which is covered in a floor-to-ceiling black curtain. The band does a soundcheck whilst we ensure everything is up and running on the booth. I head backstage to check out the setup and bump into the Xbox On production team who’ll be running our Twitch streams with us. We worked with them last year on the six hour Rare Replay stream before launch and they're a great group so I’m looking forward to working with them over the next three days.
People begin to trickle in to the booth and I say hi to a couple of content creators I know. They’re gathering to listen to Aaron Greenberg on stage, I’m distracted by Graeme Boyd (AKA AceyBongos and a truly lovely guy) grabbing me for a selfie with one of our Pirate Lord statues.
The Showcase begins! We have 30 playable kits set up. Groups of four players are joined by a guide from Rare and are taken through our show floor demo, a slice of the world of Sea of Thieves which can sadly only last 15 minutes before we have to move our next groups in. I join MajorNelson, AceyBongos, Joe (Executive Producer) and the Xbox On team for a session, not realizing that it’s being streamed live to YouTube! I had to stand on a large box in order to be tall enough to be seen by the face cam…
Before I know it, it’s time for our first Twitch stream! We’ve never streamed the game before but I know the production team have it all handled. I just need to steal some desk space backstage to moderate the chat. We have over 1,300 people tuned into our hour-long stream featuring Rare staff, some of our Showcase guests and a few well-known content creators. The chat is fast-paced and overwhelmingly positive. This is fun!
We’re done at 6pm so head back to the hotel to meet the final group from Rare who flew in that afternoon. A dinner all together in the sushi restaurant ends our first day after only four hours and 200 guests. Tomorrow, it begins in earnest!
Respect to anyone who is able to keep up with this many screens at once.
Day 3: Today Gamescom is open 9am to 8pm and has around 6,000 members of the press coming in. We’re all kitted out in Sea of Thieves T-shirts, the game is loaded, our booth helpers (German speakers hired locally and incredibly helpful) are briefed and we’re ready!
The whole week I get a great opportunity to meet both fans and industry connections in person for the first time and this starts with Team 17 Community Manager Jonno. A lovely guy we worked with on the Worms W.M.D. Rare All-Stars pack. We trade freebies (Sea of Thieves tattoo sleeves for a Worms pin badge and keychain) before the crowds arrive.
We have two Twitch streams today and I see familiar usernames popping up in the chat from the day before. The ‘regulars’ begin to get to know each other and it’s great to see Sea of Thieves micro communities popping up all over the place.
The day passes in a blur of distributing freebies, chatting to people about the game and sending photos and videos to the Community Team back at Rare for posting. A highlight is meeting Gwent’s Community Manager Kevin. They’re our neighbours on the show floor. He’s in a full suit of (foam) armour and a huge fan of our game. He introduces me to his friend who has made a pirate costume. She’s also a singer and wants to do a cover of We Shall Sail Together. I’m thrilled!
During our final Twitch stream, Joe and Adam come backstage and boot me off the chat for a while as they want to get involved. I keep an eye on them as they try to keep up with the questions and comments flooding in and get a chance to catch up with Graeme, before swiftly reclaiming my laptop after 15 minutes or so.
8pm is here before we realise the time. I go for a pizza with Steph and the engineers whilst the others attend various mixers, dinners and meet-ups with other games industry folk.
Tomorrow is the first public day. The convention will let around half a million people through its doors over the next four days so I get what sleep I can before the madness begins!
Day 4: Today is the longest day we’ll do. The convention is open 9am to 8pm with the Xbox FanFest event happening 8pm – 11pm. Thankfully it’s on the Xbox booth so at least we don’t have to worry about travel.
We have a constant queue throughout the day. It’s really rewarding for our team to see so many people excited to get their hands on our game for the first time. They don’t even seem to mind the long wait! The smart ones bring collapsible chairs and handheld consoles to pass the time. For the unprepared there’s a steady stream of entertainment on the Xbox stage next to our setup. Today this includes a half hour set from The SkullDuggers!
Three Twitch streams today so I’m running back and forth between the backstage area and the booth. Chat moderation is really fun! More questions than I can get to though. Luckily the very helpful Wergath starts to help me out with the most frequently asked ones!
I get to meet another person IRL today. Rhys from the Xbox One subreddit stops by to say hi. Bobby (Engagement Manager) and I appeared on their podcast back in June and we exchange tweets fairly regularly. Great to get the chance to meet him. The best part? He and his girlfriend are dressed in full pirate gear in honour of Sea of Thieves. Rhys even has a hook hand. It makes using a controller a little difficult though…
FanFest brings in 200 Xbox superfans for an after hours session at the booth. As there’s not the crowds we see during the day we can chat to the queue a little more and answer questions.
Our final Twitch stream! Not sure how the time has flown by so quickly. We have at least two members of the Rare team on each session and we get fans and Xbox VIPs on too. Thanks Aaron and Graeme! One session sees Team Rare take on Team Creative Assembly in a ship sinking contest.
Somehow the day is over. We hop in taxis and ask the hotel if they could please make us some food. It’s after 11pm but we should probably eat before bed. The others are buzzing from FanFest and, whilst Mike (Lead Designer) and Andy (Software Director) discuss a hypothetical Bond musical, I nod off in my seat.
Thanks again to the Xbox booth staff who helped us throughout the week!
Day 5: We’re on our second public day now and getting into a good rhythm with running the booth. Our Team Xbox helpers are amazing and we’re able to rotate staffing to mean we all get decent length breaks. Some take naps backstage, some just hang out at the booth and some make a dash round the rest of the convention to see what other studios have brought with them. I don’t make it too far but squeeze in a session of Overwatch and collect some freebies from the other stands.
We’re beginning to see some regulars at the Sea of Thieves booth. Some visited us last year when we brought Rare Replay to the show. Whilst the booth has fans, so does James (Lead Engineer)! He regularly has fans dropping by to see him.
I sneak on stage with the pirate band for their show to broadcast it via Facebook Live. Sorry for the shaky camera, I was filming on my phone! The people tuning in seem to be enjoying it as much as the crowd around the stage!
The queues remain massive, our feet are constantly sore but we hear shouting and laughter during every session we do. It seems we’re a hit!
We’ve received several awards nominations at this point (exciting!) and today we hear that we’ve won two Gamescom awards! There’s an awards ceremony that some of the team attends and we get two framed plaques to display on the booth. DualShockers give us five awards, the most they’ve ever given a single title. I think chuffed is an understatement…
Day 6: We’ve changed our staff rota for the last two days with teams working half-day slots. This means I get to lie in today before meeting the afternoon crew for lunch. They’ve chosen the Lindt Chocolate Museum across the river from the hotel. Excellent choice!
We relieve the morning team and the afternoon flies by. After a rest our feet aren’t sore and we’re a little more energized. I’m in charge of the queue. I hand out tattoo sleeves (hugely popular, but not so much with people with actual tattoos) and fans (practical in the sweltering convention centre) and filter people through to sessions. Our Gameplay and Cinematic Trailers are playing on screens around the Xbox booth every 20 minutes. I now know every single word to We Shall Sail Together. It’s like Anna – who sang it – is with us!
The team who spent the first few days doing press interviews are with us on the booth now. Ted (PC Design Lead) in particular is thrilled to be able to spend the afternoon playing with fans. He’s fixated somewhat on Titanic and I can hear him shouting "I’m Kate Winslet!" every now and again as he stands at the front of the ship. I can also hear the occasional rendition of My Heart Will Go On from his corner of the booth.
The long days and tiredness affects us all in different ways. James deals with his by crawling into the barrel we were storing freebies in and hopping around…
It’s our final night in Cologne before we head back to the UK! Back to the excellent Italian restaurant we visited earlier in the week for platters of antipasti, pizza and a chance to swap stories ("Ted’s crew kept boarding our ship and dropping the anchor!") before we head to bed.
James wins the prize for most creative place to take a showfloor break.
Day 7: We’re up early to check out and stow our bags before we head to the convention centre for our final day. Somehow it feels like we’ve been in Cologne forever, but it also feels like the days have passed by in a flash. The familiar taxi ride to the venue brings into sight the vast queues we’ve grown used to. We sneak past with our staff badges and get set up.
Despite it being the final day, it’s no less busy! The queue quickly winds its way round the booth and people get settled in to wait to get their hands on Sea of Thieves. Wergath from the Twitch chats stops by to say hi. Another great meet up! He later writes about his visit on our official forums and tells us how welcome we made him feel. It’s really wonderful to hear.
We’re all energized from that ‘final day’ feeling and, before we know it, the afternoon crew arrives to take over. We ask the queue to wait just a few minutes so we can get a full team shot with our helpers before we disappear. Thanks team!
Our flight isn’t until 10.30pm so we venture out for a celebratory lunch, bumping into Jonno from Team 17 along the way. A café by the famous cathedral offers some great food. I fall asleep at the table… Only for a few minutes! I think.
We all congregate at the hotel to head to the airport together and figure out who has room in their suitcase for the final few bits we need to bring back. Whilst everyone seems to be getting louder and more energized as time goes on, my flight panic kicks in so I sneak off to the airport to get ready for the flight.
The flight home seems to be exclusively filled with Gamescom staff. I’m sitting next to a guy from Sony who compliments us on Sea of Thieves before falling asleep, like most of the passengers.
And that’s it! We’re home. Sleepily climbing into cars to drop us at our houses and ready to report back to the studio on our fantastic week. It’s been more tiring than I imagined but a great experience.
Thanks to everyone who came by the booth, who tuned in to our Twitch streams and engaged with our show coverage on social media! We couldn’t have done it without you.