Another somewhat late insider report - apologies. There has been a lot going on, with the different shows we've had in the last month or so, with a lot of travelling. There have been a couple of hot topics in the forum recently I wanted to speak to, so please read on to see how we're planning to react to your feedback.
Firstly, I wanted to talk about a recent post that has ignited a lot of passionate - and fair - debate within the forum.
There are a lot of frustrations contained within this post, and within the thread that follows, and I’ll try and summarise my reading of it. I may have missed some of the comments, but these seem to be the key ones. If I have missed something you feel strongly about, please let me know in the comments.
Insider Programme & access to the Alpha
We have seen frustrations rising from people in the Insider Programme who haven’t yet made it into the Alpha, who have been signed up or active in the community for a long time.
Compounded with this is the recent announcement of the Pioneer programme
I’ll try and give my thoughts on this. Firstly, as with the game, we will always look to listen to feedback and improve. I can totally understand why some people are feeling this way.
a. With regards the frustration about not yet making it into the Alpha programme, and how we select our alpha testers. We do take into account what we’re trying to test and filter our invites accordingly. This can change for each test, depending on what our goals are. I think it’s fair when we hear some people saying they have been active in the community, or around for a long time, and they haven’t made it in. We are looking at our filters for the next round of invites with this in mind, although we can obviously never guarantee everyone will get in.
I’ll also explain our plans moving forward. Over the remainder of the calendar year, we plan to grow significantly our invited players, in bigger groups than we have so far, and eventually, before the end of the year, every eligible Insider will get a chance to play. There isn’t long to go before everyone will have a chance. I know you might have been waiting a long time, but there isn't too long to go.
b. With regards the Pioneer programme, I wanted to explain the thinking behind it. At the moment, we have been getting features fairly polished & bug-free prior to releasing them to players in the Alpha. I’d say for the most part, we have been erring on the side of caution, due to our nature as games developers of wanting to get them right before releasing them to players. Alongside this, we have to spend a lot of time testing features internally to find issues, ensuring they haven’t broken the experience, prior to releasing. This might have delayed the release of features more than we’d like. With this in mind, we decided to investigate if there was a way we could use a small subset of our alpha players to expose them to features earlier that may be buggy / break the game experience, or validate that is a good enough user experience to reach our wider audience. By using our pioneers, we hope to be able to deliver features to our players at least at the same pace, and hopefully at an even quicker pace than we have in the past. The group is there to get us data at a wider scale than we can manage internally, to enable us to learn quicker, and ultimately be more effective at delivering. Alongside this, every feature we will look at and decide whether it goes to the Pioneer group, or can skip them and go directly wider. Not everything will go through this phase, it all depends on what we want to learn. If it’s bugs/stability for Feature X, maybe it’s the Pioneers, if it’s scale experience feedback, maybe we go direct to the wider Alpha audience.
Insider Programme - are we providing enough value to members?
The second main complaint has been the Insider Programme not really having enough value, outside of the chance to get into the Alpha. There is feedback that there have not enough meaningful insights shared into the game’s development recently to keep people interested and allow new discussion. This leads to a lot of duplicate threads and nothing really new to contribute to.
I can totally understand this. We have had many good intentions about sharing development & design insights recently, but we have been somewhat overwhelmed by a combination of the amount of marketing activities we have had over the last few months, alongside our usual development responsibilities, that this has fallen by the wayside. It’s not an excuse, but it is mitigation. We have been to a lot of shows, and the main people who go are the spokespeople – including myself, Mike and others – and a lot of the Community team. This takes a lot out of us and our calendars, and we spend the time back at the studio ensuring we are caught up on everything and ensuring the day-to-day development is proceeding at pace. Regardless, we should have done a better job balancing everything, as ultimately keeping you all informed and with interesting insights is part of our role. I also think part of the problem is that we’re been working on bigger groups of features to talk about together (i.e. like the features we showed at NYCC), and it’s meant we’ve not really showed progress on them or talked enough about them during development. I think we can do a better job showing / talking about things in progress, without spoiling the news for a wider audience when we talk about the bigger stories. Emma, Deborah and myself discussed yesterday exactly this, as we were reviewing the post above and how we could do better. We are going to look into a number of things ASAP in terms of sharing more insights about WIP features, the individual teams’ progress and the kind of insights we have shared in the past (without relying on Mike to share one of his design opus’). Please leave this with us, and you’ll see movement on this soon. We’ll look to share responsibility out across the team to try and avoid the bottlenecking you’ll see with someone like Mike or myself. The plan here is definitely to give you more insights, and more things to discuss/speculate about.
I’m going to leave this topic here – although happy to engage in the comments – and we’ll work on the improvements I’ve talked about. Happy to hear more suggestions on this.
The game experience team have been working super hard over the last month to land the features we wanted to show off at NYCC, amongst other things. The small ship, non-verbal communications and brig system will be making their way into the Alpha over the next few weeks for our Insiders to play with. They are now hard at work on the next set of features, and including looking at what fun, easy things we can add amongst the bigger more complex features to keep enrichening the experience and making people smile.
The AI team continue to be split across their two main priorities right now, one of which is taking the skeleton AI and adding depth and strategy so players will have more scaling challenges through quests of different difficulties. This has actually mean that the skeletons have started to become far more challenging in recent internal playtests as they learn new skills, even without us making any specific changes to the balancing. It’s like they’re becoming sentient… Alongside this, the team continues their work on a new threat in the world I think I teased an update or two ago. It’s hard to talk about this without spoiling it too much. Sorry!
The quest team has been spread across various areas, continuing to iterate on the new quest type I talked about in last month’s report, but are also in the early stages of another quest type. It’s great to see things which are going to hit on very different player motivations coming into the game for players to pursue. We’re also very close to enabling the first version of quest voting for players. This will allow players to choose which quest they want to go on together, and is delivered in such an appropriate way for the game. Will be very interesting to see players deciding what quests to take on together.
One of the best things to see here is the passion that the team has for delivering tone and humour as a part of the quests. In fact, something that was talked about caused an audible reaction from some team members in a recent team update when one of the new mechanics was being described. This has happened before (see drinking / vomiting / throwing sick at each other) but we like to push boundaries and make people feel somewhat uncomfortable. As long as we deliver the right tone and humour with everything we do, we’ll do great. I won’t talk about what it was here, but you’ll see it eventually coming in.. Suffice to say it was related to some elements in a new quest type, and the potential ramifications if you’re not paying attention.
Related to the above post about sharing more insights into what we’re working on, we plan to get someone from the Quest team to give a detailed update on one of the cool areas they’re working on next week.
The progression team are still working on the largest remaining chunk of the game, which has lots of complex pieces. We’re seeing lots of the elements they are working on start to appear in the build, like the ability to buy stuff from shops, selecting different items etc. This is still definitely the BIGGEST story we have to tell, around the ‘why’ am I playing Sea Of Thieves, other than it’s fun (which is still a pretty good initial reason to be fair). We have been discussing with our marketing team exactly the best way to accomplish this, but it will definitely be this calendar year. I think we’re agreed on the way we’ll tell the story, but now it’s just when. You’ll see elements coming into the Alpha before then, but how it all fits together and what becoming a pirate legend will mean is the key to it all. I know people want to know this now, but we have to show and tell, and we’re still working on key elements of it. My belief is that the key questions people have will be answered this year.
There is a lot of the less glamourous, under the hood security & stability work going on at the moment. Alongside this, Text Chat is still in progress, and being able to remap your controls, which is a big piece of work but very high value. We’ve also recently started testing an FOV slider on Xbox One, which although not directly related to PC, is related to Crossplay, as it’s one area where we don’t want there to be an advantage, so this will be added for Xbox players in our Alpha soon.
So this was AWESOME to have our first playable event in the UK. It was great to meet so many Insiders at the show, and also to hold our own Insider event at the studio for a lucky 36 people. This was genuinely such a great day. Being able to show them around the studio, to play the game, but mostly to be able to chat about the game and hear people’s questions and ideas was so rewarding. Genuinely, our team went away buzzing as much as the Insiders who got to visit the studio and meet the team.
NYCC - Panel
Being part of the group showing off the small ship, the non-verbal comms and the brig system to a select group of excited and buzzing players was an honour. It was genuinely incredible to meet so many members of the community, to be able to give them insights into the game, answer their questions and talk about a topic that is really close to my heart. We’re definitely going to be sharing more in-depth looks at all the elements we showed in the NYCC panel over the coming weeks, starting with the video we released yesterday.
Brazil Games Show
I’m not there, but I love seeing the pictures and the excitement. Everything we hear is that Brazilian gamers are so excited and passionate! Also, I WANT one of these bandanas!
Pretty soon, we’re going to be showing up at PAX Australia in Melbourne (and we’ll be playable.) I don’t think this is announced yet, so keep it to yourself until you see it announced by the Xbox official channels, but I am thoroughly excited about it, not least as I’m going to be there! I’ve never been to Australia before, so I’m very privileged to be going over there to represent the game & our team. Hopefully I might get a chance to meet one or two of you there?
I think that’s it. Thanks for reading so far, and being patient with us. We’ll take the feedback about the insider programme and work to improve it. Thanks to everyone for being so open and honest.
Look forward to your comments.