Since its debut in December 2016, the Sea of Thieves Technical Alpha has grown considerably. We’ve invited almost 40,000 players to help us test the game, added features such as skeletons and finite resources, introduced new regions and sundry islands to the game world, and we’ve even started testing on a regular weekly basis with our invited Insiders. We’ve also had over 100,000 people join our Sea of Thieves Insider Programme, which is hugely inspiring and motivating to us here in the studio!
More than any of these factors, however, it’s our ability to respond to player feedback and engage with our community that feels like the biggest measure of success in running our Technical Alpha. It’s this kind of engagement and responsiveness that will continue to be critical to Sea of Thieves’ development moving forward.
Reacting quickly to player feedback
Every time we run a Technical Alpha play session, we kick off a process in the studio of collecting, reviewing, and making decisions based on player feedback. Here’s a quick look at some of the changes we’ve made during our Technical Alpha so far.
Adjusting the difficulty of skeleton encounters
Our addition of skeletal threats to Sea of Thieves provided our first opportunity to understand how players found PVE combat. Generally, the feedback we received was that skeletons were overly punishing in their initial implementation. (Sorry about that!) They spawned too frequently and were too accurate to provide an enjoyable experience.
As a result, our design team tweaked the rate of skeleton spawning, giving crews a chance to recoup and regroup after an encounter, making treasure hunts more dynamic and less of a slog through unrelenting foes.
Related to this, we received feedback that our first healing item – the banana – wasn’t healing quite as much as players would like, so we’ve upped our digital dose of potassium to restore 25% of a pirate’s missing health. Tasty!
Frequency of crew encounters
In February, we increased the world size for Sea of Thieves, bringing with it new regions and islands that changed the tone of the experience. However, with the larger world size, players said they felt they weren’t encountering other crews often enough. While we don’t want Sea of Thieves to turn into a relentless PVP slugfest, it is important that we preserve the magic of unexpected crew encounters.
The first thing we did to address this feedback was improving ship visibility from a distance. We increased the range of ship visibility from between 1,000-1,500 metres to 2,000-2,500 metres. We’ve also made lights on other ships appear brighter from a distance, making ships more visible at night (unless a crew decides to extinguish their on-board lanterns for stealthier sailing).
In addition to addressing visibility, we also applied some backend updates to our servers, increasing the frequency of encounters between crews.
Having a bit *too much* to drink
Our changes to player feedback don’t just include big-ticket items such as player combat and enemy crew encounters: we’re also adjusting smaller features as we go.
A recent update added player vomiting after getting drunk. Some players felt that vomiting shouldn’t occur after a single tankard of grog (as per the initial implementation), while others didn’t find the video and audio effects for vomiting especially, well, appealing.
As a result, we’ve increased the number of grogs required to reach this level of drunkenness, meaning players will have to make a concentrated effort to become inebriated to the point of sickness.
Feedback we’re reacting to over the coming weeks and months
It’s great when we can react to feedback quickly. In the cases above, these were changes we were able to implement and turn around in one-to-two weeks’ time (a benefit of the fact that we ship a build every week internally).
We’ve also received a load of important feedback that we’re working on, but will take us slightly longer to implement. Here’s a look at some items we’ve prioritised based on player feedback.
Knowing where to take that booty
The Sea of Thieves quest loop requires chests to be cashed in with the Shipwright, a laconic NPC that can be found at each of our outpost islands. However, we’ve heard from some players that they’re not sure where to find the Shipwright, while others didn’t know she existed in the first place. Currently, our team is looking at some art changes to the ship’s map to make this more intuitive to first-time players.
Sea of Thieves is unique in that it requires crew bonding and collaboration. A chummy crew of four will be able to chart a clear course through rocky waters, ride the wind, and pull off jack-knife turns that would make Blackbeard weep in admiration. And while we’ve added bespoke voice-chat features into the game, we’ve heard that not all players want to (or can, for that matter) communicate vocally.
As such, implementing non-verbal communication is a priority order for us during our Technical Alpha phase.
What about the swords?!
And of course, we know no pirate game would be complete without swords. While melee combat has always been a goal for the team, the community feedback we’ve had around this topic has moved this item to the near-top of our list. Sword combat has been prototyped and is looking great, and an initial version of this should be making its way into players’ hands soon.
Skeleton encounter rate was just one of the features adjusted in response to player feedback.
Celebrating our players
All of the above is in reaction to feedback, questions, and suggestions from our players. In addition to this, our team also collects and reviews reams of telemetry data. Some of what we’re able to glean here are interesting player stories and player firsts.
With this information comes an opportunity to celebrate these players by immortalising them in our game world. We’ve included a few so far, one of our favourites being the first player death. Hallower1980 was the first to visit the Ferry of the Damned, and so our art team has scratched his name into the wood outside the captain's cabin, because what else would a dead pirate do all by their lonesome?
Immortalised on the Ferry of the Damned is our first-ever player death! R.I.P. Hallower1980...
We’re just getting started…
While we’re quite happy with our current feedback process and the rate at which we’ve been able to respond to player input, we know we’re just getting started! In addition to player feedback, we get a load of insights from our larger Insider community through the surveys we send out from time to time. And as we grow our Technical Alpha and get the game into more players’ hands, we’ll have the opportunity to listen, learn, and react to even more.
Here’s looking forward to a bright future with our players!