Design Deep Dive - Cross Play

Hot off our cross play announcement, PC Design Lead Ted Timmins dives deeper into this highly anticipated feature!

If you’ve been following Sea of Thieves for a while you may remember our video, Inn-side Story #2: Setting Sail on PC, back in mid-2016, where Ted Timmins (PC Design Lead) and Joe Neate (Executive Producer) sat down in our now storied studio tavern and discussed our initial priorities for the Sea of Thieves on Windows 10 PC. There was a lot to take away from that video, but there was one feature mentioned that has since been a consistent hot topic within the Sea of Thieves community: cross play!

As announced in the Xbox @ gamescom Live Mixer stream not too long ago, we’re pleased to confirm for the first time that cross play is now enabled in Sea of Thieves! To say we’re excited to share more on this is an understatement, so Ted has put together a deeper dive into what cross play means for us, for players, and for the future of Sea of Thieves on Windows 10 PC and Xbox One. Over to Ted!

Breaking Down Barriers

The first thing we asked ourselves when discussing the opportunity of cross-play in a shared world game is “Why would we segregate players in the first place?”. It was hard to think of a really strong and valid answer to that. Were there technical reasons? Were there game balancing reasons? Or was it just because so few had asked this question before? So we set to work…

“Just Worked™”

Here at Rare we’re building Sea of Thieves in complete feature parity across platforms, and we’re taking full advantage of Xbox Live – why shouldn’t gamers on different devices play with/against each other? What was incredible about our first test of cross play was that it “Just Worked™”. Of course, our services team had put in a TONNE of work to get to the point of having a game running across dedicated servers on two different platforms, but to then flick a switch and have it just work with not a single bug found or entered in the database?! It was an amazing experience to have reached that point, and since that day several months ago we’ve been testing internally every day in our compatibility labs across a wealth of different PCs, Xbox Ones and Xbox One Xs (more on that later).

The Magic of Cross Play

I remember the first time I tried cross play at home: I was playing with some of the other designers in a Wednesday night Technical Alpha session and initially I forgot we were even on different devices! It was amazing how normal it felt in such a short space of time, to the point where it makes you wonder why it’s not more common in gaming. Joe Neate (Executive Producer) put it best in his email to the team the next day, where he called it a “magical experience” – and it was true. It’s funny how something as seemingly simple as playing with a friend on a different device felt so special, and we’re hopeful this will continue to become a more common sight in gaming.

Sea of Thieves Inn-side Story #2: Setting Sail on PC

Duration 5:47

Play the Game, Not the Device

Player habits are changing. How and when we watch or play games is very much in an “on demand” world. Therefore one of the other advantages to cross play is, for example, if a family member is watching Netflix through the Xbox One in the living room, you can just jump onto your Windows 10 PC or laptop and carry on from where you left off. Then when they’re finished and want to join you in-game, you can simply invite them in and potentially even be in the same room as your newly formed co-operative crew. This level of luxury in choosing the game you want to play – instead of only playing on the device that’s available – is a really powerful ability for a lot of our audience with more than one device, and we want them to be able to take full advantage of it.

Sharing the Pool

An interesting part of cross play is how wide it throws open the doors for different communities to engage and play together, and therefore increases the wealth of stories you’re likely to tell. Some of our Deckhands (the closest members of our community) had until recently never been able to play the game together as they game on different devices, but now they’re able to share an experience without the barrier that previously blocked them. Also, they’re able to encounter different player types and make new friends – and of course matchmaking will always be quicker when there are more players to play with.

One of the things we’re very aware of is the need for the balancing to be right. After running some recent tests, we found that PC players were 4.5% more efficient at killing skeletons than Xbox players, and this feels close enough that it’s something we’ll continue to monitor. However, PvP between platforms, or more importantly device input, is the big focus point for us as a Design team, and already we’ve been working closely with the Game Experience team to change the way the guns work to be better balanced for cross play. We’ve put in a bunch of telemetry around this, and with the change to guns it’s made them feel tonally so much more fitting, as previously they felt more like laser weapons than ancient plundered-and-pillaged gunpowder-driven blunderbusses. *breathes*

It’s a Day-And-Date

Ultimately here at Rare we felt that for Sea of Thieves to not be considered a “port”, the game would have to be delivered in complete feature parity with Xbox (along with all the extra bells and whistles that PC players expect), and more importantly it would have to be released on the same day for gamers on both platforms. We’re here at Gamescom this week to announce that Sea of Thieves will ship in early 2018 on the same day for both Windows 10 and Xbox One. This is a powerful statement and one that’s truly important to us, and from now on every time we run a Technical Alpha it will be playable on both platforms – unless there’s something very specific that warrants testing only on one. It’s great being here on the Gamescom show floor and seeing people first-hand playing on PCs with a 21:9 monitor at 144Hz, or watching others playing at 4K/60 on a monster PC, and then others playing on an Xbox One – all having a great time together. It’s really magical once you’ve experienced it.

Players across both PC and Xbox will be able to come together to brave the Sea of Thieves!

Adding More Devices

Of course on November 7th this year the Xbox One X will launch, bringing 4K gaming to the masses. With the position we’re in now, this will be another device that will work seamlessly in cross play and we look forward to rolling it into our Technical Alpha in the future!

Ted Timmins, PC Design Lead

And there you have it, cross play is officially in for Sea of Thieves and if you’re part of our Technical Alpha then you’ll be able to experience it from the comfort of your desk chair or couch over the coming week.

Excited for where Sea of Thieves will go next? Then be sure to sign up to our Insider Programme if you haven’t already for a chance to participate in future Technical Alpha sessions, and connect with us on our social channels so you don’t miss a thing when we dock at Gamescom 2017!