Pry Open the Secrets of Smuggler's Fortune!
Still haven't sampled our latest monthly update? Get on board with some team talk...
The Monthly Content Updates keep on rolling out for Sea of Thieves, and at this point we're almost halfway through September's offering, Smuggler's Fortune. As its initial release was accompanied by a feast of pages and places where you could gorge yourselves on information – a dedicated page for the update itself, one for the premium Pirate Emporium accompanied by a news article on the Emporium's guiding principles, and an Xbox Wire post for those benighted souls who don't hang around the Sea of Thieves website at all hours of the day – we thought we'd hang back with the Smuggler's Fortune news article and come at it now from a different angle.
Obviously, one of our biggest assets here at Rare is easy access to the Sea of Thieves team, which means we're able to get insights into the design thinking behind these updates straight from the horse's mouth. And this month's horse is none other than Senior Designer and known horse, Chris "Not A Horse" Davies.
Our Smuggler's Fortune interrogation began by focusing on the strands of lore linking together the monthly updates so far – lore involving Duke, leader of the Bilge Rats and a tavern-based entrepreneur with big ambitions. This month's surprise reappearance of Stitcher Jim with his mysterious beloved in tow will obviously have some ramifications, but it's Duke's dealings that have provided a throughline for the most recent updates. So what, we asked Chris, were the design considerations behind Duke's story arc?
"Hello. Glad you asked. What we wanted to do from a lore point of view was tell a story over a period of time, and allow players to participate in that story. This started back in our first monthly update, Black Powder Stashes, as Duke began building bridges with the Trading Companies but needed the help of players to do so.
"The following month, Dark Relics saw Duke shoring up his position while the skeletons got up to something nefarious – and that skelly story is still building towards something bigger in the background. Now, in Smuggler's Fortune, players are drawn in to help Duke again while he uses his connections and recent acquisitions to open his own Black Market shop."
Chris previously delivered a Black Market breakdown just ahead of its release, so feel free to detour there for an overview of Duke's intended specialities. But while we had Chris cornered, we probed for more details of how this element of the update came together behind the scenes.
"With Duke's Black Market we wanted to fulfil a couple of design goals at the same time. We knew that the enclosed Doubloon rewards system needed to be opened up a little to let new players in, which was easy enough to do by removing the initial Doubloon charge for Duke's Voyages and making them free. However, this meant Doubloons would be in greater supply in the world, so there had to be somewhere new for players to spend them. Meanwhile, we'd been looking at ways to bring in variants of older time-limited cosmetics for newer players without cluttering up the inventories of the existing Trading Companies, so it made perfect sense to just let Duke run his own shop."
Of course, as the Black Market subsists on a glittering flow of Doubloons and gold, pirates may need to top up their resources by undertaking Voyages before they can get down to any serious shopping. Fortunately Duke always has some sort of favour to ask or problem to solve, and because he's busy/lazy they almost always involve offering new Voyages. But what were the intentions behind the Voyages specific to Smuggler's Fortune?
"Duke's Rag and Bone Voyages come in two varieties. With the Reaper's Grave Voyages, we set out to create hotspots in the world where players would be more likely to encounter other players, hence all Duke's crates being buried at Shipwreck Bay. It's worth noting that those encounters don't have to be hostile, especially with the colour-coded crates allowing players to see from a distance what other crews have dug up. It gives them a chance to consider their own cargo of crates and whether it'd be worthwhile to do some trading and streamline their journey. But if things do turn shooty, the action is as likely to take place on shore as on the sea, which again brings in more variety.
"The other type of Rag and Bone Voyage is the Seapost to Seapost Cargo Run, designed for players who'd rather steer clear of the Shipwreck Bay hotspot altogether, lowering the potential risk but also the rewards. This month's Voyages are on the more accessible end of Cargo Runs anyway, where the only thing to worry about is delivery time, not the condition of the items which come pre-trashed thanks to Duke.
"Giving players alternatives is what these monthly updates are all about. As well as the variety in Voyage types and routes, there's the choice between earning gold and rep through Trading Company Voyages or doing Duke's Voyages to earn Doubloons for the Black Market. We're always listening and trying to address concerns and add extra value for players. The monthly updates will continue to do this, and they'll be coming in alongside the bigger updates still in the works, so you've got plenty of stuff to look forward to!"
Having wrapped up our Smuggler's Fortune chat, we sidled out of the booth in Rare reception and left Chris to the lunchtime company of Sea of Thieves composer Robin, who'd been hovering politely because he's nice like that.
If you haven't yet set out onto the Sea of Thieves this month, there's no need to miss out: Smuggler's Fortune will continue to offer its Rag and Bone Voyages until mid-October when the next update takes over. And while their stock will regularly change, the Black Market and Pirate Emporium will remain in the game indefinitely, allowing you to spend gold or Doubloons on variants of previous cosmetics or hard-earned cash on the Emporium's adorable parrot and monkey pets.
Hopefully you enjoyed these insights into Smuggler's Fortune – come back next month for more from Chris! It doesn't matter if he stops answering our messages, we know where his desk is.