E3 2017: Sea of Thieves Changed The Way Rare Develops Their Games

Announced back in 2015, Rare’s online shared pirate adventure game Sea of Thieves mades another apperance during this week’s Microsoft conference, giving a more detailed view of what players can expect with the game. Set on the high seas, players will embark with a crew of other players online and get into all sorts of mischief as they loot, pillage, and battle other pirates in order to stay on top in high stakes game of piracy.

As a bit of a departure from their past games, this is Rare’s largest titles in years, and looks to be a bit of a return to form after working many years on kinect and other micro-titles. Currently in closed alpha, Rare has been steadily cranking out updates and new features for the few players in closed alpha, which has helped the game evolved further than what they initially expected it to be. Speaking with studio head Craig Duncan, he spoke about how working on Sea of Thieves has been a bit of a refresher for the studio, and how it allowed them to come out of their shell and reconnect with the fans that have stuck with them for the decades they’ve been in business.

GameSpot: In the last generation, it seemed like Rare refocused their efforts to work more on titles directed more at Kinect and other titles. With this one being a rather ambitious take on the shared online world, and easily the biggest game you’ve made in a long time, do you view this game as a sort of statement in the shift in vision to work on more larger and ambitious games?

Craig Duncan: Back in 2015, we announced the Rare Replay at the E3 presentation, and we said ‘hey, Rare is celebrating its thirty year anniversary as a studio, here’s all this awesome stuff we did over the years’–and then we announced this new IP with Sea of Thieves. Looking back on our history, we’ve done several new IPs over the years–but to me, the big change here is that Rare was notoriously a very secretive studio, and a very closed studio. And as you can see how we’re bringing Sea of Thieves to market, we are so open and transparent in how we work with our community.

The people that have signed up for our Sea of Thieves insider program have become really invested in the game and they’re very interested in how we’re approaching new features on our developer road map. We actually talk with them about the order in which they want certain features to release, we’re actively polling them on new mechanics, checking the forums, and listening to everything they say. […] The real link between Rare’s internal community and the Sea of Thieves community has never been stronger. And that’s a real pivot for Rare, and the way we work. It’s been super liberating, players are the most important people, and just allowing them to be actively involved in the way they want. It’s an ambitious game, and they understand our vision.

GS: The big trend we’re seeing now is this focus on titles that have a large, shared online world to explore with other players. Can you talk about what it’s like developing a title like this, and how your past titles may have had an influence on this game?

Sure. Even before it was pirates, the bit we were all really excited about was just allowing players to create stories for themselves. And that was our vision for when we were initially going around coming up with our IPs. We wanted to create a game that let people make their own stories. Players socialize about games in many different ways. Either on twitter, Facebook, instagram about what they did or what happened to them in their games. […] It’s just people making videos, talking about what they did and sharing that with others. The thing we really wanted to make was something that absolutely played into that, where they get to create unique stories and share them with other players.

If you think of that as the high goal, so we wanted to do that and work with our community in more open and transparent ways–which was one of our chief pillars, the them–and then it was really about what theme of game or what wrapper of game would allow us to have players these shared stories. And that’s how the pirate setting came in, which was this rather genius and clever way of presenting those aspects. When you give players a ship, a map, and a treasure to find, then generally they know what to do. We can really take what’s familiar for people, and present it in a new way.

GS: Considering this game is a very opened ended experience with a lot of different systems happening at once, have you seen any moments where things occur and you end up being surprised by what players can do in the game?

It’s interesting, really. We know what the world is, what’s there and the kinda loops and structures that are there. We have something called ‘guided emergence’, which is what sets up the goals and things to do for players, but it’s actually more meta than that. Because when the players go and play, it’s really them doing all the things that different and unique. It’s really their story. We have one fan named Jeff, a long time fan and even visited the studio, and he told us a story about how he boarded a ship and started playing his musical instrument. The other crew members just looked at him and then they started playing music together. It sounds like a silly thing, but really it allowed them to form a band go on an adventure together.

When I think of what surprises, I don’t think of all the moments where people attacks other ships, I think of players joining up together, forming a crew, and organically go out and collectively solve riddles, and other challenges. I think when you give players a world to explore, then they’ll do things that are really inspiring. I can’t wait to take the NDA off and allow people to post videos and stream the game, that’s when I feel the game will really open. I guarantee we’ll have people in full pirate dress up during a stream. I really like seeing people embrace the setting the crew they find themselves with. And that’s what makes our game so enjoyable and watchable.


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