Sea of Thieves Is Dead on Arrival – Online Games Are in Serious Trouble

A few days ago, I released my Sea of Thieves
review, which is a game I had a lot of fun with and enjoyed quite a lot. However, what I noticed from everyone’s
feedback is how polarizing the game is. Some love it, and some hate it. Whether it is a lack of content, repetition,
lack of endgame, no character progression, or even that is just no fun—people have
a lot of issues with this game. The problem is, Sea of Thieves is not the
first, and certainly won’t be the last, game that suffers from these issues, which
leaves a bad taste in many gamers’ mouths. Games like Destiny, The Division, GTA 5 with
GTA Online, and Battlefront 2 have paved the way for Sea of Thieves. Each of these games focuses on the “games
as a service” model, and through doing so, may have already dug their own graves. Is Sea of Thieves truly dead on arrival, and
why did Star Wars: Battlefront 2 make gamers so angry in 2017? Today, we’re going to talk about it. To understand why Sea of Thieves was made
the way it is, we must go back and examine the release and life of Destiny. While we could go back further, Destiny set
the stage for online games as they are today. When Bungie, the creators and developers of
the acclaimed Halo series paired up with Activision to do something new, gamers knew something
big was going on. The announcement and subsequent alpha and
beta test for what we now know as Destiny only served to ignite the flames of hype surrounding
the game. The shooting and traversal mechanics were
nearly perfect, the world was beautiful and seemed full of character and things to do,
and the story and plot were intriguing. Destiny may have been one of the most hyped
up games in the last decade on similar levels with No Man’s Sky, but when the game released
to lukewarm reviews, long-time Bungie fans and people who played the beta were shocked. Destiny was praised for its incredible combat,
beautiful graphics and world design, and having an addictive gear grind aimed to keep you
getting better equipment and eventually the best gear possible. However, what it lacked was something that
would damage the game long-term and would require Bungie to release multiple expansions
to finally fix. The game’s story was bland and uninspired;
after completing the main storyline and grinding for most of the gear, Destiny became a repetitive
routine of completing one or two weekly events, grinding the same few strikes and waiting
15+ minutes for an event to spawn in the world which only has a small percentage of dropping
the items you need. So how did Destiny maintain a large player
count even when most people had completed nearly all there was to do? That is where the promise of future content
comes in. Before Destiny even launched, you could buy
the expansion pass, which would give you access to the first two expansions the game would
offer. Knowing that there is more content coming,
even if it is not currently accessible, is something that motivates players to continue
playing so that they can be as ready for that new content as possible. It took Destiny three expansions to be able
to fix most of the game’s issues, and by that time they had lost a lot of their players. The game lived on because of the promise of
more content to come, and that content did eventually fix the game. However, is that something we, as gamers,
want to allow developers to do? Is it acceptable if developers release games
with a lackluster amount of content, just enough to get us by until they release their
next update? If you bought everything upon release, Destiny
would have cost you nearly $100 by the time the Taken King expansion came out and solved
a lot of the game’s issues. Or, you could wait a year or more and get
the self-branded “Complete Edition,” which implies the game’s original release was
not complete. This is the kind of business model publishers
and developers are aiming to go with when they talk about “games as a service” and
why online and social-focused games like Sea of Thieves may be in serious danger. Destiny was not the only game to release with
similar structure and thus similar issues. The Division was released with a very similar
“online shared world” experience, a loot grind, and a lack of end game. While you could go to the Dark Zone, a place
where PvP is allowed, and try to grind for better gear, it was full of hackers and high-level
players who just wanted to ruin your day. Again, this game lost many of its players. Nearly two years later, the game has finally
been fixed tremendously and is seeing an influx of players once more. But the game wasn’t in its proper state
for TWO YEARS. Destiny 2 released last year with a lot of
improvements upon the first iteration, but still having a season pass before the games
release and offering much more egregious micro-transactions. The shaders in Destiny 2, which allow you
to color your gear, were made to be a one-time use consumable. Unlike the first game where you could change
them out infinitely, once you use a shader, it is gone. The only way to get the shaders you want is
to grind for them again or purchase them with real money and get a randomized engram that
may not even have the specific shader you want. Then, of course, you have the Battlefront
2 fiasco, where it was much easier to buy items and characters in the game than it was
to actually play to earn them. There was a point where Dice had the micro-transactions
set up to where it would take 4,528 hours or $2100 to unlock all the base content. Everything was loot box based; thus, everything
you bought would be randomized. All of these games that we have talked about
cost $60 for the initial purchase, $10-20 per expansion, plus the cost of optional micro-transactions. All of this is to say that these developers
and publishers are designing games in such a way that allows them to make as much money
as possible. Again, is this something we should accept? Do we want to send the message to developers
who are milking us for all we have that we are okay with spending more money to complete
the game that we already bought? Take Two said that they want all of their
future games to feature “recurrent consumer spending opportunities.” And EA has said, even after they lost out
on sales and goodwill for Battlefront 2’s problems, that, “live services that include
optional digital monetization, when done right, provide a very important element of choice
that can extend and enhance the experience in our games.” So even though most gamers speak out against
them and feel they are causing developers to provide less content for the buy-in price
in leu of making money from recurrent spending, publishers are still adamant about their place
in games. Why? Because they make an insane amount of money. Out of EA’s 1.23 billion dollar revenue
in their last quarter, 787 million of it was from live services with only 260 million being
from game sales—Over triple the profit on things bought after the original purchase
of a game. This is why it seems so many games are going
down this route—it may make many gamers less happy, but it makes companies significantly
more money in the long run. And for businesses, money talks. Enter Sea of Thieves. Microsoft and Rare (the developers of Sea
of Thieves) obviously saw the massive monetary success of the previous titles mentioned,
as well as what was seemingly lacking or could be changed for the better; thus, Sea of Thieves
was born. And let’s be honest, the premise of Sea
of Thieves is unique. Go alone or gather your friends up to explore
an open world as a pirate, find buried treasure, take over islands haunted by the dead, and
team up with other players in the same world that can do the same things that you can:
fight, loot, and cause mayhem. In theory, Sea of Thieves should be a game
that everyone who has ever had even a remote interest in the pirate life should want to
play for hours on end. So why has it been so polarizing, with many
people playing for hours with their friends and others bashing the game with only a few
hours clocked in? Where did Rare potentially go wrong, and what
did they do right that most people aren’t getting to see? There are quite a few complaints about the
game that are well-founded. People have said that there are not enough
enemy variation (of which there are under ten in any form), the quests are repetitive,
the game gets boring after a few hours, it is not fun in single-player, there is no real
progression, you can only buy cosmetic items and no upgrades or variations on already owned
items, the world feels empty and meaningless, and the game isn’t worth it’s $60 price
tag, to name a few. Do some of these issues sound familiar? Many of them are the same things that plagued
the likes of Destiny and the Division upon release. What is more intriguing about Sea of Thieves
though is that the game is centered on being more like an MMO than those other titles and
does not offer the purchase of a season pass. So what is the hook (pun intended) that will
keep people playing, and what do people who purchase this game have to look forward to? Are all these complaints reasonable, or are
they founded because of over-hype and expectations that were beyond what the game planned to
offer in the first place? Rare has seemingly done all they can to set
expectations as to what Sea of Thieves is about and will contain. There were multiple betas which everyone could
play in, tons of trailers and videos from the developers about the game, and as many
people writing reviews and previews of the betas and builds they saw as was possible. Rare made it clear that what was in the final
beta was basically how the game was, but that full release would have more content. Everything about this was true. There were more trading companies, more quest
types, more things to buy, and more places to go. However, the motivation and purpose for playing
this game has never been too clear. This is the biggest flaw in the marketing
of Sea of Thieves and why so many people feel disappointed. Rather than a deep and complex dive into the
world of pirates, with character progression, tons of weapon types and enemies to fight,
a compelling story full of pirate lore, and a huge variety of land masses, shipwrecks,
and dungeons, players of Sea of Thieves were greeted with zany cartoon graphics, simplistic
combat, mainly cosmetic upgrades, and relatively similar islands and other areas. As I noted earlier, there is also no season
pass or slated expansions in the works, and while we have heard from the developers about
some additional content coming to the game, Sea of Thieves’ future is uncertain. So what was Rare thinking, or are we just
missing something critical about the game’s design? As I mentioned in my review, playing Sea of
Thieves alone is something entirely plausible, but is not nearly as enjoyable as playing
with a crew. It is also true that I have had a ton of fun
playing with others and being obnoxious and silly. I have made some memories that I will remember
for years to come I couldn’t have made anywhere else. The reason for this is that Sea of Thieves
is a game focused more on being a social hub to have fun, hanging out with your friends
as pirates, messing around with other people, and having some laughs while sailing the open
seas and collecting that coveted pirate booty. It’s the reason each character has an instrument
to play, the actual character models look so silly, and why the graphics and art style
were designed the way they were. The game is about having fun, interacting
with other people, and doing some light pirate role-playing while you’re at it. In earnest, it’s an experiment that is one
of the first of its kind from a first-party publisher, and also a game that entirely fails
to market itself as such. Gamers are conditioned to look at the content
of a game, search out the story, progression, depth and complexity, and what the game tells
you to do to determine its value and if it is worth it. Sea of Thieves’s value is not so tangible,
and thus is entirely skipped over in search of where the traditional content is. Sea of Thieves was never meant to have RPG
mechanics like character leveling, upgradeable weapons, huge diversity in quest types, or
a compelling story. The content in the game is simply there to
compel you and your crew to create your own story and serve as a catalyst to get you exploring
and encountering other players. The appeal of the game comes in seeing your
friends fire themselves out of canons, falling off of the ship into the water while you are
sailing at full speed screaming as they plummet into the depths, desperately trying to empty
the water out of your ship as it begins to capsize, and the amazing feeling of fending
off multiple ships and killing their inhabitants, leaving all their loot for you. While these are all just moments, each of
these and the hundreds more like them are all centered around the fun and silly social
interactions this game is focused on. Drink too much and you can fill a bucket with
your vomit and throw it on your crew. Someone making you angry on your crew? Lock them in the brig. Sea of Thieves is a game made with social
encounters, humorous moments, and making memories with friends and strangers in mind. With all that said, we come back to the reason
that the game so polarizing. Sea of Thieves has brought to light something
we, as gamers, as well as game publishers and developers, need to work together to address. For decades, games have been able to be placed
in certain genres, and within those genres, we all allowed a certain amount of leeway
with the amount of deviation from what defines games in that genre. In the last couple of years, games have begun
to take aspects of multiple different genres and mash them all together, leaving them in
a weird gray area between genres. When someone asks you what type of game Destiny
is, and you say a first-person shooter RPG-lite shared world game, no one knows what that
means or looks like. To quote part of IGN’s review of Destiny,
“The endgame might hook you for the long haul once you fully understand it, but Destiny
is ultimately unable to be all the different games it’s trying so hard to be.” You shouldn’t have to learn to understand
what a game wants from you to play it. This is Sea of Thieves biggest fault, and
it is one we have never truly seen before. Sea of Thieves doesn’t know what it really
is, and because it is a new type of game with a relatively novel motivation for playing,
it doesn’t know how to market itself and how to describe itself to potential players. Sea of Thieves wants you to play it continuously
and wants to be an online “games as a service” for years to come, but its value proposition
and reasoning for spending more money and time with the game is not clear to most consumers. Online games as a service are the future of
gaming. Whether we like it or not, when this much
money is made and revenue from game sales is tripled by purchases in live services,
companies would be stupid not to chase the dollar signs. However, the problem that the gaming industry
is facing right now is how to balance how much content needs to be in the game at launch,
how much content to trickle out, how long to wait between drops, and how to explain
to potential buyers what online and live services mean for their game. For years, we’ve paid $60 to have all the
content on the disc and maybe paid for an expansion or DLC that was substantial at some
point after launch. Now, games like Destiny, The Division, Sea
of Thieves, and Battlefront 2 are launched with a “base” version of the game, with
a content plan set up for the next couple years. This means rather than getting everything
into the game for launch, companies are picking and choosing what to leave out and add later
post-launch. Most of the time, the audience is left in
the dark until these pieces of content are close to launching and don’t know what is
coming or how much more there will be. While they wait, they play a game that offers
them much less than another, more fully-fleshed out title would, or they get sucked into an
addictive loot grind specifically made to keep you playing and buying. While, in theory, there is nothing inherently
wrong with this approach if it is done right, it seems many mainstream games that are adopted
to the games as a service model are treated just like regular buy-and-get-a-complete-package
games. You simply cannot market Sea of Thieves in
the same way you can market God of War or Horizon: Zero Dawn. If you are going to make a game that is focused
on social encounters instead of more complex and diverse content, that is something that
needs to be made known to players. If we have the expectation that we are just
getting a “starter edition” with many free and paid updates coming in the future,
then backlash like Sea of Thieves has experienced won’t be seen as frequently. Many gamers, through no real fault of their
own, expected Sea of Thieves to have tons of different content and quests to do, locales
of all shapes, designs, and sizes, and multitudes of ships, weapons, and equipment. How were they to know this wouldn’t be the
case if no one ever explained the real point of the game? If the future of games is one where single-player,
mostly complete packages are sold along games that have continuous updates, live services,
and micro-transactions built into the core foundation, we need to develop a better way
of informing buyers of what kind of game they are purchasing. We also need to develop a more transparent
pricing model, where people can know that for $60, they are buying a game that will
force them to pay additional money down the road to experience all of the planned content. Many people had no idea that Sea of Thieves
was built with a games as a service model, and for $60 they want to be able to jump in
and have tons of content. When you can spend $60 on a game that you
can play for 250 hours and still have things to do, why would consumers buy a game that
seems like it has no real variety and is very bare boned instead? Online games are having
an identity crisis, and games like Sea of Thieves, Destiny, The Division, and Battlefront
2 are all suffering from it. Sea of Thieves has some great things going
for it, but its lack of proper identity and messaging, seemingly barebones traditional
content, no real accommodation for single-player gameplay, and the motivation and purpose for
playing going unarticulated, have caused the game to lose its legs before it had the chance
to properly earn them. Unfortunately, Sea of Thieves also won’t
be the last game to shoot itself in the foot, and with games like Anthem coming, which is
claimed to be a live service model while also being claimed to be Bioware’s last shot,
the future of online games and their developers may be in serious trouble.

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