Maintaining a concurrent player base is paramount to an online game's survival, and Sea of Thieves developer Rare knows this. Sea of Thieves is a game built around cooperation—it that was co-op element that ultimately sold Microsoft on the game, when they played the Unity prototype straight after having been pitched Sea of Thieves by Rare. The developer boasts of a game driven by player-created stories, but a healthy online player base is the key to generating memorable player encounters.
Rare knows it has to offer new content to keep players around for the long haul. “We’ve got to consider that there are people continuing to work on this game and they can’t work for free—we have to consider how we continue to bring in revenue,” says Rare executive producer Joe Neate. Neate goes on to say that the first two months post-launch for Sea of Thieves are all about being “as reactive as possible”—listening to what players have to say, and making changes to the game accordingly.
“After a few months, this is when we want to be rolling out the first expansions for the game,” says Neate. “When we bring in our first major update, that’s when we want to add the option for players to spend money, if they want.”
If this is sounding perilously like loot boxes in Sea of Thieves, then think again. “You’re going to know what you’re buying, so there won’t be anything like loot boxes,” Neate reassures. “We thought about what the right way was to allow people to spend money in our game, and for us it’s about the social side of things, because that’s what’s special about Sea of Thieves.”
For Rare, this monetary option means the inclusion of pets for players, added roughly three months after the launch of Sea of Thieves, around the time of the first major update for the game. This new pets content might be paid for DLC, but it won’t lock players out. “So you can pick up the monkey, or I can pick up your monkey, and I can run away with your monkey and drop it over the side of the ship,” Neate says, meaning players that haven’t purchased any pets can ultimately still interact with them.
But Rare’s post-launch content for Sea of Thieves doesn’t end at pets that can be fired out of cannons. “I have a roadmap in my head to the end of the year that’s quite detailed,” Neate says of the post-launch calendar for Sea of Thieves.
The main goal for Sea of Thieves players at launch will be attaining the status of a Pirate Legend, with access to a secret hideout, as well as more daring, rewarding Legendary Voyages to undertake.
“Our main post launch goal is giving captain options for pirate legends. We want to make sure we’re enriching the experience for everyone, so new merchants, trading posts, and trading companies,” Neate says.
Rare looks back on when exploding barrels were added to Sea of Thieves during the alpha process, and the studio saw a spike in players revisiting the game after this new element was added in. They’re taking a similar line with the post-launch content for Sea of Thieves, hoping that the addition of new merchants and trading companies will be able to keep players coming back to Sea of Thieves.
On top of this, Rare are also hoping to capitalize on timed events for Sea of Thieves. One thing that Neate pointed to was the inclusion of a brand new merchant, who would only visit for a very limited amount of time in Sea of Thieves, before disappearing and popping up again at a later date (not entirely unlike Destiny’s Xur). And while Rare hasn’t explicitly stated that new voyages will be coming to Sea of Thieves post-launch, the addition of new trading companies surely equates to new voyages arriving along with said trading companies.
It’s through all of this that Rare hopes to keep people coming back to Sea of Thieves for months on end. The developer seems incredibly confident in the ability of Sea of Thieves to generate memorable stories for its players, but it also knows that a dedicated player base craves new post-launch content. Maintaining buzz around a game months after release is hard, even for the biggest titles, so Rare knows that every decision matters. The six months following the launch of Sea of Thieves will likely determine the fate of the game, and potentially the franchise.
So how is Rare going to introduce people to Sea of Thieves in the first place? The answer could lie in Game Pass, the game subscription service from Microsoft that looks set to “get more people exposed to Sea of Thieves,” claims Rare design director Mike Chapman. Sea of Thieves is the debut first party game from Microsoft to launch on Game Pass day and date with retail, and Rare “can’t see anything more than positive opportunity” from this. With Rare betting on Game Pass getting players in the door, it’s down to the post-launch content to keep them playing Sea of Thieves again and again.