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By treating Sea of Thieves as a AAA game, Microsoft failed it

Sea of Thieves released in March 2018 this year and despite being a critical bomb, it has found commercial success. Just recently it was announced that five million players had taken the seas. This is very impressive. Even if some of those people are like myself, who jumped in to give it a shot on Game Pass then never touched it again, it still showed that the game was a money maker for Microsoft and their Xbox division. In the week ending July 21st in the UK, Sea of Thieves even managed to top the single format sales chart. The game has managed to be a hit despite the 69 Metascore and 5.0 User Score. Rare has continued to support and update the game, with the Cursed Sails DLC going live for all users not long ago and for free.

This is all brilliant news for fans of the game and for Xbox. Sea of Thieves is a title that has found its audience and could grow despite a rocky start. However, I think it has been a casualty of this generation. A game that was a lot more suited for life early on the generation, a game that could have learned a lot from other titles and should have been launched as free to play. As of 10pm UK time on July 31st there were 46,603 viewers of Sea of Thieves. On the day a brand DLC launches. This is the highest it has been for weeks and I guarantee the drop off one day on will be huge. Fortnite has over eight times that. On August 10th at the same time there are 1204 viewers of Sea of Thieves. Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock, released in 2007, has 1286. Five million players is amazing, Playstation exclusive single player title God of War reached over five million sales in a third of the time.

Perspective

Early in the Xbox One life cycle Microsoft were embracing this model. They made sure titles like Forza were full of loot boxes despite AAA price tags. Even the Forza Horizon series was full of microtransactions. They were considering going free to play and always online with Fable. Even Playstation dabbled in the free to play, micro transaction driven market with Guns Up! This never happened. So with these failures, the fact that the industry is beginning to shun microtransactions and more, why do I think Sea of Thieves should have been free to play?

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Content & the Grind

Sea of Thieves quickly became infamous for the grind involved. In order to reach the game’s Pirate Legend rank, it is estimated it’ll take you over 250 hours with efficient grinding. 350 otherwise. A long game is by no means a bad thing, a game with absolutely no change to gameplay or progression between the 5th hour and the 50th is most definitely a bad thing. Right away players have no reason to get hooked on Sea of Thieves, without a feasible end goal, why invest your money and then time? Conversely look at a free to play game like Warframe. It’s estimated to take you over 300 hours to even get close to collect everything in the base game. What’s the difference then? Warframe is free and you can spend money to speed up your progression. That progression isn’t only cosmetic and actually affects the gameplay as well. If Sea of Thieves had been free to play and leveraged microtransactions, it could have made more sense to only have cosmetic based progression, instead it doesn’t have any real progression at all and has failed to hook players.

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Story & Characters

As the game was developed by the once mighty and beloved video game studio Rare you would expect it to have the studio’s iconic charm. In some small aspects, it does. The player character options are fun if incredibly limited. Not being able to actually create your own character was a huge misstep. There are a tiny handful of NPCs in this game, each more forgetful that the last. None of them function as more than a vendor, there’s no banter or interesting character traits here. No mole with huge spectacles, idiot witch doctor, rhyming witch or even a giant Poo. It’s bland all round in the character roster, which for a game styled like an MMO isn’t ideal. Even Destiny learned how damaging it can be to have boring characters and one of the big fixes of 2017’s Destiny 2 was this. Characters like Cayde-6 were enlarged and brought to life. Even the villain was given dialogue, cutscenes, and motive. It worked to get the player more invested, at least in the six hour storyline. Sea of Thieves doesn’t even have an introductory storyline. Without this, without any mystery to discover or characters to meet, there’s an instant limitation on reasons to explore.

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Multiplayer

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last six months you’ll have missed the current Battle Royale craze. Fortnite, in particular, is dominating the gaming world and has become a pop culture phenomenon. Its more serious rival, PUBG, has always been an outstanding success. Respectively they sit at 348,000 and 73,000 viewers on Twitch on the same night Sea of Thieves new content dropped. On August 10th, those numbers are 494,000, 37,200 and 1204. Sea of Thieves has multiplayer and PVP. The co-op options are fantastic, you can team up with your friends in various ways. PVP options? Not so fantastic. At any times you’re susceptible to attack. There is no real reward for these attacks unless the ship you’re sinking has something worth robbing. It really isn’t the most rewarding system, and mostly just works against solo or duo crews when they get bullied by four manned galleons. It took Epic Games two months to add Battle Royale to Fortnite. On mobile, they make $2 million a day. By having separate servers that allows you to play how you want, a casual game with no PVP or friendly exploration or full on battle royale servers with higher player counts. Sea of Thieves would invite more players by offering more options. It has the potential to attract some of the Battle Royale crowd. It has the potential to become a laid back co-operative social hub like Minecraft. Being free to play would enable more players had entry to these experiences.

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Monetization

Of course, a game can’t be entirely free to play. It needs to make money somewhere. For a title like Sea of Thieves with large content updates like the Hungering Deep and Cursed Sails planned then how are they supposed to finance these? Look no further than other MMOs, such as Elder Scrolls Online. This game features an in game store which requires ‘Crowns’, a currency you either pay for with microtransactions or you earn monthly with a premium membership, among other perks. These methods can even be combined, which helps with some of the more expensive items, including full DLC expansions. You can also purchase a wide range of cosmetic items, from mounts to homes to pets and outfits and so forth. Sea of Thieves could have embraced a model like this, offering players choice and variety. Having exclusive event cosmetics which could be earned through in game grinding or otherwise. This would be unsuitable in a full price, $60 title. But in a free to play game it would be 100% legitimate.

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The Xbox Audience

Ever since the Xbox 360 globally popularized online multiplayer, the Xbox family of consoles has been associated with multiplayer titles. From heavy hitting exclusive franchises like Halo and Gears of War to third party marketing deals with Call of Duty and FIFA to the purchase of Mojang and Minecraft. If you were a multiplayer gamer last generation, Xbox 360 was the place to be. This generation that has changed. PlayStation has snapped up the biggest third party deals and the most recent games in the Halo and Gears of War franchises have sold significantly less than their predecessors. The audience is crying out for more multiplayer titles as Fortnite and PUBG’s success shows. PUBG has even been a system seller as a console exclusive. Game Pass allowed more players access to Sea of Thieves, proven by the five million players. Free to play or a lower RRP could have introduced even more.

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Sea of Thieves

In its current state, this is a fun multiplayer game. In single player, it’s almost unplayable due to griefing from other players and the lack of a reason to actually do anything. In multiplayer the fun runs out fast as the repetition of the grind kicks in. This isn’t a well polished, huge triple A title with hours of varied content like Horizon Zero Dawn or The Witcher 3. It isn’t a pick up and play, free, multiplayer title like Fortnite. It’s somewhere in between and yet, Microsoft sells it for $60. This was an opportunity to experiment, instead, a product was released that appealed to some but stuck with no one. We’ll never know how many people own this game. We’ll never know how many played more than a few hours. But with a few tweaks to the game’s model it could have been much higher, maybe it could have even fared critically better had it not been compared to the other AAA exclusive released around the same time.

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10/10 rated God of War. Microsoft failed Rare and Sea of Thieves. Sea of Thieves contains no aspects of AAA gaming with the exception of the beautiful graphics, yet Microsoft treated it like one. There’s no story, no progression, combat from a PS1 action adventure title, no variety and worst of all there’s no Rare here. To compete with Playstation, Microsoft needs to bring their AAA game. Even at the start of the generation, before the battle royale craze and when co-op gaming was starting to hit the heights thanks to huge selling titles like The Division and Destiny, Sea of Thieves could have been relevant. Those games were criticized for lack of content, despite containing full leveling systems and some form of story. Sea of Thieves could have been special at AA, or free to play. Unfortunately, every content update and additional DLC is just plugging a leak, not actually steering the ship. There is so much potential here, unfortunately, it seems destined for Davy Jones’ Locker. But hey, that water is amazing, right?

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In conclusion, I do think Sea of Thieves would have fared better with an experimental pricing model. It isn’t good enough to stand on its own as a unique game we’ll all know and love, such as cult favorite The Witness or the beloved despite mental Nier Automata. It doesn’t have enough content or gameplay to stand alongside AAA giants like God of War or Monster Hunter World. The one place Sea of Thieves does succeed is as the lynchpin of Xbox Game Pass. By having a game on this program that’ll continue to improve and get better as time goes on it means there’ll always be something for players to experience whether they subscribed day one or day 400. Maybe Sea of Thieves should have been exclusive to Game Pass? Microsoft had options and somehow they chose the worst possible one for Sea of Thieves. All of this isn’t to say Sea of Thieves isn’t a good game, or a fun game, or I’m sure even a great game in some opinions (such as our reviewer). But as far as I can see, no matter what your opinion on Sea of Thieves is, it has no AAA merit.

Luckily there’s plenty of other options on Xbox One right now. Such as Crash Bandicoot! Check out our review right here. You might also be pleased to hear that Halo Infinite will not have a battle royale mode. Or will it? Ideally, Microsoft would let Rare team up with Playground Games for the next Fable title. Forza Horizon’s technical and graphical aspects with Rare’s charm and individuality? Sign me up. For all of this and more, stick to thelootgaming.com.