In the past week, there have been several points at which Sea of Thieves has been sat at the top of the Twitch game directory with more people watching streams of the game than any other game – including Fortnite and the various MOBA’s that generally dominate the streaming platform. Those of us who’ve been playing the game for a long time seem to be the ones least surprised by this; we’ve long known that the game would make for awesome streams – especially since the Shrouded Spoils expansion filled the game world with more constant threats and stripped a lot of the more peaceful moments of the game from it. In the last week or so, lots of the celebrities of the Twitch world seem to have finally caught on – with Summit1G, Ninja, Dr Disrespect, and KingGothalion all hosting sizeable streams.
Looking at Twitter and various Discords, the question running rife in the wider community though is whether or not such exposure is actually “good for the game”. It’s certainly led to an influx of players – encounters with other pirates are happening more and more often – the fear I guess is more around the kind of player that’s being attracted, due to the type of player the streamers that are attracting them are. Some of the streamers engage in (arguably) toxic or trolling behaviour, with the concern being that new players will approach the game in the same way – and that way being something that isn’t enjoyed or valued by the people that have been playing the game since day one.
Of course, streaming popularity and a growing player base represent a considerable opportunity for a game. More players means more money, and for a game where player interaction is such an integral part of the game, busier servers often mean a more entertaining experience for that higher number of players. More money means more content, more regularly – and content is the lifeblood of a live game. However, with a game like Sea of Thieves, where community feedback has driven so much of the game (the skelly ships and the brigantine were both brought in as a direct response to player feedback), the concern that some of us have is along the lines of a paradigm shift. What if, for the sake of the argument, this large number of new players to the game want something that us more established players don’t want? And even more scary – what if the point arrives where the new players outnumber the “old guard” and begin to be catered to. So, is that fear a reasonable one? Or a sane one? Or is the Sea of Thieves community doing some weird gatekeeping that doesn’t need to be done?
I honestly think it’s a little bit of all of the above. There’s a perception that all of the new players are hell-bent on PvP at every possible moment, and that they’ll try to follow the steps to Pirate Legend being laid out by some of the streamers that have influenced their purchase decision – by not completing any voyages but instead by concentrating on skull forts, skeleton ship battles, and (perhaps most controversially/infuriatingly of all) sinking every other ship that they encounter. Some of them also seem to be vocally critical of how other people play the game – there seems to be a general dislike of the alliances and co-operation.
It almost feels as though a reminder is needed – a reality check for the player base as a whole, including us old sea-dogs that have been playing since launch (or in some cases considerably earlier). I think there’s something we lose sight of. Sea of Thieves is one of those games that can be played in a lot of different ways. Some of us form alliances, fire when fired upon, and are generally benign unless someone else provokes us. Some of us are more capable than retaliating than others. And then there are some of us that prefer the chaos of PvP – who will attack on sight, and then hound another crew relentlessly. Is it fair? Yes. Is it fun? Well, for those doing the attacking and pursuing, certainly. Some of us actually quite enjoy being pursued occasionally – as the challenge of losing a crew that are trying so hard to sink you can provide its own unique set of amusements and satisfaction. It’s a game where the rules on ‘how to play the game’ are governed entirely by what is possible within the game – if you can do it, it’s fair. Those of us who’ve played for a long time have established routines by now – we have “our way” of playing. It’s all well and good for us to have that. I have my own code that I play by; I’ve discussed it in posts on this very site before. But, I think we need to accept that “our way isn’t the only way” just as much as the newcomers do.
For the newcomers – you guys need to accept that just because streamers play a certain way, it doesn’t mean everyone does. You need to learn that not everyone wants to engage in PvP, and not everyone will tolerate it.
As a playerbase, we also need to learn that the Pirate Code exists for a reason, and that toxicity ultimately won’t do us, or the game, any favours. A lot of people play this game with their kids (including me), and the second I hear racist/sexist phrases coming out of someone’s mic, they’re gonna be blocked, reported, and I’ll be server migrating. Immediately. You can have your fun on an emptier server for a while – best of luck. I have my fingers crossed that eventually, all the people who play like that will be filtered out or just landed in servers full of other players with the same strikes against them so they can hold their “who can be the biggest arsehole” competitions in a place where no-one else has to suffer.
The age-old rules should continue to apply – PvP can happen without saltiness, and it can happen without toxicity, and it’s at its best when neither of these things occur. Griefing is still a shitty thing to do and shouldn’t be tolerated. Looking ahead, the Arena is on the horizon. I see lots of people expecting it to land in February – I think this is extremely optimistic given that it hasn’t landed in Pioneers yet. There is a general hope that the more aggressive players will gravitate to it, leaving the Adventure mode open to more passive players to form alliances to their hearts’ content. Personally, I kind of hope this doesn’t happen too much. While I enjoy forming alliances, part of the enjoyment is the innate risk of having to get close enough to another crew to do it – definitely within cannon range. If you remove the risk, you devalue the reward. I don’t want adventure mode to be free of PvP, I’d just like it to contain consensual PvP that ends in laughter and friendship rather than toxicity.
I’ve wandered a bit from my original question, I realise. I guess I should answer it, as far as I can as a single player among millions. I don’t think Twitch popularity will ruin Sea of Thieves. I think it will change the dynamic of it, at least for a little while. I remember the old days just after launch when another ship on the horizon meant guaranteed combat – and I think we’re going to be back to that for a little while. But eventually, some of these new crews will realise that there is much to be gained from co-operation and that will gradually increase again. And if anything, it’s on us established players to help teach that to the newcomers.
So to help this along, if our paths cross and you’re sailing under white sails, with no figurehead or hull, I’ll assume you’re new. I’ll offer you alliance. I’ll board your ship and try to talk to you. And if you respond with hostility, I’ll do my level best to sink you – and explain to you how the situation could have ended differently as you sink. Simple. And I get the feeling that a lot of established players will be doing something similar.
See you on the seas.