I have a magical power: Whenever I talk about something, the Universe conspires to make me look bad by making things occur in exactly the opposite manner to that which I address. I’ve learned to hedge my bets by not being such a stuffy jerk about things, and to asterisk anything I talk about so that I leave room for a retraction, amendment, or revision.
Case in point: Sea of Thieves. My post last week about the wishy-washy junket that Rare was providing during E3 got some discussion via the G+ plugin (which turned out to be a good idea, incorporating that widget), and while I stand by my assertion that many game development companies are either out of touch with the reality of how people play, or are just shouting bullet points with their fingers in their ears, the further we get from the SoT reveal, the more details we’re getting on the pirate themed MMO.
Yes, I’m calling it an MMO, but we’ll get to that.
First, there was this post on Massively Overpowered in which author Andrew Ross chats with Rare’s Mike Chapman. As with the E3 info-dump, there were very few specifics, although I believe that the post coalesces a lot of the vague info from the show into a few more specific trend lines:
If the game were simply about combat — like, say, LawBreakers — I don’t think it would include a way to get so drunk that just standing becomes difficult. It wouldn’t have musical instruments that have no obvious player/stat benefits. And we would have been placed directly on the ship, rather than in a tavern where we could potentially leave someone behind (which nearly happened).
Mr. Ross’ point early on in the article is one of the most telling. There was some speculation on whether or not SoT would be a “lobby game”, where you pick a game to jump into with friends or strangers, duke it out on the high seas, and then repeat after someone is declared the winner. That wouldn’t be a horrible product, mind you, but would miss a whole lot of potential; besides, it didn’t sound like the kind of thing Rare was describing, even during E3. But Mr. Ross’ point is that if this were just about the ship-to-ship co-op combat experience, then there wouldn’t be a place or a need for some of the other features that he learned about. There are other such points in the article, especially about exploration and discovery, the music system, and a coy deferment when talking about the possibility of being able to build our own ships. None of those aspects sound like the kind of GOGOGO lobby multiplayer game that we’re used to hearing about, a la CS:GO or Overwatch.
So while I’m not softening my view of the games industry and their PR mouthpieces either purposefully or ignorantly misleading the consumer on a regular basis, I am starting to snap my head around whenever I hear someone mention SoT. The Illustrious Syp of Biobreak fame has a post of his own regarding SoT this morning, and illustrates a few nonspecific draws, such as the art style and the pirate theme allowing for a whole lot of potential unseriousness resulting in Good Times To Be Had By All. He also reminded me that since Rare is attached to Microsoft, this will be a Cross Buy game for Windows 10 and Xbox One.
The one thing I do want to mention in closing is the repeated call-out regarding how Rare seems to be purposefully avoiding calling Sea of Thieves an “MMO”. This kind of throws fuel on my PR fire because unless this game is a lobby multiplayer game, then the features that are being meted out sure as hell sound like what we’d expect to see in an MMO. The point of contention, apparently, is this (from the MOP article):
Throughout my time watching and speaking with Rare’s Mike Chapman, I noticed a clear attempt to avoid the MMO label, which he mentioned as being a vague term these days, and that’s hard to argue against. Chapman thinks of MMOs as a series of abstracts and dice rolls…
I get that people say “MMO” and think “World of Warcraft” but we’re moving into an era where specific labels no longer bound a specific box of features. We’ve got RPG features in Call of Duty, and story elements in Destiny. Action RPGs are becoming more and more popular, which is something we’d normally get from plaformers.
Folks are really attached to traditional meanings for acronyms, but I think this is something we have to train ourselves away from. RPG means “role playing game”, which means “a game in which you play the role of a character”. With stories in first- and third-person shooters becoming de rigueur, you are totally taking on the role of a character and are more than just a silent tool of destruction (Doom notwithstanding). So when I see words like “persistant world” and “sandbox”, and hear talk about mechanics that can help friends and hinder enemies, I think MMO. More importantly, though, MMO means “massive multiplayer online”, which on its face means “a whole lot of people playing in the same online space at the same time”. If that’s what Sea of Thieves offers, then it’s totally an MMO, regardless of the traditional connotations.