Sea of Thieves is always-online, which means players will often bump into each other on the high seas. And that situation usually leads to violence. Trouble is, there’s no simple way to signal that your crew is peaceful. While Rare has put a lot of energy into the mechanics of sails, cannons and cutlasses there’s nearly nothing in the way of systems that allow players to show their peaceful intentions, and that limits gameplay.
Right now, players on the Sea of Thieves Reddit board are hemming and hawing over the issue. Some agree with Larry Hryb that a good way to signal peaceful intentions is to point your cannons up to the sky, but others simply don’t see the need. In their minds it’s black and white; every other player in the game is an adversary meant to be destroyed.
In fact, if you look back on DayZ, that’s really where this sort of issue started. Those who played that game when it was still a mod will remember that early on the only only way players had to signal that they were peaceful was to lower their weapon and lean side-to-side. It’s the same ad hoc emote that was taken up by Polygon’s own zombified fan community, The Wigglers, as a way to try and communicate with staff on stream.
Some might say that if you want a more peaceful game then you should have peaceful servers, or servers that only allow player-versus-enemy combat. But I feel like there should be something in between. After all, what’s a good pirate adventure without the opportunity for betrayal? And in order to have betrayal you first need friendship.
Once again, DayZ provides a model for this. For a time, when players killed other players their avatars changed so that they looked like bandits. That way you could determine if a player had a bad reputation with just a glance. There have been times in the past when I’ve talked to bandits and sought their aid, and it always felt like a risky endeavor. It heightened the tension and enforced a kind of minimal level of role-playing.
But, in a way, the bandit skin became a kind of curse that lingered with players over time and prevented them from having any interactions with other players at all. That’s one of many reasons why it was dropped from the full, stand-alone version of the game — at least for now. Since then, the team at Bohemia Interactive haven’t really found an alternate solution. So we still wiggle and, sometimes, use voice chat.
With Sea of Thieves there’s so many interactive elements in the game world that something could have been done, I feel, to suss this problem out before the game was released. It’s surprising to me that the developers at Rare didn’t make some peace sign more integral to the game as a way to get different groups of players working together. It could be as simple as hoisting a flag of a different color, something very common in the maritime tradition.
As the online community forms up I’m sure something will shake out. But it would be nice that if next time developers are considering an ambitious, open-world online game that they would also consider some way for players to signal their non-violent intentions to other players, because that’s a game I’d absolutely like to play.