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Sea of Thieves team issues candid video update on persistent technical issues

If you’re in the game, stay there and invite others to join your session

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

A day after the launch of Sea of Thieves, an ambitious multiplayer pirate adventure game for Windows PC and Xbox One, the developers at Rare have issued a candid video update regarding the game’s persistent technical issues. The bottom line is that they were not prepared for the number of players that showed up on day one, and are scrambling to improve their infrastructure and manage the load.

Over the last 48 hours, players around the world have had difficulty logging into the game, with errors such as “cinnamonbeard,” “greybeard” and “lavenderbeard” cropping up repeatedly on both PC and Xbox One. That prompted Rare to take the unusual step of temporarily blocking new players from joining in on the fun, a restriction that appears to have been lifted for now. Still, issues with connectivity are still common, as are delays in receiving in-game currency and other rewards.

Rare studio head Craig Duncan and executive producer Joe Neate took time away from what they describe as round-the-clock triage of those issues to put together the video update above. They said that the studio is seeing three to four times the highest number of players it had during the game’s beta, and is being forced to turn off some of the game’s more minor systems, like achievements, to deal with that load.

“It’s been kind of crazy,” said Duncan, while also thanking fans for their patience and goodwill. “We felt this was a good opportunity to get in out in front of you [...] and talk about what those issues are and what the team is doing. [...] We’re a little bit tired. It’s been 24/7 kind of since we started, and I’m really — it’s just about making sure that you guys understand what we’re doing and what we’re focusing in on.”

The primary issue right now, Duncan and Neate explained, is the number of players attempting to enter the game world during peak times, which are roughly late afternoon and evening here in the U.S. The game has already seen over 1 million unique users, but the total is not what’s causing the problems. The issue is the “join rate,” or the number of players trying to get into the game world at the same time. Rare said that on launch day yesterday, join rates spiked at over 5,000 users per minute.

Sea of Thieves matches players together as a crew in groups of up to four players at a time. Then, it matches those crews onto servers. That compounds the number of requests being made on Rare’s infrastructure, and engineers are working to expand that capacity while keeping servers online.

“Our architecture in the game is such that we always want to protect players that are in the experience,” Duncan said. “The worst thing that we actually want to do is take the game down and affect everyone. So, even if we’re seeing scale issues, we always try and maintain that integrity, which is: If you’re in and playing, we try to keep that as solid as possible.”

If you are experiencing difficulty bringing a full crew into Sea of Thieves, Rare recommends that individual players instead try joining the crew of an existing galleon. That will reduce the complexity of the join attempt, and will be more likely to succeed during peak times. While playing with random people online isn’t exactly ideal for a game that’s all about bringing close friends together for a unique play experience, it may be your best bet in the short term.

Another issue is that in-game rewards, such as gold and faction credit, are not being applied in a timely fashion. Anecdotal reports on social media say that if you exit the game and then log back in, those rewards will suddenly show up. While that’s true, Rare said, it also compounds the issues related to join rates. The team stressed that once you’re in the game, you should stay there; your rewards will be applied to your account eventually.

Rare is working on a patch that’s scheduled for deployment next week. That patch, Rare said, will deal with additional issues related to missing in-game items and performance issues on the Xbox One X. For now, the studio said that it’s making incremental improvements on a minute-to-minute basis.

“The team are working hard. We thank everyone for playing,” Duncan said. “We want to get to an end state where everyone has a good time, all the time, every time they play.”