Games like Sea of Thieves collect communities who all agree on certain rules and have sunk a certain amount of time into the game. Players talk in shorthand, and while they can certainly disagree on priorities, they get used to finding themselves in groups where everyone knows the basics.
The average play rate for Sea of Thieves per player is, according to a Polygon interview with Rare at E3 2018, 22 hours. That means you have a lot of people sinking enough hours into the game to know what they’re doing; there are relatively few new players to worry about.
That’s why when I recently jumped into a pick up game of Sea of Thieves from the game’s official Discord, I found my patience sorely tested. The group I had quickly assembled via the looking for group channel was perfectly nice, but they were new. There was me, another veteran, and then two new players who had so many questions.
I set my jaw and decided to show these new players the time of their lives, despite my impatience. One of them was happy to fade into the background and do what they were told, but the other one was extremely chatty.
He peppered me with questions. What’s the name of the smaller ship? How does someone serve as look out? What’s a fort? How do you complete a fort? How often are there weekly events? What are the rewards? Can he get the old cosmetic rewards? Why is turning the sails important?
I just wanted to sail and get gold. When a skull cloud popped on the horizon, we sailed our galleon to the fort and we cleared waves of angry skeletons as a team, destroyed other player-crewed ships, and collected a rich bounty. I tried to answer his questions as best I could; we were all new once.
After we unloaded the ship of its treasure and counted every last gold piece, our new friend turned to me and the other veteran. “Can we please hit the tavern and toast with some grog to celebrate my first fort?”
It sounded like a waste of time, and he was already giving off that eager younger brother vibe that’s so hard to be around when you have things to do. I wanted to participate in the current in-game event and work toward other rewards in the game. You don’t get any advantage from drinking grog.
“Sure,” I said over voice chat. “Let’s have a drink.” We’ve all indulged a friend who wanted to go to the pub, often with the promise that we’ll have just one drink. This felt like the virtual version of that social obligation.
Our new friend led us to the tavern, and held his mug high. He was a bit sad in his rags, especially compared to the rest of the players in farmed cosmetics. “To treasure,” he said. “To my first fort, good friends, and ... things not being what they seem.”
He pulled out his hurdy gurdy and played a song. The tavern shook, sending dust pouring from the roof beams. Magical runes sketched themselves on the stone floor.
This annoying new player had never been a new player. He had been a Pirate Legend the entire time, and he had snookered us all as a test of our character. Pirate Legends are simply players, but ones who have played enough to max out all reputation grinds. These end-game players get sweet cosmetics, a new faction and quest content, and a second, special tavern only accessible with a Pirate Legend shanty.
We had passed what ended up being a test of our patience and willingness to help others, and as a reward he led us to the exclusive end-game area that takes dozens, if not hundreds, of hours to reach.
For my part, I couldn’t stop laughing and congratulating the Pirate Legend on his long-term bamboozle. My fellow veteran was laughing too. “You laid it on a little thick, man. It was a bit obvious.”
“I had to,” the legend joked in return. “People don’t get subtlety.”
Games like Sea of Thieves rely on earning (and keeping) new players. People who are into the game are building communities, pouring in large amounts of time, and setting up the infrastructure to rule the ocean in this pirate sandbox. However, should these players ever forget the humble new player, the community risks drying up and eventually decaying. This encounter was a fun way for a hardcore player to pass that lesson on.
After my new Pirate Legend friend welcomed me to the hidden lair for legends, he put an end-game quest down on the ocean and we sailed in search of Athena’s Fortune. There was a reward of gold for the adventure, but the story was much more important. And like all good stories, it just led to greater ones.