Rare’s latest game for Xbox and PC, Sea of Thieves, launched this past Tuesday after much hype. It’s fair to say that anticipation for this game was high, given its showing the past two E3 conferences and effectively more than one year of testing in the form of closed alphas, scale tests, and betas.
Fellow writer, Joseph Bradford, penned his impressions after a few hours with Sea of Thieves over at our sister site, MMORPG.com. In fact, he and I streamed our adventures on Friday night, leading to some comically disastrous encounters.
However, despite these flashes of fun — and it would be foolish of me not to admit that there have been flashes of fun in Sea of Thieves — as responsible consumers and members of the media, we cannot nor should not ignore the inexcusable issues that have plagued the launch of Sea of Thieves.
Before I begin, I’d like to establish a few things up front so as to provide additional context for this editorial. I’m playing this game on PC. I have not paid for this game, however, I did not receive a code for review. I’m using the two week free trial of Games Pass that came with the purchase of my Xbox One X to play this game. And if I’m this angry at the state of this game having not paid for it, imagine those consumers who did shell out their hard-earned $60.
The problems with Sea of Thieves began almost immediately for both Bradford and myself. On launch night, late March 19, Bradford and I both finished downloading the game at approximately 11:30p Central time.
For 50 minutes, we both attempted launching the game. And for 50 minutes, we were presented with some combination of the following errors:
All this time, the official Sea of Thieves account was tweeting updates of the game. And it’s through these tweets where you can track the increasing brokenness of the game.
Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there. The updates on issues kept up a steady flow. They continued with confirmation that players would experience issues, assurances that the team at Rare were hard at work addressing issues, and finally culminating in the suspension of new players from joining the servers.
This is beyond unfortunate. It’s inexcusable. Let me make this clear: Expecting a working product on Day One is not “entitled.” It is, in fact, the most basic expectation a consumer can have. It is absolutely unacceptable and inexcusable that Sea of Thieves launched broken and remained so almost two full days after launch.
Looking back, we can see just how unacceptable this is. Remember, Sea of Thieves was hyped for two years, going back to E3 2016 when it was first revealed. The game was in alpha throughout 2017.
On top of this, Rare held multiple betas. On January 24 of this year, it held a closed beta. On February 23, it held its first Scale Test. On March 2, it held its second Scale Test. On March 9, it held a Final Beta.
On March 21, Rare released an update informing players about the then-current state of the game, saying,
“We have seen 3-4 times more concurrent players than we saw during any Scale Test or Beta session. So far, more than one million unique players have set sail in Sea of Thieves…Please rest assured the issues below are our top priorities and we are doing everything we can to address them.”
They mentioned the main problems players were facing, including players having difficulty getting into the game at peak times, player rewards being delayed, achievements being delayed, temporarily missing items (like weapons, etc), reported performance issues on Xbox One X, and players not receiving entitlements such as the Black Dog Pack.
To me, this is downright patronizing. As a consumer, we don’t want to “rest assured”. We want to play your game that you hyped for two years and held multiple betas. We want solutions. And we wanted them when the game launched, because again, it is not entitled nor ludicrous to expect a working product on Day One.
If you drove a car you just purchased off the dealership lot and a tire immediately fell off, would you be calm? Would you apologize for and defend the dealership, saying “it’s ok, this happens?” No, you wouldn’t. You’d be angry and upset that the product you just purchased was categorically broken the instant you tried to use it.
It’s incredible — in the literal definition of that word — that consumers and media are willing to give broken games a pass and show leniency when they categorically would not reciprocate the same leniency in other industries, despite the fact that regardless of industry or use-case, it’s your hard-earned money at stake.
I have absolutely no sympathy for Rare or other developers that launch with broken products. This whole Sea of Thieves launch debacle has shades of a previous notorious Microsoft first-party launch, Halo: Master Chief Collection. However, unlike MCC, I would argue that the launch for Sea of Thieves is actually worse.
Unlike MCC, Sea of Thieves held multiple betas. Additionally, even though MCC multiplayer was broken, the single player portions were not. Therefore, you still had four full campaigns to play through. This does not excuse the launch state of MCC, however it nonetheless remains a fact. Because Sea of Thieves is wholly online, the broken nature of the launch meant that the entire game was broken. And this is simply unacceptable.
In situations like these, the media does not help. In fact, I would argue that they actually exacerbate the leniency issue. GameInformer did exactly that by saying,
“Game launches are hard, and it’s unfair to judge a game like Sea of Thieves for a shaky first day on the technical side.”
This is still unacceptable. Again, real consumers paid real money for a product. That product did not work on Day One. This leniency from media is why you see consumers defending and apologizing for Rare and other companies in similar situations.
When consumers read their favorite games site, or tune in to their favorite gaming personality on Twitch or YouTube, and see these institutions giving these companies a pass, consumers absorb that behavior and react similarly.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the comments on our impressions piece on MMORPG.
As media, your obligation is to the consumer. Your job is not to apologize for nor defend these developers and publishers when they release a broken product that real consumers paid for.
Some common excuses I hear and see frequently are the following:
“It’s OK, this is normal for massively multiplayer games.”
Just because it happens frequently does not make this OK, nor does it excuse such instances in the slightest.
“Well, Rare can’t plan for every scenario.”
Great. Run more betas. Keep running betas for as long as it takes to guarantee your consumers that the product they paid for will work on Day One. Soft-launch the game until you’re confident in the server loads and then move forward with a hard-launch.
“At least they’re addressing the situation.”
This is the completely wrong outlook to have. It is entirely missing the bigger picture. You shouldn’t be thankful to a company when they released a broken product. More importantly, had Rare done their job, there wouldn’t have been a situation to address in the first place. By being “thankful” to Rare, you’re only recognizing the symptom and not the root cause. This is the wrong outlook, and only serves to show these companies that consumers are actually OK with broken launch states.
Sea of Thieves, then, was a game hyped to the stratosphere for two years by Microsoft. The game was in public testing throughout 2017, ran multiple scale tests, and public betas. It launched broken. A product real consumers paid real money for was categorically broken on Day One.
It is not entitled to a expect a product you paid money for to work on Day One. This is, in fact, the basic expectation a consumer should have. You shouldn’t apologize for, nor defend, Rare. Any individual or media who does so is woefully complicit in perpetuating this problem.
I’ve had my fair share of hate and lambasting thrown my way simply for having the gall to state that broken launches for games are unacceptable. I’m under no illusions that this article will suddenly change the mindset of gamers. But these points must nevertheless be brought up and discussed.
As media and as consumers, we should care about broken games. We should make noise and get angry when games are launched broken. We should not give these companies a pass. It’s our industry. It’s our money.
Broken games are simply inexcusable.