This past month, in the run-up to E3 2016, Rare did something that it’s never done before: It opened its gates and welcomed a collection of fans into the studio. These fans – over a dozen men and women from around the globe – were to be our very first players for Sea of Thieves. This is the story of their visit to Rare, their experience with the game, and our aspiration for a new era of collaboration between Rare and its fans.
A Rare bit of background
Rare, a triple-decade British developer responsible for heavyweight hits including Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark, and Viva Piñata, has a history of being intensely secretive with its projects. Nestled in a quiet nook of the British countryside, the studio has approached its past projects with a quiet and focused energy, showing the game to the world only when it has had its final coat of signature Rare polish.
But Sea of Thieves is a different kind of game for Rare. The upcoming shared-world pirate adventure has been described more than once as the most ambitious game Rare has ever worked on, and rightly so. In order to develop a game of this scale and scope, the team knew it was going to have to treat development – and the way it shared the game with the world – with a fresh approach.
Early on, the team decided that watching how people played the game, and listening to their feedback, would be essential to how the game took shape, and we decided that getting the game into players’ hands early was a critical first step to working with our community.
Cue the fans
In March, Rare unveiled its Sea of Thieves: Play It First competition. We challenged the community to show us their excitement for the title, and we promised to bring six contestants with the best entries to Rare to play the game first. Alongside these six incredibly talented winners, we extended an offer to an additional set of Rare super-fans – long-time advocates and contributors within the Rare community.
The result was a dynamic group of artists, musicians, actors, fan site owners, and (of course) gamers. With our group prepared, we made the necessary arrangements and prepared the studio and the game for their arrival.
And then the fans arrived, just one month ahead of E3.
Setting Sail in Sea of Thieves
Once at the studio, the fans were given a tour of the grounds, and got loaded up with the requisite coffee, tea, and sugary breakfast foods… and then it was time to go hands-on with the game in our newly-built, state-of-the-art broadcast studio. Before playing, we didn’t show them any updates, artwork, videos, or other materials. We wanted them going in as fresh as possible, with our E3 2015 trailer as their only reference for the game.
The result was, well… you’ve hopefully seen it for yourself in our resulting E3 2016 gameplay trailer!
Throughout the two days of the visit, there was an electric tinge in the air at Rare. The grins and laughter you can see and hear in the trailer extended past the numerous game sessions that our guests took part in. The broadcast studio we recorded their play sessions in were designed to be soundproof, but you could hear whoops, hollers, and cheers, clear as day through the booth walls.
The excitement was contagious, spreading to Rare staff as well. Loads of us crowded around the live video feed, doing our best to keep our laughing and excited whispering as quiet as possible, so as not to spoil the recording. It was an incredible experience to not only see real players going hands on with Sea of Thieves, but to see them having incredible fun at such an early stage in the game’s development.
From the Crow’s Nest: Looking Ahead
In addition to the gameplay sessions, we made the most of the visit by talking with our fans about their experience. Often, this resulted in excited storytelling (“We decided to make a truce by drinking grog side-by-side in the middle of the ocean, but then they opened fire from out of nowhere!”), but we also received critical feedback about how the game felt, what features our visitors were expecting in the future, and how the experience could be balanced moving forward.
This sort of dialogue – including validation of specific features and honest feedback about areas to be improved – is exactly the kind of discussion we’re aiming to have with our audience, moving forward. While we’re not yet discussing dates or details of the game’s immediate future, we are committed to continuing to get Sea of Thieves to players as early as we can, and engaging in open dialogues about the game’s development.
Rare has a history of being secretive, and in many ways that has been an important aspect of the studio’s intrigue and success in the past. Going forward, we believe that our success depends on being open and transparent – and working together with our fans and our community. And from where we’re standing, the future looks pretty bright indeed.
From Us to You
Lastly, I’d like to extend a final thank you to our visitors: Chad, Hyle, Jackie, Jeph, Olivier, Daniel, Rodrigo, Mandy, Steve, Mike, Sebastian, Alex, and Amir. Thank you for taking the time to visit our studio, play our game, and talk with us about your experience.
And to everyone else out there excited for Sea of Thieves, thank you in advance for what we hope to be an exciting and fruitful partnership. We’ll see you soon on the Sea of Thieves!