Sea of Thieving Devs

Last week I wrote a blog post about people incorrectly defending games and I lightly touched on gaming apologists, a group/practice I can’t stand. Now in that post I stated that we were almost assuredly going to see apologists defending Sea of Thieves. To hopefully no one’s surprise, considering both my track record with gaming predictions and the beta reviews, this is of course what is now happening. Sea of Thieves was released last week for the XBOX ONE and Windows PC. I was very interested in it, but reluctant based on what I saw and read of the betas. Now that the game and initial reviews are out, I can say with certainty that I will not be purchasing this game. If I’m honest, I knew this was going to be the case. When I first heard about it and watched the alpha footage I could quickly see that this was going to be another pointless, endless shared world experience devoid of any actual substance. Sadly, it’s not even as fulfilling as Destiny as far as content is concerned and that’s saying a lot, or more to the point, a little.

Sea of Thieves Metascore

I haven’t personally played the game, but I have read and watched quite a bit about it. From my understanding it’s a fairly decent sized world of sand and water with little actual content. There are only three types of let’s call them tasks because the word quest seems a bit too charitable for what they really are. These tasks, which can be done countless times, net you loot. You can also get loot by stealing it from other players while they try to complete these same three tasks. Basically this game is a glorified chat room where you can sail ships around some water, occasionally team up with other groups to fight a giant squid, and fight other people for pretty much useless treasure. All that is to say, this is a pointless game that charges you $60 to make a pirate themed avatar and joke around with your friends. A Reddit user by the name of calibrono summarized it best. His entire post is a bit long and I do encourage you to take the time to read it, but allow me to quote a passage from it.

“Sea of Thieves is an experiment. “How little content can we stuff in a $60 title and hey away with it” kind of experiment. The same kind of experiment EA did try with SWBF2, except not with microtransactions, but with content.”

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This is very sad. Once again a developer/publisher has decided that instead of making a proper game they can take advantage of the bored masses and offer them nothing in exchange for a AAA price tag. I’ve actually seen a number of people compare Sea of Thieves to No Man’s Sky, which seems very appropriate. One Twitter account I follow referred to it as “No Man’s Sea”, which is just brilliant.

Microsoft trying to take money out of our pockets for little actual work is nothing new. They’ve been nickel and diming us for Windows, an OS they didn’t originally create to begin with, for more than 30 years. But gamers falling for it, yet again, is the much bigger issue. This game has literally no content. It doesn’t even have a giant map to explore with endless islands of differing environments to discover and explore. There’s literally only one type of land based enemy, skeletons, and they can’t even hurt you if you’re standing on a rock. Yet people happily paid $60 for it and are defending it like it’s a legitimate game. I even read an article today, which you shouldn’t take the time to read, where someone tried to compare it to The Last of Us, which just sounds ridiculous and it is. If anything, this is worse than Star Wars Battlefront II because at least that was/is a playable game with a single player campaign and match based PVP with clear objectives. This is little more than a glorified server test for the pre-alpha stage of an actual pirate game. Why are people putting up with it and even going out of their way to argue it’s a good game? This is exactly why things only seem to be getting worse in the gaming industry. People need to stop actively helping publishers take advantage of them.

Pirates Black Kat

I’m angry because I actually really like the pirate theme. One of my favorite PS2 games was Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat (2002), which Ubisoft clearly was inspired by in the making of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which I loved. Nothing would make me happier than to see another great pirate game with solid gameplay and a well written plot. And RARE is/was a studio that I would have trusted to do that. They could have done that. They should have done that. But of course they didn’t do that. So here we are with yet another shitty cash grab game that will make a butt load of money in initial sales compared to what it cost to make, then they’ll add paid DLC and make more money, telling publishers that this is a viable model for game development, ultimately leading to the further detriment of the industry and lowering the general quality of future games. What do we learn? Apparently not a damn thing.

Now I’m sure more content will eventually be added to this game. I hope it’s added for free from an ethical standpoint, but at the same time I’m always in support of people learning their lesson the hard way. But adding content after the fact because people are unhappy doesn’t excuse the fact that in their ideal scenario Microsoft wanted people to happily pay them for nothing and get away with it. So in my book new content as a reaction to user complaints is a step in the right direction but too little too late.

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Don’t Lie to Consumers

It seems like more and more often today developers promise things for announced games and then ultimately don’t deliver. Probably the most notable example in modern gaming history is No Man’s Sky. It was only this month that Hello Games finally released a major update that delivered on some of the promises that were originally made and then broken. But I don’t necessarily believe that No Man’s Sky is an example of a developer blatantly lying to consumers. For me, that particular game is an example of indie developers reaching above their means and getting punished for it. But what about when a larger developer, such as DICE or Blizzard, blatantly lies to the public and fails to deliver what they promised?

Earlier this month, Ninja Theory released a game called Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Now personally I consider Ninja Theory to be a reputable developer of fairly decent size. They publish their own games with multi-platform releases. They’ve created great works over the years that everyone has heard of and most higher echelon gamers have played. I think it’s fair to hold them to a higher standard of game development and management expectations. So for me I think it’s a topic worth discussing when a developer like Ninja Theory lies about a key component of one of their games as part of its launch marketing.

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I have not yet gotten to play Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. But I know I eventually will once the price drops. In fact I was sold by the opening sentence on the game’s Steam page. “From the makers of Heavenly Sword, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, and DmC: Devil May Cry, comes a warrior’s brutal journey into myth and madness.” That sentence and the genre listing (action, adventure) is all they needed to sell an old schooler like me. Action adventure is my bread and butter and I loved each of the games listed in that sentence. So whether or not I was going to buy Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice was never in question. The only real question is when? But one thing that turned me off of the game, but ultimately did not change my mind about eventually buying it, which I haven’t yet, was this rumor about permadeath.

I don’t like permadeath. I grew up in the NES/Arcade era and there are still tons of games that I’ve never finished simply because I wasn’t good enough to beat them without continues. Today, gamers have even less patience and time than they did when I was a kid. That’s both gamers my age and older who have been gaming since that era, and new gamers just starting out today. No one has time to put several hours into a game only to have all your progress lost. I don’t discourage developers from putting permadeath as an option in their games today. But like most unconventional mechanics, I believe that it should be optional. We have the technology today to allow gamers of all types to tailor their gaming experiences to their own wants, needs, and preferences. I play games for the story. I don’t like replaying things. Permadeath is a no go for me. Some play games for the challenge. They don’t care about the story. They like permadeath. Neither of us is more or less of a gamer. And neither of us should have to suffer through an experience we don’t like in a game we’re interested in just so the other person can have maximum enjoyment. The technology exists today where a developer can grant us both maximum enjoyment. They need only add a trophy to differentiate the permadeath player from the continues player. Anyone who doesn’t think that’s fair probably voted for Trump and thinks they have a right to dictate the lives of other people.

hellblade permadeath

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice had a huge rumor attached to it during the initial release window that if you died too many times your save would be deleted. This was a huge point of controversy all over the internet. Many forums, blogs, and gaming sites posted and debated this issue quite a bit. Ultimately though it was discovered that this was actually a lie. Ninja Theory put this out to the public and even has it stated in the game as a gimmick. The protagonist in the game suffers from delusions and the story is that she imagined the permadeath thing because her brain was playing tricks on her. Now first let me say kudos to Ninja Theory for connecting a mechanic, or at least the rumor of one, to the actual plot of a game. I love when developers make the story and gameplay work together as equally important parts of a whole. That’s how all games should be made and that belief is why I don’t play games like Overwatch. Also kudos again to Ninja Theory for being able to put out a rumor and keep it a secret until after launch. Even today, I’m sure some people still think the game has permadeath. But ultimately it doesn’t.

Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice does not actually have a permadeath feature. No not even in the hardest difficulty. Now personally I’m fine with that, which I already expressed earlier in this post. But what I’m not fine with is a developer blatantly lying to the public. Especially not as a way to hype their game. That’s basically false advertising. While it’s certainly not the kind of advertising that increases sales noticeably. In fact, I think it might lower them. It’s still a blatant lie to consumers. No it’s not the same as Hello Games promising multiplayer and then there not being any multiplayer. But it’s still a betrayal of consumer trust. If even one person bought the game specifically because of the permadeath feature, that’s a huge problem.

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Developers should not lie to consumers. Especially not as part of launch marketing. This last week BioWare announced that there would be no more single player DLC for Mass Effect Andromeda. That’s a problem. While I personally am not affected by the news because I never buy story DLC and hadn’t planned on it with Andromeda either, it clearly stated during the release window that the game would have additional single player content added in the future. I bought the Deluxe Edition. Plenty of people bought the game expecting additional content to be added later and now they won’t get it. That’s false advertising which is akin to theft. It’s exactly what happened to me with God of War: Ascension. I preordered the Collector’s Edition because of the promise of additional single player content which I was supposed to obtain with the season pass. Ultimately they never released any, made all the multiplayer DLC free for everyone, and never returned my money or compensated me in any way for having paid extra for a literally useless season pass. Developers should not lie to consumers. It’s not ok. In any other industry we’d be talking about a class action lawsuit. There almost was one in the UK for No Man’s Sky. If a game can’t stand on its own two feet and the developer can’t sell it honestly, then it’s clearly not ready for release or shouldn’t be released at all.

The problem is that developers have forgotten that they are in the business of entertainment. They’ve started to think that just because they make games means they deserve to make sales. That’s not how entertainment works. Making a game only gives you the right to potentially make a profit. It’s the quality of that game and the strength of the marketing that ultimately leads to profit. But if the marketing isn’t honest, then it’s not acceptable marketing. Personally, I think this trend is a serious problem. Look at games like Destiny and The Division. Both games that didn’t flat out lie, but were very dishonest in how they were presented pre-release. I preordered both games and while I don’t regret The Division as much, I do wish I hadn’t purchased either game. Lying to consumers or misrepresenting products to consumers, which for all intents and purposes is lying, is not and should not be considered an acceptable practice in the gaming industry or any industry for that matter.

Have any games burned you recently?

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.