Earlier this month a Sea of Thieves datamine unearthed word of a premium shop. As you'd expect, the revelation sparked a number of questions.
If there's a premium shop it may sell loot boxes, some worried. And if Rare's shared-world pirate adventure game had loot boxes, then its progression system may be diminished somewhat.
During a recent visit to Rare, I asked the developers about the premium shop. Yes, it's real, I was told, but it does not include loot boxes. There are no loot boxes in Sea of Thieves.
The premium shop won't be live at the game's March launch, either, a decision that makes sense in the context of the ongoing controversy around loot boxes. 2017 saw a number of high-profile video games come under fire for their loot boxes - chief among them Star Wars: Battlefront 2. Microsoft and Rare will no doubt be sensitive to any potential backlash to Sea of Thieves' microtransactions, and will hope to avoid an outcry like the one that marred the launch of Star Wars: Battlefront 2.
"Launch is about launching a great game," Rare studio head Craig Duncan told Eurogamer.
"The only conversation I really want people having about Sea of Thieves is what adventures they had, what stories they went on, and why that's cool."
"For launch, it's about delivering the best gameplay experience possible, being there, reacting, listening, taking feedback and everything else," executive producer Joe Neate stressed.
"But as we move into our service and we start growing and updating the game, at that point we'll turn on the option for players to optionally spend in there."
Rare insisted the premium shop will sell nothing that affects player power or progression. Also, you'll always know what you're buying, hence no loot boxes.
"No loot boxes. No loot crates," Neate confirmed.
"It's things that add to the fun, social nature of Sea of thieves."
To that end, the first addition to the Sea of Thieves premium shop will be virtual pets, which you can buy directly (individually). These pets work like other items in the game: they're physical objects that can be held not just by the owner, but by other players.
"It's entirely optional, but if you had a monkey, for example, you'll be able to hold it like you can other things in the game, but then I'll also be able to hold it, then drop it overboard, because that's funny," Neate explained.
"It'll come back. It'll be fine! I desperately want us to be able to fire other stuff out of cannons, including monkeys and other animals, just because it's fun, right?
"So even if you were the only person who had bought a pet, but you had it on board, your crew would be able to enjoy the benefits of a monkey. It's about adding to the fun and social nature. It's just the right spirit for what Sea of Thieves is. Again, it's completely optional. You will know what you're getting. It doesn't affect power and it doesn't affect progression."
For Rare as a business, as home to some 200 staff who are all charged with making Sea of Thieves a successful, multi-year "game as a service", a popular premium shop is crucial. The money made from the sale of virtual items such as pets will go towards funding ongoing development of the game. Rare has an ambitious post-launch update plan, which involves new legendary voyages, new trading companies and more.
"We obviously want to keep growing the game as a service," Duncan said. "Part of that is, we'll look at things that make sense for Sea of Thieves in terms of the long-term digital business. As a new IP, it's really important to us that players know the value of the game. That goes for our digital business. 100 per cent, if you want to progress in Sea of Thieves, you play the game. That's a hard and fast principal to us."
"We've thought long and hard about this and had lots of discussions about this internally," Neate said.
"For people who are really invested in Sea of Thieves to go, I'm loving playing this game, I would happily spend some more money on my hobby, which is the same as us going to a football match. It just feels like the right thing for us to do to help us as we have a team working on updating and growing Sea of Thieves, which costs money, right?"
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