Sea of Thieves already has hackers, offering a compelling case against cross-play

One of the "selling points" of Universal Windows Platform (UWP) PC games is that it is supposedly more secure than regular Win32 executables. UWP apps and games run inside a container which mimics a Windows environment, and can be cleanly uninstalled without any leftover registry keys and that sort of thing. UWP games are also supposed to verify file integrity over the internet, preventing unwanted modification of programs. It turns out that, in reality, like most things, UWP isn't completely secure either.

Sea of Thieves is out in the wild, and reviews have been a bit mixed, sometimes depending on player's expectations and experiences. Those who are trying to play it like an RPG are discovering early that really, Sea of Thieves is a potentially daunting multiplayer PvP game, where social interactions, good or bad, make up the basis of play. We've been having tons of fun with the game so far, treating it as a pure multiplayer sandbox experience, plundering player's ships, battling skeletal raids, and so on. However, Sea of Thieves' more punishing and competitive elements fall apart when players are cheating.

Generally, Xbox players have been immune to hackers due to the closed-nature of console gaming, but as console players are now discovering, thanks to cross-play with PC, hackers are beginning to appear on Xbox One.

I won't link to nor advertise this particular hack (thanks to those who tipped), but this program allows a cheating player to exploit Sea of Thieves' UWP client to auto-aim for player's heads, see chests, and other objects through walls, and perform other game-breaking feats of Godmodehood.

Naturally, all hacking players will eventually get banned from Xbox Live, losing all of their licenses and potentially access to their Microsoft Account in the process. But that isn't much comfort to those who have had their fun spoiled, particularly when one of the selling points of console play, at least for me, is a pure, hacker-free experience.

As hard as Microsoft seems to want to push for cross-play between Xbox One and PlayStation, the idea of cross-play between Xbox and PC is mired in pretty compelling counter arguments. PC players can turn and aim faster using a mouse, PC players also don't have to pay for Xbox Live, and thus, console players are effectively subsidising the service for PC players who want to jump in to Xbox Live. If none of these arguments are compelling enough, the biggest one of all, for me, is security. Opening up Xbox to forced, compulsory cross-play potentially subjects Xbox gamers, used to a tailored, polished experience, to the flood gates of hackers the likes of which exploit PC titles with impunity.

I already know that Microsoft is constantly working to eliminate hackers from its services and systems, and even if they're better than most developers and publishers at doing so. PUBG also recently updated its anti cheat systems. However, that doesn't mean that these games will be completely immune to exploitation.

By no means am I suggesting Sea of Thieves' has a pervasive hacker problem... yet, but the potential is definitely there. At least in PUBG, the PC and console versions are separated, and in Gears of War 4, competitive cross-play is optional. In a world where security can't be guaranteed, forcing cross-play on Xbox gamers just seems like a big ask.

Co-operative PC / Xbox cross-play is great. Competitive cross-play is too, but due to some people's inability to play fair, compulsory competitive cross-play isn't.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!