Sea of Thieves Interview: Adding a fourth content team, future updates, and The Hungering Deep

Sea of Thieves enjoyed a solid launch, but quite quickly, many of its passionate fans have been wondering what comes next?

Rare answered the call with the reveal of The Hungering Deep, the game's first sizable content update set to sail on Xbox One and Windows 10 this week. The Hungering Deep introduces a new story campaign, new tools, and new cosmetics into the shared-world pirate adventure game, exclusive to Microsoft platforms.

Recently, we caught up with Rare Executive Producer Joe Neate and Design Director Mike Chapman to discuss The Hungering Deep, and what lies beyond for Sea of Thieves.

Joe Neate, Executive Producer, Rare: The first question can't be about fishing, Jez.

Jez Corden, Windows Central: Hahaha, you knew it! In that case, first of all, what is the beast that you've been teasing for The Hungering Deep? We have green glowing eyes, scarred exterior ... are you leaving that for players to discover? Or will you be revealing it yourselves?

Joe: Our preference is for players to discover it. We love that someone, somewhere, will be the first person to discover it. Be the first person to share a video. They'll have the first story. The first person, even with the Kraken at launch, some of the first videos got over a million views. For someone who only has a few hundred subscribers, being the first person to see and share... we love giving people in our community that chance to be the first to share the story. That's why we've been quite coy about it.

Jez: So, can you give me a step by step guide on how to get to this monster so I can be the first one?

Mike Chapman, Design Director, Rare: Hahaha. The reason why we're coy as well is that there's a little kind of "quest line" in the game to support The Hungering Deep. The same way we hinted and teased with the community, that's kind of part of that quest experience where it slowly gets revealed to you. We don't want to give too much away.

Joe: We've tried to give you a small crafted adventure to go along with it, and that'll be our tactic for introducing new content into the game. With Hungering Deep, we're bringing in a new A.I. threat, we're bringing in a bunch of new tools including the shouting trumpet and the flags system. They're cool because they add to the richness of Sea of Thieves. Every time you play, there will be a chance of encountering the new A.I. threat and experience the new systems. The quest will highlight the stuff we're bringing into the game.

Mike: For the period of that time-limited campaign, how can we showcase these new mechanics in a really cool and interesting way? That's what's at the heart of The Hungering Deep. It's not just the A.I. threat, it's the tools that bring more richness to the world even after the campaign, as well as the rewards that you can earn during the time-limited period. It feels like the right approach, rather than dumping a bunch of patch notes. Let's celebrate that content and showcase it in a cool way.

Joe: To uncover the beast, you're going to have to work together with another crew. We want to encourage that human interaction beyond ship to ship combat.

Mike: We've also talked about weekly events after The Hungering Deep. We'll showcase different playstyles, not only bringing players together in interesting ways, but we'll also be introducing new mechanics.

Jez: So, if I heard correctly, this new A.I. threat will require multiple crews to take down?

Joe: More than one crew, yes, basically. To find it and uncover it you will have to work with more than one crew. We want people to be using the speaking trumpet to communicate across the sea at a distance, use your flags to communicate your intentions. We're trying to foster new ways to interact in-game.

Jez: So, you'll be able to change your flags without going to an outpost?

Mike: As with everything, we want to make it as natural as possible. You just go up to the crow's nest and access a box attached to the pole to change flags.

Jez: You spoke about bringing crews together. One of the requests I often see is the idea of linking multiple crews together in a formal alliance. Is that something you're still looking at?

Joe: We're not looking at it for The Hungering Deep, but we've always said it's something we wanted to add to the game. We want players to be able to have that sort of "uneasy" alliance.

Mike: For The Hungering Deep, we're hoping the community will utilize the flags and come up with different meanings and reasons for them. We're definitely looking at more formalized alliances too, beyond the flag system.

Jez: One of the core criticisms of Sea of Thieves pertains to the content, what is your thought process about adding a time-limited campaign?

Joe: All the features that are brought in as part of an update, whether it's the drums, flags, the speaking trumpet, the new tattoos, and scars, plus the A.I. threat, they'll all stay in the game from that point on. It's just the campaign that introduces them that is time-limited. The fact Merrick, the character who comes in to set you this mini-quest to go on to uncover it. For that time-limited period, you'll get to uncover the new stuff as part of the story, and earn time-limited cosmetic rewards as part of the event. The threat will remain as an emergent monster within the world.

Mike: There's a teaching element too, right? It's a tour of the content. It makes no sense to leave the tour in once the features are there. We'll give the player base context and information on how to use the new tools, but after that, the content will stick around.

Joe: We don't like doing anything "normal" or "traditional," we like to explore new things. We like this idea for introducing new content. We want our content updates to be very regular, and we're currently nailing that down. We split into three separate game teams to support this, switching between content updates. The Hungering Deep team had the shortest lead time, working on it for the last six or seven weeks. That team will now move on to their next big update. Then you have the teams working on Cursed Sails and Forsaken Shores, and those guys have a bit of a longer lead time. What we're trying to do is bring new content faster to players, while extending the amount of lead time each team has to create this bunch of new content.

As we build up, each time will hopefully have a longer lead time as well. We're currently spinning up the fourth team, we're all in on Sea of Thieves...

We're doubling down, tripling down on the number of people working on the game, the amount of content we want to add.

Jez: That's the fishing team!

Joe: Hahaha. Ultimately we've had a successful launch of Sea of Thieves. Getting more players than we expected. We took a little time getting the servers stabilized and so on. We came out of the gate strong, and now, our opportunity and focus is making Sea of Thieves a success longer term. Let's keep acquiring new players, let's engage the players that have played. We're doubling down, tripling down on the number of people working on the game, the amount of content we want to add. We hear the feedback, we've talked openly I think regarding top feedback points, addressing private, closed crews and so on.

We hear the content criticism. People had fun, but they want more, and that's cool. We're going all-in on adding awesome stuff for Sea of Thieves. That's almost our motto across the team. We sat down just yesterday with the team building The Hungering Deep talking about what they want to add next. Everything that we do internally, both in terms of how we set our team structure, and how we look at our workflow, is about delivering stuff to players as quickly as possible. That's the mantra within the studio. Our motivation aligns with player's motivation.

Mike: We've talked about adding ways to play, adding more quest types, enriching the quest types we had. Goals. Enriching the journey, so more mechanics for the adventures you have. More compelling, more meaningful. Each session should play even more different from the last.

Joe: The Hungering Deep brings in a new threat. That adds broadly to enriching the journey. The smaller tools that enrich the journey, like the drums and speaking trumpet, all of that stuff. The acquisition of new tattoos and scars are new goals. That gets some of those boxes ticked. But when you look at enriching quests and new levels of importance, that's where the additional content updates coming in the future, they can plug even more gaps.

Ultimately we're trying to get to a place where, as each team delivers, they'll enrich the journey, add new goals, enrich existing quests, and so on. We're trying to broaden all the bits of the game that the community tells us are the most important.

Joe: In between all this, I'm equally as excited about the events that come between the next big campaign content updates. That stuff is super cool. We'll bring that in, and again, it's a time-limited "cool thing" that provides a bit of a spin. The first one we're doing is a "Skeleton Thrones" event, which will place piles of bones around the world, in really hard to reach places. You'll have to do a bit of platforming, use cannon jumping to reach them too. Some of them you'll be able to do on your own, some might require multiple crews working together to unlock those time-limited rewards.

We want to deliver new reasons to come back to Sea of Thieves, play a different way, get some rewards. New things to do within the existing trade companies, so you'll get the opportunity to progress your trade companies while jumping into new activities. We want to keep Sea of Thieves feeling fresh all of the time, we think it's going to be really fun.

As always, we'll take feedback, of course, was the time-limit enough? Did enough people get chance to play it? We're in this for the long haul, loads of opportunity to learn. We'll see how The Hungering Deep goes, and apply feedback to the next update. We'll see how the first Skeleton Thrones event goes and apply the feedback to the next one, and so on.

Jez: Finally, previously you announced pets would be coming to Sea of Thieves as part of the game's monetization system, and then placed them on the back burner. Are they still in the roadmap?

Joe: Basically, we do want to do them, they're on the back burner for now. Our focus for the moment is delivering awesome content for players, and that's what our next few content updates revolve around. Beyond that, we expect to bring them in, but we'll just see how the next few content updates go. If people are enjoying Sea of Thieves and love what we're doing, we'll consider when to bring pets back in.

Mike: There's a lot of people internally who liked the idea of pets. Pets really line up well with the game, putting that little Sea of Thieves spin on them. They could be a goal for players, for example.

Jez: You could fish up pets, with a fishing rod. Put fish in a bowl of water on your ship...

Joe & Mike: Hahaha.

Thanks to Joe and Mike for talking to us!

The Hungering Deep is set to grow the amount of content available in Rare's fledgling adventure game, which focuses on player-driven multiplayer gameplay in a colorful, stylized pirate world. The Hungering Deep is the first of three planned content updates set to arrive for free throughout the remainder of 2018, as Microsoft looks to deliver on Sea of Thieves' post-launch promise.

You can grab Sea of Thieves for $9.99 per month as part of Xbox Game Pass, or digitally from the Microsoft Store for $60.

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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!