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How Rare keeps Sea of Thieves afloat in a sea of feedback


​These days, player feedback flows like grog from a broken tap. You can find opinions on just about anything with a quick search. It's hard to know which comments are from a vocal minority and which represent the community at large. That's why Rare values data so much. "There's nothing more important than direct player feedback," said Sean Davies, Technical Director at Rare. "You use the data to decide how much weight you give to a particular opinion, but the opinion is always going to be valid."

From their very first technical alpha, Rare investigated ways to follow player feedback, but they knew they needed to be careful. "If all you do is respond to feedback … you end up converging on [the] middle of the road," explained Davies.

Rare's design team was thirsty for opportunities to ramp up the pirate mayhem, not a data map to follow blindly. Their upgrades balanced core principles while bending to improve the experience. It all culminated in Sea of Thieves: Anniversary Edition—a release the team informally considers their 2.0.

Sea of Thieves embodies Rare's belief that player experience is king

Rare designed Sea of Thieves so that in-game events, like fighting a megalodon or raiding a Skull Fort, wouldn't occur simultaneously on a server and take up too many resources. But in-game, these safeguards made events proc too infrequently and left players sailing the high seas with nothing to do for long stretches of time. Some players weren't having fun, and the data backed it up. To increase the number of real-time events and keep players on board, the team created an event scheduler to trigger incremental event combos while also balancing server load. The team could "unleash the kraken" without drowning their infrastructure.

Other data told another tale entirely: Rare had initially designed Sea of Thieves with an optional tutorial. Introductory information was available on the starting island, but players could jump aboard a ship without learning how the game worked. Data showed that some players were dropping out without realizing there was a tutorial. Rare's solution? A single-player introductory quest, "Maiden Voyage," which taught players the ropes before launching them into the world as the star of their first pirate adventure.

Stay afloat in a sea of feedback

If you're smart with your data, you can run a QA department with a skeleton crew. With automation and data, you can track down and fix those bugs that affect 1 in 1,000 players. Jules Williams, a data analyst at Rare, put it this way: "That's a place where data is useful, to actually look at what's going on in a whole population of 10 million players. You're never going to be able to capture that on Reddit or Twitter."

For a developer looking to follow the same map to success, Azure PlayFab LiveOps is a chest of tools that allows you to analyze and research your player base. You can make smart, data-driven, and frequent changes to your game to ensure your players keep having fun. Azure PlayFab is the key to opening that chest.

Find out how Azure Pl​a​​yFab LiveOps can help you engage your players with new experiences.

Check out the full Microsoft Game Stack for additional game dev solutions. ​

"Save Game A Development Series Rare Twycross, England" text with image of colonial ship fighting a giant octopus in the ocean