Sea of Thieves

Sea of Thieves should go into Early Access on PC and Xbox One right now

If you’ve paid close attention to the language coming out of major gaming publishers recently, you’ve probably heard buzzwords like “games-as-a-service” (GaaS) or simply “services.” That’s when a developer builds a game to keep players coming back for months or years with regular content updates and a core structure that never really ends. Think Overwatch or Destiny, and this year’s E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) trade show in Los Angeles revealed how services-based games like those are changing the industry.

Microsoft, in some ways, is ready for that change. But when it comes to Sea of Thieves, the company’s online pirate simulator that’s due out in 2018, Xbox boss Phil Spencer seems unprepared to commit to the new world of games-as-a-service.

Spencer has repeatedly said in interviews over the last couple of years that Microsoft makes most of its money from services (Office 365, enterprise tools, the Windows Store), and that’s one of the reasons he doesn’t care if people play Microsoft games on an Xbox or a PC as long as they’re logging into the Xbox Live online platform. And he also talks about the data that shows people are pouring huge chunks of their life into fewer games. For example, Spencer himself has played Destiny for 700 hours, and he has seen people doing that with games like Minecraft and Ark: Survival Evolved. And that has created a new market dynamic where games no longer live or die by their first-week sales. Instead, games can roll out slowly and grow into giant successes over time.

“Sometimes you see these games start small and get bigger over time,” Spencer said in an interview with Giant Bomb. “I think Ark: Survival Evolved is a great example of that. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds [is also a] great example of that. They come out and they actually get bigger as more people play and the virality of watching more people play and seeing their friends plays.”

Microsoft has seen this first-hand with Ark: Survival Evolved on its Xbox Preview Program, which is its equivalent of Steam’s Early Access portal for unfinished games. But even more directly, Microsoft owns Minecraft. Developer…

Microsoft creative director on reviving Age of Empires and making PC-only games

More companies at the Electronic Entertainment Expo tradeshow are targeting a PC gaming audience. Alienware had a booth on the E3 show floor to reveal new prebuilt rigs with AMD’s Ryzen Threadripper CPU. Razer was showing its new Razer Blade Stealth with a smaller bezel and Intel’s Kaby Lake Core i7. And Creative was demoing its first new PCIe Sound BlasterX sound card in four years.

Even Microsoft, which debuted a new iteration of its Xbox One hardware with the Xbox One X, took time to specifically appeal to the PC gaming audience at E3. It did so by bringing its big first-party games like Sea of Thieves and Forza Motorsport 7 to The PC Gaming Show, but the company also delivered the highlight announcement of that presentation when Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Isgreen took the stage to reveal Age of Empires: Definitive Edition.

The publisher is rebuilding that 1997 strategy classic with updated visuals, improved mechanics, and a streamlined interface. It will support 4K resolutions, and Microsoft is inviting players to sign up for a beta test right now. Age of Empires: Definitive Edition is due out later this year, and the publisher is promising a big announcement related to the series when it shows up at the Gamescom fan even in Germany this August.

But instead of waiting a couple of months for more info, I caught up with Isgreen after The PC Gaming Show in L.A., and I asked him all about Age of Empires as well as Microsoft’s current feelings on Windows gaming.

Here the edited transcript of our interview:

GamesBeat: What was it like to finally get that game in front of people?

Adam Isgreen: Oh, my gosh. We’ve been trying to hold our tongues and not let this go. Age has such a wonderful history to it, this wonderful lineage. People love the series so much. We were racking our brains. What’s the best way to do this? This is really—Age has always been a PC series. It’s always been focused on PC gaming. We thought we should put it—should it be in the briefing? But really it all came down to, what’s the best place to show this? We’re here with a PC game for PC gamers. It’s here at the PC gaming show.

GamesBeat: Was Age of Empire: Definitive Edition going to happen no matter what — or is this something that came about due to Microsoft’s PC gaming focus?

Adam Isgreen: The response to Age of Empires we’ve seen, with the expansions we’ve done for Age II and everything like that — we’re coming up on the 20th anniversary. We thought, we’ve gotta do something great with Age. Like I said on stage, no one’s been able to play this thing outside of the CD-ROM for 20 years. A lot of people don’t know where the series started from. We thought, what a great time to put this together and bring it back. Age is this wonderful 20-year franchise. It’s still going. It’s great. It was a great opportunity, a merger—a perfect storm.

GamesBeat: Was it nice to reveal Definitive Edition at a PC gaming-focused E3 show?

Adam Isgreen: Personally, I think Age of Empires is strong enough to stand up…

Sea of Thieves is getting a tiny technical alpha test on Windows 10

Sea of Thieves E3 2016 02

I know how the song goes, but I’m not sure that a pirate’s life is really for me. It seems exciting, but I think sailing the seven seas would eventually leave me hankering for amenities like Wi-Fi and The Cheesecake Factory. So I think I’d rather go with something like Microsoft’s Sea of Thieves instead.

The Rare game studio responsible for the online multiplayer pirate simulator is planning a small test for the Windows 10 version this weekend. This is part of an effort to ensure Sea of Thieves will run well when it arrives later this year. On Saturday, Rare will invite approximately 1,000 PC players as part of this technical alpha to try the game’s mechanics, which include working together to sail vessels and to fighter other crews on other ships. The tiny test group will give the developer early feedback about aspects directly related to the PC release as opposed to the Xbox One version.