Yo ho ho: Happy 10th birthday, Puzzle Pirates

Puzzle Pirates artwork
Puzzle Pirates is still way ahead of its time, despite the fact that it just turned 10 years old. For many years, MMOs have tried to get players to work together in real time in myriad ways, yet Puzzle Pirates is the only one that has approached the problem exactly in this way: having each player work a different puzzle to represent different activities. One player controls the direction and speed a ship travels, two players work a "bilging" puzzle to help keep water from filling in, perhaps a few more players man the sails, and another plays a puzzle that represents keeping the ship repaired.

What you end up with is a pretty realistic depiction of a team working together to sail the high seas, fight NPCs, and attack other players. This same puzzle-based gameplay works its way throughout the entire game, making for a very unique and in-depth experience. It also ensures that players become experts at certain puzzles, something that easily represents the way a real-life sailor would become an expert at his or her station.

In a word, it's brilliant. Massively checked in with CEO Daniel James on the occasion of the game's birthday. Read on for the scoop!

Puzzle Pirates artwork
Massively: How has it been working for a game from the older generation of MMOs?

Daniel James: Puzzle Pirates was always designed to be timeless; for example, the art style and isometric technology was far from "cutting edge" MMO technology when the game launched. The focus of Puzzle Pirates's development and the many subsequent releases has always been on fun. The older it gets, we hope, the more fun it is. It's also worth noting that Puzzle Pirates is very much a "sandbox open-world" type of game, a design principle that comes from MUDs and MUSHes but was exemplified in early MMOs by Ultima Online. As shown by that title's continued operation, these types of games are unusually persistent as their high-level gameplay tends to be driven by the players.

How much longer can Puzzle Pirates last, and do you think you will have an audience for it if it goes on forever?

Forever is a very long time, but I think it's reasonable to suppose that some number of people will continue to play Puzzle Pirates indefinitely, so long as the supported client technology is readily available (PC, Mac, and Linux right now) and the servers remain up! Forever is certainly the plan.

What is the secret to the game's longevity?

In terms of gameplay, I would suggest it's a combination of an intrinsically fun core game with player-driven long-term "endgame" systems, like the economy. I would also attribute a great deal of the game's longevity to the incredible player community. We were fortunate enough to attract an awesome early audience that set a great tone for the community that has persisted to today. They honestly power the game's continued success.


How would describe the gameplay of Puzzle Pirates? It's actually pretty advanced when you consider the multiplayer content like ship-to-ship combat.

Puzzle Pirates combines simple core gameplay (you're a pirate; you do puzzles) with a number of quite complex PvE and PvP systems such as sea battles, sea monsters, a trading and manufacturing economy, siege battles (blockades), and large-scale territory battles over islands, and so on. It's worth noting that the puzzles and many other aspects of the game listed are skill-based. This is unusual and perhaps unique amongst successful contemporary MMOs.

Do you get a ton of new players, or is your game made up mostly of vets? Does a new player have hope of ever "catching up" to the older community?

We continue to get a steady stream of new players, but of course the veteran community is very influential. "Catching up" is not really applicable in so far as the game is not level-based and much of the gameplay is skill-based or driven by player groups. It's certainly possible for a new player to make an impact on the world in a fairly short period of time.

We'd like to thank Daniel James for taking the time between slogging gallons of ale (pirate devs do that at work, right?) to answer our questions! Here's to 10 more years!
This article was originally published on Massively.