Pirates of the Burning Sea: The third anniversary

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Pirates of the Burning Sea: The third anniversary
Pirates of the Burning Sea just turned three years old, so we decided to take a look back at some of the history, controversy and changes that happened along the way. How do you sum up the history of an MMO, no matter how short? Do you simply make a timeline, establishing landmark events? What about the players -- how do they feel after sailing around the sea for all this time?

Well, we decided to do a little bit of each. What we found was a game that is still rich in its content, still varied in its playerbase, and still moving forward. The game has had its issues like any other, so on this anniversary we decided to showcase how the game has affected people with a series of mini-interviews with the players themselves.

Click past the cut to see what treasures we dug up!

Avatars and their issues

PotBS launched on January 22nd, 2008 after a very lengthy beta test. As with many MMOs right after launch, the game had issues with high system requirements and complex gameplay. Slowly but surely, server closures led the game to where it is now, surviving on just two servers. Don't tell that to the playerbase, however, whose members are happily gaming even as you read this.

Has a lot changed since the beginning? All MMOs change over time, but what specifically changed with PotBS? Player Ludo had this to say: "There has been significant balancing since launch: career changes, new features, many graphical tweaks, and several avatar combat patches -- it's come a long way." Player Scottie seems to agree, but with a large asterisk attached: "It's certainly evolved, but in a lot of cases not necessarily for the better."

"It's sad really, because I think the game could have been a really solid niche MMO instead of an MMO that tried and failed to go for a larger audience. I wonder how much the publisher is to blame?"

As an example, he talked about avatar combat: "'I'm not convinced it's needed. PotBS' strength has always been its ship-to-ship combat, trade, and manufacturing. I just wish they hadn't spent time on avatar combat (and all those quests) and put resources towards enhancing their core competencies. I'm not sure whose decision it was, but in my opinion it was a poor one. Then they spent even more development resources trying to make it better, and it still feels like an MMO circa 2000. It's sad really, because I think the game could have been a really solid niche MMO instead of an MMO that tried and failed to go for a larger audience. I wonder how much the publisher is to blame?"

Ludo seems to agree. "Avatar combat (and avatar missions) fail to keep pace with the flawless sea-faring gameplay of PotBS. Even more jarring is how amazing the stylized avatars look and how well the ambiance of the port towns brings you into the game -- it's a shame the avatar combat just doesn't work." Fixes have been put in place, like client-side preferences for auto-facing targets. Still, have avatar interactions come far enough?

Updates to the game, like the Power and Prestige update that launched last summer, brought many new fixes along the way. With the update also came great features like the governance system, a system that allows players to actually govern ports and control their defenses and infrastructure.

The introduction of free-to-play

We really wanted to hear how the most controversial issue was dealt with by our panel. In November of 2010, the game finally relaunched as a free-to-play game, something many saw as the last twitch before dying. Others looked at it as something that should have happened long ago, but it seems as though many are very happy with the results. "At this point in the game's history, I think it can only be a good thing," Scottie said. "I just hope that they can convert a good portion of new users to paying customers. I do worry about their monetization plan. I just hope they make enough with Treasure Aisle and Captain's Club to continue development." Players like Ludo wondered whether the niche status of the title would always guarantee its smaller community size, but "anyone who was on edge about trying or buying it won't have any excuses to at least give it a spin."

"Being free-to-play doesn't mean the game will be free for everyone. Someone will have to pay."

Mud, a player since launch, noticed a rise in numbers. "Since Power and Prestige and free-to-play were released, the game has essentially doubled its population. With the removal of first and second rates, port battles are more plentiful, more competitive, and easier to get into than ever. Thanks to the higher population, there is much more PvP to be had, fueling the player-run economy to new heights. The game is much different, and much better, than it was three years ago."

Many players found a new door open to them when the game went free-to-play -- players like Roxbad. "[I] just started playing on a free-to-play account this month. [I've] already upgraded to Captain's Club for the benefits, insurance, ship slots and to support the game, of course." Of course, being free-to-play doesn't mean the game will be free for everyone. Someone will have to pay. Treasure Aisle, the game's cash shop, sells things like pets, ships, and account upgrades. In a game that relies heavily on PvP, balance is always an issue. It looks like the developers are going the way of fluffy-yet-useful items like ship refits or warehouse deeds. How well the shop supports the game in the long run remains to be seen.

What's in the bones?

If only there were a voodoo ritual we could perform that would allow us to see into the future of PotBS. It has been an eventful three years, but the game seems to have the stuff to last quite a long time. Veteran players like Mitchell seem to be just fine. "Three years and the PotBS game still delivers the best PvP of any MMO, and it has only gotten better with all the new people that free-to-play has brought in! Governors now have a say on how ports run with the ability to improve infrastructure and defenses in desirable ports or to tear it down in enemy ports. Free-to-play has brought back many past players and a large influx of new players hoping to tame the Burning Seas. There is significant activity 24 hours a day. Some of the games' most epic port battles have taken place since free-to-play!"

Roxbad backs up Mitchell's thoughts: "PvP is easily avoided but not hard to find, as sometimes it will come looking for you. The RvR conquest system seems to build a sense of camaraderie among the players while giving the PvP a definite purpose beyond personal gain. So far, so good."

We're not sure that every player feels as optimistic as the panel we talked to, but the game seems as if it's finally settled into its shoes. If the end result is the more important thing, then it has been so far, so good.

Check back tomorrow -- we'll be publishing an anniversary interview with Flying Lab's CEO and PotBS' lead designer!
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