Pirates of the Burning Sea CEO on the economic revamp and a player-driven world

Pirates of the Burning Sea duo

Pirates of the Burning Sea recently celebrated its sixth anniversary as well as the one-year anniversary of parent company Portalus' decision to strike out on its own following the expiration of its Sony Online Entertainment publishing contract.

The dev team is currently prepping a major economic revamp, but CEO Charles Ellis kindly spared a few moments to answer Massively's burning questions. Join us after the cut as we talk about life after SOE, the game's robust economy, and Portalus' future plans.

Pirates of the Burning Sea dock

Massively: Can you tell us a little bit about the game's post-SOE life? Did members of the original Flying Lab crew form Portalus? Who are the principals involved?

Charles Ellis: It's been an exciting year. The first few months were a scramble to replace the things that SOE had provided like the log-in and billing systems. Once we got our feet under us, we were able to start doing what we love again, which is developing the game itself. It's our awesome playerbase that's really helped us weather this first year, and that's something we're very grateful for.

Everyone at Portalus was part of Flying Lab, though all three of us joined the crew after Pirates of the Burning Sea was up and running. Fodderboy I started there in 2009, and Half-Hitch the year after.

From an outsider's perspective, it seemed like being on SOE's Station Pass was a good fit for PotBS in terms of exposure and ready-made access to a large community of MMO gamers. Can you give us any hints as to what prompted your decision to strike out on your own?

When SOE's publishing contract for Pirates of the Burning Sea ended in 2013, we were offered the opportunity by Flying Lab to license the game and to continue our development on it. Ultimately we struck out on our own because we believe the good ship PotBS still has a lot going for it and feel that as a small team we benefit from the flexibility afforded by self publishing.

The game has an incredible, loyal fan base, good ship mechanics, abundant content for the new players to explore, and a lot of room for improvement and expansion. Those significant positives, along with our own love for the game and our years of experience with it, made the decision to continue on our own an easy one.

Pirates of the Burning Sea port

From reading your dev blogs, we see there's a big "economy push" in the works following the 2.14 patch that released this week. Can you share any details here? Is it a major revamp or a series of tweaks?

This is a major revamp. At the heart of the revamp is a desire to make the open sea portion of the game more dynamic and to more closely tie the items ships are carrying to the general economy.

Real-life pirates and privateers made their living off the prizes they took at sea, and we feel the game really isn't providing the necessary items and options for that to happen. Successful options for Free Traders are too few in number for sufficient specialization within the economy. After looking at all the areas we wanted to improve in the game's economy and how they work together, we thought it was pretty clear that small tweaks would not allow us to reach our goals within a reasonable time frame. It was at that time we decided to bundle the changes up into one build.

Our 2.15 build will introduce new trade markets, products, ships, and items to work with 32 new structures and over 100 new recipes in providing players with more economic gameplay options. The revamp brings changes to open sea fleet behavior and composition as well as what loot they contain.

The loot taken from ships can be used in new ways and has a greater connection to trade and production. The ship refitting system is being revamped as part of this change to be better integrated into the expanded economy and provide ship builders with new ship building options. It's really difficult to boil down all the changes into a short answer as there is virtually no part of the economy left untouched by the revamp.

Pirates of the Burning Sea intro

Speaking of MMO economies, I've heard players refer to PotBS as "EVE with sailing ships." Do you feel that's a fair comparison in terms of gameplay, dev goals, community, and accessibility?

PotBS occupies an interesting middle ground between extremely harsh games like EVE and more forgiving games like WoW. Like EVE, PotBS can involve some crushing losses (it's heartbreaking to watch your massive first-rate warship sink beneath the waves!) and is driven by conflict between four player factions. Unlike EVE, in PotBS players can also opt to forego the PvP experience and focus 100 percent on PvE and aren't forced into an unwanted PvP situations.

There's no denying that both games have a bit of a learning curve to climb. In PotBS players must learn to use the wind to get the most out of their ships in combat, and that takes some practice. Fortunately there are hundreds of missions and a lossless skirmish system in which players can hone their skills.

I think our goals for PotBS are probably similar to EVE's. We'd like to increase the amount of emergent, sandbox-style gameplay and give players a real sense of ownership over the world that they're helping to shape.

PotBS is free-to-play, and the account creation process is pretty straightforward via the Portalus website. What about previous players, though? Is it too late to recover characters that were created during the SOE years or even prior to that?

Unfortunately, yes -- we can't recover unmigrated accounts anymore.

Pirates of the Burning Sea captain on deck

You recently celebrated the game's six-year anniversary, as well as the one-year anniversary of Portalus. Where do you see PotBS one year from now or even five years from now? Are you looking to release expansions similar to Power & Prestige, or are you focused on smaller/more frequent updates?

For now we're focused on smaller and more frequent updates. We like getting new features and content out for players to enjoy as soon as they're ready, and we don't want to get bogged down in long development cycles. We prefer to do monthly updates with them alternating between larger and smaller feature sets and content updates.

Over the next year we plan to continue to refine and improve the core game mechanics. We just released an update that addressed some longstanding issues with cannons, and we'll be working on the economy next. We have a lot of work we want to do specifically with our open sea gameplay and economy to improve the pirate and pirate-hunter feel of the game. The biggest project on the list for the year is a major revamp of our avatar combat system but we haven't set any dates specifically for it yet.

Looking five years ahead, we'll keep PotBS going as long as it can stay afloat. We love the game and we'd love players to be able to keep playing it.

Sounds good, thanks for chatting with us!

When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!