Puzzle Pirates Interview: Minigames MMO



Questions by Eline Stiekema (Snow Cherries), OnRPG Journalist
Answered by Three Rings dev team

Puzzle Pirates is a friendly, low-key kind of game that everyone can enjoy from the first moment. Onrpg gave the Three Rings dev team the third degree and learned some interesting stuff about the game, the community and upcoming events. And pirates, guess what... they disclosesome about the new features!

Onrpg: What inspired you to create a game like Puzzle Pirates?
The original designers of the game, Daniel James and Michael Bayne, were looking for a way to avoid the grinding seen in many MMOs and how leveling up becomes the obsession of players in games of that sort. Daniel originally had the idea of using puzzles to circumvent this problem and has always had a love of pirates. Hence, the game was born as a way to provide some of the experience of an MMO from a more casual perspective.

Onrpg: Which feature of Puzzle Pirates are you the most proud of?
The team is most proud of the economy in the game, something that makes Puzzle Pirates far deeper than many comparable games. Every item in the game is essentially created from scratch (raw materials), distributed, and sold by players running "shoppes" on different islands. We think this feature makes it possible for players to immerse themselves in the world of the game to whatever level they wish. It does create some limitations for us in terms of distributing items, but the level of complexity it introduces to the gameplay is a thing to behold.

Onrpg: Which puzzle do you like best?
The next one! We add puzzles to the game on a fairly frequent schedule. We currently have around 20, covering both ship activities and the work required to run the shoppes on each island. There are actually several crafts for which we have designs for puzzles that are not yet implemented, including tailoring and weaving. We're hoping to add them soon.

Putting aside the currently non-existent puzzles - we find that players tend to fall into two groups: those that enjoy more soothing puzzles like "bilge" or some of the crafting puzzles, and those that prefer puzzles with a more fast-paced arcade feel (like our swordfighting puzzles). Personally, I prefer carpentry as it requires more spatial thinking.

Bilge Puzzle

Onrpg: Why can a pirate's name only consist of one word?
An excellent question! We often wonder why we didn't allow two word names. Too late now, of course.

Onrpg: Why does the duty report that pop up while players are in the middle of a puzzle? Why not showing this when the puzzle is finished?
Problem one: When is the puzzle finished? Never! The duty report interruption of play is actually a design feature, although some players have asked for a way around it. From the outset, the duty report was intended to provide a moment for players to rest and interact with their crew members. People often take the time to compliment each other on good scores etc. and take a breather. More recently, we added "expeditions" to the game. These are short quests that involve going to desert islands or ship wrecks to hunt for treasure. We're hoping these also provide breaks when players can interact more socially. We like to be sure people aren't looked in the puzzling tunnel all the time!

Onrpg: What do you think makes Puzzle Pirates stand out from other games?
The most important aspect of the game was put in place with Daniel and Mike's initial design: you don't get better in the game simply because you grind away from level to level. This means that new players have a much better chance of joining the game and truly enjoying it. They aren't going to get stomped by a more experience player simply because the newbie hasn't been around as long. Any conflict between them is resolved based on how they both do at a puzzle. We think this makes the game more accessible and avoids the rather unattractive grinding feature that most other games impose on players.

Onrpg: If you could really go out your way without any restrictions, what would you add to or change about the game?
We actually have a lot of freedom in what we add to the game so I don't think anyone on the team feels that we've not been able to include the features we'd like. Unlike some other games, Puzzle Pirates has evolved considerably since launch. We've added elements that have substantially enhanced or changed game play multiple times in the 5 years the game has been running so it's hard to say there's something specific we've missed, although we do always have ideas for the future that get the team excited.

Probably our greatest restriction is the rate at which we add features. There are times when we feel uncomfortable adding something at a particular juncture because of the time that will pass before we can add a complementary feature that would be needed as a balance to it. For some concepts, the fact that our team is of a certain size make it impossible roll out both parts at the same time. This sometimes puts the kibosh on an idea. That's probably the biggest limiter we're operating with.

Onrpg: Why did you decide to have free puzzle days?
We have free puzzle days so that players can experience all the puzzles in the game and, perhaps, decide they are worth the price of subscription or a doubloon badge. Exposing all our content to players in a metered way seems like a good way to promote each of the puzzles.

Onrpg: What are the advantages for players who subscribe to full access?
Subscribers gain access to the tools needed to run a ship and get on the path to being a pirate captain. One of the beautiful design elements in Puzzle Pirates is that those players that do subscribe and purchase a ship, etc. are actually creating a great deal of the fun and excitement for the whole community. They themselves also benefit in terms of what they earn and their ability to engage in more involved adventures from creating excitement for the rest of the community. We think this feedback loop between the highly invested and casual players is one of the marvelous features of the design that Daniel and Mike came up with.

Onrpg: What do you think about the Puzzle Pirates-community?
The Puzzle Pirates community is absolutely extraordinary. Give its size and longevity, perhaps the most remarkable feature of the community is how civil, excited about the game, and genuinely open it remains. We also very much appreciate the deep game knowledge that many of the players, particularly those that participate in the forums, bring to the debate about the ongoing evolution of Puzzle Pirates. We definitely make a point of keeping an eye on the forums and the ideas that are proposed there.

We also have an amazing support team that's very engaged with the player community. We make a point of encouraging events and outreach activities to ensure that the support staff retains close links with players. It is important for us to identify problems as they emerge in the both the economic and game play systems in Puzzle Pirates quickly. The player base is pretty vocal about this, as you can imagine. They are, of course, also all a crazy bunch of pirates, which is also great in and of itself.

Onrpg: I see you're organizing three meet-ups in North Carolina, Melbourne and the Netherlands. Why did you decide to organize these, and why these specific locations?
These are actually player-sponsored events that are not directly affiliated with Three Rings. However, we do encourage players to coordinate these kinds of activities through our forums and sometimes support Ocean Master attendance at events (although our support staff are not attending in an official capacity).

Puzzle Pirates

Onrpg: What do you expect of these meet-ups, why should players visit one of them?
We actually did sponsor an event several years ago in our offices for players that were able to join us in San Francisco. Part of the reason for this, as mentioned above, was so that we could stay involved with the players and keep tabs how they saw the game developing.

What I found so surprising at that meet-up was how diverse the player base was. There were people from across the world and almost all age groups from younger than college age to retirement. It was, of course, enjoyable to see how excited they were to meet other people that played Puzzle Pirates. The best part, however, was that they were most excited not necessarily because they'd known each other in game, but because they knew they were in a community of people that shared a fascination with pirates.

There's generally a sense of frivolity and swagger that many people that are attracted to the pirate world share. They have a sense that the world would be a little better if we all had a cutlass and bandana and a slightly kookier attitude towards things. I think that certainly worth the effort to get to a Puzzle Pirate meet up.

Onrpg: Are there any particular player requests that will influence new developments in the future?
We've just finished a series of releases that substantially revamped and extended our "pillaging" system (pillaging being what Pirates do out on the high seas when looking for loot). Our focus is now turning to the higher end aspects of the game, including how players become the governors of the pirate islands, what they do when they become a governor, and how that feedback into the general experience of the game for the whole community. This is something that many players will agree is due some attention.

Onrpg: Are there elements of the game that were unsuccessful and have disappeared, or will disappear or change in the future?
We experimented with making smaller "adventure" versions of the current game using our existing art. Our goal was to create something more explicitly RPG-like. It turned out that the principle pillaging experience in the game, the first thing that the original designers created, is core to player enjoyment. Insofar as it wasn't included in the adventures, we really hadn't created something that was very fun. We're hoping we'll be able to build towards something more "adventure-like" with the recently added Expedition feature.

Onrpg: Are there any upcoming big events that players can look forward to?
There are several substantial blockades coming up on several of our Oceans. Blockades involve vast armadas of ships engaging in battle for control of an Island. They're certainly something worth seeing. We also brought out a number of new features at the end of June. If you're interested in how the economy of Puzzle Pirates works, it will be worth checking in to see what we've added.

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