During the closed beta for Sea of Thieves some players found a way to abuse the game’s brig mechanic. Developers Rare intended it as a way for a ship’s crew to vote a disruptive player into a cell below deck. But the closed beta saw teams of three friends voting a random player who joined them into the brig just so they didn’t have to share their ship with someone else.
“In the closed beta, the brig is being abused because three players want to play together and a fourth player will join,” design director Mike Chapman explains. “So, for launch, we will allow you to play [with just] three-players on the galleon.”
Originally, the brig was intended to lock up the trolls, not to be used by them. It was introduced as an elegant way to deal with a problematic player in-game.
“With the brig, the idea was not to do the obvious that you see in so many games - you vote to kick someone,” Chapman says. “You go back to the menu and you see why you’ve been kicked. I think it’s fair to say that, for a troll, that’s like the ultimate reward, like ‘I’ve done it, I’ve annoyed them so much that they’ve had to kick me’. The idea of the brig was to shift the power to the people who have been griefed.”
A unanimous vote will send a disruptive player below deck to cool off, but the other players can then punish this player further by choosing to interact with them as they are trapped in the cell.
“The only way you can get out is if we agree to let you out,” Chapman continues. “We can come downstairs and be sick on you, we can play instruments around you, we can taunt you. You might try convince us to let you out, but the majority of the crew has to agree to let you out. The only way you can escape if they don’t let you out is, you have to press start, you have to manually quit the game. It’s a psychological shift. Effectively, you are killing yourself to escape prison. That was something very deliberate - to make you feel bad when you do it.”
For now, solo players are better off taking control of a small ship, rather than joining a crew of randoms. If you do choose to join a large galleon as a solo player, you will still be at the mercy of the rest of your crew, unfortunately. Hopefully those who play as a team of three will choose the new three-person crew option, instead of locking a random fourth player in the brig immediately.
“The risk with a [report function] is that it can always be gamed,” Chapman says. “It’s a situation like, do we take 50% of a player’s earnings? You get all these kind of abstract punishments. As much as possible, we’re trying to put the power in the players’ hands. There’s always going to be these things that are a risk with random matchmaking.”