Games

Excited for Grounded and Sea of Thieves on PlayStation, but not for the reasons you might think

Excited for Grounded and Sea of Thieves on PlayStation, but not for the reasons you might think

There’s something quietly quiet exciting happening, and I wonder where it’s going to lead. Earlier this week, Grounded – the Honey I Shrunk the Kids backyard survival game – arrived on PlayStation, and at the end of the month (30th April) pirating game Sea of Thieves arrives on PlayStation too. It’s a momentous occasion, even though it might not sound it, because we’ve never had games conceived as Xbox exclusives arrive on PlayStation before. It’s an unprecedented new approach by Microsoft and, should it work, it could open a whole Mary Poppins bag of possibility.

I don’t want to talk about the colder business case for it, because that’s not what excites me. What excites me is what it means for players and, I suppose, for the games themselves. How wonderful it feels to be excited about these games again, which are now a number of years old. We first played Sea of Thieves in early 2018, and Grounded in mid-2020, and they were terrifically exciting then, but now they’re not. They’ve been with us so long they’ve become familiar. No one’s pulling you aside and asking you, raw enthusiasm in their eyes, if you’ve played them yet.

Well, not yet.

Some great tips on getting started in Grounded, if you’re taking the, um, shrink?Watch on YouTube

This gradual fading away has nothing to do with the quality of the games. Both have evolved consistently and considerably, and are much fuller and more sophisticated experiences than they were. To compare them now and then would be unfair. But excitement does not correlate with a game’s evolution. Yes, a player will probably have a better experience going back to those games now, but will they have a more exciting one? Moreover, will people still know what to do in the game or will they feel patched out?

What I’m getting at here is that a game can only make a first impression once, as the cliché goes, and what’s so exciting about this moment is these two games, Sea of Thieves and Grounded, get to do it again. They get another chance to excite a whole new audience – possibly one that has never even heard of them, depending on how entrenched in the PlayStation ecosystem they’ve been – and provide that fleeting, magical moment of shared discovery all over again.

What magical moment is that? Think about when we first played that closed beta test of Sea of Thieves – I remember it so well. I remember everyone running around trying to figure out what the game was and how it worked. Even basic things like how to sail a ship weren’t particularly well explained, so just getting out onto the open sea felt like an accomplishment. And once you did: wow! That sea. Then: another ship – friend or foe? It was a non-stop chain-reaction of firsts. Switch to Grounded and it’s a similar thing. You don’t forget the first time you walk around that small-made-big backyard world, and you certainly don’t forget your first encounter with a spider.

Ah, memories, both of Johnny and of Sea of Thieves.Watch on YouTube

But the impact of these experiences lessens with time and repetition. The next time you see a spider or a player ship, the experience won’t thump as boisterously in your mind, because you’ve seen it before. Then the next time you see them, it will lessen further still, until soon you’ve smoothed away the extraordinary and transformed it into something ordinary. Diminishing returns have set in, and no matter what you or the game do to alleviate them, you never quite reach the same high.

The most powerful parts of a game experience, then, are the beginnings, when your mind is most sticky and available to them – like a fresh piece of Sellotape peeled from the reel. It’s doubly and perhaps triply true for multiplayer games, which are magnified by everyone else’s excitement as well. Some of my most cherished memories come from massively multiplayer games and the tornado of people racing to discover things first. I’ll never forget downing raid bosses for the first time in World of Warcraft and the deafening cheers on voice comms that came after, or encountering players from enemy realms in Dark Age of Camelot for the first time and wondering what they were. The rush was intoxicating; I can still feel some of it, even now.

So yes, of course there’s a colder business side to Grounded and Sea of Thieves arriving on PlayStation, but there’s a warmer and more romantic side to it too. How magical it will be for people to imprint their minds for the very first time with these experiences, and how nice it will be for admirers of those games to see all these new people affected by them. And who knows what the knock-on effect of that will be? These years-old games might be rejuvenated beyond any success they previously experienced, and what then – what will that mean for them? No update or expansion could achieve such a thing. That’s why I’m so excited. This, well, could change everything




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