The game allows each player to create his/her own customized pirate character, battle other online pirates, and complete pirate-themed quests both on ship and on land.
Disney's Mike Goslin said the game will feature interactions with the main characters from the "Pirates" feature films, both heroes and villains. Disney was in negotiations for the key actors to lend their voice talents to the game.
Common MMORPG features such as player guilds and a virtual economy were also announced.
In Pirates Online, players are able to create a customizable pirate, captain a ship, assemble a crew, and play the role of a pirate in the 18th century Caribbean.
Player interaction takes place in and around Port Royal, Tortuga, Cuba and Padres del Fuego with characters from the film series (including Jack Sparrow, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann) as major NPCs. Gameplay also involves encounters with new characters and enemies unique to the game, such as Jolly Roger and his undead horde. In order to become a notorious pirate (the game's experience system), player's are required to forge alliances, complete quests for reputation and gold coins, hunt for buried treasures, battle evil forces and outsmart enemies.
The level cap for the game is level 50, and there is a maximum skill level of 30.
In-game combat consists of pressing F1-F4 on the keyboard to switch weapons, and clicking the mouse or pressing Ctrl multiple times to create combinations, resulting in more damage. The game has a limited list of weapons available — cutlass, broadsword, sabre, blunderbuss, bayonet, musket, pistol, voodoo doll, dagger (and also includes throwing knives), grenades, and voodoo staff — with each upgradeable.
Players can play Poker and Blackjack in taverns, with the ability to bet gold on each game. These games are be played against NPCs or other online players. Currently, the maximum amount of gold that can be carried is 200,000.
Ships are very important; providing a way to travel and to fight. Players assemble crews to run the ships while in battle. However, crews only last while logged in. If a player remains logged-out for more than five minutes, they leave the crew.
Leaderboards enable players to compare scores with other pirates and guilds. The ranking criteria of Top 25 players and guilds include overall notoriety, enemies defeated, ships sunk, Pirate vs. Pirate battles, times in jail and blackjack and poker hands won.
Based on player feedback, extensive revisions were implemented in 2009 to optimize Pirates Online. Developers expanded the game by introducing new enemies and adding the ability to retrain weapons skills and revive fellow players. Also added were a stowaway transportation system, and the chance to defend Port Royal, Padres Del Fuego and Tortuga against invading armies of "undead" pirates ultimately ending in a fight with Jolly Roger (the game's nemesis). Other Pirates Online changes concentrated on improving the website, adding weekly community events and improving customer service and player-to-player interaction.