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RuneScape: A Brutal Fall From Grace



It’s easy to forget now, but RuneScape was once a serious player in the gaming market. During its peak in 2009, RuneScape could reach 250,000 players online at once. Ten years later, this number usually sits around just 80,000. So, what went wrong? This is a tale of development mistakes and a refusal to listen to fans.

Death of PvP – December 2007

Death of PvP - December 2007It’s debatable when the fall of RuneScape truly began. Personally, I believe the 2007 changes to the Wilderness acted as the ignition for its decline. Previously, most player versus player content took place in an area called the Wilderness. Unlike the rest of Gielinor, players are not protected here. Death in the Wilderness means losing all but three items on you.

This structure encouraged a revolution of PvP hunting. Players would look for targets who were potentially carrying valuable items to hunt down. Jagex encouraged this by adding more high risk, high reward content to the Wilderness. For example, Level 3 Treasure Trials that can give rewards worth billions often take place in the Wilderness.

In December 2007, Jagex made a rash choice. In an attempt to counter the ongoing scamming problem, Jagex removed open world PvP. The Wilderness was no longer a dangerous region. Bounty Hunter was added as a makeshift replacement. A specified zone within The Wilderness for players to fight it out.

We’ve actually been thinking for quite some time that the Wilderness was a bit on the big side, and it can get quite hard to find other players to fight.”

Wilderness Changes, Bounty Hunter and Clan Wars! – 10th December, 2007 (CAPTION FOR ABOVE QUOTE)

RuneScape’s player base hated this change. After all, Jagex had effectively ruined PvP just to counteract the 1% of scammers. They knew they messed up too. Less than a year later, designated PvP worlds were introduced with the old Wilderness in place. In February 2011, all PvP changes were reverted.

 Goodbye Free Trade – January 2008

RuneScape: Goodbye Free Trade - January 2008Whilst one development team worked on Bounty Hunter, another worked on improving RuneScape’s trading system. At its most basic, RuneScape’s trading is brilliantly simplistic. Players select what they want to trade, review if they agree with the trade and finally confirm the transaction. RuneScape’s trading even gives players multiple confirmation screens to counter potential scamming.

Unfortunately, Jagex did not feel that the system was doing its job well enough. They wanted to kill off real-world trading for good. The aforementioned PvP changes had been introduced a month prior. It was now time for Jagex to give free trade the noose too.

A trade limit was introduced to prevent uneven trades ever happening again. Jagex’s idea was simple. If players couldn’t trade valuables to other accounts without receiving a fair fee back, scamming was no longer possible. Technically, they were right. This even had the nice side effect of minimizing account hacking too. After all, why would people bother hacking accounts when they can’t transfer items?

From the community’s point of view, these benefits did not outweigh the negatives. Just like the PvP changes, Jagex was taking away player freedom to prevent a tiny percentage of scammers. Whilst problematic, no one asked for Jagex to act this aggressively. At the end of the day, those that get scammed are probably to blame.

Player naivety is the primary cause of scamming and hacking. Surely teaching players about account security was a better option. Hilariously, Jagex apparently agreed. Just two months after this update, the Stronghold of Player Safety was released. Despite this, they would not remove trade limits until February 2011.

Predatory Microtransactions – April 2012

Predatory Microtransactions - April 2012After the reintroduction of free trade and PvP, RuneScape experienced a short but sweet golden age. Players now had their old school RuneScape experience back but with more content than ever before. This didn’t last long. One year after free trade and PvP had been reintroduced, Jagex added something far eviler. RuneScape entered the modern age of microtransactions and loot boxes.

Thus, the Squeal of Fortune was incarnated. Players could now purchase spins with real-world currency. The most expensive transaction possible set players back $99.99 for 200 spins. The Squeal of Fortune didn’t just hand out cosmetics either. Rewards included sizable gold and EXP drops. Unbelievably, Jagex had legitimized the ability to purchase in-game progress. After all of those years of trying to prevent real-world trading, they were now profiting off of the same concept.

Three months after the Squeal of Fortune, Solomon’s General Store followed. This store did only sell cosmetics but the sudden increase in microtransactions was alarming. Needless to say, Jagex didn’t stop there. In 2013 purchasable bonds were released. Bonds could be purchased with real money and then sold for in game gold to other players. Later, the Squeal of Fortune would be rebranded as Treasure Hunter.

As recent as 2018, Jagex is still finding new ways to monetize RuneScape. Inspired by Fortnite, the RunePass allows players to earn rewards as they climb up tiers. Interestingly enough, despite having a far smaller player base, RuneScape 3 actually generates more income than Old School RuneScape. Sadly, that shows the power of microtransactions. Everything discussed here is still present in the live game. More worryingly, unless the law forces them to, there are no signs Jagex intends to slow down.

RuneScape: EasyScape – April 2012

EasyScape - April 2012EasyScape is a colloquial term used by the community to describe RuneScape’s gradual movement toward easier gameplay. Historically, RuneScape was a very difficult game. In RuneScape 1, now known as RuneScape Classic, leveling skills to 99 was effectively impossible. No efficient leveling methods existed at the time. Even as late as 2012 skills like Prayer, Agility, and Runecrafting were still very time consuming to train.

The EasyScape culture didn’t begin in 2012, but it definitely began to speed up around then. Perhaps the biggest culprit of all is Runespan. Runecrafting is a skill in RuneScape that allows the crafting of runes for Magic. For the longest time, training this skill had to be done via the Abyss.

Abyss running is risky business. Players have to enter the Wilderness and risk becoming a victim of player killing. However, the benefits are significant. Players will receive 2.5x more exp per rune than a traditional altar. Also, the Abyss greatly shortens the journey to most Runecrafting altars.

Many players enjoyed the grindy risk versus reward model Runecrafting was known for. In April 2012, the Abyss died. Runespan introduced AFKable Runecrafting. Whilst the Abyss is technically still better EXP per hour, the sheer effort involved is generally not worth it. Outside of power leveling, most players today train Runecrafting with the much easier Runespan method.

An extreme example of EasyScape can be seen in melee training. Old School RuneScape’s peak exp per hour for melee sits at around 160,000. In comparison, some efficient area of effect Abyss training on RuneScape 3 can harbor up to 600,000 exp per hour. That’s nearly four times the experience.

Evolution of Combat – November 2012

RuneScape: Evolution of Combat - November 2012The Evolution of Combat update, released in late 2012, aimed to add a skill curve to RuneScape. Jagex had already shown signs of interest in introducing a competitive environment. Bounty Hunter featured full MMR and ranked placement features. In Jagex’s eyes, RuneScape had a core problem that prevented it from becoming a skill-based title. It’s combat.

RuneScape’s traditional combat is primarily luck-based. You click on an enemy and hope for the best. Players can control equipment and stat modifiers to increase their odds but have few options during combat itself. Old School RuneScape still employs this system.

However, RuneScape 3 uses the newer Evolution of Combat. Commonly referred to as just EOC, this system adds a whole new level of complexity to combat. Rather than just clicking and hoping for the best, players have to now use cooldowns to increase their effective damage and sustain. To Jagex’s credit, this has made RuneScape 3 a far more skill-based game than Old School. There is no content in Old School RuneScape near as difficult as the end game raids of RuneScape 3.

Jagex took a sizable gamble that adding a new combat system could potentially attract new players. Perhaps it did but the sad truth is it ended up scaring off far more. For many, these drastic changes in combat spelled the death of RuneScape. It was no longer recognizable as the game they grew up with. This update caused the largest divide in the community to date. In protest and annoyance, mass quitting ensued.

Lessons Learnt

Lessons LearntRuneScape is a fantastic case study of poor game development. Jagex had the world at their fingers but bad decision one after another had everything slip away. If Jagex just listened to their community, this would have been avoided. I don’t believe Evolution of Combat killed RuneScape as many others proclaim. Instead, it was the final straw following several other far worse decisions. The player base lost trust in Jagex.

Jagex has moved in the right direction in recent years. It’s disappointing to see microtransactions still so prevalent, but content updates have widely improved. They are also putting more time into balancing new updates so that AFKable activities provide worse experience rates. RuneScape’s recovery to its former success seems unlikely. MMORPGs are on the decline. The grind is just too much for most people. Generally speaking, MMOs no longer experience growth. Just steady decline. Regardless, it should be interesting to see where RuneScape goes from here.

What do you Think About RuneScape

Be sure to let us know what you’re favorite MMO is below. Do you think MMORPGs can ever become prominent again? Are Jagex responsible for RuneScape’s decline or was it inevitable?

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