Where do you draw the line between health and decline when you apply it to a video game? Just like real life, there are certain factors that need to be taken into account when such matters rear their ugly head. Age, fitness, and financial welfare are all issues that are applicable to both, and whilst nobody can objectively state that either end of the scale is 100% true, there are certain signs that are rather telling of where RuneScape now sits in the lifecycle of an MMO.
But of course, just like the thousands of players out there, I’m in no position to give a more factual insight into whether RuneScape is truly on a downward slide into oblivion. What I can do though, is give a coherent personal opinion to others who are interested in such topics. Before you read any further though, you must realise that there is nothing special about RuneScape; it is not exempt from the problems that plague other games of its type.
RuneScape is 12 years old. In video game years—in consumer media in general—that’s old.. really old. Jagex’s golden child has now entered its twilight years, there’s no denying that, and with an age that even surpasses World of Warcraft, there’s really no surprise at all that the player base has started to shrink.
With increasing age comes decreasing interest. There are always exceptions to the rule, but generally the more you play something the less appealing it becomes over time. These players gradually drift away due to multiple different factors, but the ones that stick around are the same individuals that become the most important asset of Jagex as a company.
In terms of fitness, one could argue that RuneScape has never been in better shape. Bots have seen a sharp decline in numbers (in members worlds at least), combat has been reinvigorated, and we’ve just recently been gifted a highly customisable interface. But in terms of actual content, the focus has undoubtedly shifted towards high-level players.
It doesn’t feel like just two minutes ago that Jagex were consistently being given flak for not catering to their devoted player base. Week after week the official forums would be ablaze with negative attitudes towards recently released content that only pandered to the newbies entering the scene. But that was many moons ago, and as Jagex’s mind shifts from recruiting new players to keeping the ones that they have, population numbers have increasingly become stagnant.
There’s clearly no way to determine (without official figures) just how much population numbers have fluctuated and how much of this change is due to bot users, but what is certain is that Jagex know that their long-term players are much more important to their continued success than the small amount of new players trickling in.
Both Solomon’s General Store and the Squeal of Fortune have essentially become the substitute of new players and this is really the only worrying aspect for me. Jagex’s reliance on these features is purely an artificial resolution to an increasing problem. As each player’s potential income value increases, so too does the risk. The smaller player base we have now can easily sustain RuneScape for many years to come, but when each player leaves, they take with them far more profit than just a membership fee. Combine this with the decline in new players and it’s problem that will only become apparent over time.
Ironically, the situation has gone full-circle. Jagex desperately need to streamline the free to play model. Low level content simply isn’t enough anymore to bring in new blood, and whilst they do advertise themselves as a company, this is mostly internal advertisement for existing players. RuneScape 3 was clearly an attempt at changing perceptions of a 12 year old title, but it’s too confined.
Either way, nothing lasts forever and what Jagex decides to do in the near future is vital in deciding how long Gielinor continues to exist in the future.