“It is a pity less and less people play Runescape”, a clanmate of mine said recently. “The worlds used to have 300 people in them and now only a hundred.” To not get people confused: the number obviously changes depending on the time of day, he was talking about the time he normally plays. We started talking about this subject and I would like to do the same on this page.
The first question is seems to be: is this decline in numbers true?
I tried to find a graph to show the statistics, but couldn't find one, so if anyone here has one—please let me know. There are the numbers that Jagex has, but they only tell us how many accounts have been created, which seems to be 200 mil+, but that really is a totally useless number, since this includes so many accounts that aren’t used anymore. There is one graph , dating back to the introduction of EOC, it shows that we on average have 30% 07 players and 70% the live game, with maximum numbers online at once at a given day peaking at 40-50k, on a slight downward trend. This really doesn't tell us much either, since the payers on at 12:00 are not all the same ones that are on at 12:01 etc. The conclusion I get to is that we do not really have numbers, so we can only go on our own observations and ideas.
Like my clanmate I also think player numbers are quite a lot lower than when they were at their peak. I do not know by how much, but one thing stands out to me: we seem to have more and more high levelled payers and less lower levelled ones. This suggests that there is a decrease in the influx of new players. It looks to me like Jagex is managing to keep a lot of the veteran players, but not succeeding in gaining enough new ones for a healthy player population.
So question two comes along: Why are these numbers down?
Unlike many people, I do not believe Jagex is destroying Runescape with bad updates, I don't think the fluctuating quality of these updates has on average changed. The biggest problem that I see is one no one can influence: there simply is more and more competition from other games. When Runescape started it was rather unique, now there is a multitude of other games on the market, including many browser-based games that offer no less of an experience than Runescape does. These range from ones you pay through your nose for to free games running on micro-transactions and advertisements.
It is certainly also possible that Runescape’s gameplay style is less 'en vogue' then it once was. The term 'casual gaming' is one that you hear of more and more. I could very well imagine that there aren’t even many less individuals playing regularly, but instead they play for less time, which results in lower numbers on at any given time. The old timers, who by now mostly are very high levelled are used to the old grind, so it's logical Jagex is focusing a lot on keeping us, with top-end content. There is a problem though: the more top-end content, the more of a hill to climb the game becomes for newcomers. Jagex is more and more focusing on the higher levels and on capes and accomplishments that new players have very little chance of reaching, possibly making new players less likely to join because of the daunting challenge of competing.
Then there is a third reason that I came across: It is NOT COOL to play Runescape, at least this is what some of my clanmates assert: “In New Zealand you get shunned at school if they know you play the game.” They are not alone in this thinking. Uncyclopedia has this to say: “Most people who play Runescape keep it a secret for fear of social rejection. “ They also suggest the core demographic of RS is 26 year old virgins wearing diapers, living in their mom's basement, a stereotype I myself was guilty of spreading in my last article. I was going to say that I don't care about what others think, but then realised I only tell colleagues and such about my 'lil hobby' if I also got the time to at least explain a little. In my social circle it’s not so much that people frown on playing Runescape, they simply have never heard of it and can't really imagine what it's like.
But... enough about the problems, let’s think about solutions—some of which Jagex seem to already be working on.
On the one side there is the gameplay changes, by adding alternative methods to level and gain wealth they make the game more casual and more appealing. It makes it addictive to players used to the 'Facebook' style of games, an example of this being daily rewards for just logging in. Think about the Runespan, challenges and also the loathed Squeal of Fortune. Despite how much I hate to say it… as a 'veteran', Jagex needs to devalue our accomplishments and make goals easier to attain. The crux is they risk losing a lot of old timers, but I actually also know of quite a lot of them who have quit or are considering doing so because the game is becoming very, very complicated.
On the other site, there is the brand recognition and image of Runescape. I cannot think of any other good reason for turning YouTube celebs into J-mods, except a serious attempt at some good viral marketing. I will come back to the players turned J-mod later for a side note, but I first have some suggestions.
I think that Jagex should continue on the path that it is following, as far as gameplay is concerned. I might not actually like all the updates personally, but I can see that they have an appeal to quite a large group of potential customers. Much more important is the maintaining and cultivating the image of Runescape through advertising and branding. We see a major MMO competitor on shows like “South Park” and “The Big Bang Theory”, and suddenly it is cool to play. It would be nice if Jagex could, with some craft and a lot of luck, get an internet hit. Likely though, these things cost money. So why not take profits from the Squeal of Fortune and Solomon’s Store and get some proven internet hit like Kimmel or Fallon to make a funny song about our game. These are just some examples, you get the point. I personally would go with the less known, but equally brilliant Ylvis and see if you can’t get a mutually beneficial thing going.
Nothing beats a good parody for an internet hit, be it Kimmel doing Live Aid, Springsteen (with fallon) a parody of his younger self, or Ylvis's unconventional 'love-ballad'.
Make a weakness into a strength; own the stereotypes of the game, exaggerate them, and they become 'cool'.
Maybe T-shirts with Runescape on the back and text on the front:
- I met my girlfriend on Runescape and she isn’t even a boy.
- My mom calls it the basement, I call it Varrock Castle
- I have a life!! No really, I do... ask my clanmates!
- Say no to gambling! (Picture of Yelps from SoF)
- All you need is a sharp mind and an even sharper sword... ehm.... has anyone seen my sword?
- (More ideas appreciated… share them in the forum thread!)
It is very possible that my ideas on marketing are stale, I am probably not the best person to show it's 'Hip to Be Square'… as the reference to this old song already tells you, but it doesn't really matter how they do it: they just need to do it and there are many experts out there nowadays who are masters at making 'hits'. Hire one!
A third opportunity for improvement lies in tapping new markets, Jagex seems to be working hard on introducing this game to other platforms which should give it an amazing boost. There is another possibility, which is working on introducing Runescape to previously untapped international markets, maybe translate it in Russian since they share in much of the history and culture the game is based upon.
Now to come back to our new J-mods… When I heard Jagex had hired a few players whose main accomplishment seems to be that they are good at making popular videos I was a little annoyed, especially since (coincidentally?) they also fired several valuable community support J-mods at the same time. That brought to me images of a school firing good teachers to replace them by Paris Hilton and Katie Price. A quick Google search saw me find disturbing videos and screen shots of at least one of the new J-mods in their former life as famous player doing rather nasty things and generally being a ‘butthole’. I am not going to put a link to that here, you can look yourself. However, while thinking about the popularity of Runescape and trying not to be too gloomy I began wondering if Jagex is not hoping to use the populist talents of these players to create some positive buzz. If they are doing that, I for one will give them the benefit of the doubt.
Conclusion: We need more newbies, new players. Which means we (as mostly veteran players) need to accept changes that we don't always really like, to keep the game fit for the times. Jagex should work on becoming less daunting to newcomers and 'cool', or whatever the word for being 'in', being 'it!' nowadays is. Being popular sells!
In other words, inspired by Huey Lewis: make it hip to be square, make the 'boring' Runescape grind COOL!
(For those not ancient like me: square means boring and 'hip' means 'cooler then cool.)