At the end of another year, we might ask ourselves at some point: what happened this year in RuneScape? Where are we going? Is it on the right track? As usual, there are doomsayers, people who seem quite content, and everyone in between. One difference, however, is that the game started to feel like Jagex was not necessarily forcing every decision down player's throats, but occasionally letting them have some choice in the matter.
The first and now infamous example of this was Old School RuneScape. Jagex decided to gauge interest in bringing back an old copy of the game for RuneScape members to play by having members either vote or abstain from voting. It was, as one can imagine, slightly gamed. There was not a "no," option, and the 750,000 votes required to achieve the highest level of support for the game would not have been reached even if every single member account on that day went and voted. (They tried to play this off by arguing free players could/should purchase membership and then vote.)
The vote was moderately successful, and Jagex published Old School RuneScape (and even forgot about making an extra charge for playing that version of the game). Since then, they have run polls for almost every change or patch that they have considered making to the game, implementing those that score 75% or more of member votes. This seems like a pretty sound policy to make people happy. The natural question is: would it work for the live game? This article was written before the appropriate newspost, but I understand that Jagex will be running polls (*cough* members only) regarding important updates for next year.
The fact is that the Old School version is (was) a carbon copy of the game six years ago. When players are asked to vote on a change, fix, or convenience, they do so with six years of hindsight. We know what the ability to hit tab to reply to the last private message is like and can probably decide whether we want it on the old client as well. The same goes for showing a warning when the other player changes items in a trade or declines a trade, etc.
There was one particularly vocal issue this year that did get a vote, and that was adding a prestige system to RuneScape. In general, prestige in a game means you have completed most/all objectives, and start over but with the game recording 1 full play through. Then you do it again, and reach 2..and so on, however long you want. The question up for debate was whether to attach this system of prestige to 99 skills and have a new hiscore table reflecting that. It would sort people first by the number of times at 99, then by the xp on their current prestige. The bottom line was that this proved quite unpopular and the vote failed miserably, so the system was not implemented, although Jagex mentioned they would keep it in mind for the future.
RuneScape 3 was another major update to the game this year. Even though it was essentially just allowing custom user interfaces (that is, giving us the freedom to move everything around as we wanted), it pissed off a lot more people than it should have. Most of this can probably be accredited to the lack of a (proper) tutorial. Instead of just throwing everything in random places and giving some text to read about things, use hint arrows and give step by step help on how to find and set things up. My theory is that Jagex made the assumption that everyone tried the beta and this was clearly not the case. Yet they did give xp lamps to people who had invested some time into it, so they must have had some idea of the numbers.
Another update released simultaneously with RuneScape 3 was the first of two (or three, depending how you count) world events, the Battle of Lumbridge. While I was suprised and happy to see new content upon logging in, the amount of lag in Lumbridge crater, the site of the battle, was quite a deterrent. Many players slaved away for hours, gathering tears for either Saradomin or Zamorak, trying to grind out for rewards. Jagex seems to have learned their lesson for the second (currently ongoing) world event, as it takes much shorter to cap for the day. With the PvP enabled (a new feature to this event), it can easily be done in under an hour, instead of hour after hour of decreasing productivity in BoL.
It was also firmly established that microtransactions were set to continue to play a fundamental role in the game (at least from an advertising or Jagex's financial balance sheet point of view). Of 2013's major updates, 26 of 68, nearly two fifths, consisted of microtransactions or even a step beyond (most notably the bonds announcement and the Wishing Well, but we'll get to that later). This doesn't even include many of the weekend promotions like the recent double Herblore/Farming xp from Squeal of Fortune. I'm not saying the sky is falling or the game is going downhill (those people can be found on the RSOF though, if you please), but simply that their increased is a fact.
Bonds, to me at least, were a very interesting update, not because they afforded a new possibility for me personally to purchase membership, RuneCoins, or whatever, but as a social experiment to see how the community would react. Remember (or take my word for it) that some of the community was displeased with even the Loyalty Shop update. And if they were upset with that, they were upset squared with the Squeal of Fortune (before buying spins were added), and off the charts with Solomon's General Store. The appropriate thread on Recent Game Updates to garner feedback with the introduction of SGS had thousands upon thousands of posts before it was suddenly deleted.
In any case, confronted with RWT in the (so-far) purest form in RuneScape, players seemed (strangely?) content. This isn't completely RWT, as it is more like transferring wealth between players, one party sacrificing RuneScape wealth and the other real life wealth. If we want to draw a silly analogy, one might draw a parellel between said quasi-RWT and sinning. When you buy a bond, you are giving someone else RuneScape cash in exchange for them buying you a membership with cash. (Let's ignore any transactions involving the bond being sold/bought a couple times before it got to you.) So the action of effectively selling gold to another player (a sin) is overcome by the temptation for free membership. Now, to clarify, I'm not saying anyone is a bad person for buying membership with bonds, but if everyone were so admantly against it, why else would they do so?
It was not a bad year for RuneScape and we saw some interesting updates. There are a ton more content updates that I haven't even scratched the surface of here, due to space. At some points it felt like they really concentrated on what players wanted, and sometimes not so much. I think we're all watching and waiting to see what 2014 will bring.