Perhaps you remember (or maybe I'm the only one) when there were routinely unexpected updates. What do I mean by that? Sure, there were behind the scenes updates, but they were much sparser in 2008 or 2009. We would reload the page and wonder what the update was, and ask friends who were equally befuddled. It felt almost like a trek of discovery to visit the homepage, find the update, read about it, and go explore.
What have we now? Every month, we have a detailed release, planning out all the updates for the designated time period. Although Jagex reiterates that this is a plan rather than a promise, most of the time this holds steadfast. It then went even futher, there is then a weekly Behind-The-Scenes video, usually detailing the content for the upcoming week, or at least the major content part of it.
The byproduct of this is that it opens up the wonderful possibility for us to be at each other's throats, fighting over whether this is "the reason why Jagex/RuneScape is going downhill" or "the best update ever!" days or even weeks before said update is ever released!
With the release of this week's update, we have seen the reveal of the Power to the Players polling system (although technically it's been discussed and in the works for quite a while—see my previous two paragraphs). There are three tiers of polls, all running for certain durations based on how important or critical the results are to game development. The top tier is for major content and will run monthly, with the remainder of this month devoted to whether they should develop the Elf City or the Invention skill. The middle tier is a two week vote for slightly less game-changing issues, this week focusing on improving the drop table of one of a selection of monsters. The lowest tier looks very much prone to develop into the sort of glorified patch notes that Old School players have voted on since the release of that version of the game.
With this new interface, Jagex hopes (ideally) to put RuneScape more in the hands of players than ever before, and by letting the players specifically vote for Option A or Option B, hope to reduce some backlash when they proceed with the option with the higher vote count. After all, "you voted for it," at least on the surface, seems a fairly sound defense. What could be more democratic than a majority vote?
I don't mean to be the bearer of bad news, but unfortunately it is not the easy. For example for a poll with two choices, just wait until the 40% (the minority) complains about the 60% (the majority) for only voting because of (insert favorite excuse here: they're whiny ten year olds who only like flashy colors, bigger numbers, or what have you). When it's divided into even more choices, you can imagine that the squabbling only increases further.
Jagex may have banned gambling, but risk-taking players with money have discovered this as a way to sate their appetite. Please note, I am referring to players with a lot of money. For example, the next skill has already been heavily advertised as a production-based and buyable. Suppose the poll result determines that Jagex will work on Invention first rather than Elf City. Anticipating this (even though it is months in the future), some players are going to dump rares, usually partyhats more than anything else, in preparation to free up cash. Naturally, some savvy people will attempt to be the first to sell, and then buy back after the ensuing panic has passed, making a nice profit. For a more direct example, consider a new monster being released. Clearly items like food and supplies will increase in price as people not only stock up ahead of time to get ready for it, but speculate by buying the items, hoping to sell them at a higher price to procrastinators who don't think to buy anything until the update comes. It encourages speculators to flood the market. (We've also seen this with bonus XP weekends in the past, which were specifically discontinued for this reason). Contrast this with a surprise release, which may produce a sharper change in prices at that moment but faster convergence back to an equilibrium (a shorter window of opportunity for speculators), and you can see how this system has an economic impact as well.
While it may have been nice (at least to some people, I hope) to have somewhat unexpected updates that defer our arguing at least until they have occurred, it looks like that time is long over. We can expect some very interesting things to happen, and some transfer of wealth among merchers. We probably won't see major mechanics of expensive armor tweaked without a vote, but all it will really change is give the more savvy people an opportunity to read the vote early and react accordingly. I guess, player feedback considered about the whole thing, that it's not really any surprise.