OMG, there is an iceberg ahead.. let's vote, do we go left, or do we go right?
Other authors like Ts Stormrage and Arceus have talked a lot about this year's theme, and I've been considering writing about it for some time. This week's poll clinched it: I am going to talk about Jagex pandering to the players, because that is what "Power to the Players" really is. Seemingly, last year's "year of the player" tasted like more to them, although I think it's more them clinging to a bad idea until they can do so no more.
Last year showed the rhetoric did not mean much, it was a year of recovering from the biggest update ever: EOC, something that players did not actually ask for and had to get used to. This does not mean the update was bad, in fact, just the opposite. The game needed some big changes, because the balance was gone in many ways, and some parts of the game had not developed with the times.
Instead of putting all their weight behind it and pushing forwards, Jagex caved and introduced '07 servers, pandering to the dinosaurs among the players who can not adapt to change. I am not going to repeat earlier articles about how bad this idea was and how it split the community, but I do have to note that it did!
This week's vote, on reintroducing the old combat system in the current game, shows how Jagex is trying to partly undo their mistake, by drawing these players and many others back in. This is a bit late, since the people currently playing '07 are used to it by now. They have build themselves a character and a community that they will hesitate to leave behind. That being said, introducing a competing combat system may bring many players back and we may even see old friends around again. But, a better way would be to allow those players to also use our clan chats, many people actually play both current RuneScape and '07 RuneScape.
The upside of this competing combat system is the return of old friends, but now let's look at some of the downsides. Do I sound too eager? Well, I am, because this is a horrid idea in all other aspects.
First off, this sends the wrong signal; it tells players the route Jagex took in introducing a new combat system was a wrong turn. Something that not only needs fixing but also needs an alternative. You cannot build a future living in the past and that is exactly what they are trying to do. This, of course, is not a very concrete problem, more a conceptual and principled one. But don’t worry, we will get to the ones that will have immediate impact on game play.
The biggest problem can be described by one word, the word that has haunted Jagex since the beginning: BALANCE. How do you perfectly balance two very different combat styles? They would both have to kill monsters in exactly the same time, with exactly the same cost in munitions, pots and food. Two opponents dueling would have to not be able to distinguish what style is used, or it would be unfair in PvP. To me this seems impossible, not only because of the countless variables in gear, levels and such... but mostly because of players.
The new EOC style uses abilities, and the way in which you use them can make a big difference. Timing, speed and most of all choice all factor in. Is Jagex going to take the best ability choice possible at that point in time, and match the legacy combat system to this? If they do, most average players will be forced to use legacy to compete. So it seems they have to keep the legacy method weaker, to keep the modern one viable since it requires a much bigger investment of time and attention to do well. What do you think the rather vocal dinosaurs will say if they do that? No PKer will return to RuneScape for a system that can't compete with the new one.
With the year of pandering (to the most vocal), it is sadly conceivable that the legacy system will be made the strongest. Those players who stayed and adapted to EOC will also adapt to this, so it makes financial sense to listen to the vocal minority who cannot or will not adapt.
Another clear and concrete problem is the extra time it will not only take to make this all happen, but also to make every new item fit two systems. We already saw less frequent updates and do not need even fewer. Who here remembers two real updates and at least one quest a month?
Lastly, I wonder about something: why do we need another method when Jagex already said they would add a more viable Momentum option? And is this the way we will see "specials" return, like promised, or are they also going to come to EOC?
Of course, this proposal will be voted in, no question about it. Like so many times with a democracy, voters are shortsighted and ill informed. Right when this poll came out, someone said on the Jagex forums that we need more information to be able to vote. Well, we won't get it. That is the other part where "Power to the Players" fails. It is not a real choice, nor a real vote. Jagex knows beforehand what will happen. With this vote, most players will want to see their friends return, and they will also be misdirected by the statement that this is an "extra" method on top of the normal one, so "no harm, no fowl". I hope that after reading the above you will see the harm.
But why does Jagex do this? Why the seemingly desperate attempt to make us feel in charge and to make old players return? They do not really want us to be in charge, or the first thing gone would be the Squeal. The earlier articles by my two esteemed colleagues talked about this and made good points, but I have another to add.
This game grew based on a strong vision of a few people and the desire to make a great game. It looks like this has been replaced, at least in part, by a more number-driven course. Not surprising, since the new "owners" are venture capitalists, who by nature, want to see a return on their investments and preferably quickly. I am sure there still is a lot of vision around—we can see it in the rare quests and the great lore. Of course I don't walk the halls of Jagex, so I do not know, but it seems to me these people have to compete with the ones who think only about numbers.
There is a smell of desperation to making us vote, and especially making us vote on returning old things Jagex got rid of for a reason. It feels like a lack of confidence in the game, a lack of direction. All change is hard and change always causes some old people to quit. In the case of this game, some will stop playing, but then during the life of RuneScape people have always stopped playing and new people took their place. If RuneScape is really doing so poorly, they need every whiney player that threatens to quit. There is an iceberg ahead, let's vote... do we turn left, or do we turn right?
I actually do not think it is the ones that leave that are the problem, nor that they can be stopped by votes, or staring at the past. I think the problem is the lack of new players coming in to replace them, the lack of growth. Of course, again, I do not have the numbers, so I have to go on what it looks like. Making the game more complicated, by adding another combat system does not help make it more attractive to new players, but maybe the simpler old system is what new players could use at first? I see an easier solution though, in turning a good working form of Momentum on as standard and introducing the new players to abilities later on.
I do not know how to make a game gain new customers, all I know is that it generally takes a lot of money. Most big games are like the blockbuster movies: they take just as much money to market as to make. One thing I am hoping for is the announcement Jagex made a long time ago that they were working on introducing RuneScape to tablets and other devices. But it has been quiet on that front. Maybe they can take the people working on all these Hail Mary attempts to recapture the past and look to the future instead by letting them work on Android, iOS, and consoles.
A good society needs stability to thrive and grow. The drama caused by the inevitable imbalance between two ways to kill, will cause a shed-load of drama that we could do without. Jagex should say they made a mistake and scrap this new idea.
A good product requires a singular, strong vision, as the saying goes: "you cannot design by committee". So scrap this democracy and give the reigns to those who are behind the best quests and story developments. Compare it to writing a book, what book do you think will be better: one written with the aim of being a bestseller, or one that the same author enjoys writing? Don’t hire more famous video creators to be J-mods, but hire talented game designers. Don't focus on day to day numbers, but on making the best game it can be, and the players will follow. I will end with one of my inevitable pop-culture references: build it and they will come!