With the introduction of RuneScape 2, Jagex introduced Pay to Play. Membership was an expansion to the game, a way to give Andrew Gower money directly and remove the banner advertisement. While a large segment of the population went the way of members, a small portion held out. For one reason or another they did not sign up.
As time went on, one thing became evident: Members had a distinct advantage in experience rates. It took several years for gaining total levels to catch on with players (the cape of accomplishment was released October 2006), but by that time a community had formed - pure F2P. Like skillers, these players prided themselves in the time it took to gain levels. By not purchasing membership, they handicapped their accounts and spent more time getting slower experience.
Three years after Zezima first maxed in P2P, Syzygy maxed in F2P. Lists were maintained during that time. The Top 250 F2P Skill Total List was a notable list hosted by A_U_R_A and LordJake, including a discussion on Tip.It. Positions on that list were coveted, just as prestigious as the first few pages on the RuneScape official hi scores. Players vied for position, which was not without controversy. The biggest task facing the pure F2P community was auditing their own members; checking accounts for membership, looking for suspicious activity, scrutinizing media posted and keeping ever vigilant for imposter members.
At the start of 2008, Jagex made drastic changes to their game in an attempt to kill gold farming. Prior to the trade limit, the difference between P2P and F2P had mostly been experience rates. After the trade limit... economics. Members were able to trade a difference of six times more than their F2P counterparts. While F2Pers hated the imbalance, the advantage was there, another reason to keep members off the pure F2P lists. The trade restrictions were eventually lifted for all accounts. That is, except for F2P accounts created after November 22nd, 2011.
Turmoil occurred within the pure F2P community when Dungeoneering was released. Certain notable pure F2Pers Dungeoneering with former members accidentally gained experience in member-only skills. Despite pleas, Jagex refused to roll back their experience accidentally gained, and asterisks remained by their names for the time being.
Up until that point the definition of pure F2P was never questioned. The definition was easy - never logging into a members world, and never paying real world currency to the makers of RuneScape. Certainly the characteristics of pure F2P were well known. With the exception of the odd player caught up in the Dungeoneering glitch, no pure F2Per had members experience. Then on November 22nd, 2011 Jagex struck their first major blow to the pure F2P community: Jagex removed free players from the hi scores.
For all the accomplishments that the community worked towards, for all the hours grinding at lesser experience rates, Jagex took away the tool needed to maintain the community most. Following the first major blow, Jagex followed quickly with a one-two punch in 2012.
First: the infamous Squeal of Fortune was introduced. Players could buy experience with spins on the wheel. While Jagex maintained this was only a chance, the law of large numbers showed that players could consistently and repeatedly buy experience with real world currency. While certainly problematic for the pure F2P community (impossible to detect without hi scores), the second update put a choke-hold on the community, suffocating it.
JaGEx gave every new account signing up in 2012 a two week membership, putting them immediately in a P2P world after account creation. There it was, a trifecta. All new accounts logged in as members, had a trade limit until they furthered their membership, and couldn't be noticed by the existing F2P community because of no hi scores.
Despite all of this, the pure F2P community persevered as only remnants of its former self. Lists were maintained with players volunteering their information, though the rankings never had the whole picture and the prestige was lost with their incompleteness.
Finally the real controversy began. On March 4th, 2013, Jagex made Burthorpe and Taverly F2P areas. They also gave F2P the opportunity to train each members skill to level 5. Lists maintained by the F2P community were divided: should experience and levels in member skills count or not? Should the rankings include the 36 extra levels after March 4th, or should the maximum total level be 1614? A compromise was reached. Free players could choose whether they wanted the extra levels or not. For the purpose of ranking on Lord Slayas' list these extra levels were simply ignored.
Six months later the definition of pure F2P broke again. JaGEx introduced bonds, a means to buy membership using in game wealth. A player could be a member even though they technically never purchased membership. Worse than that, bonds introduced a way to directly buy GP for pure F2Pers. A player could technically never be a member yet still reap the benefits of giving JaGEx their wealth, directly buying stats (such as expensive Prayer XP) on their accounts.
Where does that leave the pure F2P community? What criteria is left to join and be ranked? If a player buys GP via bonds, can they still be considered pure F2P? If a player walks into Taverly or Burthorpe, can they still be considered pure F2P? If a player makes a new account now, can they ever lift their trade restrictions via becoming a member and still be a part of the pure F2P community? Are they unfairly penalized because they happened to start after November 22nd, 2011?
When I started playing, I had pride. I placed restrictions on my account because I didn't want to gain experience "the easy way." I'd never bought big bones to train Prayer, I'd never bought lobsters for Cooking levels, and I chopped my own logs for Firemaking, and mined my own ores for Smithing. I certainly never became a member because that was too easy. Now I play the game, and while I never became a member on my main account I certainly wonder if I would have enjoyed the game so much, or would have so many friends and have stayed around because of the pure F2P community.
But now taking a look at the game, I see the methods of gaining experience in skills versus training them, as well as the advantages my account has for having been around for this long versus new accounts. It makes me wonder if pure F2P really exists anymore.