There once was a time where the border between F2P and P2P was a solid line, a very clear barrier. Either you were a complete freeloader or you paid your monthly membership subscription, via one method or another. But as sees_all1 described in the previous issue's article, this division has become more and more fuzzy. Many players go on and off between F2P and P2P at this point and are quite happy to do so. I've forgotten the level of the wilderness where the iconic fence stands separating F2P and P2P wilderness is. With the expansion of F2P into the Burthrope/Tavelry area, it is one of the fewer original boundaries.
Just to recap some of the changes that have taken place, we have prepaid cards instead of a forced credit card subscription, bonds offering further prorated membership, and additional currencies in the form of Runecoins or Treasure Hunter keys to be bandied about. All of these are, as many have lamented, additional constructs to help Jagex get more money out of the game. You can spend plenty of money on cosmetic junk without even purchasing a membership.
But that is precisely the point! Jagex doesn't necessarily need every last player to be a member. You might naively assume that if someone were not a member, they weren't going to drop any real money on the game in any case. However, from personal experience and empirical evidence I have determined that this assumption, if at first illogical, is incorrect. People will spend a few dollars on a cool resting animation or home teleports - particularly if they're forced to buy the currency in larger increments than the one small thing they may want.
Why do people do this? Some people feel pressured to get the most out of membership and that conflicts with time constraints. Once they have spent the $7 or $8 for a month of membership, there is an urge to go ahead and play as much as they can, for fear of having wasted money that's already been spent. Addiction is a loaded term, but it sort of applies anyway. The point is, though, that at times people feel more relaxed to just stay on F2P, even though they may turn out to have a reasonable amount of playtime. Therefore, it should not seem too unreasonable for me to say that Jagex should make some effort to retain these players and try and keep them playing, and semi-consciously even paying, while they are free to play.
This brings me to my main point: if you want people to play, you have to give them something to do. Sure, they may come online to G.E.-stand for an afternoon or an evening and chat to random strangers, but most likely they won't hang out there forever unless they are motivated to train skills or what have you. And how do you do that if you're Jagex? Build on the strengths of RuneScape, the social interaction. After all, at some points they even proclaim the game as a social network. So how does F2P measure up in terms of social, interactive activities you can do while playing the game? Let's see:
Cooking/Firemaking. I'll start with a couple positive things to say. Although Firemaking is a completely and utterly useless skill in F2P save checking off a few achievement diary tasks, the bonfire mechanic is quite brilliant, giving a small boost in exchange for the camaraderie and cooperation of adding logs to the same fire. Fire spirits break things up but it still gets repetitive after a while. Cooking may not offer a boost for additional people, but as people cook on fires, it has that same effect.
Fishing. Well, you sit there and fish, and have your choice of noting fish or dropping them for faster xp. The ability bar has made the latter task bareable. There's really not a whole lot of interaction. There is a minigame, Fishing Trawler - you can even earn tickets from it on F2P fishing - advertised right next to select fishing spots, but it's for members. Even if most of the rewards stayed P2P, making it F2P could provide an interesting diversion.
Runecrafting. Runespan, runespan, runespan. You would have to be crazy to train Runecrafting any other way (OK I did it the other way, but that was before runespan came to be). There's not a whole lot to add - it's AFK, leaving you free to chat if you desire - and if you can find anyone. Great Orb Project could be a great alternative, save the fact that it is literally a tenth the xp. It had other issues in its day though, mainly forcing players to be ultra-competitive or be shunted into gamed "50-50" matches to maximize rewards with no great effort.
Prayer/Smithing/Crafting. There aren't many options for prayer, aside from killing hill giants or demons and bringing urns to fill. Both these are competitive activities, meaning having a room of them to yourself is the best xp. It's a shame something like Nexus couldn't be a cooperative, weekly F2P activity with more xp/rewards for P2P rather than a one-off for members. There's more hope with Smithing and portable forges (and similarly Crafting?), if higher level players are willing to invest and split costs.
Dungeoneering. It was this skill, the most recent addition into the free to play world, that injected a high concentration of elitism into the game, but that's a rant for another time. Dungeoneering has several issues. If people aren't on roughly the same level, one party member can feel lost and the other like they are impatiently waiting for a newbie to catch up. Further, as a hangover from a quick hotfix shortly after release, it penalizes you for being a high combat on F2P. If that's not bad enough, your xp gets shot down further when you group with others. Although the interfaces tries to trick you into thinking otherwise, trust me, I've done enough floors to know.
Minigames. There are a few F2P minigames and they're nice, except the lack of people to play them. Jagex has made some improvements in the right direction. Adding back experience for PvP, reducing the number of players needed to start a round at Fist of Guthix, and the buoyancy from the influx with the legacy update have all helped a little. The problem is mostly dated rewards. Take FoG and GoP - the only really useful things between the two of them are cashing your reward tokens for blue d'hide coifs or expensive talismans. Would there be something terribly wrong with master runecrafting robes for F2P, for example? Or giving the talisman staff an actual point? When I played GoP and earned that staff I was proud of it, and could at least benefit from it running runes. For FoG I earned and spent many pairs of gloves that gave more xp for crafting certain runes. Even with that double bonus, it's still dwarfed by Runespan. I hate to say boost it even further, but how about a bonus to siphoning certain nodes in Runespan with the gloves?
I could go through and analyze the rest of the skills but I think you're probably getting the hang of it. You can't socialize mining when you're fighting over the ore in the rocks or constantly hopping worlds to get more. There are one or two spots (Mining Guild) large enough to accomodate a few people, but not many. There's no concentrated deposit or method to mine away to obtain xp without actually gathering resources. If you want to make F2P players engage more, there are a couple ways to go about it: design fresh content for F2P and P2P, or make some deprecated members content F2P in a creative way. It shouldn't be too difficult, and now more than ever, a healthy F2P population is good for Jagex's business.