Fist of Guthix - otherwise known as the staple of 2010 F2P Magic training - enjoyed RuneScape's spotlight in more ways than one this past week. One of the few F2P (and formerly, massively popular) minigames saw a few changes and improvements courtesy of the ninja team. And while the ninja team has most definitely been the catalyst for some brilliant patches and updates over the course of this year, asking them to somehow fix FoG felt a bit like Jagex handed them a tarp and a staple gun and told them to repair the hole in the roof. It sort of covers the gap, but in the end it is not a permanent fix.
Beyond the changes instituted Monday (which will be outlined shortly), the minigame was also thrust into RuneScape's own spotlight system. In case you haven't heard, there is a currency by the name of Thaler earned through a certain breadth of minigames. Each minigame has its own turn being spotlighted for three days, and they go through a rotation. When playing the spotlighted game, this currency can be earned five times as fast. Thaler can be spent for an array of useful things. At any rate, Fist of Guthix went on its spotlight Thursday, which one would hope might attract a nice amount of players to check it out. I actually went to FoG, and the first sight I saw (honest, it was!) upon logging into its themed, free-to-play world was not the most encouraging one.
From that image, you can conclude one of two distinct scenarios: a disappointing amount of attendance or a ghost haunting the arena. Even still, though there weren't volumes of players, I was able to play and enjoy a few games, which was satisfactory and may well not have been possible a week prior.
All kidding aside, let's have a look at why such issues exist. Some of it is due to the same factors I mentioned more than two years ago, but I feel they bear repeating. Let's look at some of the changes that were made Monday.
Four's a Crowd. Most minigames, at least those based on playing different rounds, have certain quotas for the number of people before any activity can begin. Back in the day, Fist of Guthix needed 16 players to get going. That is, 16 players had to be in the room and ready simultaneously for a round to start. For a brief stint (which to the best of my knowledge was not officially acknowledged by Jagex), this was dropped all the way down to 2 players. This allowed people to play cooperatively, and combined with splashing mechanics, saw people pair off with one earning tokens and rating, and the other raking in free, semi-afk magic XP. All that was needed was a relatively empty world without interference from other players.
Of course, that did not last for long, and the requirement was eventually shifted back up to 16. At some point along the timeline of Evolution of Combat, this was cut in half to eight players. Monday, it was cut again to just 4 players.
That carries an obvious benefit, of course. Requiring a lower number of players to begin a round should facilitate more gameplay with a lower barrier to entry. However, it seems to me that the more proper question to ask ourselves is: why are so few people playing in the first place? Isn't it a bit sad that even picking up four wondering players is a tad bit of a struggle when things used to be overflowing? Why aren't people there? What could get people in again?
Doesn't fit like a glove. Regardless of what anyone might tell you, we like rewards and cool stuff on RuneScape (have you seen Solomon's?). In particular, consumable rewards are an integral part of keeping people interested (fanatics, perhaps, excluded) and returning to minigames.
I was there several years ago - trust me when I say everyone and their noob little brother either had or wanted a pair of runecrafting gloves. To refresh your memory, the gloves granted double experience while crafting essence into runes at a specific altar. A choice of air, water, and earth gloves were available and they degraded after 1000 uses, giving a reasonable boost to efficiency and certainly breaking up the monotony. This is why it was so popular. Fist of Guthix had a bit of a learning curve as well - couple that with the use of it for free magic training, especially with the higher cost and use of runes, and it created a dynamic environment where even the lower levelled players had a shot at winning once in a while.
Several additional pairs of gloves were added to the rewards table this week - fire, chaos, death, and blood. Fire runes are the only free-to-play addition out of those, and running fire runes is very shabby experience at best. In fact all rune running has been heavily marginalized since the release of Runespan annihilated their experience rates into oblivion. Even with a free supply of endless gloves it would not even come close. Suggesting that one run fire runes now is akin to mounting an insurmountable argument against arithmetic. Some people claim that it was too little, too late, but frankly I don't think that the addition of fire gloves would provide additional incentive anyway even then. Run energy was more sparse and the trip was longer than air runes (not to mention uphill both ways). The length from altar to bank is comparable to earth runes, so it might have been a very slight improvement on them, with a massive 1 extra XP per essence for fires over earths. It's hard to tell.
Blood runs down the wall... A lot of attention was one again put on blood runes the other week when abyssal runecrafting was given a huge injection of experience almost out of left field and knocking Runespan off its pedestal from the sky as top dog Runecrafting training. Nominally the gloves from Fist of Guthix top that off, but with the amount of charges on them (1000), it doesn't seem very efficient. When games were played regularly and the arena was packed, farming 150-200 tokens was a good hour's work. Since one can craft more than 1k essence into blood runes over the course of an hour, the opportunity cost isn't worthwhile for "double" xp. In fact, it's not really double since the 350% demonic skull boost does not multiple the x2 from the gloves. What would you do - take your chances with the skull or fight to earn degradable gloves? The latter seems the obvious choice.
Winning the Battle Robes, losing the war. This week a little-known set of armor made a second addition to the purple pallete of wizarding equipment available to free players. As tier 50 armor, battle robes match the highest level equipment tier broadly available to free-to-play. They are power armor, allowing one to hit harder at the sacrifice of a bit of defense, and have a set effect that gives a chance at using up no runes on a given cast.
In EoC this is moot since most casts use no runes anyway, but the power effect is nice and perhaps makes this the most commendable of the tweaks offered. It does degrade after 6 hours, but its more important competitor is its cheap, similar purple counterpart - batwing. For many years it could have been a welcome and high-powered addition to F2P magic to bring some semblance of balance to the combat triangle, but now it's a bit late. I still applaud making it F2P for the niche use - who knows who will choose to take creative advantage of it - but it feels like another "too little, too late."
Not enough fish in the sea? In other developments, more fishing experience-boosting gloves were added to the list of rewards. Again, although this fits with what was offered before, they aren't terribly useful. Players fishing for cavefish are more likely to want cash rather than experience, and players who want experience are not likely to go over to cavefish. They'll stay at barbarian fishing until it's boosted to ridiculous levels. Don't get me wrong, it's great that they added them and I'm sure a few people will take advantage of it. I just don't see that many peaceful fishers going to engage in a hardcore PvP game to get gloves that increase experience when they're probably not into minmax-style playing in the first place.
Throwing away the gauntlet. Metal gauntlets from bronze to dragon, formerly unique to Fist of Guthix, were stomped out of the reward shop as Reggie furiously jumped up and down on the piece of paper giving the order. At least, that's my best guess as to what happened. They're now dropped by a bunch of Slayer related monsters instead. I suppose it is only fair that these pieces not be ridiculously hard or expensive to obtain, but it was part of the charm in a way. Now it also removed one more piece of equipment that formerly required some investment by the player to obtain. Even if you bought it off the G.E., you needed a few tokens to recharge it.
Coifs met the same fate, relegated to standard pieces of armor now crafted from the respective tier of dragon leather instead. I suppose that's fair - you don't have a rune or adamant full helm magically degrading after use, and with no other options in the Ranged headgear spot for those sets, I suppose it makes sense. Ironman players can now complete sets of armor with their own blood, sweat, and Crafting levels. From the point of view of improving FoG, I don't see how it helps. Maybe if there was either a weaker version craftable directly out of leather or a "supercharge" option available for purchase at Reggie instead...
There are a few more tweaks and rewards that were added in addition to what I've mentioned above, but for the most part it is more of the same. It is certainly a good thing that some long-overdue updates were made, and at least it rekindled a little interest once again. Nor does this have to be a one-and done deal. One good suggestion that I've seen and I think is in the pipeline is to increase the number of charges per pair of runecrafting gloves. This is, presumably, just a couple lines of code to change but could make a massive difference, so as long as no balancing issues crop up, it should be set.
Jagex has shown that they have the volition to at least attempt in making some changes to dead content or minigames. It would be a pity for us to let that go to waste.