December's sprung a shocker on us, with the abolition of Wilderness PKing and the promise of unbalanced trades becoming impossible in January. This is probably the most controversial thing Jagex has done since the switch from RS-Classic to Rs2 in 2004: they've deliberately altered hugely important aspects of the game, trusting that there'll be enough players still playing when the dust settles.
It's a risky approach for a company to take. Jagex's updates don't show a great deal of risk-taking, in general. 2007 brought us 14 new quests, assorted graphical updates to monsters and areas, the occasional game engine update and some updates to reduce the amount of clicking involved in skills. None of these get much attention, in the grand scheme of things. They may improve the game a little, and the new quests are usually fun for a few hours after release, but overall there's no big effect to the overall game. Jagex was often accused of churning out unimportant updates while completely ignoring the bigger issues, or of being too afraid of losing money to risk fixing the problems.
Suddenly the policy changes. Jagex decides to take on the problem of real-world trading (RWT), aiming to wipe it from the game at any cost. After a long dribble of relatively low-impact updates, that's quite a surprise from Jagex. I think they may have truly proven that they're not afraid to confront big issues, even though they're likely to lose subscribers (i.e. money) in the fight. (Of course, suddenly this has stopped being seen as a good thing!) They did something on a smaller scale with Pest Control, when the XP reward rate was drastically reduced; some people complained that the minigame had been ruined, others were glad to see the end of "PC products" who'd got high combat levels without hardly ever fighting a monster outside Pest Control! Jagex had decided that the high rewards were a problem to the overall game, even though those XP rewards were very popular, so they nerfed them regardless of the angry customers demanding that the update be undone. We're seeing the same thing here on a grand scale, where Jagex has deliberately destroyed popular game features to solve a problem that they believed could threaten the overall game.
For the high Pest Control rewards, it's easy to explain why Jagex would see them as a problem. Other high-level players had complained too; it would have been deeply concerning if Jagex had ignored the issue forever, demonstrating that they just wanted to milk their cash-cow without taking the trouble to confront its problems. With the anti-RWT changes, Jagex is on far more risky territory, even though the principle is the same. Could RWT really threaten the rest of the game?
Jagex's developer diary tells us of the problems with card fraud, where the RWT accounts subscribed using stolen cards. We all know, from our own experiences, how many bots could be found in areas where raw materials are gathered, and how this affected the market when legitimate players tried to sell raw materials themselves. We've also heard Jagex trying to solve the RWT problem by just banning all the suspicious people, mostly because we saw the rants from players who claim they were banned unfairly for doing unbalanced trades/duels with dodgy accounts! The random events that have plagued us since the beginning of Rs2 are another sign of Jagex trying to fix the problem; it's clear enough that a bot can solve many of them. Now, if Jagex were to continue fighting RWT the same old ways, we'd end up with more and more random events to annoy us all, more people being banned through accidentally doing dodgy trades, and whatever features Jagex added in future would lead to yet more innocent people being caught and inconvenienced or banned. The game would, eventually, have become unplayable due to the ongoing Jagex-vs-RWT battle. It's lost a lot of popular features today, but perhaps - for those who still wish to play - it'll end up as a better gaming experience when Jagex isn't waging a constant battle with RWT merchants and their bots? Innocent players were still ending up as the victims of that war, only it was happening over a longer time-scale.
So what comes now? Never mind Jagex, how is the change going to affect us? The response to this set of updates has been overwhelmingly negative on the forums. There are players whose main activity in RuneScape has been removed. They're upset, and who can blame them? We saw the same response with the introduction of the staking cap in November, but this time the restrictions affect far more players directly. However, despite the current gloomy outlook, let's try to make a realistic guess about what will come in future...
Jagex, as they've made a considerable effort to say in their newsposts, hasn't merely removed features from the game. They've added new ones to replace some of what was taken. We've got Clan Wars, Bounty Hunter, LootShare and the Assist system. If this were a completely new game, and we were playing it for the first time, they'd be fairly respectable features. They've got flaws, and we can be sure that they'll be adjusted and improved over time, which always happens with RuneScape minigames. But they wouldn't be seen as such a catastrophe if they weren't trying to replace the old Wilderness. For a new player, the new state of RuneScape is a fairly decent game; the new player doesn't know what they're missing.
Based on that thought, there's a pretty good chance, especially with Summoning being advertised on the horizon, that new players and subscribers will come in to replace those of us who leave RuneScape. This isn't going to be the end of RuneScape, even though we'll see old faces leave - always a very sad event in any community. It's a crying shame that it's come to this, but those who stick around will still have a game to play. Granted, this isn't a hugely comforting outlook, especially for those who have decided to leave, but it beats the alternative of there being no RuneScape left for anyone. We still have the hope that Summoning will be really good!
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