RuneScape gets updated at an incredible rate. For the last three years we've seen updates almost every week, bringing to the members new quests, new foes to fight, new places to explore, additions to existing skills, improvements to existing areas, and technical changes that might lead to anything. Plus a few f2p updates - you turn your back for a month, and suddenly Varrock's gone all greenish-gray with scratchy dogs. Oh, and PKing and trading just got changed beyond recognition.
Following Jagex's controversial decision to destroy real-world trading, there are many players claiming that they might quit RuneScape unless next year's updates, featuring Summoning, are really good. Jagex doesn't usually post details of future updates (except by accident) but this one's really caught the players' imaginations, giving us hope that after the upsets of December we'll get some great updates in the New Year.
Now for the million-dollar question: What is a good update? (Indeed, this is more than a million-dollar question, considering the number of subscribers paying Jagex to get it right.) We see loads of updates coming out, but why are some updates praised as "best update of the month" while others are universally hated or rapidly forgotten? What makes a good update good? If YOU ruled the world of RuneScape today, what would you do to YOUR game? The answer, as one might expect, is going to depend on the kind of player who's answering.
We'll come back to the RWT changes and Summoning later. Firstly, let's look at skill updates such as Cook X. Jagex took an existing skill that had consisted of click-on-item-click-on-range for many years, and they changed it. What response did it get? 1. Cooking is much easier now there's less clicking, hooray, the clicking was bad! 2. Cooking is much easier now there's less clicking, this STINKS, I got blisters from all the clicking to get my cooking to 99, but now any noob can do it! (These aren't meant to represent everyone's opinion, just the two most common knee-jerk responses.)
If you're designing a game, and you've got a major training feature that consists of repetitively clicking on the same things for weeks and weeks, you might, sooner or later, be accused of having written a dull game. There will always be dedicated players who will grind at it until they achieve the dizzying heights of 99, but how many people will prefer a challenge that involves strategy, cooperation, time-planning or even - Armadyl forbid - some fun? If a game can be played more efficiently by a simple bot than by a human, doesn't that imply that the game's not much fun?
By removing most of the repetitive clicking from cooking - and, more recently, from many other skills besides - Jagex has reduced the repetitive clicking. That's probably a good thing. Clicking isn't exactly the most attractive feature of RuneScape. But did they dumb down the game, "catering to noobs", reducing the achievement of anyone who had the self-discipline to click-click-click their way to 99 before the update? Well, the big 99 may no longer be a pure measure of someone's tolerance for repetitively clicking on things, but it's still a mighty big achievement for the moment.
Perhaps RuneScape players will no longer need to have such extreme patience and dedication, but it's arguably a good thing for the game to require less of those specific qualities. Some say "catering to noobs", others say "writing a game that appeals to lots of players", this generally being a sign that the game's enjoyable and well-designed!
Now, let's look at updates more generally. If an update brings us a new way to train a skill, and the new feature doesn't give us faster XP or faster wealth than we could get before, what's the point of the update? It might be more interesting than training the skill the old way, but the vast majority of people are going to stick to the methods that give them XP or wealth at a faster rate, and who can blame them? So that's not a particularly "good" update; it may as well not be there if it's not going to have a use.
On the other hand, if an update brings us a new way to train a skill that's much more efficient than any previous method, it'll certainly be popular, but what will it do to the game? The original Pest Control made it possible for players to level all their combat skills at an unprecedented rate, and thus it was hugely popular, but there was much anger about "PC products" devaluing the achievements of players who'd trained their combat skills the traditional way. So that wasn't a particularly good update, however popular it may have been.
It certainly looks like neither of these approaches is going to give us a "good" update. Skill updates risk being undervalued (and hence useless), or they risk being overpowered (which does bad things to the game on a larger scale). It's no surprise that Guthix, presented as the most important of the RuneScape gods, embodies Balance! How is Summoning going to fare on this scale? If it changes the rest of the game too much, that'll risk upsetting the long-standing players. Yet if it doesn't have enough uses in other skills, it'll be practically a waste of a promising update. Either way, we can be really sure that a lot of people will find that it doesn't meet their expectations, and they'll be disappointed even though countless more players may love it.
The question of what makes a good update gets even more complicated when we start looking at quest updates, and this year we've had so many of those! What's a good quest update? Is it a quest where players are solving mind-warping puzzles, pitting their skills against fiendish boss-monsters, gasping at cut scenes of battles, unraveling twisted plots, laughing non-stop at hilarious chat, exploring strange new worlds, and stuff like that? That's all very well for the duration of the quest - typically not very long if you use a guide - but many players don't just want the happy memories of having done the quest, they want something they can use afterwards.
So maybe the good quest update is one that offers a valuable reward. Not just a big lump of XP or cash, although those are appreciated well enough at the time, but something that gives a benefit throughout the future of your RuneScape career. Out of all the players who love Desert Treasure, how many like it for the boss-fights and challenging pyramid area, and how many like it for the Ancient Magicks it gave at the end?
Perhaps a new quest update is expected to contain an exciting or hilarious quest plus a reward that has a big benefit for the future. But how many such rewards can the game contain before it gets ridiculously confusing? How annoying would it be if Jagex kept releasing new sets of spells, taking us to a total of 10 spell books rather than just three? We've got spirit trees, gnome gliders, more and more jewelery, canoes, fairy rings... how many more teleport networks does the game need?
Looking at just the opinions described above - in the understanding that they aren't supposed to cover everyone's feelings, just a few prevalent attitudes - we can see immediately why "a good update" can mean completely different things to different people. Some people want a quest containing drama, fun and excitement, others expect the update to provide long-term benefits for training, others would be grieved if any resulting long-term benefits were too good... yet other players may not be interested in quest/skill updates at all, and what they really wanted was a bank-search feature!
Finally, we have to look beyond the popularity of an update. Sometimes Jagex will do something that's guaranteed to get flamed, believing that it's the best thing for RuneScape even though it might upset many of the players. For example, they nerfed Pest Control, reducing the rewards and making the matches slower. We're expected to understand that they did this to solve the genuine problem whereby it was better to train combat in Pest Control (with zero risk of item loss) than in a proper dungeon of monsters. Ultimately, Jagex wasn't interested in whether or not people were immediately happy about the update; they were trying to do something good for the future of RuneScape rather than good for the players it affects immediately.
Jagex has recently done it again on a much larger scale. They've set out to wipe RWT from the game, changing certain aspects of the game beyond recognition in the process. Here they're on far more risky territory. The Pest Control problem was relatively straightforward; the rewards were seen as being too high, so Jagex reduced them. 'Nuff said. However, players have complained that they didn't mind the RWT problem, or that they'd rather let RWT continue if that meant they could have the old Wilderness back. Nevertheless, Jagex seems to have concluded that it's good for the future of RuneScape for RWT to be stamped out, accepting that some of the community is leaving over these changes. Only time will tell whether the game is ultimately improved by the RWT updates; the reduction in scamming, account theft, botting and RWT will definitely be a pleasant change, although the cost is incredibly high.
All things considered, it's no surprise that so many updates are greeted with simultaneous cries of "W00T", "Wasted update" and "What the heck was THAT?" We know it's impossible for a game to cater to everyone's tastes at once, and we've seen that Jagex isn't afraid to get flamed in their goal of protecting RuneScape's long-term survival.
We can only hope that, whatever 2008's updates bring in terms of new features and changes to the existing game, enough of them will meet our own standards for being "good" updates. Summoning does sound, at least, very promising...
~ Armadyllo ~
Did You Know...
... that Al Kharid hasn't had a graphical update since the release of Rs2 Beta?
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