On Friday 30th October at 2:30pm, Christoph Vietzke aka Mod Fetzki, took part in the Game City event in Nottingham, England. The event was advertised as “Runescape: The Director Commentary,” where Jagex will be making a rare public appearance to give a privileged, unique insight into both the Jagex history and culture - and the development of one of the most successful MMO's of all time.' So, as a huge Runescape and Jagex fan, I went. A lot of the things that were said were things that I already knew, but since not everyone obsessively Googles Jagex like I do, what was said might be of some news to some people.
The event started with a round of applause for Jagex for being announced Developer of the Year at the Golden Joystick Awards, the oldest and one of the most prestigious gaming awards in the world. After that, things started with a quite technically based opening. Mod Fetzki talked about how having a scalable client is one of the most important aspects of Runescape. By having a game that can even be played on old computers, they give the chance for everyone with an internet connection to play. With the discussion of scalable graphics, came some images of the new Zanaris graphics update that is still in development. The final image, from the highest detail level, showed the use of bloom lighting effects - a feature that was promised would be available with the upgrade to RuneTek 5.
He then talked about how why Runescape became such a success. One of the first points was that Runescape came out at the right place at the right time. They also did very little advertising for Runescape, unlike other MMO companies that invested hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of pounds into promotion and advertising - Jagex didn't. They relied simply on other people telling their friends 'Oh wow this is a good game, you should play it!'. A main aspect of the game, that Jagex contribute to being a large part of their success, is that Runescape is a sandbox game. There isn't linear gameplay where you have to move from one part to another, following a pre-set path. Mod Fetzki said that 'Runescape doesn't tell you what to do, you tell it.' In 2000/2001, Jagex began to run into financial problems as the '.com bubble' burst. This lead to Jagex creating the system that they use today - Pay to Play and Free to Play sections of the game. When P2P was released, around 10,000 people subscribed, far more than they were expecting.
When considering why so many people subscribe to the game, Mod Fetzki said that it was because Runescape isn't a 'rip-off'. The cost is fairly low, particularly compared to rival games. The system that they use also works for Jagex, because they don't use F2P as a marketing tool. Perhaps when Geoff Iddison was CEO of the company they did a bit, but again, they iterated that F2P isn't simply a demo. Many other MMO games give their players some limited sort of F2P, by letting them get to a certain level or play so many days at it. But there is a straight line saying 'you can't go past this unless you pay'. While there might be a slightly obvious vertical line marking the separation of F2P and P2P areas, there isn't really one in the style of gameplay. Members is for those who want a broader experience of Runescape. You can get the general feel and gameplay of Runescape from F2P but if you want more then you can subscribe. He also said that they treat F2P and P2P the same, and although members get extras they don't discriminate between the two. What he also said, was that they often have higher respect for those who get high levels in F2P, than those who do in P2P, due to how much more difficult it is. Also, that if they were to remove F2P from the game it would kill Jagex.
Mod Fetzki was asked about the different influences in Runescape. He said that the style is mainly medieval and fantasy based, but there are a lot of influences derived from different games since many of the Jagex staff are enthusiastic and play games. They talk about games at lunch and dinner, and apparently one Jagex Mod has five different game circles that he plays with a night. They don't just have 'someone who codes' and 'someone who concepts', but want everyone involved in the process to give forward their ideas and opinions for the future of the game. He also mentioned that they have to be careful when bringing in ideas and suggestions from the forums, since users would often want credit for their ideas and more than one used would come up with that idea so they have to be careful to not create conflicts over it.
The attitude towards player actions from Jagex has also changed. When they were first starting out with Runescape Classic, players would use bots and macros to lock people in rooms by constantly clicking the door shut (funnily enough, those players could teleport out if they wanted to). When people used to do that, and first started to Real World Trade (RWT), Jagex thought that it was a bit of harmless fun really and let people have their mischief. But when 2003 came around they had to become stricter on players, particularly against bots and RWTers. Mod Fetzki also said that 'players can want what they want, but they can't get it or they won't be happy.' He said that players need a sense of achievement that comes from playing for hours and hours to get a level 99 skill. There would be no satisfaction in getting level 99 if it took just a couple of hours in total. He also talked about the difficulty in determining the difference between players that actually do need something, and players that say they need it but just want it badly.
He discussed how they try to not put content in their game that is just there to annoy you, and the only way to get rid of that annoying aspect is to do a certain quest (for example). He said that thinking about how you need water in the desert to survive, they once discussed how this could be applied to other areas. Why not need your thermal clothes and mittens in the cold snowy areas? Or a nice waterproof to keep you dry in the rain? Jagex sees no real advantage to doing that, other than to just annoy the player into doing something.
Mod Fetzki talked about the games industry and how they believe that the next move is to streaming games content, eg. streaming console quality games over the internet to computers. He said that they are leading development in that field, but they have doubts about it's feasibility. One of the main important parts of Runescape is that it is very light on the internet and doesn't require huge download speeds to run. Mod Fetzki said that Andrew would dismiss an idea, or make you go back to re-work it, if it lead to even a 2% increase in the download size. They feel it is of the utmost importance to keep the size small, and Mod Fetzki thinks this is something console game creators don't seem to understand. Only people with really fast internet and powerful computers will be able to run their games, and that is a minority. He also mentioned that the culture of MMO game playing has become more mainstream, he said that they even get 'the odd female player' every now and again.
Mod Fetzki said that compared to other MMO games, Runescape is in fact very hardcore (I personally found this comment quite amusing). Though it is an understandable definition to some extent, there is a lot of work (albeit mainly repetitive) that goes into obtaining high levels, and that it can take years and years to reach level 99. He thinks that the people that play the game haven't really changed since Runescape Classic. A lot of people have stayed with with Runescape from the beginning, and the type of person that plays has never changed.
The Runescape Director Commentary was coming to a close, and he briefly discussed what is coming next for Runescape. He mentioned the new skill, but only to say that 'it's going to be good'. He mentioned that they are 'working on another MMO', and that FunOrb is continually growing and there is always the possibility that one of the games there could develop into a game all of it's own. After this, things were opened up for questions from the audience.
Out of these questions, there were a few interesting answers. Being asked about Price Manipulators, he said that they want to change the GE to make items being manipulated more obvious to spot, but they don't want to overreact to the situation and make the game difficult by implementing a rushed fix. He also mentioned that they have now 'fixed 76King', which could be seen by many as a questionable statement. He was also asked about international markets. How many players are abroad and how do they do with their worldwide appeal. Mod Fetzki said that they get a good response all over the world, except in Korea, where he said 'they should be playing'. This could be attributed to the general feeling in Korea that a game should require fast reaction times, high mental capability, and a fast computer to be successful. He said that the potential in the market comes from their availability and quality of internet connections, in particular they are moving into areas such as India. He did mention though, that there were issues with bringing the game over there since one of the main things a new player does to advance is to kill cows, which is something that is highly offensive over in India because of the large Hindu population. Overall though, he felt that the British kind of theme seems kind of quirky to those in the USA and other such places.
So that is a summary of what was said, the talk went on for about an hour, I hope that you learned something new from Runescape: The Director Commentary. It was worth it for me, at least, since I got a free signed mouse mat ;)