This last week saw an intriguing new development in the Runescape world. A series of puzzles were issued on a daily basis, secret puzzles which ranged from extremely easy to very challenging. Players who chose to partake were whisked all over the free world, bringing elaborate packages of items and coins to satisfy the demands of this secret society’s clues. As it was open to both members and non-members, this became a very popular, though short lasting event. Most viewed it as a holiday event, although it could not have been more of a departure from the traditional holiday event. People would come to challenge everything about this being a holiday event; there was no holiday theme, and the difficulty for an individual was through the roof. The only consistency was the reward; now long past the tradeable holiday items (now known as “rares”), the items that we gain from holiday events now are strictly worthless toys, often discarded with knowledge that you can pick a new one up at Diango.
That being said, this event marks a major landmark in the evolution of Jagex as a game designer, and may indicate a new path forward for quests, events, minigames, and other challenging components. There is good reason to expect that the level of difficulty on all new elements of the game may soon be raised.
For the first time, a player wishing to complete in game content was -entirely- required to visit the Runescape Official Forums (RSOF) for information and data. Coincidentally, it was upon those very forums that the solution to the fourth day’s riddle was posted. This solution was very elaborate, very involved, and frankly more time consuming to solve than most players who finished the event would ever have bothered to invest in.
There are two pieces in play here which mark the change in the scope of Jagex’s control over the player base: the expectation of players getting information from forums, and the willful direction of players to the RSOF to get information and resources for solving.
It is no secret that Jagex’s relationship with forums has been tumultuous. Forums in general are a known entity for any multiplayer game. Furthermore, the interaction between players creates a network effect: the more players join the forum, the more new content is created, and the more valuable that forum becomes to players. For some time players have used the forums (even RSOF) as a means to collectively reduce the level of challenge in solving all of the games’ riddles. Quests, distractions and diversions, clue scrolls, and training strategies have all been made markedly easier by the use of these forum networks.
Several forums have historically held a high level of value to players, and arguably all the “major” sites have a much more appetizing format for players than the Runescape Official Forums. Better graphical capabilities, smoother interfaces, easier navigation, and vastly superior moderation have allowed the major support websites to far outstrip the RSOF in value to the players.
It appears Jagex has noticed the level of engagement these forums have had, and wishes to leverage its own forums for some combination of metric management, content control, and / or advertising revenues. Jagex has already displayed its tactical advantage over support forums with its ability to link in game content direct to these forums. Board avatars and the adventurer’s log are two hallmark examples of Jagex exploiting this advantage.
Buyer beware: should this be the point where Jagex acknowledges the use of forums as a general component to moving forward in the game, the level of difficulty for many of the games challenges will spike considerably. After all, clues would not be written for an individual to solve, but rather a community. This could actually be a pleasantly challenging development. On the other hand, the shepherding of players through the RSOF to get all their answers represents a titanic looming threat to the currently “sanctioned” but unofficial Runescape sites. If Jagex chooses to be a one-stop shop for players by driving in game content through their forums on a consistent basis, it will at best slow traffic to the better managed sites such as Tip It, and at worst serve as a means to discredit, render obsolete, or open them to enhanced scrutiny through the eyes of the developers.