Amidst a drastic and emotional fight to drive out real world trading (RWT) from Runescape, Jagex made a surprising move this month by publishing and supporting a new real-time strategy game, War of Legends. This new game is marketed as a free game with options to buy specific in-game items with real money, a common feature found in other online games. Still in beta testing, War of Legends is currently drawing in the majority of its players through the Runescape community, a community that is already keenly aware of Jagex’s policy on real world trading.
The discussion has been mixed, with many players questioning if micro-transactions contradict the company’s previous messages regarding RWT. Jagex’s response has been in a nutshell -“this is not the same”. Because according to Jagex, RWT is associated with “other criminal activities.” Instead, they claim micro-transactions are legitimate because they are “being dealt with by (Jagex) so you can be sure it is safe and secure.”
Micro-transactions in this new game do appear to contradict the moral stance Jagex has taken publicly for years. Runescape was designed to allow players to excel based solely on their own merits, and a considerable amount of programming was implemented to protect these values. Random events were introduced early in an attempt to combat autoers, but, as the macro programs improved Jagex created more complex random events that eventually became a nuisance to even the most honest players. Pure essence was created to curb RWTers’ and autoers from farming rune essence in F2P. And of course, there are the much-discussed anti-RWT events introduced in late 2007.
Jagex has spent years not only fighting to keep RWTers out of Runescape, but also pledged to never indulge in selling in-game items themselves. There was a time when it seemed the stance against RWT had a deeper ethical meaning. It was not only about credit card fraud and slave Chinese goldfarmers. Back then, Jagex also appeared intent on protecting the value of the game for its players. On 18 March 2003, Jagex wrote:
“We did once consider selling Runescape money and items in an online shop on our own site for real cash. However we decided to sacrifice that extra revenue for the good of the game, since we felt it would devalue hard-working players achievements if another player could then just buy their way past them. We don't want rich players to be able to simply buy their way to the top. This is clearly not how the game is meant to be played.”
Last year, Jagex was appearing to deviate from their moral high ground when they proposed to offer extra bank space as an incentive to purchase a new security device. Today, Jagex supports War of Legends, a game that allows players to purchase resources, stat boosters, and accelerants for training. Again, Jagex says:
“Using (in game currency) will allow you to advance in the game more quickly, but will not give advantages in battle or open up new areas of the game.”
It’s understandable that anything labeled “free” is a misnomer. Tip.It is a free website, but it still relies on donations and advertising to cover its cost. Runescape recently entered the Guinness Book of World Records as the most popular free MMORPG, yet is still supported with advertising and members who choose to pay a monthly subscription. In Runescape, P2P members may have a distinct advantage over F2P, but a member’s bonuses, weapons, and items do not directly translate in F2P. Godswords and Dragon axes do not operate in a F2P world. Therefore, members and free players are separated by Jagex’s preset rules.
However you choose to debate the strategies of this new game, it is nearly impossible to deny that purchasing faster training methods and stat boosters which directly improve the character will give players a clear advantage that is only limited to the size of their wallets. In other words, players can essentially buy their levels with real money. Furthermore, these same players who choose to pay for extra muscle are directly competing against those who do not. Apparently, unlike Runescape, this is how the game is meant to be played.
When did Jagex change their views? Why do the rules of Runescape, which forced Jagex to severely hamstring trade and anger so many players in the process, do not apply to other games? Whether you choose to look at micro-transactions as a form of real-world trading or not, the only hair that’s really being split here is whose pocket the money ends up filling. And in the end, I guess that’s enough to convince anybody to abandon their beliefs.