People have been claiming that the community is in decline and has been for some time now. I figured that when I was to return to my regular editorial schedule, I'd try to tackle an issue that nobody seems to have a clear answer to.
To first understand how a community can get worse, we first have to define what a community is. In the setting of RuneScape this should include all the off-site branches that have emerged over the years as well as any other places that see players interacting with each other on a large scale. A community is defined by minds greater than mine as the culmination of two things.
First, we tend to join groups purely out of self-interest. Surely, the knowledge base of RuneScape has a lot of information, but no actual step-by-step quest guides. For that you can visit a fan-site and follow the walkthrough on the site.
But following this example, our level of involvement can increase much more. How many people have read or even joined and posted on the forums in order to find more hints for the puzzle in the latest quest? Everyone can see that hunger for knowledge of the recently released content could lead you to participate on a forum that thousands of players read for the exact reason that you do; your own interests.
Second, there are the things that bind us together, the stuff we all have in common. RuneScape itself is the obvious driving force behind what makes us interact with one another. We all want something out of the game. The levels we gain, the quests we complete, or the riches we gather are all examples of what gives us a sense of accomplishment. We all like the game and have fun playing it in our own way.
There are other reasons, however. Clans and even fan-sites are often the glue that keeps people stuck on RuneScape. When fellow players all of a sudden have become true friends, it becomes much harder to let go of them. We then forget that we still communicate with them through the same means with which we got to know them in the first place. This could be your clan, your fan-site, or even just RuneScape itself.
The second, more social component may seem insignificant compared to the first one because it happens on a much smaller scale. While this is true, it plays a significant part in our community experience, because this component is much closer to us. You can choose not to reply to a thread on a forum or someone asking you a question in game, but the minute you log in on RuneScape, a friend may PM you.
So how do these components get influenced in such a way that they give us the impression that the community is "getting worse"?
When an old friend decides to leave the game, or when your clan closes, it may have an immense impact on how YOU experience playing RuneScape and interacting with its players, but in a community of thousands and thousands of players, this will not have much of an effect.
No, when people say "the community is getting worse" they mean the first component.
This first component is basically the society that is made up by the attitudes of the people we briefly encounter every day. If you go to the grocery store to get some food, and are treated like trash, you would definitely notice this. That is, unless you are treated like trash at every store you've ever been to.
This culture is influenced by the set of shared values and accepted practises of, in our case, everyone that interacts with larger groups of people such as on forums, large in-game events, or fan-sites. There are a couple of things that have had a noticeable impact on what we have deemed both acceptable and unacceptable in the history of RuneScape, that continue to have an influence today.
I'll start with an obvious example. You may not even notice that it's there anymore. The wilderness wall used to be a ditch, and before that there was nothing. If you ran north you'd eventually find yourself under attack from other players. There would be no warning along the way save for a few wooden signs and a little wilderness level counter in the corner of your screen.
Everyone playing at the time, save for the very newest of newbies, knew exactly where the dangerous zone started. But then Jagex advertised their games on Miniclip, and RuneScape saw a massive influx of new and much younger players.
This "Miniclip Generation" fell prey to this wilderness border lure so often that complaints about it grew ever louder, and a barrier like the one we see today was installed. Many people still believe that this is the day that Jagex started catering for an ever younger crowd. This resulted in more and more warning messages and other safeguards to prevent you dying by accident, eventually culminating in the spam of "click the advisor button to find out more" messages you get when first walking around in Lumbridge with a new account.
So how did this have an effect on the community? Well, I remember having to find out everything for myself, and asking other players to help me out. And help out they did, because they too went through that ordeal, and must have known how difficult it can be for someone who's on their first tour.
But today it's a different story. If someone asks me tomorrow if I can show them the way to Falador, I'd politely but succinctly advise them to use the world map.
You can clearly see that, with their best intentions to make the game a little easier to get into, Jagex have inadvertently killed off an important piece of player interaction, as well as part of a maturation process we should, in my opinion, all go through at some point.
Not all changes come from Jagex' in-game updates, though.
Look for example how clans behave towards one another and how that has changed over time. Many years ago, it used to be frowned upon to return to a war in full gear after you died. Even showing up in anything but your best gear would make you the laughing stock of the battlefield at some point.
But look at what happens today, when it has been many years since clans started warring. Some clans consider it normal that you hand over your password upon joining. This is not to make sure that they can log in for you in case you lag out at the Dagannoth Kings for example, but is in fact used to win wars. If you happen to have slightly better stats or equipment, why not let someone else fight with your avatar if you're not using it?
Thought that was bad? Enemy clans are trying to get IP addresses of everyone in your clan. If obtained, you will be subject of a quick DDoS attack at the start of a war, making you lag out of the game in the middle of the mayhem.
This slow but steady shift in the paradigm of what is considered honourable among clans all resulted from an ever evolving battle between clans to stay one step ahead of one another. If your clan does not adapt to this, you will never be considered one of the 'best'.
I'm afraid it is little different in my own clan. I've stopped making an effort to keep my clan free of account sharers, for example. Jagex doesn't punish them, so why should I? Of course I do draw the line at some point. I do not allow hacking or use of any other tools outside of the ones that RuneScape itself provides.
Since many people that are in some form of a clan or team tend to communicate and interact with other players much more often, I consider clans to have a substantial influence on the culture of the game. This means that what they still consider respectful treatment of one another, however much it has devolved over time, helps in setting the standard for all of us.
And let's not forget the most recent news. Two things have caught my attention that I think will have a big impact on the way we experience player to player interaction in the future.
The first of this is the most obvious one, and I can understand if it has started to sound a bit like a cliché. Bringing back the Old Wilderness and Unbalanced Trade (I'm calling it like I see it) has been hailed by many as the thing that would bring them back to playing RuneScape. And, watching the trend in my clan since its announcement, I have come to a similar conclusion as many people have shown up out of retirement because of this news.
I am honestly indifferent about bringing back these features, because I have never been much of a PK-er, and a bit more room to give a friend a helping hand is always welcome, although the current limits are adequate. But the way they executed this poll, petition, scam, or whatever you want to call it, was not the way to go about it.
By the time this article gets published we may still not have reached the number of votes to match the support shown in the first version of the poll, but we'll at least be close. And that has shown the entire community one thing.
The petition, or first version, ran for less than two days, raking in huge numbers (1.2m in the first 24 hours). If Jagex wanted to get truly huge numbers to gauge the support for the changes, than why break it off and replace with a proper poll so soon?
Fact is, in the short time there was no barrier in the form of having to enter your password to have your voted registered, we've seen much more 'votes' than in the current version of which you can be reasonably sure that behind every vote is a legitimate face (ignoring multiple accounts).
The huge difference in votes came from people finding as many names as possible to enter, in order to increase apparent support for bringing about the desired changes. That's right; people were committing fraud to get what they wanted. And the worst part of it is that Jagex, rather than apologising for an obvious mistake and instead saying it was indeed an intentional move to have a petition first and a poll later, is apparently willing to borrow some credibility from that very support that was found to be fraudulent.
It gets worse. Further in that news post we can see Jagex admitting that cheating (mainly botting and RWT) would always be a part of the game, no matter how much they tried to combat it. On top of that, they fully admitted that bringing the Old Wilderness and Unbalanced Trades back would vastly increase this problem.
As it has been explained by the Catherby Curmudgeon in an earlier article, the reason for the late '07/early '08 updates was that this kind of cheating was about to completely ruin Jagex. Since then bots have evolved, but Jagex claims their system can still detect them. But if this was true, how is it that I lag out on world 84 in the Living Rock Caverns every time one of the southern gold veins collapses, and I have been doing that since the day I got 77 mining?
Some people would argue that my gaming experience is unaffected by other people cheating. These bot-apologists would have you believe that someone else’s doings on RuneScape has no impact on you. But other than the lag, the continuously depleted resources, the cheapening of the achievements of skillcapes and what not, we still play a MMORPG. The 2nd 'M' still stands for Multiplayer, meaning we're all in this together.
So I sincerely hope that this referendum is non-binding, because Jagex has inspired no confidence at all with me that they can handle the expected massive increase of cheating, especially considering the tough time they have dealing with it now. Jagex have BY FAR the largest role in shaping the community, and even though 90% of voters would gladly turn the game into RuinScape (Jagex' own words) just to get what they want, they should first make a couple of fixes.
For example; if I state right here on this article that I botted this and that level, with this and that program, and all the other details with that, you couldn't do a single thing about it. You cannot report someone in-game unless they have talked or traded with you.
On top of that, and this is the second piece of worrying news, they have been giving people who WERE caught using bots 2nd and even 3rd chances, because they "may have been lured to the dark side for a brief moment" or "made a genuine mistake". Genuine mistake? Are you kidding me? Did you trip, fall, and land on the exact key combinations and mouse-clicks that downloads, installs and runs a bot for you on your account? This kind of apathy towards cheaters makes you wonder why you should bother to report them at all, and does nothing but inspire apathy for the rules in the community in return.
So, we see how the community has been pummelled left and right over the years. This very community that this game was built upon used to consist of mostly honourable players. They would not dare cheat, because once caught, you'd be named and shamed on the front pages. Today it's different. The makers of the game no longer seem to care if you cheat, and if you do, it doesn't matter, because you're getting another shot at it anyways.
So is it little wonder why it feels that the community has gone downhill? I can completely understand why honourable players find refuge away from the degraded masses. They will move away from the bigger clans because they do not like the way that those clans got where they are today. They will move away from the friends who got too greedy and hired some Chinese company to get some levels on their accounts. They will move away from the fan-sites that, despite their openness and freedom of speech, have let the bot-apologists and the trolls in along with the good people.
And eventually, they will move away from the game where the attitude of its makers has shifted. An attitude that used to guarantee that fair play and respect for one another were safeguarded, no matter what. An attitude that changed and now values a higher quantity of dollars, euros, and pounds over a higher quality of gaming experiences.
In the end, the things we have in common stay the same. Our own morals and values and those we like to see in other players or Jagex itself are drifting further and further apart. Until the day we feel that we no longer fit in.