From the moment RuneScape was released to the public, the highest available achievement could be described simply as '99'. These two digits mean that you have learned everything there is to learn about a skill, that you can create anything there is to create with it. As an added bonus, it also means you've earned a fancy cape with matching emote.
In the last ten years, the value of achieving a 99 has diminished somewhat. This is mainly because Jagex realized a long time ago that hours of grinding are a poor substitute for hours of actual gameplay. Through countless updates--everything from introducing new prayer bones to adding options like 'cook x'--Jagex has made it possible to get the 99 with less clicks and in less time.
And as the 99 became easier to achieve, players started making more challenges for themselves. Now, even the achievement of reaching level 99 in all skills has come and gone; players instead focus entirely on the XP totals for overall skills. With the current XP cap sitting at 200 million and the number of skills at twenty-five, the maximum amount of experience any single character can get currently sits at 5,000,000,000, or five-billion. As I'm writing this article, the number one ranked player on the hi-score list is almost halfway there.
However, as much hard work as these people are putting into their XP totals, they're really achieving nothing more than raising an arbitrary number. Once you get past 13,034,431 XP in any regular skill (or 104,273,167 XP in Dungeoneering) you're not unlocking any new quests, equipment or areas for yourself. Players can get five-billion XP, but from a strictly gameplay perspective more than 90% of that XP would be wasted effort.
Over the past few years, there has been a recurring theme in which dedicated players often reach 99 in newly released skills within a matter of weeks, if not days. In the case of Dungeoneering, Jagex tried to remedy this problem by setting up the skill so that players would need roughly eight times the usual amount of experience to reach the maximum level in the skill.
Of course that measure didn't stop players from reaching level 120 (and 200 million XP) within months. Still, it didn't take nearly as long for players to reach the maximum level in Dungeoneering as it has with other skills released in recent years. It seems that expanding the maximum level for other skills is only an inevitability at this point, as more and more players are reaching 99 in not just any but every skill. However, the fact that so many players are already beyond level 99 (or even level 120) in a lot of skills means that Jagex will have to tread very carefully here--there are a lot of issues of balance to take into consideration.
The combat skills are just one example of this. All endgame monsters are currently tuned for players whose combat skills are in the 95-99 range. Hundreds of players currently have enough experience in combat skills to immediately boost their levels up to 120, which means that there are hundreds of players for whom soloing against enemies like Tormented Demons and God War Dungeon bosses will be easier than ever before. This also means that the market will be flooded with high end equipment such as Dragon Claws and God Swords. This will harm both the game's economy, as higher availability leads to lower prices, and the game's balance, as lower prices mean that it will be easier for players to obtain this high level equipment.
All this leads to a vicious circle.
More high-level players will bring more high-level equipment into the game, which will, in turn, make it easier for people to train, thus creating new high-level players, who, in turn, will be adding more high-level equipment to an already saturated market.
And that's just for combat skills.
Increasing the maximum level to 120 in all skills means that people will be able to train faster and more efficiently, again adding flooding the market with resources and finished products. It's important to note that if developers at Jagex want to expand a skill to level 120, they should add enough content to fill those extra twenty-one levels. That would mean new food, new potions, new weapons, new armour and more. Once again, this would make it easier for players to deal with high-end monsters and flooding the market with high-end materials and equipment.
Of course, there are other solutions. Jagex could simply wipe all XP for players who have more than is currently needed for level 99 (or 120), but that would remove a collective time investment from the game that would probably add up to decades, if not centuries. Doing this would only serve to anger thousands of players, something that Jagex definitely wouldn't want to do. They could decrease the drop rates of equipment, but again, it would probably be met with community backlash.
Stated problems aside, there is really no way to avoid expanding the maximum levels for all skills. After all, as I noted at the beginning of the article, any experience earned beyond the magical 13,034,431 mark is currently wasted effort. Of course there are many players for whom a higher rank on the hi-score list is enough motivation to keep playing, but for other players that simply isn't enough-- they will eventually become bored with the game because of the lack of tangible achievements.
As time goes on, the number of players that have reached 99 will only grow, and expanding content beyond 99 is the only way to keep those players interested and, more importantly, paying.