It’s funny how things, as they grow and expand, come to resemble other things. Take Jagex, for example, and how it has adopted the same approach to its players as the United Nations has to the world; fiddling with things here and there (in the case of Jagex, it’s quests, skills, features etc, in the case of the UN, it’s international conflicts and disasters) and designating years as the ‘Year of…’. According to Jagex, 2011 is the ‘Year of Clans’, whereas with the UN chose the far more mundane ‘International Year of Forests and Chemistry’. Furthermore, until the 12th of April 2011, it seemed Jagex was doing a similar amount in promoting this ‘Year of’ concept as the UN – i.e. very little – aside from the odd communal gathering, tournament, whatever else; transitory events which, in my mind, only serve to temporarily distract players from the fact that Jagex may be running out of ideas.
Yet my cynicism was ill-placed, for it transpired while Jagex was working on something which, if not revolutionary, was at least very significant for the playerbase as a whole. This was, of course, the ‘Clan Camp’. A vast majority of you will already be familiar with it; for the rest of you, I’ll do my best to explain.
The Clan Camp is a central hub, located on the once desolate field along the southern periphery of Falador. It is the only place where clans can be established, by acquiring a charter from a scribe and getting at least four friends (or, as I’ve noticed happen already quite often, four strangers you pay to co-found a clan – I sense this may develop into a profession which people will then rant against) to sign it. Once this is done, a variety of options open up to you, all thanks to the Clan Camp; you give your clan a motto and a customised logo. Then, any member of the clan can obtain unique items bearing your clan regalia from various NPCs – a vexillum (physically very similar to the flagstaff of festivities) from the scribe and a cape from a burly man. Other features include a noticeboard, for clan related event messages, and ‘Rated Clan Wars’, essentially an improved version of clan wars, with five times the capacity and a hiscores list attached to it.
This may be well and good but, you may ask, does it change anything? Of all the things that might need an overhaul clans never sprung to mind; they have always been fairly successful on the whole and, when compared to the Wilderness or the Grand Exchange, provide the basis for relatively few rants. Naturally, there are new gimmicks and items, akin to holiday events, and a clan wars to cater to the ultra competitive. It could be seen, then, that this was an attempt to cater to the competitive, high score types who would otherwise grind away, with hopes of becoming the new Zezima, rather than immerse themselves in the ‘cozy and loving’ community of clans. It’s likely this was part of the motivation, but it cannot be the only reason – bringing in such players, who form a minority within the game, would not warrant such a colossal revamp of an already successful aspect of the game.
No, I believe that Jagex also saw beyond skills, quests, and short lived community events as the only ways of delivering a fun experience for its players in general. Jagex needed something new, a stratagem of an update, to really engage people, whose tolerance of new skills and quests, on the whole, is ever diminishing. Indeed, this is what this update has done; people flock to the Clan Camp, day and night, to set up a clan – be it with friends or hired strangers – for what? Why not do so before? Because now that clans are unique, their appeal has widened. Each clan, with its own distinct insignia and motto, can feel somewhat closer to having a true identity and greater physical presence within the game than clans once did; the extent of their physical presence was limited to their players and the extent of their identity defined by a logo drawn by a freelance ASCII artist (something which will decline for sure as a result of this update).
People will inevitably be more willing to be a part of a clan if it means wearing a ‘cool’ cape and marching around brandishing vexillums. Many people want something that is palpable and awe inspiring; they needed something more than merely a group of people who hang around, skilling and talking, as anyone could with their friends, to spark their interest. It is a constant of human behaviour, and the exact reason that a majority of people opt to watch a film such as 300 over, say, The Kite Runner. Interactivity, too, is something commonly demanded by the modern gaming audience as a whole—the more interactive something is, and the more options a player has, the more popular it’s likely to be. So, the more options there are within an MMO such as this, naturally, the more long-lasting appeal it will have to a majority of players. Moreover, this sprawling complex, located right in the centre of the world map, is likely to advertise clans to many a player, thereby increasing awareness of clans – for there will be some who are unaware – and further widening the appeal of the clan.
Another advantage of this new, formalised system for using clans is that, by officialising the clan, Jagex has helped it become stabilised. Allow me to elucidate. Before this, there was a high flux in clans; many clans were set up, and by that I mean with a recognised forum presence, and then quickly shut. Many were not too aware of this because there were a small group of clans which were old, venerable and stable, and often served as the first port of call for an informed person seeking a good clan. This update has, to an extent, rectified this; for while many clans are being set up now, in the initial fervour following the update, inevitably this will subside and, though many of today’s clans will collapse, once new clans have established themselves at the top of the RCW hiscores, the motivation to join these will be greater. As I’ve said, people are swept away by awe, and I believe in the end the excitement that endures will be that of playing a 500 man match on RCW. I am aware this is all speculative, but I think it will be one of the less immediate advantages of this formal system.
Whatever the outcome of this update, it’s clear that Jagex had the players in mind when they conceptualised it. As was posted on the News article that accompanied this update, ‘We have created the infrastructure, but that's not where our plans end: we plan to keep an eye on your feedback, making improvements to the clan systems in the future.’ It is my hope that Jagex does this well and that they realise the value of interactivity and seek to expand this aspect, for example, by allowing clans to make physical land claimants on a given world, rather than pursuing the more superficial path of simply adding more clan paraphernalia.
Jagex has made its first true leap forward in years, shifting away from their more shallow updates; first, quests and (less regularly) skills, then community events, none of which – with exceptions such as Construction, though that was almost five years ago – really added much in the way of depth or fun to the game. I am also so optimistic as to hope that the community team have finally got its priorities sorted; this update, - which is rooted in the idea of community, is permanent and allows for greater permanence – represents a paradigm shift for them, for they have realised that one-offs do not achieve, in the long run, what every MMO developer wants: a loyal, paying fanbase. Assuming Jagex do not end up messing up this update, though it’s possible they will, then the Clan Camp may well be the most important original update we’ve seen since the Grand Exchange. However, this will never be possible unless the players, too, embrace this change. Judging by the crowds of people at the Clan Camp on every world I’ve visited, it seems they already have.