Within our game, nostalgia is a powerful force. It is what drove a large group of players on a long and tireless campaign which culminated in the return of PVP Wilderness and free trade after a three year absence. For some, nostalgia had clouded their memory to the extent that, now they’ve achieved their goal, they’re disillusioned with the reality of it.
Yet some aspects of our game which we’ve lost to Jagex’s whims have been far less controversial, and yet they top my list of ‘Things I Miss’. Right at the top of this list is Tutorial Island, followed by the Gnomecopter Tours. The recent reintroduction of PVP Wilderness and free trade, and the removal of price limits on the Grand Exchange, have all been highly divisive. Reintroducing either of these two features would be significantly less so.
According to my research, Tutorial Island was introduced in 2002. Indeed, for a long time I always thought of it as something quintessential to the patchwork of the game, one of its few aspects that many players, in their unique experiences of the game, would have in common. True, the same applies to Unstable Foundations to an extent, but I have never personally heard this new tutorial discussed by those who’ve done it with the same affinity. It is, in an attempt to make the Tutorial stage more interesting to players, much like a quest in terms of structure, yet in doing so I feel it has become less memorable. Indeed, I made an account, just after the update of September 2009 which rendered Tutorial Island obsolete, and found that this new system had its pros and cons; it was more engaging for a new player, but it also utilised fewer skills – I imagine something the Lumbridge Sage has compensated for, though I can’t say I’ve ever spoken to him.
I am not so clouded by nostalgia as to believe that Tutorial Island should be reintroduced as the starting point for new players, nor do I truly believe that many judge an MMO – or any game for that matter – purely on its tutorial. But something needs to be done with that large mass of land on the World Map, just south of Lumbridge, which is inaccessible to all, lingering like a bad odour. Jagex have two options; remove it, or open it up. Seeing as a (likely) majority of the playerbase will remember starting their playing career on Tutorial Island, it makes sense that Jagex should simply open it up – old NPCs and all – and make it accessible via some means, e.g. teleport, boat connection.
It may sound pointless, and to all extents and purposes it is, but there are a number of potential benefits from doing so (and restoring the island will take little in the way of development); brand new quest lines could open up, based around the former instructors, for example, something which would prevent Jagex from having to add to existing quest series’ without the need for new NPCs, as most original quests often have. Similarly, the dungeon in which combat used to be taught could be expanded indefinitely; perhaps a new boss monster or two could even be added? The possibilities, though not endless, are too great from the developers’ perspective to be simply ignored. And, of course, many players will be able to indulge fond memories of a bygone epoch in the game, back when the game was simpler. As a potential update, it would be easy to implement, could yield great benefits so far as extending the shelf life of the game is concerned, and is unlikely to face much in the way of criticism (compared to other recent updates at least).
When it comes to Gnomecopter Tours, I believe that Jagex shot itself in the foot when they were removed after just a year. After all, these glimpses into the members’ game could have been brilliant forms of promotion of the game to F2P players. Admittedly, they were quite dry and uninteresting after a couple of rides – hence the quick cessation of the initial fervour surrounding their release –, but removing them was by no means a solution.
The official reason for removing the Gnomecopter Tours because Jagex decided it didn’t want to advertise members’ content on F2P worlds in general, and the tours conflicted with their new policy. Why not? It’s a perfect way of getting players to subscribe by showing them what they’re missing out on; maybe not all will be swayed by it, but certainly it will attract a few, and the likeliness of a new player, aged on average between eight and fourteen, deciding not to subscribe on some sort of moral grounding relating to the way they’re advertising this content is remote indeed. I see no reason why it wouldn’t be a win/win situation.
If anything, Jagex did too little to exploit this means of internal advertising. The interactions between the NPCs (modelled on players) in the tours was limited and if greater effort had been put into making them interesting and engaging, showing the places to be vibrant, or even taking the Gnomecopters across real players in buzzing places such as the Catherby fishing spots or East Ardougne market (though some significant changes to F2P servers would admittedly be necessary), then it is likely far more people would want a subscription. After all, what F2P player, having seen an argument between thirty people fishing with their hands, wouldn’t want to subscribe?
Instead of utilising and expanding upon the potential of this feature, Jagex decided to remove the Gnomecopter Tours before realising their full potential. If they’d done something better with that little field north of Lumbridge, I would not deride them for it. But what did they do with it? They put some cows there, of course, and a caravan replacing the general store and bank features that were present with the Gnomecopters; arguably, these were of less importance than the ’tours, and really this Beefy Bill character was a shoddy replacement. Oh, and there’s a gnome lingering there, serving as a bitter reminder of what once was there. Ironically, his examine info says, ‘A gnome who’s supposed to be cleaning up a mess’, implying the Gnomecopter Tours were a mistake. To my mind, the only ‘mess’ is what has replaced them.
Perhaps I should be a little less demanding of Jagex; they’re probably busy doing something new and exciting for people to moan about, only for the moaning to continue when they remove it. In many senses, it doesn’t seem Jagex can win, especially in the past few years. Nevertheless, some of their actions strike me as so out of touch – the removal, rather than expansion, of the Gnomecopter Tours being a prime example – with what may actually help their cause, and, in other cases, so obviously avenues for expansion – such as the redundant Tutorial Island – at a time when the world map is becoming increasingly full; the opportunities for dungeons and whole new quest series’ is, if not huge, still there; I, for example, particularly like the Plague quest series, but the storyline will have to end somewhere. The backdrop of familiar NPCs only makes it more likely the reception to such a change would be warm. There are, of course, other things Jagex could do to increase the game’s longevity – areas such as the Eastern Lands and Prifdinnas have yet to be revealed – but these, too, are finite in their scope. For the time being, I see no reason not to give players access to a slightly revamped Tutorial Island – it’s simple and I believe it will pay dividends for Jagex in their perpetual struggle to keep the game fresh and new. As for the Gnomecopter Tours, they, with a little work, could have been very effective forms of in-game advertising to F2P players, if only Jagex had been a little more pragmatic and long-sighted. On the other hand, there’s always the chance that I, like those who demanded the return of PVP Wilderness and free trade, have had my judgement clouded by nostalgia and, who knows, maybe Jagex implementing my proposals might cause more problems than they solve?