The Tip.It Times

Issue 14299gp

The Impossible Balance

Written by and edited by Kaida23

The art of Jagex-bashing is a longstanding tradition in RS. Everybody is frustrated by Jagex, for one reason or another; there is no player who does not have a mental list of demands for them, be it that they want a certain feature implemented, or removed, or even that they want greater ‘transparency’. Of course, there are the mad ones who present Jagex as a villain, callously taking money from innocent players and whatever else they believe. Most straight thinking people dismiss these conspiracy theorists, and rightly so. Nevertheless, I feel that more of us need to acknowledge the difficult – nay, impossible – balancing act of being Jagex.

“Vox populi, vox dei”, the old proverb goes – “the voice of the people is the voice of God”. If only that were so, then the world would be a better place. I am glad, too, that Jagex has always known this to be a falsification, and as such they don’t often cave to player demands. The only time they did – the free trade/PVP wilderness referendum – has been a total disaster. Allow me to explain exactly why.

On the issue of free trade (and PVP wilderness, but to a lesser extent), there was a large grassroots movement on the RS Official Forums and elsewhere. Many players signed these petitions, begging for free trade. Over the course of three years they grew in size and, in the end, Jagex capitulated to the pressure and decided to give the community a referendum.

Many have since criticised the referendum for giving an “all or nothing” choice to the player community, but I do not think this was some sort of Jagex trick, as many seem to enjoy claiming. Jagex was not being deceitful; it was trying to kill two birds with one stone. Even this attempt to placate two groups simultaneously in the referendum has blown up in their face, it seems.

But the disaster that was this referendum does not end there. Once polling ended, it transpired that 91% (of millions) voted ‘Yes’ (aka for the return of these features), 7% ‘No’ and 2% ‘Don’t Care’. It seemed like a wonderful victory for the players; their wishes had finally been granted. Personally, I was quite sceptical that this mood would last and, rest assured, it didn’t.

On 1 February, the features in the referendum were introduced. Almost at once, the problems began, and the ranting quickly followed. I’ve always been sceptical of rants – which seem to be monopolised by a few vocal people with nothing positive to say –, but the rants associated with this update I hold in utter contempt. As usual, a well meaning update demanded and voted for by the players had become a negative thing.

People complained of the economic effects of free trade and no price limits. People complained that they wanted PVP worlds back. People complained about the return of botting, gold farming, and other such malpractices. Today, all these months on, they still do.

It exasperates me no end. For, not only did these people vote for these updates anyway (I do not accept that all of the people complaining come from the 7% ‘No’ demographic), these were not even new updates; they were not a step forwards, but a regression, and as such great many of us were – are – able to remember what the game was like in ’07 and before, when the features in the referendum were last a part of the game.

Unfortunately, many people’s vision was blurred by nostalgia; they remembered only the good of these features, whilst ignoring or forgetting altogether the associated problems. The world viewed through rose tinted spectacles is always entirely different from reality, and in the excitement of the referendum many forgot that and voted in the absence of logic.

These people, already disillusioned with their choice, make excuses no end. They claim the referendum was unfair; “I wanted free trade, but not PVP wildy” is a common claim. But, the fact is these excuses are paltry; if you voted a certain way, the onus for your choice is on you, irrespective of the wording or content of the referendum. Any error of judgement is, too, the fault of the voter, not Jagex. To try and claim otherwise is irrefutably a false claim.

Similarly, anyone gullible enough to believe that Jagex had some sort of comprehensive strategy to defeat bots – as Jagex did, at one point, claim – is the same sort of moron who gets ripped off under free trade. Botting software is not static; it is always changing, and claiming to have a single, all inclusive solution is ridiculous. Jagex shouldn’t have made such a claim, nor should anyone have believed it.

As such, there is already a counter-movement that wants a reversal of the regression. I personally think that the problems that have emerged as a result of free trade and so on are no big shakes. Furthermore, it is imperative that Jagex ends the debate on the topic with the referendum; if Jagex reverts back once more, we’ll doubtless become trapped in an endless cycle of imposing then abolishing trade limits.

This is the first impossible factor Jagex has to try and balance, ‘player opinion’. In my mind, listening to the user base is futile, because they are – as a whole, not necessarily each individual – fickle and forgetful; they demand a solution to botting, Jagex bring one in, and then they complain about it, so Jagex abolish it, and then they want it back. Thus, the input of players is virtually useless in the ongoing cycle of MMO development.

But at the same time, Jagex is making a game for the players, and so they must always have the interests of the players at the forefront of their developmental philosophy. If they adopt a blasé approach, with little consideration for the players, then clearly players are going to rant more and will subsequently quit. The balance between doing what’s best for the players and not bowing to their fickle demands is a delicate one, and I believe only one approach works: going forwards, not backwards. By this, I mean going ahead with new features and adding things, rather than removing them. Once the process of removing things begins, players try to influence it, and mistakes are invariably made.

There exists, also, a second factor that needs balancing, and that factor is pace. It goes without saying that RS has always and will always be changing. For an MMO, change is imperative to its survival; if not, things soon become stale and valuable subscribers are lost. But changes always run a risk.

First and foremost, change needs to happen at a rate that users do not perceive to be too fast; if it occurs at too fast a rate, players begin to feel alienated by the game and the developer. Similarly, if change occurs at a rate these users perceive as being too slow, they feel that the game is stagnating and lose interest.

A definitive solution to this is far more difficult to find, because the right rate of change varies from game to game and in the eyes of each individual. In a sense, this is totally impossible to balance because of this, but getting it wrong has far fewer consequences; more people will leave because they dislike updates being made than because they are dissatisfied with the pace at which they are being made.

I know I am, at times, a fairly harsh critic of Jagex, but even I acknowledge the difficulties they face in balancing the impossible. The purpose of this article has been primarily to highlight this to my fellow Jagex critics; by acknowledging the realities and problems faced by Jagex, it turns us from useless critics into useful ones. The more of us that are useful to Jagex in our criticism, the more they might just listen. If, on the other hand, Jagex critics continue to be a group of largely venomous and delusional creatures, can we honestly blame them for ignoring us?

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