I had an odd realization a while ago: the Slayer skill is almost seven years old. While that realization might not seem that significant, it really drove home the point of how truly ancient RuneScape is. It has been around for over ten years now, and it's showing absolutely no signs of slowing down. It's one of those rare internet phenomena that started out as a simple project with no more than a handful of people working on it, and grew into something absolutely massive.
I think it's fair to say that at this point, RuneScape is the oldest active MMORPG. Off the top of my head, only Eve Online comes even close in terms of age, and it's hard to think of more than a handful of MMO titles that have a lifespan of more than five years. Of course, RuneScape's development cycle is completely different from the majority of all MMORPG titles. Whereas most MMORPGs are developed by large teams with a multi-million dollar budget, RuneScape has grown from a simple experiment in Java to the second largest MMORPG active today.
The development of new content doesn't end when the games hit the shelves. Most MMORPGs that survive long enough to grow beyond their initial content through the release of expansion packs or other updates. These packs, like the original games, generally take months, if not years, to develop, and have a price on top of the price for purchasing the original game and subscription. Furthermore, these expansions generally focus entirely on creating new end-game content. Meanwhile, Jagex releases updates almost constantly, completely free of charge.
These updates aren't just focused on increasing the level cap and adding new content for players who have already reached the highest possible level. While an update like the Jadinko lair is obviously intended for higher level players, Jagex also frequently releases updates that are intended for lower level players. Of course, with the relatively heavy focus on non-combat skills, and the relatively steep experience curve, it takes RuneScape players much longer to reach the highest possible level, so it makes sense to release updates for players of all levels.
However, frequent free updates aren't the only reason RuneScape has been so successful. To understand why RuneScape isn't just alive but also growing, you have to realize that while the game itself is very old, a very small percentage of its players have actually played the game for all of those ten years. Where most MMORPGs offer very limited free trials and actually require you to purchase the game on top of the monthly subscription fee, RuneScape has been designed to be accessible.
A new player can stumble across a banner advertising the game on any random website and immediately start playing without having to download multiple gigabytes or pulling out their credit card, and even though the free to play parts of RuneScape are relatively limited, they still offer weeks, if not months worth of content, more than enough to draw in a new player, and certainly more than most MMORPGs offer in their free trials. On top of that, Jagex is constantly re-evaluating the introductionary content of the game, making sure that it's optimized to draw in new players and keep them playing long enough to convince them to pay for the complete RuneScape experience.
The fact that Runescape is so accessible also extends to players who have previously quit the game, as it's quite easy to get back in even after having quit for years. All it takes for players to get back in is to go to Runescape.com and log into the game. These days, all that people need to start being a P2P player (again) in most countries is a working cell phone. I personally started playing Runescape late in 2001, but I've started and stopped playing at least half a dozen times. Jagex wouldn't have had nearly as much of my money if I couldn't buy a prepaid card at the gas station within spitting distance of my house.
All in all, RunScape looks set to survive another ten years. Where these days many MMORPGs developed with more manpower and a larger budget rarely survive past their initial release cycle, RunScape shows no signs of its growth faltering. And while it might not be as good at keeping players around for very long as other MMORPGs may be, it's very good at getting them hooked, and bringing them back after they've quit. Jagex is constantly working to not only add new content for existing players, but also to make the game more accessible for the constant stream of new players that are required to keep the game profitable. Although most of us obvioulsy won't be around to play the game in ten years, I have very little doubt the game itself will still be here.