The Tip.It Times

Issue 16099gp

An Open Letter to Mr. Mark Gerhard

Written by and edited by Kaida23

Dear Mr. Gerhard,

Perhaps after seeing the great number of players trolling and flaming on the forums, you will suspect this is another article to criticize Jagex's actions regarding the recent changes to the hiscores system. Rather than this, it is a request for you to choose one of two distinct possibilities for the future of RuneScape.

But first, please allow us to introduce ourselves. We are the free players of RuneScape, the ones who have never paid, or are not currently paying, for membership. The reason(s) that we chose to do so are far from uniform. For some of us RuneScape is a game we play only occasionally. Some of us choose not to subscribe to the member's game due to financial constraints, to which today's economy is no exception. For others, our parents did not believe in paying a recurring fee for this game, or we did simply did not want to pay. Still others played on free to play for the challenges it presented and a greater feeling of accomplishment.

Now that you have a brief overview of who we are, we would like to communicate to you an urgent message. Despite the fact that there is no weather in RuneScape, metaphorically it still exists for free players. There are two distinct kinds, the Sun and the North Wind, regarding the approach you choose to encourage us to become paying players. The ancient Greek storyteller Aesop has a fable [2] regarding these objects, which personify the Sun and the North Wind as persuasion and force, respectively. The fable narrates a competition between the two with the goal of determining which is stronger by attempting to make a traveler remove his cloak. While the North Wind howled unsuccessfully until it was out of breath, the Sun shone gently until the traveler shed his cloak due to the heat.

Prior to your leadership, Jagex seemed to prefer the approach of the North Wind, by suffocating us via saturating the free to play game with teaser options, which yielded a message that those features were members-only. On February 1, 2009 [3] you were officially appointed to lead Jagex. From that day, the future of RuneScape for us began to look less bleak. You had reassured us that our demographic was not subjugated to paying players. In 2009 and 2010, you won the Golden Joystick Awards, which are decided by vote, and we provided the votes. Indeed, you made several statements that inspired us with hope:

"We feel both games are substantive in their own right. I want to apologise for habitually over-promoting the benefits of membership to our free players. I strongly believe if you love the free game you will equally love the members’ content and that is sufficient promotion to me. If you can't enjoy the free game in its own right then we're not doing our jobs properly. We will continue to improve the free game and, crucially, make it as fun as possible because we know that this is the way that everyone first discovers RuneScape." [6]

And Jagex proceeded with that plan. The Dungeoneering skill was released and made partially available to us, unlike so many previous members-only skills in previous years. One degree at a time, the forums were made more and more accessible to us. Then there was the issue of reintroducing free trade and the wilderness. After rioting, which subsided and was replaced by pleading and begging, you introduced a referendum and implemented it according to the final results (over 90% voted "yes" [7]). For over six months, although we witnessed an infestation of bots, you taught us a valuable lesson that some intervention would be necessary. Over the last month we have seen an overwhelming number of positive updates. There was an announcement about an anti-botting measure, followed by operation "ClusterFlutter." Substantial efforts toward removing dicing were made. Yet it feels as if these updates have been negated.

This is due to some of the recent updates concerning free to play. Soon after operation CF, many free to play worlds were removed, including the world for 1000 and higher skill total. Although an explanation was provided that this world was under capacity, meaning it was on the chopping block, so are many of the remaining worlds. But we are not asking for this update to be reversed or a total level world reinstated.

Most recently, a substantial amount of us and even our paying friends felt alienated due to the removal of hiscores for free players. The claim in the recent FAQ [4] was "99.97% of all bots were F2P." However, economics seems to argue differently. Consider an item which has always been for paying players only, to which no free to play item is even close: raw sharks. Based on the claim that most bots were free to play, the impact should be absolutely minimal on the pay to play game. Can the removal of 0.03% of the total botting we saw result in the kind of behavior seen below?

Sharks GE Trend
Raw sharks, an item exclusively for paying players which is a popular choice for training cooking. What explains the sudden upward trend?
Image copyright © 1999 - 2011 Jagex Ltd and used under Fair Use. Click image to enlarge.

As you can probably tell or have been told, Mr. Gerhard, we are angry now, plastering the forums with derogatory images and cartoons of you. But the operative word, Mr. Gerhard, is "now." Although some of us have rashly decided to be angry, we will regret that decision and those feelings will soon subside. Removing the hiscores is not a crippling blow to free to play. We will digest this eventually, and we are not asking for you return hiscores to free players. The current series of post-"ClusterFlutterer" updates are equivalent to heaping more hay on a camel's back, and the last straw has not yet been reached.

What we would like is for you to consider the trajectory of RuneScape. The possibilities are a sharp bifurcation. Jagex can try to maximize its income by cornering free players to encourage they to pay for membership, or it can revert to the behavior we have seen over the last two years, aside from the latter half of 2011. Mr. Gerhard, according to your own words, you "strongly believe if you love the free game you will equally love the members’ content and that is sufficient promotion to [you]" [3]. This is the approach of the Sun in Aesop's fable, with the action of opening one's wallet analogous to the traveler removing his cloak. However, removing content from the free game casts a shadow of doubt on these words. We ask you if you still stand by those words.

Reading the recently released FAQ, the answer does not seem to be in the affirmative. The response to one of the questions you pose regarding the remaining lifetime of the free game beings "We don’t need to recall all of the free benefits, do we?" [4]. While it is true that RuneScape has many free benefits, we urge you, Mr. Gerhard, not to be lulled into complacency. The Golden Joystick Awards and the Guinness World Record for the largest MMPORG, which is currently held by Jagex, are prestigious honors, and RuneScape is not the only competitor on the stage. Other games will begin to create more free content with the intent of earning those awards themselves, and if Jagex continues to cut free content, it is reasonable to assume at some point that the games will swap places. You have described the free to play community as "bustling" [5]; do you want it to remain this way?

Lastly, Mr. Gerhard, we are not leveraging this in any way as a threat. We are not demanding the return of any specific update. We have had a great decade enjoying your game and are just as eager for the next. But simultaneously, we are not incapable of moving on. We are clinging onto the small remaining sliver of hope that RuneScape and Jagex are not just about the money, but we don't know how much longer we can hold on. Quotes like the answers in your FAQ serve only to reinforce this notion and dissipate this hope. And once it is gone, our numbers will rapidly dwindle and we will be scattered like dandelion seeds in the wind. In your FAQ, there is also the implication that all free players who are not botting are considered "dormant." Through more updates and discouragement, this can be made a self-fulfilling prophecy. There is nothing wrong with this, Mr. Gerhard.

You are the only one who can determine which of the two eventual fates that the free to play community can take: restoration or non-existence.

We're waiting. Choose one.

Yours truly,

7,500,000 active free players [1]

[1] Most Popular Free MMORPGs. MMO Hut, n.d. Web. 23 November 2001.
[2] Aesop. “The North Wind and the Sun.” N.p., n.d. Web. 20 November 2011.
[3] “Mark Gerhard.” RuneScape Wiki, n.d. Web. 20 November 2011.
[4] Mod Emilee. “Hi-score Changes – FAQ.” Jagex, 17 November 2011. Web. 20 November 2011.
[5] Mod MMG. “Anti-Gold-Farming Measures.” Jagex, 22 November 2011. Web. 22 November 2011.
[6] Mod MMG. “The Future of RuneScape.” Jagex, 9 February 2010. Web. 20 November 2011.
[7] “Wilderness and Free Trade Vote.” RuneScape Wiki, n.d. Web. 20 November 2011.

Do you have any thoughts or comments about this week's articles? Want to discuss these articles with your fellow RuneScapers? We invite you to discuss them in this forum topic.

Tags: Current Events F2P Jagex

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