Some of you may still recall the last article I wrote. It was what I believed to be a quite extensive study of Jagex’s recent actions. It was also, although I tried to remain on an objective point of view, mostly criticizing Jagex for losing the love to their game and being just in it “for the cash.” If I were writing the same article now, there would be a number of new examples to choose from, such as the “Refer-a-friend” programme. But I’m not writing the same article again, as my view of the topic since then has evolved. My last article may have had a lot of people agreeing with it, those were all (obviously) player voices, but this doesn’t mean that the contents were true; merely that it’s a popular opinion. It was an easy solution – Jagex is in it for the cash and they are at fault. But big parts of the article were simplistic and populist, some maybe even untrue (although the article was of course written to the best of my knowledge).
I want to offer a different point of view in this article. There are several reasons for that. One is the recent bot bust that has shown the raw truth of how few real players are left in RuneScape and the highscores update, which conveniently has told us the number of subscribers. Another is having been to Runefest and witnessing the passion of everyone behind the game. The last is probably just a more sophisticated view of the problem that I’ve acquired over recent months. So, let’s tackle the whole issue head on – Investors. It’s easy to say that the whole marketing gimmicks have only started when they were in place, but we have to be careful here. First of all, correlation does not imply causation. We can only speculate how much of a role Investors play in forming RuneScape. On top of that, it may very well be that both Investors and marketing gimmicks are results of a deeper problem.
What is this problem? I believe it’s a lack of new players. Now, I can’t find exact info on the current numbers of RuneScape players (besides unreliable statistics from search engine hits), so the whole next part is practically speculation, but I am presenting my opinion, not a fact. This is a feeling I’ve acquired by reading (between the lines of) posts by Jagex Moderators, talking to them in person, and, simply said, looking at the amount of people playing in free worlds. I believe membership numbers are stagnating, maybe even sinking (as long as the bots are left out of the equation, of course) and I think Jagex is trying to steer the other way before it’s too late. The marketing gimmicks and maybe even selling further shares to investors are part of that. Those are here to stay and I think players will have to accommodate for the sake of the game’s future. Or rather, the least they should do is decide which marketing strategies they can live with and which they cannot. Jagex has decided they need some, and if players cry out at every one of them, the chances of not getting another particularly annoying one like the Refer-a-friend scheme are slim. Give Jagex some leave to do marketing that doesn’t affect you and save your breath for something you have real reasons to be unhappy with.
At the same time, I think Jagex should shift their focus a bit, away from creating incentives to get membership towards actually having a good F2P game. RuneScape is a game that lives from its diversity – most people will be hard-pressed to say what exactly is better about RuneScape than other games. Similarly, I doubt that many people will be ready to start a subscription of a game they hardly know and where even players struggle to say why it’s a good game.
That’s the reason F2P exists. It’s the basic game that’s supposed to make you pay for the expansion (or the demo of the full game if you want to call it that). The problem is that over the years, RuneScape and other MMOs, free ones included, have progressed a lot, yet the F2P portion of RuneScape largely is still the same it was years ago, the only game-changing updates being the return of the wilderness and Dungeoneering. What are the chances someone chooses to play F2P RuneScape over the other free games available? What are the chances that someone will buy the full version of a bad demo, even if people tell him the full version is much better? F2P RuneScape is badly outdated and not really a worthy representation of the things RuneScape has to offer. Just take quests as an example. P2P has tons of quests with diverse storylines, significantly deeper than those of most other MMOs out there. Yet most free quests are ages old, provide no challenges, and have little lore involved. There is so much opportunity here. It’s the same with minigames, skilling activities, and similar – Jagex should be attracting people with F2P and that alone should be able to convince them to get membership instead of hoping someone will play the free version and think P2P is worth it despite their first impression of the game being bad.
Now, I won’t be claiming to be an economics specialist, nor do I have access to the data Jagex has, so maybe there is some justifiable reason for their actions that I can’t see yet. But I can’t stop myself from thinking that their recent course of treating F2P is short-sighted at best. How’s this game supposed to survive if new players are being spirited away with every new move, such as removing the highscores? Some people might say free player should be happy for what they have, but it doesn’t work this way. This is not about what free players do or don’t deserve – it’s a simple fact that RuneScape has to live up to other free games to get new players, and I don’t think that it’s doing that well currently.