That the last Editorial of the year should also be on Christmas Day presents a little dilemma of the either/or variety: should one focus on the year just gone, or Christmas itself? Such a question is up there with ‘Is there a God?’ in terms of the difficulty in finding a concrete answer. In this impossible situation, I took a leap of faith and opted for a retrospective.
My main reason for choosing to write such an article is because 2011 has been a remarkable year, the sort that come about only every once in a while. It has been characterised by opposites; rage punctuated by elation, failures interrupted by great successes. The self-prescribed ‘Year of the Clan’ will, I am sure, be remembered for far more than its clans alone. Our gander back through this year shall be thematic, rather than chronological, and as such I feel it best we begin with the face of 2011, and move through ‘highlights’ – I use the term ambiguously – in a chaotic manner. For the sake of concision, which is not my forte, I am afraid I have made omissions of entire aspects of the year.
I: ‘Year of the Clan’
The Year of the Clan is perhaps one of the few major events of the year that a great many people are ambivalent towards. Two major updates are associated with the moniker: April’s ‘Clan Camp’, and July’s ‘Clan Citadels’. The former update saw the introduction of Rated Clan Wars, the personalised clan vexillum, and an overhaul of the Clan Chat system, while the latter created the Clan Citadel.
Though I don’t think anyone could be said to have any particular grudge against the Year of the Clan updates, at least not in the way that they do other aspects of 2011, the response has largely been one of apathy towards these updates: the general consensus in my experience is that they were both nice ideas that could have been improved upon.
One of Tip.It’s top clan figures, Ts_Stormrage, who leads the Tal Shiar Alliance, pointed out to me that the Clan Camp was “the thing that literally put them on the map”, but believes that, on balance, that “the only improvement with the Clan Camp was the separation of Friends and Clan Chat”, though also noting that the facilities offered at the Camp are “perhaps useful for the new start-up clan”.
While the Camp may be a mixed bag, the Citadel is widely derided as cosmetic and pointless update, and perhaps casts more of a shadow over the Year of the Clan project. As Ts_Stormrage puts it, “Citadels are now little more than a waste of space… nothing up there motivates you to keep coming back.” This is an opinion shared by one of our Clan Mods, The_Grinch, who describes Citadels as “just a project that could have been so much more”, and informs me that “rarely does any clan even use Citadels anymore”. Looking at these comments on Citadels, which extend far beyond these two individuals, what is striking is that there is so much room for improvement; that Citadels, now that they are a feature of the game, do indeed have some potential if they were overhauled. Their insignificance at present boils down to their lack of purpose.
Overall, then, did 2011 succeed in being an effective Year of the Clan? Once again, comments made by Ts_Stormrage reflect very much the overall feeling about Clans: “clan membership on the whole is up… But I would never in my life call this the Year of the Clan… [it] is just too insignificant a push”. The_Grinch offers a similar view. “I guess the only real positive aspect was Clan Chats… Other than that it hasn’t had a major impact.” The verdict on the Year of the Clan can be surmised as follows: although it has been ever so slightly positive, the overall result has been rather intangible, and in reality the ‘Year of the Clan’ moniker is perhaps an overstatement. That the Year of the Clan did not live up to its full potential will not, however, be a defining feature of 2011 in most people’s memory.
II: The Infamous Referendum
Strictly speaking, the Free Trade and PVP Wilderness referendum belongs to 2010, insofar as it was conceived and opened in 2010. But it was in 2011 that it closed, and, more importantly, it was in 2011 that its impact was felt. As far as concerns 2011, then, much of the year’s angst, and much of its joy too, can be traced back to this referendum.
One of the most common criticisms of the referendum is one that I cannot agree with; namely, that the bundling together of two different causes left many feeling hard done-by, complaining that they wanted one but not the other. This may have been the case, but for the most part such an opinion arose in the wake of the referendum’s implementation. If one was genuinely of the opinion that, for the sake of argument, free trade was bad, but desperately wanted to see the F2P wilderness returned, then an honest person would abstain from voting and mount some form of campaign to see the referendum revised. That there was no such campaign of note suggests to me that, if there was one, it did not receive widespread support, and most of the complaints have been made about the referendum in retrospect – ie, after having voted – thereby reducing the validity of such a complaint.
Instead, the real problem of the referendum was that it was promoted using the ostensible claim that anti-macro software had been developed beforehand, so as to assure players that the bots that had led to the imposition of trade limits would not return. If this did turn out to be something more than a shallow lie, then the software developed would prove to be inadequate, as the events of the months to come would prove.
The referendum was passed with an enormous majority, millions voting in favour of the proposed changes. For that brief period in January, it seemed a sparkling success. One might reasonably say that the referendum in itself was a success. But its real impact on 2011 came after the very changes it had proposed were implemented in February. The referendum was without a doubt the catalyst for much of the year’s defining events.
III: Bots and their Nuke
As anyone acquainted with RS will know, the inevitable result of the referendum was the return of bots en masse. Jagex simply could not cope with an influx on such a scale. Both because they were taken for fools by Jagex and because of the obtrusive nature of bots for those playing the game, the playerbase became enraged like nothing I, in my six years of RS, have ever seen the like of before.
It seems reasonable to me that the period spanning February through October should be labelled the ‘Epoch of Rage’. If nothing else, it was a period characterised by intense rage in large parts of the community. Every week, day, and hour, in an RS-related forum somewhere, one could find somebody throwing in the towel and declaring, ‘It’s over!’ in a rather hyperbolic manner.
This intense emotion soon overflowed into other actions besides simply rage quitting. Those that stayed proved equally problematic. In this eight month period, there were a great many spamming riots, peaking in the summer, on both the RSOF and in-game. People became vehement in their expressed hatred of Jagex, and, when their mad rants were censored – posts hidden, threads locked, etc – there came the rather hyperbolic accusations of ‘oppression’ and bizarre comparisons of Jagex to the Soviet Union. Though amusing at first, the rather shrill and undignified manner of complaining on the whole soon turned into an annoyance for many.
In October, the Epoch of Rage came to an abrupt end. It was called the ‘Bot Nuke’, and in one fell swoop Jagex implemented an update that eliminated an estimated 98% of bots in the game, banning some 1.5 million accounts in the process. As one would expect, the number of players online dropped massively; a day after the nuke there were 80,000 or so online, compared with 220,000 just beforehand. Jagex released a string of bonus celebrations across the week of the update. The dramatic countdown did indeed yield dramatic results, and with the bots ‘nuked’, the emotional state of the playerbase quickly abated, followed by a collective sigh of relief.
IV: Capitalism to the Fore
Moving on, another of the major themes of 2011 is what can broadly be termed ‘capitalism’. In particular, the phrase refers to Vanity Items, the Members’ Loyalty Programme, and the Refer a Friend Programme. All three have been highly divisive among players, not least because all three of the above were conceived during the Epoch of Rage.
That the Epoch of Rage was raging when these updates came into existence is essential to understanding quite how badly timed they were. The updates themselves were quite clearly aimed at raising revenues for Jagex’s owners for the past year, an assortment of private equity firms, in a cheap and cheerful manner. But, as updates go, they were really quite blatantly cheap, and not so much cheerful as rather pathetic: the vanity items serve no purpose, the loyalty programme started all members from the same blank slate of accumulated membership – thus rewarding only future loyalty – as well as offering a mixed bag of rewards, while the referral programme is simply a poorly disguised form of RWT. Add into these updates the additional fact that bots were artificially raising the game’s playing statistics, and that for a long period it seemed as though nothing was being done, and it’s easy to see why people would bemoan ‘capitalistic’ practices.
It is quite clear that Jagex, now more than ever, need to raise revenues, and nobody bemoans them for that. As I have said time and time again, however, is that the best way to sell an MMO is to make an update that is substantial, that will keep people playing and paying without the need for such gimmicks. This is not to say that these things are harmful per se, but that they give the impression of being last-ditch updates, and people who enjoy playing RS in particular, those who do not need auras to convince them to pay, are worried by such signs.
V: Privatising Scores
At this point it is clear that I have failed in my goal of achieving concision. Nevertheless, I wish to say very little on this subject, if only because it is fresh in the minds of most. The removal of free players from the hiscores on 22 November 2011 was the last controversial update of the year. Officially, it was implemented in order to remove inactive accounts from the list.
Much of the controversy over this change focuses on the age old debate of whether or not the free game is a demo or a game in itself. Those who argue that it is or should be a demo point out that it remains one of the largest demos on any MMO, and one that offers no time limit for players, so that the notion of a free player exists as it does. The low cost of membership is used by this side to justify anyone who wishes to continue simply subscribing. The opposing argument is that the free players are so numerous – something which has enabled Jagex to win two Golden Joysticks – that they deserve to be recognised as ‘players’ in their own right. They also argue that, for a member who quits, their absence should not mean their negation and disappearance from hiscores.
The issue is really only pertinent for the F2P community, but nevertheless it does suggest a further memberisation of the game (a trend of recent times not restricted to 2011, and thus not deserving of further mention here). So soon after their Bot Nuke success, Jagex found a new way to infuriate players by removing F2P hiscores, though the absence of bots meant that the backlash was less emotional and more reasoned.
VI: Martyrs as Symbols of an Epoch
This final section is devoted to ‘martyrdom’, which is perhaps the only defining aspect of 2011 which is not an update of Jagex’s, or, as was the case of bots, has been directly caused by Jagex. Instead, Jagex’s influence on the new phenomenon of martyrdom has been indirect.
‘Martyrdom’ is my slightly tongue-in-cheek name for a certain type of Player Moderator which has emerged as a by-product of the aforementioned emotional nature of 2011. The first martyr was Jiblix, who in August made a principled stand against bots with his ‘Is this the good deal?’ video, in a seeming attempt to draw attention to bots in light of the Golden Joysticks, losing his Player and Forum Moderatorship as a result. A while later, the less well known Ken Genosis similarly lost his silver crown after ‘speaking out’ over the removal of F2P hiscores in November on the RSOF.
For any Player Mod seeking a little more clout among the playerbase during a period of rage, such as the era of bots or the aftermath of the hiscores changes, sacrificing one’s crown in return for martyr status is a sure fire means of doing so. The players, when angry, are relentless in their thirst for a weapon against the tyrannical overlords. Martyrs provide them with figureheads; the martyr is thus born to quench the emotional thirst of the players.
This is not to say that the martyrs themselves are so spontaneously emotional. Jiblix’s renowned video was one of at least three made since March on the same topic; this is not to say that martyrdom was his intention, especially as it began with him, but merely means that his video making was not some outpouring of emotion so much as a campaign for awareness. The consequence of this campaign was, however, martyrdom, and Jiblix’s interview with us contains the sort of content that many players during the Epoch of Rage wanted to see – he was humble and voiced the same concerns they had. Jiblix cemented his legacy in September, when he staged an elaborate leaving party. Jiblix’s allusions to the impending Golden Joystick Awards in his aforementioned third video made him the blatant mouthpiece of anti-Jagex feeling, his actions and alleged principles made him in the eyes of many the antithesis of Jagex, and his dismissal allowed him to be portrayed as a victim. That Ken Genosis made less of an impact by far can be explained thus: first, because the cause he picked up on was far less controversial; second, because he was not the original martyr, but a less creative Jiblix imitator; and third, because the Epoch of Rage had largely died down. If Jiblix’s video caused an uncontrollable wildfire, Ken Genosis’ thread was but a little smouldering woodheap.
My main reason for paying such attention to the martyrs is that they so painfully encapsulate the rather unfortunate essence of most of 2011: anger. At the same time, however, the comparison of Jiblix and Ken Genosis serves to illustrate that the anger has largely dissipated.
There is no doubt in my mind that 2011 has been Jagex’s annus horribilis. The sheer size and scope of the mistakes far outweigh their benefits, and the rectification of many of these mistakes will never reverse the irreparable damage done to Jagex’s profile. Yet I retain hope that the future will be better. There remains a lot of scope for expansion in RS, and now might be the time to rejuvenate it with something spectacular – who does not long to see Prifddinas or the Eastern Lands at long last? Furthermore it would be hard for Jagex to outdo or even match the mistakes made in 2011, all but assuring me that 2012 will be a better year we can all look forward to in the hope of seeing something truly substantial released.
All that remains is that I ask for forgiveness for rambling so and, without further ado, wish all of you a merry festive period and many happy returns for 2012 and beyond.