Naturally, when someone hears the word Jagex or when the company is mentioned in an article, it's always associated with "developers of RuneScape, one of the world's largest free-to-play MMORPGs." But what will we say about Jagex in the future? Will the company ever become known for something other than RuneScape?
Since RuneScape's release, Jagex has dipped its toes in a variety of new game genres. They have developed casual mini-games, published and produced massively multiplayer online real-time strategy games (MMORTS), published a browser-based flash MMORPG, published several mobile games, developed an HTML-based MMORTS, and have two MMORPGs in development. Will Jagex continue to develop and publish a little bit of everything, or will they finally settle down with one genre? Do they aim to create games for kids or young adults? What are Jagex's goals for the future?
From my observations, Jagex has taken on several new projects, but so far they have not been hugely successful (at least not to the same scale as RuneScape) and have not particularly appealed to my own gaming interests. Are these the kinds of games that Jagex will continue to develop and publish? A bunch of games that are okay but not particularly amazing? Or will some of their more eye-catching games currently in development "save" them and become the RuneScapes of the future?
Let's take a look at some of their recent post-RuneScape games…
FunOrb was launched on February 27th, 2008 as a site hosting casual mini-games. This site wasn't anything groundbreaking. We've all heard of or used casual gaming sites like MiniClip or Addicting Games or now even Facebook. FunOrb was never destined to be amazing but after a while, it faded away entirely. Other than two website maintenance notices, the last noted game updates are from September 2010. At least on the outside, it looks like an abandoned project.
Jagex then branched out a little bit more with War of Legends. This became Jagex's first externally-developed game. It is an MMORTS, is not written in Java, and is Jagex's first game with microtransactions. Players can purchase in-game items with "JCredits," which are bought with real money.
Next there's Herotopia. This is a browser-based flash MMORPG published (but not developed) by Jagex in May 2011. But what's most interesting to me is that it is deliberately aimed at very young kids. According to Gamers Intuition, Herotopia is "an exploratory and educational adventure aimed at children 6 and up." While RuneScape, FunOrb, and War of Legends weren't necessarily developed for adults, they weren't deliberately created for young kids either.
Skipping a few mobile games, we now arrive at 8Realms. This game is an HTML-based empire building strategy game developed by Jagex and released for closed beta in May 2011. While I have heard it is a decent enough game, it once again is nothing special. Empire building games are far from unique or revolutionary and Jagex certainly won't be referenced as, "developers of 8Realms, the world's most popular free-to-play MMORTS."
So where does this leave Jagex? So far they have one massively popular and successful game under their belt and a handful of other games that are nothing too special. Jagex has two more chances to prove that it can release another hugely successful or groundbreaking game: Stellar Dawn and Transformers Universe.
Stellar Dawn originally began as MechScape. In 2004 Andrew asked other Jagex employees, "If we could make RuneScape all over again, what would we do differently?" This question set the stage for the development of MechScape, a sci-fi MMO. In 2009 they nearly had a final product and began releasing it to Jagex employees to test the game - not just for bugs but to get a sense of the gameplay, mechanics, and story. Unfortunately the game did not seem to turn out as good as they had originally hoped. They wanted an epic new game that could match up to the success of RuneScape and they didn't have it. So the game was scratched and the remains provided the platform for Stellar Dawn.
Jagex has been keeping everything Stellar Dawn on the down low. Other than what little information is available on the official website, we know next to nothing about the actual game. It will be a sci-fi MMORPG set in an alien star system. It is aimed at a more mature audience than RuneScape but is still written in Java and will be played directly in the browser.
As best we can tell, it will be a sci-fi version of RuneScape, although this is more heavily implied in the original game MechScape (considering the name) than Stellar Dawn. Given RuneScape's success, this could make Stellar Dawn a hit… but if it's too similar to RuneScape and is a clone of the mechanics with a different story it could turn into another flop. Will it just be known as RuneScape's sister game? Or could this upcoming MMORPG have enough power and weight to stand on its own?
Finally, we are left with Transformers Universe. In March 2011 Jagex announced that they will be partnering with Hasbro to develop a team-based Transformers MMORPG. We have been given a bit more information about Transformers Universe than Stellar Dawn, probably because it's based on a story and universe that is already so well known and popular that it provides a marketing opportunity.
Transformers Universe is expected to launch in 2012. Unlike RuneScape, players will be able to choose a class: Autobot or Decepticon. The game will be a Java-based browser game and will use a more advanced version of the RuneScape engine.
If anything, there is one reoccurring theme throughout Jagex's games: accessibility. Although their target audiences and genres differ, the fact that they want to reach as many people as possible remains the same. We don't see Jagex diving into the world of hardcore client-based MMOs (such as World of Warcraft, Rift, Lord of the Rings Online, and Star Wars: The Old Republic). Jagex's games can, for the most part, be played anytime, anywhere, and with the bare minimum system requirements. They develop games that can be played right in the browser (whether it's a Java game, Flash game, or HTML game), or mobile games that can be played on phones or tablets.
The success or failure of Stellar Dawn and Transformers Universe will define the future of Jagex as a gaming company and its reputation in the industry. RuneScape's incredible success as the world's largest free-to-play MMORPG has helped Jagex stand out among other gaming companies. But RuneScape will not survive forever and Jagex will need another highly successful game if they want to continue to stand out in the industry instead of becoming "just another gaming company."
Transformers will be Jagex's best opportunity to stabilize their place in the gaming industry. The problem with Stellar Dawn is that no matter now good they make it, its popularity will initially largely depend on ex or current RuneScape players trying out a new game by Jagex. The story is completely unique, which means there is not already a fan base for the game. The game may grow in popularity over time, but it will have to start from the ground up, initially feeding off of RuneScape's fan base.
Transformers, on the other hand, is based on a story and franchise that already exists. Even if the gameplay isn't groundbreaking, people will still try out the game because they are fans of the story, movies, comic books, or toys. In addition to RuneScape fans who might be inclined to try out Jagex's new MMO, there is an entire community of Transformers fans just waiting for the next Transformers product.
Having such a popular IP creates huge marketing opportunities for Jagex, which they have already begun to take advantage of. Jagex has been to various gaming conventions including BotCon and Gamescom to generate hype for their Transformers game. Stellar Dawn, on the other hand, has remained dead silent ever since the official website launched. There has not been Stellar Dawn presence at game conventions, we have no sneak peaks, and have next to zero information about the structure of the game.
So will Jagex succeed or fail? Do they have what it takes to create another great game? Mark Gerhard, at least, seems to have very high expectations for Jagex, going as far as to say that they're "someone [Blizzard] should be worried about in the future" (source). I do hope that Jagex will set its sights high and strive to maintain its position in the gaming industry, but only the future will tell us for certain if they can develop yet another record-breaking and long-lasting game.