Last week, JaGEx introduced some of the most wildly successful updates in recent memory. With much anticipation yet little fanfare, the game engine team released an update that fixed many issues players have been experiencing with their frame-rates caused by Clusterflutterer. Right before that, JaGEx released the well-received Runespan, which will forever change the face of Runecrafting. The Runespan, one might argue, will largely kill off the original content of Runecrafting: crafting runes.
Runecrafting, for the longest time, held the title of RuneScape's most difficult skill. It was introduced with RuneScape 2, at the end of March in 2004. Albeit being a free-to-play skill, it has the fewest number of players with level 99 (13,415), and the second fewest number of players with maximum experience (with 5, behind Summoning with 2). It was a very click intensive skill, with experience limits for free players of about 10kxp/hr and 70kxp/hr for members.
This all changed with the Runespan. Preliminary estimates indicated that free-to-play can achieve 30kxp/hr, and that members can achieve in excess of 100kxp/hr. These high experience rates, combined with the fact that players can largely multitask while doing this activity show that crafting runes will become all but forgotten.
While technically it's true that in the Runespan players are crafting runes from essence, they're not doing it in the traditional way: getting essence from the bank, running to an altar, entering the altar, crafting runes, then running back. What's also true is that recently very few players have actually gained experience using the traditional method. Players were more likely to swap penguin points, effigies, or lamps obtained from random events or Squeal of Fortune spins for experience.
The most interesting part about this update is that in one fell swoop JaGEx has replaced an entire skill with an activity. What's more is that several parts of emergent game-play and content for RuneScape designed around Runecrafting have become irrelevant as well.
Older players will remember that back before the Trade Limit was imposed at the beginning of 2008, Rune Running was a popular method of money making for low level players. Right before announcing the Trade Limit, JaGEx announced the Assist System in order to help high level players gain experience and low level players do actions their level wouldn't allow.
Rune Running would never be the same, as players could not gain more than 30kxp per 24 hours, nor could the runners make more than 12kgp / hour above the going difference between pure essence and nature runes (although later increased, and removed for new accounts).
Another activity that the Runespan will kill off is the Great Orb Project. While the experience rates for the Great Orb Project have never been great, the game play and rewards have eased the pain for free players for some time. The Runespan will make these near meaningless, as no one will want to save tokens for essence that no one else will use, nor will anyone want to buy teletabs to altars for experience slower than the Runespan. While the activity's die-hard fan base may stick around, the supply of new players achieving 50 runecrafting will increase but the overall interest will go away.
Some players have speculated that JaGEx intends for the supply of runes to decrease, so that traditional Runecrafting becomes profitable again. This argument is supported with the fact that everything that happens in the Runespan stays in the Runespan. However, whatever was deflating the price of runes likely was not the number of players Runecrafting.
In order to prevent former Runecrafting methods from going away, JaGEx needs to re-balance the skill itself. They need to make altar crafting more profitable; with more runes per essence, more essence per trip, or banks closer to altars. They could also increase the amount of experience gained per hour, with more experience per essence, more and longer lasting items to modify the amount of experience gained (like runecrafting gloves), or they could change the experience itself so that experience is awarded for every rune crafted instead of for every essence crafted.
While I'm happy that Runecrafting is no longer the most difficult skill in Runescape, part of me is sad that the entire skill I knew has become obsolete. New content certainly is exciting and faster experience gained per hour is preferable, but so is diversity in training. Maybe while the JaGEx content team still has their focus on the Runespan, we can get them to tweak existing Runecrafting methods too. It'll certainly be preferable to them inadvertently killing off content.