“The primary aim of modern warfare […] is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living. Ever since the end of the nineteenth century, the problem of what to do with the surplus of consumption goods has been latent in industrial society”, explains the fictional character Emmanuel Goldstein in George Orwell’s 1984, describing how war is essential for the depicted society. He goes on: “The problem was how to keep the wheels of industry turning without increasing the real wealth of the world. Goods must be produced, but they must not be distributed. And in practice the only way of achieving this was by continuous warfare. The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour.” 1)
By now, you’ll probably be wondering why I’m quoting this and I can assure you, it's not about authoritarian regimes or anything. Rather, I think Orwell has made some interesting observations about society, and one of them is the ability to use war for certain economic gains such as the destruction of overproduced goods. What does this have to do with RuneScape? It’s less complicated than it may sound from the intro. When talking about ways to make skills such as Smithing, Fletching or Crafting actually useful instead of being a money drain, suggestions usually consist of ways to improve weapons, armour or other measures of getting an advantage in a fight. This is the most convenient way due to two reasons:
First of all, combat is something that directly promotes having an advantage over another player. As such, players can perceive perks they receive by training certain skills directly. On top of that, these advantages are immediately experienced through the hitsplats on the screen and the amount of food you consume, thus players are more willing to work for it.There is another advantage to it though, and that’s what I want to talk about. As Orwell has noted, combat uses up resources. Now, unlike the real world, they are created at the same time through drops, but that doesn’t matter as I want to focus on specific resources and how to use this idea to make certain skills more useful and more rewarding. Concepts of untradeable perks, such as extreme potions may work a few times and I’m not opposed to them, but they’re not a universal solution, especially in such a diverse game like RuneScape. Jagex seems to be of the same opinion, with recent updates like prayer renewals and potion flasks.
While not really surprising, it’s a curiosity that most production skills actually require money instead of earning it and that most gathering skills aren’t exactly money-makers either. It may be up to opinion how bad this is, but for me it’s something that’s always bugged me. So, what to do if you want to fix it? These resources don’t yield much profit because they’re available in abundance and are easy to come by. In order to make them more valuable, they have to be made rarer. How to do that? Combat offers the possibility to deal with overproduction, but it’s limited. Not everything can easily be linked to combat. And even with a direct link, there are difficulties. Take Smithing as an example. If weapons and armour are supposed to be lost more often, grave timers would have to be reduced or graves removed altogether. What was the case years ago would doubtless be quite controversial today. On top of that, it’s likely that monster-dropped, high-level equipment would be far more affected than the lower tiers actually made by Smithing, which most players only use for a short period of time.
So, what to do instead? The answer is actually quite simple. I’ve mentioned before that RuneScape isn’t our world, even if we can draw parallels. One of the obvious differences is that Jagex can change most things without difficulty. If an “item sink” unrelated to combat is needed, they can just add it. There is one in the form of alchemy, but it’s not enough to guarantee a decent profit and increasing the alchemy values would lead to issues with inflation. There are other ways though.
One of the best possibilities would be the player-owned ports update. Jagex already mentioned how you would be able to send out sailors to faraway lands for discovery. They might find another culture (That we don’t have to see directly) as a trading partner. And the payment shouldn’t be gold (Inflation is obviously a side effect of this concept that has to be carefully balanced), but rather unique items or the knowledge how to make them (Jagex has already mentioned the possibility to unlock these “recipes” 2)). And not just for combat as well! There could be buffs for any skill. It could open up a realm of possibilities that could link skills more closely together, offer new ways of training and reward players with more money for their skilling.
I don’t know if this is the concept behind player-owned ports (when presented at RuneFest, it was still in its early stages) but it would definitely be a good opportunity. Still, if it is missed, there are still enough chances to do it another way. There is a lot to be learnt from Orwell. The important part is not to blindly copy his ideas, but to understand the concept behind them and to adapt them as needed. That is the way to unlock their full potential.
1) : Orwell, George. (1949). Nineteen eighty-four. Copyright 1949 by Eric Blair.
2) : RuneFest 2011 - 'RuneScape 2012' Part 1 - Talk on Future Updates