To say the least, the last ten months have been somewhat of a challenge for Jagex. It commenced with removing free players from the hiscores, as it was allegedly was the only way to catch all of the bots, which had no place on the hiscores. As we very well know, the bots, seeing their aspirations of a piece of fame crushed, collapsed into a state of depression, thus refusing to work on free-to-play and crippling the botting industry. And for a short time, all was good.
But this would not be the last of the bots. Subsequently, between making the bold investment in membership and Jagex's initiative of offering a free two weeks of trial membership to many new accounts, they began to return. Reborn by their rediscovered fame, they infested the members' worlds like never before, overrunning it with their filth.
I don't know if this is actually true, but it is certainly an entertaining "Just So" story.
Behind the Scenes articles have always been the gateway to the future updates. More or less, if an update is promised in the monthly article, it will generally appear that month, or rarely, during the following one. Moreover, particularly during this spring and summer, one Behind the Scenes article after another was met with general disappointment from the community. In particular, the reactions to Jagex's biggest planned update, named the Evolution of Combat and the reason Jagex has cited for so few updates over the summer, have been mixed.
There was one update that was not posted in an advance Behind the Scenes article: the Squeal of Fortune. As a matter of fact, on the same day as its release, April 2nd, Jagex already mentioned that there would soon be more ways to earn spins. As usual, a forum thread about this update was created and stickied on Jagex's Recent Updates sub-forum. After receiving thousands of pages of feedback, far exceeding any other similar thread in recent memory, it was promptly deleted with little acknowledgment. Subsequent threads on the subject were soon locked or hidden, as SoF was no longer a "recent" update.
Clearly not all players mind SoF, and many may indeed love it. But for the substantial group of who dislike it, there has been a weekly dose of insult to add to the injury, between more spins, bigger rewards (such as rare but huge cash prizes), and rare, otherwise unobtainable cosmetic items. Much of the homepage has been and continues to be occupied by advertisements for this in-game diversion. To top it off, a sudden update, Solomon's General Store, was the community's first introduction to microtransactions after more than ten years without any sight of them.
Another persistently forthcoming update that has not quite made it to the homepage is a second bot nuke, or at least a way of beating them back. Since March, we have been consistently encouraged by occasional JMod posts that a bot nuke would be either the current month or the following, yet it has not arrived.
To summarize, the game is rapidly degenerating back toward the state last year before the bot nuke. The major update responsible for sidelining the development other content has been met with mixed appeal. Rage builds weekly as more updates are piled onto SoF and Solomon's General Store. Spambots run rampant, flooding our public and private chats.
Despite this, all is not lost and Jagex can still redeem themselves. In fact, just this week they have taken some very good steps. A new system has been implemented to catch those pesky spambots this week. They not only stop spamming, but one of three animations is performed: a death by "suffocation," an explosion, or a dragon swooping down and grabbing them. This is a very good move by Jagex. A player can report one of these offenders, and theey can allegedly see the result in front of their very eyes! It drew hundreds of peoples' attention (certainly including mine) and made players feel empowered. No longer is there a hopeless report-abuse mechanism with an unrealistic response time. To quote one of my favorite posts on our own forum this week:
The report button for bots and macroing actually works now—Makoto_The_Phoenix
The release of Bottany Bay, an update whereby bots will be teleported to a special place and be punished by a democratically chosen method, is slated for next week. Despite some players arguing that it is a waste of time and development resources, I could not disagree more. It's true that there is a hardcore community who follows every Tweet, Facebook update, YouTube video, and JMod post, but many of the players do not.
Let's make a concrete estimate of this. For example, the next time you are online, check the number of active forum users. It's unlikely that you will find more than 500. Now note the number of players online, which is probably not less than 100,000. When RSOF says players are active, unlike offsite forums, they mean it—if you have not viewed or posted something within the last few minutes, it disappears. Let's assume players on the forums spend no more than ten times the time they are marked active in the forums than they do logged in and playing RuneScape, and that no more than half the count of players online is represented by bots. Then, scaling by the time, that is still only 5000/50000, or equivalently, at most 10% of the community.
This implies nine out of ten players are not watching every update. Many of them may have heard thirdhand whispers of a bot nuke, and may have concluded they were only rumors anyway. On the other hand, with an update like Bottany Bay and an attached cosmetic reward, many more players will become involved. After all, if players were unhappy about the missed opportunity to obtained time-limited cosmetic rewards from the Squeal of Fortune, it would be hypocrisy to not check out Bottany Bay and earn themselves a promised pitchfork and emotes. Indeed, as Mod Mark said himself, it gets the players involved and lets them have a bit of fun.
Speaking of the Squeal of Fortune and microtransactions, there are still ways to soften the assuage the players still resentful of the update. Jagex should have been more clear from the start that they needed more money to continue reinvesting their game and keep it afloat, but at least they have admitted it in their live stream recently—and as they say, better late then never. Nonetheless, a few small changes might make players a bit happier.
Provide some way of obtaining Solomon's items at some time in the future, most likely with loyalty points. Even if the cost is relatively high, players can still look forward to obtaining the items in the future, which will act as a pressure valve.
Jagex has said they have been a bit too aggressive with their promotions of the Squeal of Fortune and Solomon's General Store on the homepage. Another feature that annoys people is the interface that occupies your game space upon every login as long as you do not use your spins. In my opinion this feature is useless. Yes, Jagex, I want my spin, but I promise I won't forget! How could I not remember to spin with all the awesome goodies I could possibly win? And if I am not going to spin, shoving that little green goblin in my face is only going to irritate me to the point that I ultimately ignore it.
How about this compromise: when there is an update for these "Extras," as you term them, run an advertisement on the homepage, but only for 24 hours. And instead of that popup ad to click and spin on every log in, give us a dialog box telling us about the new stuff, when it arrives, with a "Do not display again" checkbox. I'm sure it will save some people a lot of annoyance.
The next issue to be addressed is the status of the hiscores for free players. Ever since free players were wiped off the hiscores ten months ago, there has been banter about bringing them back on the player side. Recently a JMod mentioned reintroducing non-farming accounts back into the hiscores as bots are served justice. While that certainly sounds nice, one hopes that this is not a ray of hope that Jagex will gradually let choke. There is a fear that they have set themselves up for failure. Should Jagex play its cards right, they could score some wonderful PR as follows.
Assuming bots are annihilated, Jagex can even stand by their original statement. With a verifiable claim that they have gotten the upper hand on bots, they can say that they can once again have hiscores for free players as well. It may well inject some badly needed pride into the free to play community for being what they are, or it may have less desirable consequences. But one thing it could surely accomplish is to redeem Jagex's defense in their statement from last year when they removed it, at least in most players' eyes. But they should also take heed that dangling a fish in front of people does not work forever. After all, we all know how the potential for skillcapes or other promised rewards for free players turned out. So either way, they should decide and make an announcement relatively soon, presumably shortly after this week's update (Bottany Bay).
I will conclude with some sad news: Jagex should not spend too much effort on the Golden Joystick Awards. Of course, publicly they will make a newspost and ask us to vote, and I certainly encourage everyone to vote and not let me influence their opinion, but they will not win. Last year Jagex promised to be more open with players with respect to botting, and even though they earned my vote, it wasn't enough. Jagex needed a combination of a successful Evolution of Combat, obliterating bots, and an update to inject life into free-to-play (which may well have been reinstituting hiscores) to have a chance. Unfortunately, the stars did not line up properly, and the Evolution of Combat is still in beta with many glitches and many underpowered or overpowered items. But if the cloud of another year without a Golden Joystick Award has a silver lining, it is that EoC will be tailored much more carefully. Overhauling the whole combat system should not be taken lightly.
I haven't played many of Jagex's other games, which might more accurately be termed unfinished products, but I did take an interest in 8Realms after the advertisement for it on the homepage early this year. I won't get into the details of the gameplay here, but it was a real-time strategy game with a slight pay-to-win element. There were different servers, which would eventually expire, and was one of the top players (there were roughly 10,000 per server) on the second server I attempted. The game was riddled with glitches to one-time "upgrades" that you could not undo. Imagine if you drank a permanent Strength potion in order to find your Strength skill decreased by 5 levels, forever, instead of the increase you were supposed to receive. Many players made suggestions (Tim Chen w2 and Numbaonedies are two that come to mind) but they were completely ignored. In fact, there were no Jmod sightings for weeks. RuneScape should never make the same mistake, and should take care to continue to embrace player suggestions.
So what is the upshot of all this? It hasn't been an easy year for Jagex, but it's still not too late to turn it around. With the newly empowered report system for adbots, which will hopefully be extended to other types of bots with the release of Bottany Bay, Jagex has made the vital step of finally entrusting their own players who badly desire to contribute. They have assured us that SoF and Solomon's store will be toned down a bit in the future. Jagex continues to experiment with the Evolution of Combat by making major changes such as those last week. There will always be doomsayers, but if Jagex sticks to its word, follows through, and maybe tries a few suggestions I have outlined here, I am sure RuneScape will indeed thrive for many years to come.