Nothing in the world is free. It’s a tired, age old phrase, one bordering on cliché almost, but like all memorable sayings, they exist for a reason. Before you sigh and close your browser at the thought of reading yet another critiquing of Jagex’s morals and business ethics, don’t be alarmed, this article will hopefully provide a fresh view of the micro-transaction systems in RuneScape.
Jagex isn’t shy when it comes to flaunting and publicising its position in the MMO industry, often using the word ‘special’ to distance itself from the cavalcade of other PC based MMO’s. Of course, some of these are genuinely impressive feats; being voted the most popular free to play MMO two years in a row and having a genuinely impressive lifespan especially as a browser based game are achievements not to be scoffed at, but RuneScape is unique in more ways than you may think and it isn’t necessarily for the better.
Micro-transactional models are becoming increasingly more commonplace and preferable to the subscription based MMO model and Jagex isn’t the first to introduce these types of paid content but the method in which they have implemented these features alongside its existing members system is, in my opinion, damaging the games health. Jagex is falling over itself with the amount of promotions and offers that are being churned out on at least a weekly basis. Whether or not this is the influence of Insight Venture Partners is questionable but it’s largely irrelevant to the primary purpose of this article.
It’s amusing when I look back at the release of the loyalty rewards system the amount of negativity that was directed towards it. It may have been the vocal minority, but many players saw it as a mild form of real world trading. Clearly it was an over exaggeration as none of the items on offer from Xuan and his wares directly cost real money, but were simply promoted as additional rewards for players that maintained membership. However, to benefit fully from the system, players need to maintain a concurrent membership to accumulate increasingly higher amounts of points. It’s a nice little system to reward players who continually invest in the game even if it is a little unfairly dismissive of veteran players who choose not to or simply can’t have a constant subscription.
Membership itself has been present since its introduction in 2002 and with it all the bonuses that we have come to take for granted as paying customers. Obviously, content is massively restricted for those who choose not to pay, but here is where the problem begins to become apparent. Free to play MMOs that feature micro-transactions generally don’t restrict access to game content at all and instead offer armour, experience/drop rate boost items at a price. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for two not-so-warmly received individuals.
Whether it is genuine ignorance of the very game they have created, denial or something else entirely, Yelps and his Squeal of Fortune DOES provide direct benefits to those who decide to buy spins. Players themselves shouldn’t be chastised at all for investing in a game feature legitimately offered by its owners though, and the stigma attached to such purchases is something I loathe. Regardless of the fact that buying spins doesn’t guarantee any single item, the law of averages makes Jagex’s loophole of the whole “We aren’t directly selling experience” entirely moot.
So that’s already three types of available purchases, I may as well mention the fourth: Solomon’s Store. Not only does Solomon offer a whole range of exclusive animations, re-skins and titles, but he also has his own cute little currency: Rune coins.
So what’s the problem? Not only is Jagex competing with itself with so many different forms of currency and promotional fluff, but it all feels like one gigantic mess. Monthly membership with a system that almost requires players to maintain a constant subscription to reap the benefits of a loyalty system coupled with two different micro-transactional outlets is simply too much. The whole system needs to at least be streamlined if it is going to stay. I can easily see myself having to wade through multiple in-game adverts in the near future just to access the game itself.
But the most important factor to consider is new players. If the flow of new players really is falling then Jagex needs to shoulder the blame. What would you think upon starting RuneScape as a new player that the game was not only subscription based but featured two forms of micro-transactions on top of a store that offered additional rewards for strict monthly payments?
Jagex has put too much work into trying to tempt old, veteran players into spending more money on a game they love than focusing on marketing and streamlining. In short, Jagex need to get their priorities in order if they truly want RuneScape to exist for another ten years.