Regardless of how much or how little you have played RuneScape, you've probably stumbled across, or at least heard about, content known as a minigame. What is a minigame? It usually takes place in a confined area, together with other like-minded players. It stands by itself in the sense that you might draw on skills or items obtained from the rest of RuneScape, but it's not directly part of conventional training. It's usually competitive, even if there are teams (the "game" part). Although it's almost meant as a fun diversion, there are usually rewards for playing and succeeding at it. And finally, on some level everyone, at least with some minimum stats should be able to enjoy and have a chance at winning. There should be skill involved, not just a comparison of stats and the theater of a "minigame" to determine the winner, which then leads into those rewards.
Particularly on free-to-play, a common complaint is boredom, and a minigame is one way to break up the monotony. Many of the F2P minigames concentrate on one particular aspect of the game: combat. In fact, if Great Orb Project style runecrafting isn't your cup of tea, that is pretty much your only option.
If I were more naive, I would suggest Jagex might try to make a couple P2P minigames available to F2P. After all, they could disable the member's-only skills that might be used in say, Stealing Creation, and severely restrict what could be claimed in the reward shop. It could be a similar mechanic as Runespan—whereby free players can turn runes into points, but cannot spend them on anything unless they become a member.
However, that would require quite some coding, and probably have some backlash, so instead I'm going to offer some more practical solutions to fix what we have.
Clearly an update as major as the Evolution of Combat impacts a combat-oriented minigame in a fundamental way. The number of players, at some minigames in particular, has dwindled. Please don't roll your eyes at me though—I'm not going off on the remove-EoC tangent. It simply requires some adjustments (even of pre-EoC issues) to increase popularity again.
To be concrete, let's consider Fist of Guthix, or FoG for short. FoG is a combat-based minigame that consists of two rounds per game. First one player gets a stone, and tries to collect charges (by holding the stone) while avoiding being killed by another. The players then reverse roles, and the one with more charges wins the game. A couple of years ago there were floods of people in the then-F2P trade world, World 1. You would enter the lobby and barely have time to say a greeting to the adventurer next to you before being paired off. Now, one is lucky to find enough people on the specially designated free-to-play world to even start a round!
Let's start what is (should?) be the most important issue: is it fun? Naturally one player must experience the triumph of victory, and the other the sting of defeat. There are other issues, though, that generally make life annoying.
One of the most common complaints is about runners, people who make you chase them around the whole time rather than standing. I can assure you first hand that trying to use abilities (even with hotkeys) on top of tracking them down does not make matters any better. From a lore perspective, this is kind of silly. How difficult can it be to catch up to someone carrying this big, heavy stone?
Next there's the differential in combat levels. It's not uncommon for a low level and a high level to be paired. And then when the lower level player loses, they have the comfort of losing only 2 rating and a very small amount of currency as sympathy.
Speaking of rating, you can check the front page yourself to see that the hi-scores are 100k or higher. Assuming you win a game, you'll usually get about 10 rating, and certainly not higher than 20. You can check my division, but that's winning five to ten thousand games in a row to get on there!
One issue that EoC is completely responsible for is with respect to switching combat styles. Beforehand, the player with the stone might switch armor or overhead prayer to try to defend themselves against melee, and the attacking player would then counter with a quick magic spell. There is a problem now, though-changing weapons resets all of your adrenaline! This knocks out quite a few of your abilities. On the other hand, the hunted player suffers no real disadvantage with such a swap. This isn't so much of an issue since it is symmetric, but it can be a tad frustrating.
By now I've mentioned several issues, and hopefully you will agree with me that the game might benefit from some changes. But what can be done without massive amounts of coding?
1. Faster Games
Runners aren't so annoying if the round doesn't last for what feels like forever. Making each round 90 seconds or two minutes instead of the current five should tidy it up. Of course, the number of charges and rewards in the form of tokens would have to be rescaled. I'm not an expert in coding, but that literally seems like tweaking a few small things to me (multiply by 3, for example).
2. Changing the dynamic for the hunted player.
The hunted player could take less damage standing in the center, and more near the edges. Perhaps they could just be inverted from the current state, and be a bit higher. The player with the stone could also have much less run energy. The stone could be coded to have a 50nkg weight, forcing more conservative use. Defense could be correlated against run energy.
3. More tokens for losers.
I don't mean to be cruel, but that level 50 never stood a chance against me. If he did manage to win, he would get a whole bunch of tokens and rating-but that would never happen, unless maybe my internet disconnected. Typically I would get 10 tokens and him the standard 1-give them about 5 tokens instead.
4. Some actual rewards.
What rewards does Fist of Guthix have? Back in its heyday, I remember earning many tokens to buy runecrafting gloves to double experience from the slowest (and arguably one of the most tedious) skills to train. Runespan made those gloves useless, so how about some gloves with a bonus to nodes there instead? Then we have swordfish gloves, but the main ambition of people at swordfish is money, not xp. Try harpooning versus the traditional fly-fishing and you'll see for yourself that even with double xp, it's not even close. How about "salmon gloves" instead? But wait, there was one more reward: special robes that would provide other desirable effects and an advantage outside like free spell casts once in a while. But with magic so cheap, these really lose value. With no rewards to cash in for tokens, obviously people lose interest in the game.
5. A real ranking system.
Ultimately some people do want to compete, and be #1, and that's not unhealthy. But at this point, it's nearly impossible to catch up to the leaders. The only real way to fix this is to have some sort of deterioration in score. For example, if everyone lost 1% of their rating per day, it would quickly let more active players catch up. RuneScape has never had this sort of element though, so I rather doubt they would implement it, even if it wouldn't be too difficult.
If Jagex wants to entice more people to play the game and maybe become P2P, they need to show a little more excitement on what are supposed to be diversions on F2P to keep people playing a bit more. It doesn't take a lot of effort to make a few quick changes, and I'm sure players could come up with a lot more suggestions than me alone! It could even come with some interesting lore… maybe a shifting balance in power or a disturbance in the Fist of Guthix field has occurred. Maybe Guthix has tired of adventurers running around like Evil Chickens with their heads cut off. Remember the Rogue's Den, anybody?
So, are you up for it? Is Jagex? Let me know in the discussion thread.