We are now squarely in the year 2020, and to no one’s surprise, people are still playing a PC game originally launched in January 2001. With the advent of the yearly launch cycle and 20 years of technological advancement, it leaves one to wonder what the draw of this game is.
When Runescape initially launched, it billed itself as one of the earliest truly free MMORPGs. It allowed players to create a free account, with which they gained access to about half of the games available skills and a similar amount of the world map. In this world, players could interact and play the game for free, forever. The graphics were relatively good at the time of the games introduction, and the gameplay was repetitive but the compulsive loop was good. Players had the option to pay a small fee, Originally $5/month, which gave them access to more skills, monsters, areas, and items. This is a pretty typical MMO system, and worked wonderfully to keep Runescape growing without making it unaffordable for its relatively young audience.
Runescape continued with this setup for the next 12 years. The RS team continued to populate the game with new quests, items, rewards, and mini-games throughout this entire period. The community had remained strong despite the launch of amazing new MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, this was largely because Jagex, the team behind the game had remained true to their roots. Updates often included player requested changes, in addition to new quality material that created value within the game. In 2013, things changed, with the launch of Runescape 3.
Runescape 3 was Jagex?s follow up to the original Runescapeand included improved graphics in addition to an updated interface and system of interacting with the game. Jagex had added features such as a daily wheel of fortune, and all of the original Runescape accounts were automatically moved over to the new system. Almost immediately the change was rebuffed by the community. While some players adopted the new system, many players hated the changes and either left the community or significantly reduced their time within the game. This led to a drop in subscribers, which prompted Jagex to launch a poll asking whether players would be interested in an Old School Runescape relaunch. The poll received over 50,000 positive responses, and in February 2013, Old School Runescape was launched for paying subscribers. The game was a carbon copy of the original game from 2007, and a free version was launched two years later in February 2015.
The new game drew players back in immediately. Old School Runescape still receives regular updates to this day, and the communities have now reconciled their differences and exist within the same plane together. With the rebirth of their original game, in addition to Runescape 3, Jagex has crossed the threshold into modern gaming, without losing the roots that made the game popular. Now, it was time for them to move into the new frontier of mobile gaming.
Mobile Old School Runescape was launched in October of 2018, and as of Mid-2019, the app had received over 5 million downloads. This brought a huge influx of players into the community and created yet another avenue to retain players. The part of the story that is amazing, is that the game launched on mobile in 2018, was extremely similar to the game that was available on PC in 2007, over a decade earlier. This time-lapse would have killed most any other game, but somehow Runescape with its pixelated graphics and seemingly simple feedback loop remains immensely enjoyable even today. So, it seems that no matter where or when RS launches, it receives a positive response and retains players incredibly well, but how? The secret lies in the compulsive and simple feedback loop the game creates, along with the resurgence of pixel art as a medium.
RS uses a simple experience system for all of the skills within the game. If a player wants to gain strength levels, they use a weapon, in conjunction with the correct attack type, and each time they hit a monster they get experience points. The number of experience points depends on the number hit. If a player wants to level fishing, they go to a fishing hole, click to fish, and then for each one they catch they are granted a set number of experience points. To illustrate this, I have outlined an example of this below.
Start Level ? 10Goal Level ? 11Experience Needed ? 1200Experience/Hit ? 4
In this case, the player would need to hit for a total of 300 points in order to advance an experience level. The compulsive loop is created by having a system that mixes base stats with randomness in order to generate how often a player hits. When a player has a higher strength level they can theoretically hit for a higher number. However, the frequency with which they hit those numbers is governed by random number generation in conjunction with another skill (Attack). This system adds a layer of randomness which keeps players hooked. It?s like a minified version of pulling a slot handle each time your character strikes, and it gives the same tiny rush of feel-good each time it works.
Despite all of its seeming flaws, Runescape has perfected a system that seems simultaneously random and entirely within control. This applies to every skill from Combat, to fishing, to slayer, and it?s the single most important characteristic of the game. This dichotomy has spawned huge successes such as staking. Staking is a system in which players can bet against one another, and then fight to see who wins the bet. This mixture of randomness and skill, strikes a balance that has kept players coming back again and again for years.
In the end, Runescape has survived by staying true to the core values that made it so appealing in the first place. The combat system has changed very little in two decades and that?s a good thing. In this case, if it isn?t broke, don?t try to fix it until it is. While other games have come, peaked, and disappeared, RS hasn?t. Eventually, a day will come when RS is just a story people tell of the early days of PC gaming, but as far as I can tell, that?s still somewhere in the distance.
If you haven?t given the game a shot, there has never been a better time than with the launch of the mobile app! Go download it and see if the system speaks to you like it has millions before!