I’ve played RuneScape on and off over the past twelve years, and I’ve watched as their subscribers slowly dwindled. People always say that World of Warcraft has a tendency to lose subscribers from time to time, but no one pays attention to RuneScape. That’s always been the case as far as I can remember, but one thing that I’ve noticed lately is that big gaming blogs are finally starting to pick it up again. With the addition of raids after fourteen years, it makes a lot of sense. But why is it that nobody talks about RuneScape with a sense of pride and nostalgia?
Is it because the game just isn’t up to the snuff? RuneScape has always had a bad reputation among PC gamers and MMO players, probably because of the lack of features in comparison to something like the titan that is World of Warcraft, but I don’t think that’s the real reason people don’t care about it like they used to. I can think of a lot of reasons why RuneScape isn’t as popular as it was in its heyday, but it really all boils down to one thing, a lack of proper management.
As someone who has played the game since at least 2003, and who still feels compelled to occasionally check in on it despite knowing better, I’d like to talk about what went wrong. I have a long history with the game, and I have been there both for a majority of its successes and its failures. I have seen a time when the game was so popular that you couldn’t even get into a popular world, and I have seen a time where not one world out of over one hundred reaches capacity. That time is now, and it’s a real shame for a game that once won a Guiness World Record for the most popular Free-to-Play MMO.
When I first started playing RuneScape, I was enthralled by the possibility of a massive new world that I could access directly from my browser. Back in 2001 when the game was originally launched, playing games in the browser was practically unheard of. You might be able to play flash games through your browser, but to have an MMO was unprecedented back then. To play an MMO in those days, you had to buy a copy of the game in a box and opt into a subscription. RuneScape didn’t have any of that. You simply created an account, logged in, and you were ready to go.
For a long time that was what was so great about it. Free-to-Play wasn’t a big market back then, and the concept wouldn’t really catch on until years later, allowing RuneScape and Jagex (the parent company of RuneScape) to become the king. But as the market became more and more competitive, instead of evolving with it, they simply sat on their hands and kept doing what they were doing until in 2007 they pushed away their faithful fanbase by removing a portion of gameplay and instituting a ridiculous set of rules that did more harm than good.
Yes, I am talking about the removal of the Wilderness and Free Trade, and if you were playing back when it happened, you probably remember the subsequent backlash. Both of these gameplay mechanics were a huge part of the way that the game was played. In the case of the former, people would spend months, sometimes years building accounts just to spend time enjoying PVP. With the latter, people were effectively restricted to equal trades, which was bad for the economy of the game as well as the players who wanted to help out their friends.
It was a major setback in the game’s long history, and unfortunately, one that probably still permeates to this day thanks to their decision to keep these restrictions imposed until four years later in 2011. In my opinion 2007 is when the trouble started, and ever since there have been countless missteps that have led us to where we are now, a game that’s only a shadow of its former self. I was among the many people to quit that year, but it never really stopped me from enjoying the game. As I mentioned earlier, I still play the game on and off, and when I’m not I still try to keep tabs of what’s going on in the game.
While they eventually reverted the Wilderness and trading back to how they used to be several years later, a lot of people didn’t come back. They might have had good intentions in trying to regulate the economy and keep it safe from bots that were running rampant at the time, they only succeeded in alienating longtime fans of the game like myself and my friends. And despite their best intentions, it’s still going on today.
In 2013 they attempted to bring older players back into the fold with the introduction of Old School RuneScape, a version of the game running servers from back in 2007 similar to what they’ve done with RuneScape Classic. While it seems to have been ultimately successful — it isn’t uncommon to see more players playing the 2007 version of the game than the current one — it caused another problem, one that also happened during the transition from RuneScape to RuneScape 2. The player base became splintered, and while that might be good for the profits as long as people are still paying to play it, it’s not as good for the game itself.
If more people are playing the game as it was in 2007, what’s the point in developing the current game or improving the technology? Sure, people still play RuneScape, and I’m sure a good portion of their revenue stems from microtransactions there, but people don’t like it. For all the new additions and improvements, why would someone adapt to change when they can just stick with what they know? Well, they wouldn’t, and that’s the problem.
Jagex has since made great strides to bring people back to the main game from Old School, and for the most part they’ve been doing pretty well. They even brought my friends and I from middle school back! But what they don’t realize is what made RuneScape so successful to begin with. It wasn’t the gameplay that made the game popular, it was the accessibility of it. They might finally be starting to catch onto what old fans of the game want, but what they don’t seem to understand is what new fans of the game need. It’s not more features, better graphics, or higher quality content that will bring people in, it’s the accessibility.
If anything, updating the graphics and charging more for a subscription runs counter to that. When I started playing RuneScape, a subscription was only $5 a month. But now if you really want to enjoy the game, you’ll have to shell out for a membership at twice the price. And when you’re spending that much money on something like RuneScape, why shouldn’t you just kick in an extra $5 per month to play World of Warcraft with your friends? Especially when the game’s performance isn’t as great as it used to be.Tweet