Runescape: Jagex Talks Evolution Of Combat, Free To Play, Gold Farming

Tom Hopkins

Runescape lead designer Mark Ogilvie discusses the upcoming Evolution of Combat update, the trick to free-to-play MMOs and policing virtual worlds.

Published on Jul 16, 2012

How surprising has the level of interest for Evolution of Combat been?
Mark Ogilvie: Its always quite humbling how passionate and interested the players are in our game! However, a change as significant as the Evolution of combat was always going to spark a huge amount of debate. We’re just pleased we had the opportunity to offer it as a beta rather than as an ordinary update to the live game. We weren’t sure just how interested people would be in beta access, but we were getting thousands of sign-ups every minute when we first announced it and even managed to crash our servers.

Ultimately, we see this as an opportunity to work with our community to shape the future of the game. I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s the truth.

How will RuneScape evolve as the MMO genre starts to enter that 'next-gen' phase and more types of games become connected?
MO: RuneScape is the most updated game in the history of computer games. We thrive on change and we relish the chance to evolve and adapt to a new marketplace. RuneScape was - at its birth - a social tool, so the idea of modifying the product to work with other media types is certainly on the short-term list of challenges we want to overcome.

With regards to the next gen, I’m not sure that anyone can answer that question or, indeed, identify what a next gen MMO is. While several of the key features and ideas being bandied around right now in 'next-gen' games are interesting, I don’t think they define a new generation - just that their implementation of traditional MMO ideas is polished. I have some ideas for sure! I’m certainly interested in the mobile market and would love to see a way of earning XP and developing my character while on the move, but I'm not sure that's next-gen either.

What's the secret to MMO longevity in an increasingly competitive genre?

MO: Find your niche and own it. Don’t be afraid to innovate to stay competitive, but not at the expense of your core community or gameplay.

Do you see other F2P MMOs making any classic mistakes in terms of design or monetisation?
MO: There are plenty of classic mistakes made by games that have added a freemium mode after creation, adding it to a model intended for subscription only: the biggest being overestimating the average user's attention span.

If you’re an MMO going free, you probably need to simplify your early gameplay. If we assume a free player has a more casual relationship with the product than a subscriber (since they have invested only time, rather than time and money) don’t ask them to adopt complex play styles or fathom difficult principals. Players of free games tend do so with far less commitment, and are more likely to be switching between the game and other activities at the same time.

There are plenty of other games out there that still rely on time limitations to motivate a player to buy the product – although less so with MMOs. They really annoy me and rarely give me the time I need to assess the product.

What's your response to player feedback that RuneScape has a high level of bots, gold farmers, RWT? How do you police the game?
MO: We’ve always taken a very strong stance against those who seek to destroy the balance and fairness of our game, but it’s a tough war to fight. In the past, we have taken dramatic steps to remove gameplay that offered unbalanced trading etc (to remove the ability for players to shift large amounts of illicitly gathered gold between account, or to buy gold) but - ultimately - changes of that magnitude often affect legitimate gameplay too. After all, you want to allow players to gift items, or to use our brutal, adrenaline-pumping, risk-heavy PvP system.

Back in October we released several updates to attack certain types of bots, making them impossible to use. We’re not afraid of taking the fight onto different levels too, and have already taken bot makers to court - and won.

We are also on the verge of releasing our latest strike in the war against those unwelcome few who remain, and we are confident that the problem will be dealt with. We do like to keep our cards close to our chests on issues like that, though, so more to come in the next few weeks!



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