RuneScape it’s been around for a while, you can tell. Originally appearing on the web in 2001, developer Jagex has since spawned multiple versions of its popular MMORPG, all of which retain a permanent place on the PCs (and now phones) of a growing community of gamers. The latest milestone is the conclusion of the Elder God Wars saga, a series of content drops that took up the bulk of RuneScape updates over the last year and brought a number of quests into the game in an unusual format (alongside a snazzy new dungeon) . on past RuneScape updates.
As their latest major project comes to an end, I sat down with Product Director Matt Casey and Lead Game Designer Tim Fletcher to discuss the future of RuneScape after the Elder God Wars, their narrative aspirations for IP, and the future of RuneScape off-world to speak MMO.
How has the community responded to these quests compared to some of the non-narrative updates over the past few months/years?
M: If you look back over the last year, we’ve seen more enthusiasm from the community. In terms of people talking about RuneScape, last year was the best year we’ve seen. More people in the game, more people discussing it. That made me very happy, especially given The Elder God Wars’ staggered release schedule.
T: We’ve changed the way we tell stories quite a bit in the last year. In the past, RuneScape was almost divided into different areas. We released a boss, then a quest unrelated to that boss came out, and two years later another quest followed that quest. It was scattered. Last year we focused on delivering a much tighter narrative that runs through most of the content we publish.
RuneScape delivers quests uncommon for most MMOs, and they appeal to most of our player base, but not all. So the idea of The Elder God Wars was for the story to develop through boss updates, not just quests, in a way that appealed to other parts of the player base. So this final quest coming out soon is not a conclusion to a series of quests, but a finale to everything that happened.
What about the narrative missions in the future? Will we see the momentum towards larger threats continue? Or will we bake cake again with the next update?
T: Maybe not as far as baking cakes, but we want to lower the stakes a bit! We don’t want to up the ante. It’s something we’ve recognized for a while, we want something that’s involved and on your level, something that can threaten you.
With this focus on creating longer stories for players to experience, do you think RuneScape will expand beyond games at all?
T: My aspiration as a designer at RuneScape, dealing with history and lore, is to bring RuneScape to the top with the big fantasy IPs. RuneScape is known, but not really for its characters and lore. I want to take us to a place where stories matter more.
Does The Elder God Wars play into this desire to prioritize history?
T: Yes! Strong characters, strong conflicts, stories with a lot of back and forth. We wanted to get more involved in people’s politics and looked at a kind of Bioware style of storytelling, where companions and characters play a bigger role.
Do you think future updates will follow the format we’ve seen with the EGW quests? A more linear release schedule with clear progress between each update?
T: Absolutely. I saw this as a kind of dry run. We’ve had to learn over time as we haven’t had to deal with content this way before, which led to some really interesting early-stage issues such as: B. Shorter time windows to respond to community feedback. In the past we released a quest and had a year to look at community feedback and take action to address it, while at EGW we released six updates in a row, each lasting a month. What we didn’t expect was that we didn’t have many opportunities to respond to feedback on quests over the past few months. We weren’t used to that as a company – we work with the players and build things with them in mind.
We ended up doing that, of course, and looking at feedback a few months later, but it was an interesting moment when we realized that we should add some dialogue to address something, but we couldn’t do it in time because the next quest is complete.
Do you think you will change this format in the future to buy yourself more time?
T: Yeah, we need to figure out how to handle that a little bit better.
M: For me it’s the packaging. It does content and entertainment in chapters, and the concept of seasons is something we’re pushing quite a bit now as we’re getting more into a seasonal structure with clear beginning and ending points for content. This helps us organize updates so that you can easily access them if you’re a gamer returning to the game and may have missed parts of it. It offers good jumping in points.
You see this a lot in other forms of content like box sets and the Marvel Movie Universe. It works well with RuneScape as we have always released content updates regularly and our players recognize the value of shared updates as part of their monthly subscription.
Why make this change of direction now? The idea of seasonal content has been around for a while – is there anything about the Elder God Wars that fueled this shift in strategy?
M: For us it was trial and error. In the past we’ve had epic plans and sometimes they’ve been torn to pieces. If we get that right, and we have these episodes that drag through a season that can be effective. However, sometimes players get a bit frustrated because they don’t get everything at once. So we had to find a good way to showcase this type of content, and the Elder God Wars, where quests were unlocked one at a time, kept people coming back. It was about finding the right balance between the batch releases we’ve had in the past and the style of updates we’re doing now.
A current hot-button topic among high-end gamers is Death Cost. I imagine it’s a big part of the game’s economy as a major gold sink, but is there any progress towards addressing this issue?
T: We have now hired a developer to do it. So we’ll announce when we have something to deliver on that. But as you say, it’s a complicated system and we have to be careful what we change. Even what we say can have an impact on the economy! If we announce something and change our mind, it can negatively impact people’s bank value.
M: That’s the kind of thing we should be very careful about how we go about it – it affects so many systems. We must analyze the data and proceed cautiously. It’s being worked on and we want to share that with our players, explain what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
I’ve reviewed some Jagex financial reports on Company House, and expanding RuneScape’s intellectual property has been mentioned as one of your future goals. Can we expect to see RuneScape on other platforms or maybe in other genres?
M: I think it’s a bit of both. We’re always looking for ways to bring RuneScape to new audiences, whether in parts of the world where we haven’t pushed as much in the past or on new platforms where it seems to be working well. The challenge for us is the type of game that worked well on mobile! It doesn’t work that well on a joypad! So we would have to make some drastic changes to the game mechanics and control system to support console play.
Our vision is to get the game to as many people as possible, although that doesn’t necessarily mean bringing it to every existing platform because it just might not work. That being said, we’re always looking for ways to expand RuneScape’s IP. That could be the case for more games that take advantage of the game’s lore, franchise and world of Gilanoor. We can’t announce anything on that front yet, but we’re always looking for opportunities there.
Of course, you also have the company’s Jagex publishing arm, which at this point has been supporting the release of a couple of games. I imagine that would be a tool you would use for this extension, right?
M: Absolutely. We’ve seen products like Melvor Idle come from a self-taught indie developer who was this huge RuneScape fan, and we’ve been able to bring that to the rest of the RuneScape community. There are other games that we’re constantly looking at to see if they fit the Jagex publishing lineup.
T: We have the Steamforge stuff this year, I’ve been working with it. As for the RuneScape brand, they were very keen not to ship a generic fantasy board game with a RuneScape logo on it, we want to ship the RuneScape board game. So we worked closely together to create a game that goes with it.