RuneScape seems to be an MMO that’s incredibly easy to dismiss by the wider MMO community for being “too kiddy” or being a little too outside the boundaries of standard big-budget MMOs. Yet ignoring or belittling it would be a mistake: RuneScape has accumulated a massive audience over the years and been innovating and experimenting with ideas that other MMOs are too chicken to touch.
While it’s not a perfect game, RuneScape and its developer Jagex have shown a willingness to adapt to the community’s needs and try different things to see if they’ll take hold and work. Instead of coasting along into its elder years, RuneScape has been working hard to earn the continued patronage of its playerbase, and I think that should go noticed today.
In that spirit, we’re going to take a trip through 10 of the most innovative or interesting experiments that RuneScape has performed over its 15 years of operation.
1. RuneScape 2 & 3
When RuneScape officially launched in December 2003, it was actually the second iteration of the game. The first edition, retitled RuneScape Classic, was used for beta and testing purposes since 2001. While Jagex decided to create a better version for launch, the studio continued to support the original RuneScape for a while after that to players who felt more comfortable in that world.
A couple of years back RuneScape went through yet another huge iteration, upgrading its base game to the third edition. With better sound, graphics, and more features than ever before, it was a great example of how a studio could take an old MMO and bring it into the modern era.
2. Putting bots on trial
RuneScape has had a long and severely antagonistic relationship with botting, prompting Jagex to wage war via various methods to keep the situation under control. One of the most cheeky of the game’s methods allowed players to publicly judge and execute bots in creative ways in a place called (of course) Botany Bay.
When Jagex discovered that it had the intact code for the 2007-era version of RuneScape, it didn’t merely wallow in brief nostalgia and then put it back in the box. Instead, it floated the idea of an “old school” server to the community and subsequently made it happen. Players can enjoy Old School RuneScape for free these days to see the attractions of virtual yesteryear.
One of the studio’s most recent experiments was to open up a new server as a spin-off version of RuneScape called DarkScape. In it, players who craved hardcore, open-world PvP would be given their fill and then some. Maybe Jagex saw the wind blowing in this direction due to all of the upcoming PvP MMOs in development and figured it could provide a service right here and now — who knows?
Long, long before Dungeons & Dragons Online helped make free-to-play popular in the west, RuneScape was rocking a hybrid sub/F2P model as it had almost since its inception. For younger players growing up in the early 2000s who couldn’t convince their parents to swing a subscription to mainstream MMOs, RuneScape became their home due to its low financial barrier of entry. Since the game’s been around for so long, it proved that the model could be quite lucrative indeed.
6. Twitch integration
Livestreaming is actually a huge deal in the RuneScape community, and Jagex seized upon that by supporting full Twitch integration as of last year. Considering that the game is consistently in the top 20 most streamed games on that service, I’d say it was a brilliant move by the studio to garner easy publicity.
7. The music
While RuneScape: The Musical was just a hilarious April Fools’ Day joke and fake-out video, it did go to show how important music is to this game. The team loves to get together to sing for its community; it hired Composer James Hannigan to create an additional score for RuneScape 3 and created an in-game system in which players can collect music tracks to play on a jukebox.
8. Tie-in novels
Another sign that RuneScape might be much bigger than you assume is that it actually has a series of published novels set in the game’s universe. Author T.S. Church wrote Betrayal at Falador, Return to Canifis, and Legacy of Blood, offering a deeper and alternate look into Gielinor — and lending some credibility to the fact that this MMO is a phenomenon in the industry.
9. New combat system vs. legacy mode
When Jagex decided that it was high time to update and revamp RuneScape’s combat system, not everyone was on board with the change. Instead of forcing its community to adapt to the system or leave, the studio created a “legacy mode” for those missing how it used to be. The theme of player choice is strong with this studio!
When World of Warcraft hit its 10th anniversary, Blizzard went all-out on its site to create a historical tribute to the development and events of the game’s lifespan. This sort of star-studded treatment hasn’t been the case for most long-running MMOs, but it was for RuneScape, of course.
Jagex is relentless with its self-promotion and celebration of the game’s past, marking milestones with regularity and coming up with ways to preserve the history of the game. Recently it announced a documentary for RuneScape to come in 2016 and saw a group of players release a massive document marking the title’s development over the past 15 years.