With the insane response to Old School RuneScape’s mobile launch back in 2018, the pressure was on for Jagex to deliver an equally deserving product for RuneScape proper. It looks like those efforts are about to come to fruition with this summer as RuneScape Mobile’s going through its beta paces on both Android and iOS devices.
Before it launches, we wanted to get as much information about this highly anticipated mobile edition — and for that, we needed to go right to the source. Massively OP sat down with Jagex Lead Designer Dave Osborne and Senior Product Manager Liam Powney to learn about the creation and purpose of RuneScape Mobile.
Massively OP: Why do the Old School RuneScape mobile edition first? What caused that to get released significantly prior to the regular edition?
Liam Powney: The big difference between developing Old School RuneScape on mobile and RuneScape on mobile was in the time investment needed to adapt the user interface (UI). Taking Old School’s UI from desktop to mobile was a simpler challenge, whereas the extra complexity and depth within RuneScape, especially when it comes to combat UI, meant that we had many more challenges to overcome.
However, we were determined to get it right and spent valuable time testing all the UI changes with mobile players through both focus tests and during the Android early access beta. That testing has been crucial in getting to a place where our UI is good for both existing players, and also welcoming for new players who will be playing RuneScape for the first time on mobile when we launch.
Dave Osborne: In some ways it has been a blessing that Old School came to mobile first. Old School was our mobile trailblazer and enabled us to see what went right or wrong and learn from it. For example, we originally downplayed the importance of chatting between players, but now we know how important it is. We also have a better idea of the sheer number of players who treat mobile as a means to cross-play on the same account, moving from desktop to mobile and back again. So, having Old School come to mobile first gave us a neat opportunity to realign.
Do players have to subscribe to access RuneScape mobile, or is there a free-to-play edition?
Liam Powney: The good news is that RuneScape on mobile is there both for members and those who want to play without subscribing — all in the one app! It’s the same game, you can just access more of it as a member. It’s truly cross-platform too — if you subscribe as a member on mobile, you can also play the full members’ game on the desktop version and vice-versa.
As this is crossplay with the PC, is there a way for accounts to restart or reroll? That’s something I noticed was very much absent from RuneScape when I went back to it; you were stuck with whatever character you created way back when.
Liam Powney: We don’t have plans for this for the mobile launch but, as part of running an always-evolving living game like RuneScape, we’re constantly listening to our players, be they existing, previous, or new, to determine where we go and what we offer next.
How is movement handled? Is it virtual joystick only, touch to move, or auto-pathing?
Liam Powney: Movement is tap-to-move on mobile and it works really well because the desktop version of the game is controlled via point-and-click movement with the mouse. Again, movement was one of the key areas we iterated on during early access and made some meaningful tweaks to the mobile game so that control felt as accurate and responsive as it does on desktop.
Dave Osborne: We’ve done an extensive job of converting RuneScape’s world to become one-touch. On PC, players are used to right-clicking to bring up sub-menus or hovering their cursor over items to bring up more information. Obviously, these aren’t possible on mobile, so we’re done our damnedest to make every action intuitive and immediate.
How many testers total have helped you run RuneScape mobile through its paces?
Liam Powney: Thousands, well, technically tens of thousands! I wish I could give you an exact number but, between the various focus tests we’ve done with small groups of players, through to the wider beta test and early access phases for RuneScape on mobile, we’ve done our best to reach out to every kind of player and get feedback.
We wanted to ensure the mobile game would appeal to the many different kinds of players RuneScape has and wanted to be confident that we were making changes that were suitable for all, without sacrificing quality for one or more of those groups.
Are there any limitations or creative workarounds that came up with the mobile edition when it comes to RuneScape’s features and content?
Liam Powney: The differences between desktop and mobile platforms are extensive. The biggest one has always been screen size; trying to reduce the top layer of interface down to the bare necessities on mobile was tricky. Players on desktop have a huge amount of customisation options when it comes to their UI layout. Providing this level of customisation wasn’t really an option for mobile as there’s less space to squeeze things in.
We also had to contend with the fact that RuneScape has very much been designed from the start with mouse and keyboard control in mind. Mobile reduces that down to one or two fingers with which the player can make a limited number of gestures. Working through this and how we replicate the actions associated with a right mouse button click has been pretty gnarly, but the team rose to the challenge and we’re very pleased with the result.
Dave Osborne: RuneScape is also an incredibly dense game — in a positive way, of course. There is so much to do, which is natural for a game that’s been updating weekly for twenty years. But that has ramifications on mobile, as it can create a noisy and cluttered game screen, and you need to surface all this stuff to players. To cut through the on-screen noise, we have used a lot of tools, such as object-outlining and environment cut-outs, to make the world more readable. That’s essential if you want a player to easily click-to-move through the environment. And on the surfacing content to players, we’ve pushed a lot of information down, so that players can find it but it’s staggered according to the likelihood of a new player needing it.
Perhaps the biggest workaround has been the tutorial. We’ve created a completely new tutorial from scratch, dedicated to mobile. We did this because our existing desktop onboarding is thirty minutes long, and a mobile player is unlikely to give you that time. We wanted to foreground what’s great about the game in nothing more than ten minutes for mobile players. It’s been a challenge to distil RuneScape into that truncated timeframe, but we believe we’ve done it!
What percentage or numerical increase did Jagex see in OSRS when that launched? What do you anticipate the increase for RuneScape mobile will look like?
Liam Powney: Old School was pretty much an instant hit when it launched on mobile back in 2018, with more than one million new mobile installs in its first week and it also hit its highest ever daily average user (DAU) number for the time. We’d love a similar influx of players — especially now that they can play on the go. No more XP waste on the journey to work!
How does the interface handle on a smaller phone screen?
Liam Powney: The team worked hard and smart to optimize the UI given the space we had to play with, so that nothing feels crowded, hard to read, or difficult to interact with. As a result, the game plays well on a small screen. We’ve even had some players who are comfortable enough with the mobile UI to engage in top end boss encounters!
Dave Osborne: We’ve put all of the common interactions on the right-hand side of the screen, with all of the situational interactions on the left. What that means is that RuneScape can, effectively, be played one-handed. RuneScape has always been a game that works well when you’re doing other things, and we don’t intend to change that.
How much disc space will RuneScape mobile require at launch?
Liam Powney: The initial download is around the 100 MB mark. That said, RuneScape is a living game that comes with 20+ years of content and, as you move around the game, assets for areas that you visit for the first time will be streamed and cached as you’re playing. The “full size” of the App can get up to 4 GB, depending on how much of Geilinor’s world you visit.
Start to finish, how long did the mobile edition take to create?
Liam Powney: Start to finish? Tricky question as RuneScape is never really “finished” — we update every week and have done so for the past 20 years, so it’s never ending. The release of the mobile versions is just the next step on our epic journey, and we have plenty of plans for post launch!
However, to try and answer the actual question… We started working on mobile in 2016 with a small team to figure out the very basics of taking RuneScape from desktop to mobile. So, around it’s been four to five years of development, iteration and constant user testing. It’s been a long journey, with many challenges and many successes along the way, and I am incredibly proud of what the team has achieved.