On April 2, Jagex introduced PAGs or Player Advocacy Groups. This is an attempt by Jagex to utilize player knowledge and feedback to help shape certain areas of the game. The idea of a player based committee has been around for a little while, and I had made a Reddit post during last summer's dry spell about the need for a player advocacy group. Of course, like any other update, this one has its supporters and detractors. This month we are going to take a look at what these player advocacy groups are, what they do, and look at some of the criticisms of them.
The way player advocacy groups work is that Jagex identifies an area of the game that could especially benefit from concentrated player feedback. In other words, Jagex sets a goal for the group. The next step is to find a leader of a group, also known as a champion. Each PAG will have a champion that is in charge of recruiting his/her team. After Jagex announces a goal or identifies an area of the game that would benefit from a PAG they then set out to find a champion with experience in this area. The next step is for the PAG and Jagex to form a charter outlining the goals and expectations of the group. Members of the group are also required to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) and no one except for the champion receives any compensation for their work.
After that, Jagex announces the formation of the PAG and what they are focusing on. Now it is time for the PAG to go to work identifying problems and coming up with solutions. At the end of the process, it is all wrapped up with a retrospective on what was done and how effective it was. All of this sounds great, right? I mean, who would have a problem with players getting a seat at the table right? Well, not so fast, some players have voiced legitimate concerns and the whole concept gets murky when you dive deeper.
Let's begin by talking about one of the most common criticisms that I hear from people in the gaming industry. Their problem with PAGs is that they don't believe players should have any input or influence over a game in general. These people tend to be professionals in the industry that have worked hard and studied design and development. It probably feels like it minimizes their knowledge and hard work when a company utilizes so much feedback from players who don't have a background in design. In other words, they think it should be left to the professionals. These critics also seem to have a problem with players having inside information, even if it is protected by an NDA.
While I understand these concerns I would encourage those who feel this way to think of this example. If you're having a house built the architect knows how to design a home. He knows where to place things to make the most sense. He knows all of the zoning laws and most importantly he knows why things should go in specific places. All of this is his expertise, however, the homeowner is perfectly within his rights to say he would like an open floor plan. The homeowner can say I would like to have my study close to the bedroom. It's through a process of working together that the result reaches its fullest potential and makes everyone happy. It's the same thing when it comes to gaming. While the developers at Jagex are experts at what they do and can tell us why or why not an idea would work it is also true that the players know how they want to experience the game and there is value in that. Hopefully, by bringing the expertise of the developers, and the actual in-game experience of the players, we will get a better product in the end.
Another big criticism is that Jagex is exploiting its player base for something they should be paying a professional to do. This is a criticism that I am especially sensitive to. I am always on the lookout for companies who might be exploiting their workers or customer base. I have no love for corporations that do things like that, but with that being said, the way that it works for the PAGs is that the champion does receive compensation for their work. The members of the champions group do not. Therein lies the dilemma, should the rank-and-file member of the PAG receive compensation? This is a good question. People should be compensated for their work and time. Even if that compensation comes in the form of membership benefits or company swag, they should receive more than a pat on the back and an 'ataboy!'.
Jagex is straddling a line here by paying the champion but not his team. The idea of compensating someone for doing something that they would most likely do anyway for free is hard for a company to swallow, but in this case, that is exactly what should happen. The champion should be financially compensated and his team should be compensated as well with membership and merchandise. This would make it a win-win. This would at least acknowledge the work that was put in by the other team members and look less exploitative.
Lastly, the criticism that many players have latched onto is the elitist make up of the PAGs. At this point, we don't know much about how a champion is picked. The first champion we saw was The RS Guy who is a very successful streamer on twitch. His PAG was focused on ninja updates and he filled the group with elite PVMers, skillers, and achievement hunters. This was what was expected from the community when PAGs were first announced. Part of the community's fear was that it would be the most elite of the community who participated and provided feedback versus having a more diverse PAG. On one hand, you want accomplished players with extensive game knowledge to be the people that are providing the feedback. The question becomes how do you do that and ensure the PAG benefits from players with diverse backgrounds?
Letting the champion pick his team is good in some instances, however, it is only natural for that person to draw from the people and communities around them which could have an echo chamber effect on the PAG. Not to mention there is increasing concern that Jagex will exclusively use their biggest social media influencers, streamers, etc., to be picked as champions. The truth is that we simply don't know how valid this criticism is going to turn out to be. At this point, there has only been one PAG and its focus was on ninja updates. It makes sense to use The RS Guy and his impressive team to work on ninja updates. That makes sense, but what remains to be seen is if this will be the trend going forward or if Jagex will tap other players from other backgrounds. For example, let's say Jagex wanted to find out how to make RuneScape a more accessible game for people with disabilities, will they tap a streamer because of their audience or will they look for someone who has some kind of expertise or experience either with navigating RuneScape while having disabilities or a background in accessible gaming? This is the big question for me and only time will tell.
PAGs are Jagex's latest attempt at soliciting meaningful feedback from its players. We have been down this road before with power to the player, the year of the player, Rune Labs, and more polls than you can shake a stick at. Hopefully this time they have struck the right balance between knowledgeable and insightful player feedback and the hard realities of game design. There is no doubt that there are areas of the game that can greatly benefit from something like this. It is also a fact that the company would not be able to afford to hire special consultants for niche aspects of the game and that is perhaps the PAG's greatest strength. PAGs can perform that task with minimal cost to Jagex and players get a real sense of buy-in with updates going forward. The criticism and concerns are legitimate, however, until we see another PAG it's hard to tell which direction PAGs will go. Will they stick with their content creators and streamers or will they widen the net and solicit the bolt of knowledge that exists in the general player base as a whole? While we may not want to design by committee, feedback by committee is very useful. Hopefully, we will find out more about this in the months to come. Then again there is no guarantee that this will last and that Jagex is getting what they had hoped out of them. Until next time, Happy RuneScaping.
The Ninja Team is here with strike 5 but we also have some much needed changes to the settings interface and more. This weeks live stream previews strike 6 featuring the Grand Exchange. Then we ask what does this mean for the future of updates?
We’ve gathered our resources and it’s time for a deep dive into the lore of the Infernal Source. Of course it’s also Mental Health Awareness week and we consider what part of OSRS should come to RS3.
Ever since the days of Runescape Classic, Karamja had expanded from a simple addition to house a couple of quests like the Pirate's Treasure and the Dragon Slayer quests. For a while, not even the volcano existed; it was a big black square. Then, the volcano appeared, and there too was a fence for "future content" for a bit. Then came Brimhaven, and then the jungle, and before we knew it, we had the Shilo Village quest that spanned the entire area. Add the shipyard for the Gnome Tree quest, and we had ourselves a bit of a fun, though somewhat scary jungle place. And I say scary because back then, poison was a really, REALLY big deal. You take one step south of Brimhaven, you'd best be carrying anti-poison.
And then as the cherry on top, the Legends Quest came out. It was the last quest Runescape Classic would ever see, and it spawned forth the hard-to-access, harder-to-navigate Kharazi Jungle and its, at the time, ridiculous dungeon. Trust me, it was much deadlier than the Underground Pass. It also accidentally spawned one of my most favorite activities back then; barrel-training. There was a room there with barrels that you break, and you get a random spawn, sometimes some valuable drops... just the sheer randomness of it made it exciting.
And then came Runescape 2. And Runescape 3. It's had its fair share of updates: one somewhat early graphical rework, Tai Bwo Wannai village became involving, Divination and Slayer targets spawned within, it got a few more exciting quests and features like the Herblore Habitat and the Vine Maze, and several quests.
But after that... nothing. The rest of Runescape branched into a huge, world-scaled graphics reworking. Whole towns and dungeons burst forth with epic NXT graphics and a stunning visual that really made the game immersive. But the Karamja Jungle is still about the level of Runescape 2.
How come it hasn't caught up? First off, because it doesn't have a large amount of attention. Places like Prifddinas and the Archaeology sites look visually stunning because that's where all the action and attention is. Karamja doesn't have much to offer anymore. It's got a bunch of mid-level content like nature runes, some divination memories, and you go there all the time for hard and elite treasure trails.
Basically, it's spent middle-of-the-road content. Too dangerous for a newbie and not worthwhile for a pro. And aside from the quests, there are plenty of other things all over Runescape that are, by all accounts, better than what Karamja has to offer. It's, for lack of a better term, "spent".
And it's not alone. Ape Atoll is much the same. It did have a nice graphics update once, but it's ultimately still very low-res compared to other things. Of course, like many areas, this place is more or less a location mainly for quests, and back when the dragon scimitar was the best weapon in the game (I'm serious), there was some merit to hanging out there despite being so out-of-the-way to get to (had to get there via gnome glider each time).
Can something be done? Can these jungle biomes be saved?
... the answer is yes, but it's going to be very difficult for the folks at Jagex.
First off, both Karamja and Ape Atoll, which I'm lumping together because they are aesthetically similar, will need a graphics overhaul. I'm talking full-on concept art and redone ambiance SFX. Jungles are complicated and diverse, so it would be a challenge both balancing that clustered, claustrophobic environment while still allowing players to navigate through relatively easily.
Naturally, this won't be done unless there's an epic quest to go along with it so players will spend a good and proper amount of time there. See the sights, enjoy the visuals. Unfortunately, with the excitement of the Elder Gods awakening and Anachronia taking all the jungle-themed hype with... well, dinosaurs, this quest would have to be very lore-heavy into the history of Karamja. Maybe it'll introduce a new God, or some sort of Jungle King, or maybe you'd have to save the land from becoming a desert because some other God wants to turn it into their own spawning ground...or, maybe Marimbo will go nuts. Either way, this would be an interesting update if they pull it off.
Next, we'd need some kind of hook. Something to make training and being there worthwhile. Menaphos did it with the grind-happy reputation system. Karamja already has a sort of build-up system in the form of trading sticks, where various activities net you this currency for exchange of good things. Right now, they're not worth much because the stuff they bought are quite easily obtained now (the three low-tier gems), so an entirely new economy will need to be built around Karamja. I'm talking expanded Herblore habitat, potion shops, and Runecrafting aids and all that kind of stuff, supplementing what Karamja's already got and making it a viable mid-level training method.
That, and we'd need something new in the form of all-around benefits. Something that can only be provided by the jungle. Maybe we'll find special idols that, when in your inventory, activate on a timer and benefit the player before needing to be recharged back on Karamja. For example, an idol that will double the time stat boosts last. Or an idol that constantly applies a bleed effect to your weapon. I could go on with ideas, but you get the idea. Something that benefits the stuff players usually do outside of Karamja. ... although, maybe they should be more potent while on Karamja, like the Stone of Jas proximity buff in the Glacor Cave...
Ape Atoll, I'm thinking that the only way to get people to really want to hang out there is to provide it with a special Grand Exchange, where the monkeys there operate it a little differently that slightly beats the regular Grand Exchange. For example they could have a trade point system where the more GE trades you do, the more points you get that you can spend on stuff. Or you can only have 3 trades active at a time, but you get 2% more coins (out of nowhere) on your trade there like some kind of credit card cashback feature, making it worthwhile to go out of your way to travel there and disguise yourself.
Of course, adding more quests to the area and expanding on the lore is the easiest way to warrant a graphical rework, but again, there are already so many exciting things happening in Runescape that I don't think we'll see it happen very much.
... unless, say, a new archaeology area opens up there...
Until next time,