We start off with a bang seeing the removal of Bounty Hunter. Don’t worry though, the rewards are still accessible, if not even more so. And is the wilderness Slayer task list, almost perfect? Plus off road discussions on Onyx and the Comp Cape rework.
Ah, RuneScape. The game where achievements and completionism never fails to be mentioned at least once every few months. This time, it's all about the big completionist cape rework we've been promised. When the first collateral damage reports came in though, things got heated. The initial proposal is to replace end-game capes with a new system of achievement milestones. The achievements will be split in several categories, such as combat, lore, and skilling, and each category has three milestones. Lore tier 1 would be finishing all quests for example, while skilling tier 1 would be getting 99 in all skills.
Some of you may be wondering: wait a second, Cireon, what are you saying? Lore tier 1 is finishing all quests... doesn't that already have a cape? Here's where it gets interesting: the lore tier 1 cape would replace the quest cape. We got a riot on our hands when Jagex merely changed the quest cape design, so the notion of removing it entirely caused, well, some concern. While it has since been clarified that the lore tier 1 cape is, in fact, the questing cape, I think it is worth looking at something else that happened during these heated discussions: people were wondering why these changes were made in the first place. "Why is Jagex making this overly complicated?"
I think the design document outlines the problems with the current completionist system from a game mechanical point of view very well. We can also think about this on a higher level. RuneScape never had a well-defined endgame. The game was originally not designed with the idea that people would get the maximum level in a skill in mind. This leads to two problems that crop up in RuneScape. Firstly, other (MMO)RPGs often have some level of replay value. There are meaningful choices to make on character creation - race, class, story background, to name a few. Choosing a different point to start can give you a greatly different experience, both in terms of gameplay (if you are playing a different class), and in terms of story (if you have a different story background). Playing World of Warcraft as a human wizard or an orc fighter are massively different experiences, despite the game being the same. Even then, in most MMOs, progression is often only a part of the game experience. Usually there are good PvP and/or PvE experiences that players end up spending the majority of the time in. This nicely brings us to the second problem RuneScape has to deal with: there are very few activities in RuneScape that are fun just because they're fun doing, rather than hitting some milestone.
As players have been spending more time with the game, Jagex has had to add new things to spice up the late game, and to keep having things for players to work towards. This has culminated in the completionist cape, and its trimmed variant. This solution worked for a while. However, updates take more time to make than to complete, and thus players caught up. The completionist cape became common-place, and since its status has made the cape best-in-slot, so did its combat bonuses. Suddenly, Jagex could expect a backlash on adding new requirements, and ever since the Menaphos update, there has been few new requirements added to the completionist capes.
Like I said, Jagex has been incrementally trying to push players to keep playing the game. That's pretty much their job, because their revenue depends on people actually having a reason to log in regularly. We went from capes of accomplishment to max and completionist capes, then the virtual levels were added, followed by the master skillcapes. Yet, every time it's just a patch up. A new bit of duct tape added to the game to keep people playing. Never did Jagex sit down to find a proper solution to the endgame problem. There are things to learn from other MMOs for sure, but RuneScape is quite unique, and thus it needs a thorough design to fit that very thing that sets RuneScape apart from all the other games. The very requirement to actually make the endgame work prescribes a massive transformative update to achievements, almost by definition.
The achievements rework we got last year would have been the perfect moment to do it. In the lead-up to this update, we had several discussions on the podcast about how the game could be improved by a different approach to achievements. We talked about new ways of using dailies and spotlights, better ways of presenting milestones, and more. Yet all we got was a mediocre interface rework that is still not used to its full potential. It looks like we'll still get part of what we hoped for, it will just be a year late.
So when people ask why Jagex is making this overly complicated, the answer is actually quite simple: because they have to. Sure, Mod Jack and co could spend time on another content update or two instead, but people would finish it within days. Players will slowly leak away from the game, because there is nothing left to achieve. By investing in completely reworking the achievement and completionist system, Jagex is playing the long game. It means that each update Jagex releases counts for more. It also means that there are steps between maxing and comping for people to achieve. It is unavoidable that in such a process, the old system must go away. This is understandably a challenge for everybody who worked hard towards their achievements, but it is a necessary step in ensuring the long term health of RuneScape as a game. From what I have seen, Jagex could not have been more respectful towards existing cape holders in how they approach the problem. The community repaying them with a small riot is not in anybody's interest. We have to accept that the old needs to make way for the new. Only then can we create a system that works for everyone.
This week saw the removal of Bounty Hunter. Bounty Hunter was a sort of minigame that was, essentially, a controlled version of Player VS Player. Players were assigned other players as targets, which sort of made the battlefield less chaotic and more direct, and included a fun bonus of dropping a random high-tiered weapon to effectively become a juggernaut with for those who decided they wanted to be really epic.
At the time of its release, though, it was sort of necessary.
We were on the early stages of the age of limited trade. Due to the influx of bots, Jagex invoked perhaps the most gutsiest move an MMORPG could make; limiting the freedom of trade, effectively turning every single player into a pseudo iron-man. This effectively destroyed real-world trading in game and cut down the player base by more than half (though the majority of that were people who benefitted from RWT, so no problems there), but it did very much limit the game's interactivity between players.
The big change there was that the wilderness lost its PVP capability entirely and instead became home of the ever-exciting revenants. Naturally, if players couldn't trade, they would instead carry the goods, let themselves be "killed" in the wilderness, and let the benefactor scoop up the "rewards". Nope, couldn't have that, so the wilderness was abolished.
However, the folks at Jagex simply could not remove PVP altogether, as it played a very critical aspect to the game. Minigames like the Duel Arena and Fight Cave became very popular, and Bounty Hunter was created to restore that sort of chaos without letting players take advantage of a loophole through limited trade. On killing one another, victims lost their stuff, and winners only got tokens towards other rewards in return (considerably valuable ones, mind). This maintained the PVP economy and prevented RWT.
Since then, advancements were made for detecting bots, cheaters, and RWT people, and eventually the wilderness and free trade was restored. Bounty Hunter remained for a while because it still held some very good rewards, and some players liked the option of being assigned targets and becoming juggernauts.
As the years went by, though, and more and more PVP based minigames arose (Soul Wars, Stealing Creation, Fist of Guthix, etc), Bounty Hunter became obsolete, and the rewards became lackluster. Eventually, it became as abandoned as the Temple of Mort'ton (those distraction dummies don't do squat...). It was no longer necessary because PVP was once again free and limitless, and the wilderness was a lot more fun to explore and interact with due to all the monsters and traps, and space, and environments, and opportunities, and skill locations...
And what do game companies do with obsolete content?
... not a whole lot, actually. If it's obsolete, it would be much more effort to remove it than just leave it in. You know, just in case newcomer folks want to give it a try. Not just that, but upon removing it and turning its original rewards into super-rare, sacred treasures, the economy would go crazy and the player base would rage. It would just be too risky.
But this is Jagex. These are the guys who took away a huge, fundamental part of Runescape just to spite real-world trading. These are the guys who invented the eight-barrel omni-directional dwarf multicannon! These are the guys who designed a fully-outlined theme park as a joke. These are the guys who turned a head of cabbage into a God! They don't do things by the book.
They removed Bounty Hunter. Straight-up removed it. Redistributed the rewards. Turned it into a PVM minigame in the more popular, more expansive wilderness. Took a full week (maybe more) to do it. To put it more bluntly, they spent time and effort to REMOVE perfectly good and stable game content! Which is sort of the opposite of what game companies do!
But that's exactly what should be done. Runescape is a land built up from content and updates over the past 15+ years. While the variety is most certainly welcome; unless you are expanding the landmass itself, things are going to get really really cluttered. And because the folks at Jagex already created proper poster art of the Gielinor island, they've inadvertently limited themselves to where content can be placed. As such, we end up with interdimensional rifts in a swamp, great fortresses overshadowing ice-capped mountains, and a mighty Armadylian tower, housing the great bird god himself, sitting next door to a local farmhouse.
These cleanups are necessary to keep the game in a balanced, simplistic, perhaps even believable state. MMORPGs are popular because of their immersion; making it so you actually become the character you are playing as and growing with them. As such, the environments they interact with have to be believable and make sense. And if something doesn't make sense, or is just there cluttering the world with a spent purpose, it's much better off being removed.
Sorry to the three people who are actually going to miss Bounty Hunter. Might I recommend playing cards?
Until next time,
Earth joins us for a full rundown of the current Android RuneScape mobile beta. We run though combat, skilling, and performance. Also this week Parcels From the Hedge and patch notes.
February was an absolutely amazing month for us here. February brings GameBlast and Double XP Weekend, the best Double XP weekend of the year. This year in addition to usual celebrations we had much more. Tanis wrote about RuneScape's Road to Accessibility covering what RuneScape does already do and what it could do better. Along side this we also had Mod Poerkie on RSBANDBUpdate! to discuss the charity SpecialEffect and RuneScape accessibility.