We detail our favourite minigames for the minigame celebration. The Ninjas also strike the Player Owned Farm. The combat council admits power creep and the lore heavy hitters cover Mark’s reaction to killing Guthix and Raven’s Zodiac inspired ciphers.
Everybody experiences RuneScape differently. The experience is a combination of our backgrounds, the people we encounter in-game, the state of the game when we first made our encounter, the choices we make along the way... I think it is fair to say that no RuneScape playthrough ever feels the same way. Of course this applies to myself as well: many things factored into how I have experienced RuneScape. At the same time, RuneScape has also played an influence in my life otherwise. Not just through the people I met, but also the things I learned.
It is hard to believe that a single game has been with me through more than half of my life. While my experiences may be unique, I wanted to single out one thing that has shaped my relationship with RuneScape: language.
My assumption is that the majority of the players, and the majority of you reading this article, speak English natively. This means that when you opened up RuneScape and spawned on Tutorial Island (or - Brassica forbid - in a random shady basement in Lumbridge), you should have had no problem following the instructions and explanations. How different was it for me! As anybody who has heard me on the RSBANDB podcast probably already figured out, English is not my native language. When I started playing, I was a mere 11 years old (please don't tell Jagex!). I had just started learning how to count to ten in English in school, so the only reason I managed to get my own account us because a friend of mine led me through the process.
Going through my first steps on Tutorial Island, in what we now know as RuneScape Classic, the game was not much more to me than my friend telling me exactly what to click and what to do. The text on the screen might as well have been random characters! For the first year, I wasn't able to play RuneScape at home - we only had a metered internet connection, so that couldn't be used to play games online. Every week, I would visit my friend, and we'd play together, him explaining to me what I could do.
At some point, I moved towns, and while RuneScape was a great way to stay in contact, I was also now on my own. Over time, I started learning the English terms in the game. I may not have known what they meant, but I could often figure out enough from context. Not that I always got it right, mind you. With people talking about owning "100k", I came to the conclusion that "k" must be the currency of RuneScape. When I proudly showed off my "600k", I got a bit of a laugh from my friend. That day I learned the meaning of "k".
For quests and minigames, I had to rely on guides written in Dutch to figure out how to complete them. Yet I still came to be a quester, and I think that is because I always had to learn about new systems by experimentation and word of mouth - that is, if the aggressive chat censoring didn't censor out half your Dutch sentences in-game. It took me several days in the RuneScape 2 beta to learn you could run instead of walk, and that the game now had sound effects and background music! I lost all my progress in the RuneScape 2 beta, because I didn't understand the news post about copying your RuneScape 2 progress back to RuneScape classic.
It is much harder playing a game if you have no idea what you're doing. At the same time, figuring out the game became a game by itself. Each time I figured out what something meant or what to do, it was a small victory. At the same time, I was learning English words left and right, and while I went on a RuneScape hiatus after a few years of playing, it had already helped me develop my English beyond that of my peers. In a sense, I still benefit from playing RuneScape at a young age all these years later.
Is this an argument then to put young children in front of a game in a foreign language and just let them figure things out? Perhaps. You'd be surprised at how well they'll manage and pick up the language. Yet I'd argue there is also a flip side to this story: the only reason I ended up deep inside the RuneScape rabbit hole is because I was handheld all the way through it by somebody else (whether that be a friend or a Dutch fansite), and because I persevered even when my lack of understanding led to loss or disappointment. That kind of game is not for everybody, and many a child would've moved on to other games. Translating your game in multiple languages is more inclusive to those people who'll struggle interpreting and learning a language they don't know, and allows everybody to experience your game to the fullest. I hope this shows all of you how easy it is to take for granted that you understand what's being said or written, because it surely is not that way for everybody.
Nevertheless, I am still around playing RuneScape, twenty years after the game first came out. It helped me get better at English, and my unique experience in trying to learn the game through different means than reading the in-game text is what has pushed me to see the game in a different way.
Over its lifetime, RuneScape has seen strong leadership leading to periods of outstanding growth. At times it has also seen a lack of cohesive leadership leading to a stagnant or even muddled directive. One of the most important characteristics for a living game (as RuneScape is) is for there to be a consistent direction and guiding principle. RuneScape started off as a tiny project between three brothers and has grown to become a phenomenon spanning generations. After 20 years, it’s only fair to look at where we’ve been and where we’re going today.
Andrew Gower’s RuneScape era is one that spanned almost 10 years from 2001 through 2010. Andrew Gower’s RuneScape was one of small grab bag updates that would be wholesome content week to week that often wasn’t structured. Many including myself consider 2005 to 2007 to be one of the RuneScape golden ages. How was this done with very little structure?
To be fair, most of the early updates were world building. Content arriving was adding new landmasses, introducing characters, and forming the core of what we know as RuneScape today. Many of our core skills arrived during this time such as Runecrafting, Slayer, Farming, Construction, Summoning, and Hunter. There were also tiny updates like Tears of Guthix and the Achievement Diary that form key parts of today’s gameplay.
Andrew’s game design was simple and there’s an argument to be made that if you put this kind of content in front of players today with the game at its current maturity level, it wouldn’t work. The landmass is full of content in most areas, it’s just a question if that content is usable to you. Content released since 2013 has been getting grander and bigger, going backwards would indeed mean going back to 2007. While players ask for week to week headlining content updates, we need to be honest and realize that today’s level of production isn’t feasible with a week to week headline release schedule.
Put simply, Andrew’s leadership worked because the game was young and production was simpler and cheaper back in 2007. Today we would be questioning if we were being served by artificially limiting ourselves in order to have week to week content updates.
Near the end of Andrew's era the game suffered its first real shock. Longtime players will know that before Mod MMG came on the scene, Runescape was plagued with bots, and it was the number one issue at the time. In 2007, the Runescape leadership had enough, and took a drastic step to combat the bot epidemic that was chasing players away from the game. The solution was a controlled forest burn of sorts: The Grand Exchange and Wilderness Trade Removal. This bold move was necessary to combat the bot epidemic as the heuristics based bot technology did not yet exist.
It was in this environment that Runescape players were introduced to Mod MMG, Mark Gerhard, who presided over the game from 2009 to 2014. This era saw RuneScape’s introduction of micro transactions focusing on of course Squeal of Fortune and Bonds. It was also at this time that we saw the beginning of the Sixth Age, as well as the final nail in the coffin to the bot epidemic that had plagued the game for years. Without this being dealt with, there would be no game today.
This bold action taking also led to the game’s most controversial update, the Evolution of Combat. This ultimately raised a lot of questions in the community and eroded a great deal of trust that the players had in the leadership of Runescape. The player base bifurcated and we witnessed what felt like a significant lack of confidence on Jagex’s end, as a reaction to strong opinions from the player base on either side.
On the podcast we often discuss the natural reaction to this being the sudden increase in polls in 2013 and 2014. These polls were an example of weaker leadership as it left the decision making more towards the players rather than a central team with a guiding vision for the game. As it stands, these polls weren’t needed as 2017 and beyond would prove that there were other methods of recovery, like consistent quality!
The updates in the MMG era ushered in the Sixth Age, RuneScape 3, and ultimately set the path forward for the storyline of today. The updates were still packaged standalone with the overarching multi year Sixth Age Sliske storyline. While the Sliske arc took almost 4 years to resolve, the important takeaway from this era update wise is that the stakes were raised higher than ever before and players became accustomed to updates of epic proportions.
Rod Cousens, who took over the CEO mantle after the departure of Mod MMG can be seen as that of a caretaker. He continued much of the same policies and update styles. He and Mod MMG finished off the Sliske Arc and brought the game and community into the Sixth Age. The replacement for Rod Cousens was Phil Mansell, otherwise known as Mod Pips, who took over as CEO in January 2017. 2017 under Mod Pips looked largely like the previous two years, but a big change hit in 2018 for the better.
Mod Pips had a history at Jagex going back to 2011 starting as a designer and then executive producer. He’s actually played RuneScape and is responsible for where we are today. He captured lightning in 2018 with the hits including the Clue Scroll Rework, Deep Sea Fishing, and the Player Owned Farm. His team also brought the much desired Mining and Smithing rework to players in 2019. 2019 was a tad quiet, 2020 was amazing (for Runescape at least), and 2021 is promised to be one of our best years yet.
Mod Pips also engaged in a hiring spree hiring many senior managers, technical leads, and content developers. It was under Mod Pips that Jagex scored Mod Warden (Ryan Ward) of Lucas Arts, BioWare, and Blizzard fame. The RuneScape 3 team also picked up Mod Hooli formerly Community Manager for the Call of Duty franchise at Activision. The number of content developers has grown and Jagex seems to be consistently hiring even through the pandemic.
It’s the strong leadership of Mod Pips as CEO, hiring not only content developers but also managers and executives, that we are where we are at today. We’re back to weekly updates with monthly headliners and even weeks without a headliner are still substantive. Without Mod Pips as CEO there would be no filling out of the rest of the team and the game would still be stagnating.
20 years on I feel that we are on the cusp of another RuneScape golden age. Jagex has experienced a myriad of different leadership styles, some effective, some not, but something has to have gone right to have a little game dreamed up in a dining room at the turn of the millennium, thriving 20 years later.
To RuneScape’s leaders, past and present, thank you.
It’s combat week, filled with ironman inconsistencies on XP boosts, Elder Overloads, and more. We also jump on the retro cosmetic bandwagon and detail how to rework 4 or 5 skills at once. Then we deconstruct the Ninja PAG and talk about bias.