Why people still play RuneScape

INTERVIEW: How the classic title survived World of Warcraft and the explosion of free-to-play MMOs

GR: Can you tell us a little about what you do at Jagex?

Ogilvie: I’m the lead designer of RuneScape. Basically, that means I create the objectives for the Content team for the year, identifying what the game needs in very broad terms. Then I will work with individual developers on specific projects, identifying much more specific aims and target levels, player types, difficulty, etc. Once approved and developed, I play through the content and offer feedback, often working closely with the QA team to ensure the highest quality on launch. Having been at Jagex for seven years now means I also get involved in lots of other projects, like establishing guidelines and rules for our players, editorial roles for stories and letters, event organisation, conference speaking, and even very ’ground level‘ stuff such as helping to decide on punishments for bug abusers. I like to have my fingers in many pies, so to speak.



Above: “I’ve often been surprised at the lack of adventure in MMO games,” explains Ogilvie

GR: The last update was called “the biggest update in RuneScape’s history.” Can you tell us about what was changed and improved?

Ogilvie: One word: Dungeoneering. I’ve often been surprised at the lack of adventure in MMO games. By that I mean that the idea of XP and grind just doesn’t lend itself to the medieval high-fantasy world that most MMO gamers find themselves in. Although I do believe RuneScape’s quest content is the envy of the whole MMO industry (they’re far, far more involved than a glorified ‘shopping list’ quests, which tend to be the industry standard), they can each only be played through once and aren’t likely to occupy more than 15% of your gaming experience.

One of our favourite forum posts of all time was a really well written piece called “Here Be Dragons” – you know, the sort of thing written in the blank parts of ancient maps. “Cliffs of Insanity” or “Rodents of unusual size” - the kind of one liner that just screams adventure to you. The post talked about how MMO games lacked that same kind of adventure, since it asked its gamers to repeat the same actions and visit the same places over and over again. It made us consider the principals of XP and adventure and we argued that they could never be the same – adventure was the reward itself; you couldn’t make ‘adventure’ the principal aim of a skill since it would be grind, which is fundamentally not what adventure is. We weren’t prepared to accept that argument (we often argue with ourselves).

Another issue we were trying to solve at the time was the ’bankstall‘ that experienced players suffer from in all games. You know the feeling: the bit where you log in, go to your bank or storage chest and open the interface. You just have so much stuff that it’s tough to work out what you want to work on. Or you open your achievements tab and see so many uncompleted tasks that you just don’t know where to start - you stall like a car might. For an hour of playing, you spend twenty minutes of that just staring at a list. Sometimes you just want to say “Give me something cool to do for an hour”.

After many meetings and much soul searching the Dungeoneering skill was born, and I would like to think it tackles all of the problems I described above.

GR: So, what is Dungeoneering?

Ogilvie: Basically, it’s the ability to create a unique dungeon experience for yourself and up to four of your mates, culminating in an epic boss fight at the end. The dungeon is a mix of combat, skill-based challenges, puzzles and resources designed to challenge even the most experienced of MMO gamers. Each dungeon allows only minimal (if any) equipment to be carried from each floor to the next (60 floors down at its deepest point), which means the desire to gear up the party with the best equipment is a driving force behind every floor. Equipment comes from using your RuneScape skills to smith armour, hunt mastyx (subterranean cow-like creatures), grow herbs to make potions, summon helpers, etc., or picking it up from the drop tables of the monsters you face.

We build these dungeons room by room, keeping track of how powerful the adventuring group has become and matching the challenges of the subsequent rooms appropriately.

With a huge amount of tweaking options, you can ensure the dungeon experience is the right one for you, especially in terms of difficulty, challenge levels and size. The chance of that dungeon being similar to any other dungeon you have faced is greater than 1 billion to 1. I know it sounds like a crazy number, but it’s true.

After you’re done bashing boss monsters into oblivion, you’ll earn tokens to spend on rewards to use outside of the dungeon. We’re also working on new rewards to use within the dungeon.

GR: What would you say to a gamer who’s never played RuneScape?

Ogilvie: Where have you been for the last eight years? In a hole? On the moon? Try it now before it smites you and jumps up and down on your smoking remains. Well, maybe not that jumping bit, but you should definitely try it. Since we added Dungeoneering to the free version of the game as well as the members’ version, you won’t need to pay anything before you’re slaying your first crypt rat. No excuses!

May 28, 2010


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