Dabble, Dabble, Toiling with Trouble

posted by on 25th June 2011, at 1:40am

No, it’s not Halloween. But I felt the title fit with the subject.

As I’m sure everyone knows, Jagex has been branching out quite rapidly over the past few years. Their first and currently most prominent step was in early 2008 when they launched FunOrb. Similar to sites such as Addicting Games or Miniclip, FunOrb has a fairly decent collection of small single and multiplayer games. These games are usually fairly simple and short. Some, do have the ability to get progressively more difficult, though for the most part they are meant to be played for short periods of time. Fun orb currently has 43 games, which isn’t much when compared to large multi-minigame sites; the difference, though, comes with the developers of those 43 games. All the games on Fun Orb are made solely by Jagex. The games on addictinggames.com are made by small, private, single-game developers, unknown multi-game developers, or Miniclip. Miniclip is perhaps the more equivalent competitor for Fun Orb because all of their games are either made by or in conjunction with them. Like Addicting Games, Miniclip has a large quantity of games with which Fun Orb pales in comparison. Fun Orb, however, has higher quality games. Some of which get updated occasionally, which is very rare for games on Addictinggames and Miniclip.

The success of Fun Orb fueled their desire to branch out further, this time focusing on one very popular style of game instead of multiple small games. Thus, War of Legends was born. War of Legends (referred to more often than not as ‘WoL’) is a persistent web MORTS game, or ‘Multiplayer Online Real-Time Strategy’ game. It is essentially a take off of Evony. Admittedly, War of Legends has better graphics and game mechanics but it is undoubtedly the same basic game. With both games you start as the leader of a small city and have to build up the city’s food, wood, stone, and metal production while also increasing the defenses of your city and protecting it from other players. One of the primary places where War of Legends easily trumps Evony is in the fact that in Evony it’s easy for big players to have huge armies (I’m talking in the millions of troops), where as in War of Legends, it’s hard for anyone to get an army of more than a couple hundred thousand. If you haven’t played both you might not understand fully what I’m talking about. I was a ‘Big Gun’ in Evony for nearly a year and then I got crushed in a matter of hours by bigger guns. In War of Legends you can’t be totally destroyed like in Evony. In Evony you can lose all but one city, and unless you intentionally ‘Dump'(abandon) your other cities when under attack, your enemies will make sure to leave you with your worst city. In War of Legends you always have your Capital City. It can be attacked, but it can’t be captured, so if you build up your capital city you can never truly be destroyed.

But, moving on. An interesting fact about these types of games is that almost all of them are Asian developed – even War of Legends. A shocker I know, but Jagex only publishes War of Legends and advertises it under their name, they don’t own nor develop it (even though they allow the game to use Runescape account logins). This is the first time Jagex has allowed any third party to have access to Runescape account information (granted, the systems are setup to encrypt all the information so that the third party can’t actually steal anything, but the fact still stands).

About six months later Jagex bought Planetarion from Renegade Games. I have never played this game and am uncertain about the exact game mechanics, but it appears the game is fairly inactive and possibly on the brink of death.

Mechscape, or maybe better known by its new name of Stellar Dawn, was initially supposed to be a futuristic Runescape-like game. Mechscape itself was scrapped and much of the code was used for a new project named Stellar Dawn. From what I can read, Stellar Dawn is going to be somewhat like a beefed up MechQuest in which players will control giant robots (‘Mecha’) much like in the Gundam Anime TV series. We don’t know much more than that about Stellar Dawn except that it is tentatively planned for a late 2011 release.

Not too long ago, in May, Jagex published the game Herotopia, a kids game focused around superheroes. The interesting thing about this venture is the fact that all their other games require players to be at least 13 years old. Herotopia’s childishness may be part of the reason things in Runescape are tending to look more ‘kiddy’ (even though Jagex does not develop Herotopia).

Coming around the same time as the publishing of Herotopia, Jagex released 8Realms, another types of MORTS game. Unlike Jagex’s other games which are written in mostly Java with a tad of flash, 8Realms is made mostly from HTML and other web coding languages. This accounts for its slowness compared to other games. Since 8Realms is currently in a closed Beta I can’t talk too much about its actual gameplay except that it is like an Evony and Age of Empires Online cross.

In March of this year Jagex announced their partnership with Hasbro to create “Transfomers Universe“, a multiplayer online game based on the popular Transformer shows and movies. The browser based game is set to launch in 2012. Not much else is known about it.

Keeping all that in mind, one can understand my title. Jagex has their hands (or rather over 900 hands, as belonging to the over 450 employees) in quite a few projects (7 of which I talked about). I’m not a large game developer and I don’t profess to have a Master’s in game development, but it would seem that Jagex might have a little too much on their plate. This is shown by a few things:
Recently Runescape has been getting its graphics overhauled in a more ‘kiddish’ style. This can be easily seen in some of the revamped weapons looking like plastic swords we played with when we were 6.
The overall ‘tone’ and mien of Runescape has changed quite drastically in the recent years. Previously Jagex assumed everyone was relatively smart and had decent common sense. Recently, though, they have been adding more and more ‘dummy-proof’ aspects to the game. This makes one feel they are aiming for a much younger audience, despite the fact that children under 13 cannot talk ingame. These changes are very odd considering Mark Gerhard, CEO, said, “the real average age is 16. And there’s this perception that there’s 8 year old boys playing the game and it’s mad.” It really is no surprise to me that the perception is a bunch of 8 year olds. Many aspects of the game look catered to that age and with the amount of immature people you meet on almost any world it’s a wonder if anyone thinks any different. Perhaps if Jagex had less on their plate they could work to draw a better audience?

One thing that really irks me about Jagex in the past year or two is that a lot of their ‘new’ content is just their rendition of another game’s idea. Sometimes the resemblances are so similar that one wonders how they don’t get sued.

These are, of course, only my ideas, thoughts, and opinions. Everyone is entitled to their own. If you want to share yours feel free to post a comment, I’d love to hear what you think.

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