In July Jagex announced that they were stopping all work on expansions in favor of a different approach they called Unfinished Business. Mod Osbourne made a video explaining the decision and what this would mean in the future. He also gave convincing reasons why Jagex had made this decision. Many players were stunned and others rejoiced because one thing had become very apparent over the last year, RuneScape wasn’t feeling like RuneScape to a lot of players. It’s hard to believe something as simple as a change in update schedule could have such an impact on the game, but it did. Whatever the reason RuneScape was beginning to feel adrift, new updates felt incomplete and the vision of where the game should be going seemed unfocused. Is this new strategy the right one? How exactly do we find ourselves in this position? And most importantly, will Unfinished Business just turn into more unfocused business?
The beginning of 2017 was a hopeful time for the game. The devs were hard at work on the first expansion and the players were patiently optimistic that Jagex could do the impossible. The impossible being, making a high quality large update aka expansion, while still delivering normal updates players were used to. Reality quickly set in and devs felt a need to push out updates that were, in their words, incomplete, in order to focus on expansions. Of course this didn’t sit well with the players and on top of the updates not being complete there were also much fewer updates then players were used to. Some players expected this and were not bothered by the infrequency of regular updates, at first anyway. Jagex did a good job though at convincing even the players with the most realistic expectations that they were indeed capable of both expansions and regular updates. When the first expansion was released in June, and it to seemed a little incomplete, Jagex was forced to acknowledge what the players already had. The expansion strategy wasn’t working and not only that but the game as a whole wasn’t feeling like RuneScape anymore and felt adrift. The bottom line was that they didn’t have the resources or personnel to do both expansion and regular updates. That might not have been a problem for other games but for a game who has had weekly updates for fifteen years it wasn’t just a problem, it threatened its very identity. That’s right, we all found out that it wasn’t a simple matter of just changing an update schedule, it was fundamentally changing the game. At first it just seemed like the logical next step in the games evolution but just like in nature, helpful mutations stay while unhelpful ones aren’t carried on. That brings us to July and the about face Jagex did by stopping expansions and announcing their newest strategy.
Unfinished Business is the new strategy Jagex is working with now. It consists of, according to Mod Osbourne, finishing updates that were released incomplete, working on updates that were announced but never started, along with graphical reworks and quest line continuations. Unfinished Business will also bring back polling in a big way. Jagex wants to use the old school polling system as an example because it has been successful. Another component of Unfinished Business is a large survey players are asked to fill out. This is supposed to help Jagex prioritize the updates they are working on. These include but aren’t limited to, banking rework, Mining and Smithing rework, clan updates, shattered worlds improvements and achievement system fixes. The survey is 36 pages long so these are just a sample. The other big part of Unfinished Business is the doubling of the ninja team. The ninjas are the team responsible for those small, but really consequential quality of life updates we all love. In short, Unfinished Business is an opportunity for Jagex to set things right, take a step back, and get their poop in a group.
Now that we are a month and a half removed from the original announcement, how is it going? Well that depends on what part your talking about and who you ask. Updates have returned to their prior frequency and we’ve seen things like quick prayer presets, urn improvements and crystal chimchampas. These are what I would call ninja sized updates, so that part of the Unfinished Business seems to be working. The survey is complete and the results in and we could see achievement system fixes as early as this month. All of these things are good and it looks like progress is being made but a closer look may reveal not all is rainbows and candy canes. In fact the Unfinished Business strategy may reveal some core problems that Jagex has and these might be harder to fix. These problems become more evident when you look at the results in the survey and what Jagex has been saying in recent Q&A streams.
The survey listed bank rework, Mining and Smithing rework, and clan updates all near the top. This makes sense as all these things would be helpful to the game and they were expected this year, expansions or not. What Jagex didn’t bet on, however, would be the tightness of the survey when going a little deeper into the Mining and Smithing rework. They also underestimated their lack of personnel when it comes to certain projects. Take Mining and Smithing for example. In a live-stream Jagex said the player base that answered the survey were evenly split between fundamentally changing the skills and just improving it while keeping the same mechanics. This is a problem for Jagex because whatever direction they choose half the players won’t be happy. Their only options are to either do nothing or add new high level content, something that both groups say they want. Therein lies the problem, if Jagex does nothing they look indecisive, however if they do high level content that would feel, oh how do I put this, unfinished. When it comes to the bank rework they don’t have enough Jmods who know how the bank works. This creates an image that Jagex can’t deliver on promises and is unfocused in their approach. It doesn’t matter that its not really the case, that’s how it looks. The real problem is Jagex wants RuneScape to be everything to everybody and that’s not possible when you have a deeply divided player base. Its not just a matter of a split community in regards to OSRS vs RS3, RS3 has divisions in it too. You just can’t please everyone all the time and when you try to do that, fail, and constantly change course, it makes you look like your unable to be decisive. All that being said, is Unfinished Business still the right thing to do?
Unfinished Business is the right strategy, all be it at the wrong time. Its unfortunate that Jagex didn’t do this before trying expansions. That would have been the best time to do it. Of course they had no way to know that expansions would turn out the way they did. Fixing content that was rushed out and half baked can only be good for the game. Bringing older areas of the game more in line with current standards with graphical reworks is also very good for the game. Finishing and continuing quest lines rather than starting new ones is exactly what many players want. Giving us things that were announced years ago is where it gets dicey though. Do players want a bank rework or a Mining and Smithing rework? The survey says yes, but within weeks Jagex had to announce those things are on hold. I understand Jagex doesn’t want players to feel like they aren’t getting anything new during this time. They are aware that there has to be some new content along with the fixes. However Jagex has to be more careful in what they announce and more realistic about what they can do. This is a problem that effects all developers. They over promise, not because there trying to be deceitful but rather they are very passionate about their work. The RuneScape community has been through too much to take that in stride though. On top of that Jagex has to find a way to look consistent. They can’t keep coming across so wish-washy. Don’t tell us your fixing the game then turn around three weeks later and tell us mobile RuneScape is coming out.
All and all it was the right decision. I am hopeful and optimistic about what can come from this. If Unfinished Business works it will be because Jagex has learned a lot over the last eight months and if it doesn’t, confidence in them will erode further. Personally I think it will work if they stick to it. Until next month, Happy RuneScaping.