It is impossible to make everyone happy. This is one of the core truths of designing a game. Unless you are designing the game for a single player, I suppose. I don’t recommend it: it’s not a good business model. Of course the larger your game’s player base, the more different opinions you have to deal with. Luckily, for most games, the players can be roughly categorised. As is usually the case, categorisation is never perfect, but it is a helpful tool in discussing game mechanics.
RuneScape updates are divisive, almost as a rule. Today I want to talk about one category of divisive updates: skilling updates. Last December, we saw the introduction of the Grace of the Elves. This necklace is created using an Alchemical Onyx, and has several benefits if worn during skilling. Among these benefits is that Seren spirits can show up, in a similar way as fire spirits show up during Firemaking. They drop something from the rare drop table when interacted with.
For skillers, this is big. It means that items previously unattainable to them can now be obtained through skilling. No longer are skillers forced into a play style they don’t enjoy to have a chance at receiving, say, the Hazelmere Signet Ring. It also makes a small improvement towards making skilling more financially viable, as it is common knowledge that if you want to get rich in RuneScape, you do PvM.
That is where the story shifts. PvMers swim in money because of those rare drop table drops. There was a massive outcry as PvMers saw their monopoly on rare drop table drops evaporate.
The Grace of the Elves is not the only source of controversy of this kind. The Mining & Smithing rework team had to fight hard to make high-level armour made through Smithing on par with high-level drops from bosses, for example. There is an eternal frustration among the skilling community that the PvM community keeps skilling from being truly profitable, from making skilling a play style that is just as viable as smacking bosses with sticks.
If this were happening just because the PvM community wants to stay ahead of skilling, that would be bad. It would be very easy to take this as an opportunity to tell them off, to fight for the skilling community. However, it is important to look at both sides of the argument, so let’s think about what the skilling community is asking for: to make skilling as profitable as PvM. Would that be fair?
Combat involves a lot more than just clicking an anvil every minute or so. To effectively profit from bossing, you need to invest time to learn how to defeat a boss efficiently. You need to invest resources in the kills. Finally, you also need to consider one important factor: bossing can kill you. All in all, when you choose to make your money through killing a giant spider or an animated tree, you invest more time and resources and take more risks than what you would get of skilling. Sure, skilling requires you to level up your skills, but so does combat.
Now, if smithing and – say – killing Telos would yield you the exact same gp/h, why would you ever take the hard path from a mechanical standpoint? Bossing being more profitable has the exact same reason as why you can get more experience in the Wilderness: risk.
So… who is right? I think both sides of the arguments have a good case. PvM should be more profitable than skilling from a game design point of view, but that doesn’t mean that skilling cannot compete. We have trade-offs when it comes to choosing a training method: do we want to sacrifice some xp/h but have a method that is AFK, or would we rather do something more click intensive to get that 99 in less time? Of course, if something is both afk and the best xp/h, we have a problem (*cough* Seren Stones I am looking at you): the method is overpowered. On the other side of the spectrum, we have underpowered methods. Creating signs with Divination can be a pretty AFK training method, but nobody will recommend you to train Divination that way. Same with using disassembly as a training method past some point: the gp cost is just too high.
Going back to the original discussion, skilling feels like it sits in that same spot: it is less risky and maybe a bit easier, but it is completely impossible to even got close to the gp income you would get from killing Telos back to back. Surely, a balance must be found here, and that can only be achieved if we all accept that there are different playing styles. Of course we all want our own play style to be a bit better than the others, but making everything equally good will at least not make a lot of people unhappy.
The come back to the Grace of the Elves: I believe it is also an update that works for everyone. Sure, maybe the Grace of the Elves could have dropped the price of rare drop table drops, but why would that be a big problem if it makes the game fairer for everyone? Let’s not forget: in the end the skillers supply PvMers. If skilling became more profitable, maybe more players will start doing skilling. This will make combat supplies cheaper, and once more increase the profit margins of PvM. To summarise: economics are complicated. Thinking in terms of “more people are getting the drops I depend on, panic sell wands!” is not only short-sighted, but toxic to the wider community.
So, was the combat council right when it pushed back on the armour from the Mining & Smithing rework? Yes! Was the Mining & Smithing Rework team right to keep pushing to make Smithing more viable? Also yes! Because these two teams discussed, they came up with a solution that could work for everyone. All we need is a continued representation of all categories of players so we can have healthy discussions and rational trade-offs to make a good game for everybody who wants to immerse themselves into the world of Gielinor.