2019 has the potential to be Jagex’s best year ever. The game is mature and the financials are strong. I’ve been playing RuneScape through the worst and the best; right now we’re somewhere in between. Jagex having an eye into the community and knowing the direction the community wants to head in helps too. This doesn’t mean bowing down and doing what the community wants, it means reading the community (via online interaction primarily and inferring social media sentiment) and leading them in the right direction. 2018 showed us what can be accomplished under the right conditions.
2018 also defined what RuneScape 3 consists of. For a long while there was an idea that RuneScape 3 was the old style of RuneScape game but just with better graphics. Not anymore. Deep Sea Fishing, the first two Elite Dungeons, the Player Owned Farm, and the Needle Skips are the defining ideas of RuneScape 3. All of these content additions were well designed, tackled areas of play that needed improvement, broke the mould in some way on an existing skill, and had a level of polish that is reminiscent of a AAA game title (the combat tuning of Elite Dungeons is a separate question). It’s this definition that takes RuneScape 3 into 2019 in one of the best positions ever to make possible change.
Some say that Jagex suffered an immense confidence hit with the missteps surrounding the launch of the Evolution of Combat back in 2012; what followed were years of polling updates and ultimately the release of Old School RuneScape. Last April in 5 Steps to Harmony with Jagex I wrote about Jagex’s 5 act play. In particular:
“If the Mining & Smithing rework along with the Player Owned Farm are successful (by a metric that Jagex is free to allow the community to set blindly), Jagex will have unencumbered themselves from the era of RuneLabs and Power to the Players (Player Power). So what does this mean? This means that for the Third Act Jagex is free to do whatever they want, that may have been completely unimaginable in 2017.”
Everything big that has launched recently has been a stellar hit. In 2019 Jagex is poised to be able to make a big power play that would have seemed risky only 18 months ago. If they manage to execute such a big power play, the game of RuneScape will be changed for the better forever. Now what can stop them achieving this? Anything from bad PR to an outward lack of confidence. The updates for 2019 just have to be good, they don’t need to blow our socks off. People will remember updates such as Player Owned Farms and the Mining and Smithing rework. That’s why at this stage, an unexpected adversary may appear (just like in any movie!) So what exactly needs to be avoided?
1.) Stop unnecessarily hyping players.
In the An Introduction to 2019 post and video, Jagex goes over what we can expect in January and February. Fine. Near the end of the news article they mention mobile. It’s no secret that mobile for RuneScape 3 isn’t where it’s supposed to be, we’ll talk more about this soon. But an entire paragraph was also dedicated to mentioning “something special to be released in the summer” and one of the developer teams is working on something (presumably large) to be released in early 2020. One sentence about the summer and one sentence about 2020 creates unnecessary hype.
A traditional RuneScape player will see a patch week or concurrent patch weeks in a row and think: “If one team is working on something for the summer and one working on something for 2020, this must be the cause of the patch week! It’s gonna be great!” Or they might instead think: “New skill! New skill! Bank rework?!? Construction rework?!?” We know that the last project likely won’t happen and the bank rework has been shelved for the time being but this is the internal discussion a RuneScape player will have. It creates unnecessary hype and expectations Jagex doesn’t control. This is good for no one.
2.) Let the developers focus on good game design
Talking to the developers at RuneFest was an eye opening experience. Someone who watches the live streams will know the character of Mod Raven. However, after spending a few minutes of talking to any of them you will see that they love game mechanics and game design. Jagex needs to broadcast this to the player base regularly. GameJams are good, have the developers show off the concept (if feasible), but most importantly come up with a concept, bring it before the players, and refine the design. This is what happened with the Mining and Smithing rework as well as the Player Owned Farm. They were both very successful. Read more about this issue in The Heart of the Game.
3.) Avoid missteps with social media (and news posts)
I mentioned we would be talking about the mobile blog post. Mobile is a project that is definitely behind where it should be progress wise, but we want a product that is done right when it is ultimately launched. The blog post gave us a rundown of what has happened, some screenshots of the new chat interaction, and then the big bomb was dropped that the new player experience is being reworked. In particular:
“This isn’t going to be a quick process. It’s going to take us a fair amount to time and testing to get that early game ready for the horde of new players we want to attract, and give us the best chance of turning them into true RuneScapers!”
This post is perfect from the sense of content and its goal of providing an update on what’s happening. It falls down in that it is effectively saying, we have no updates on timeframe, it’s still going to be a while. This fails because it’s talking about a project most everyone wants, thus indirectly hyping the player base. It also fails because the post was released right before Christmas preventing Jagex from responding to any criticisms in a meaningful way.
The correct thing to do regarding mobile would’ve been to schedule a mobile content showcase the week the Mining and Smithing rework was released or postpone to February and show mobile off the week Elite Dungeon 3 is released. The idea behind this is multi-pronged. First it capitalizes on the good will of a successful release and secondly since there is no new good news (for the players who want mobile) it makes the mobile content showcase a secondary event eclipsed by a much larger successful primary event. The mobile content showcase is still there for players who want it but it’s not unnecessarily sucking air out of the room.
In the span of a month Jagex has done two of the three things they shouldn’t be doing if they want to remain successful. Once is fine, maybe twice, but if this becomes a monthly occurrence all of the good will built up by the releases of updates such as The Player Owned Farm and the Mining and Smithing Rework among others will be lost. The goal is to use the good will to move into the third act this year to do something on the level of Mining and Smithing in terms of the amount of good will needed to pull it off (e.g. a major drop table rework).
We know Jagex can deliver content with a high production value. We know they can do it successively. The talent is there and the desire is there. What do they need to do to claim victory in 2019? 1.) Follow the design process used for Mining and Smithing and Player Owned Farms. 2.) Don’t unnecessarily build hype, there is no blueprint for this, it is dependent upon time, place, and type of content. 3.) Re-tool live streams and social media as a vehicle for strong promotion (e.g. see political campaigns).
Oh, and actually claim victory! Hint: This is the most important if everything else is followed.