Ah, RuneScape. The game where achievements and completionism never fails to be mentioned at least once every few months. This time, it’s all about the big completionist cape rework we’ve been promised. When the first collateral damage reports came in though, things got heated. The initial proposal is to replace end-game capes with a new system of achievement milestones. The achievements will be split in several categories, such as combat, lore, and skilling, and each category has three milestones. Lore tier 1 would be finishing all quests for example, while skilling tier 1 would be getting 99 in all skills.
Some of you may be wondering: wait a second, Cireon, what are you saying? Lore tier 1 is finishing all quests… doesn’t that already have a cape? Here’s where it gets interesting: the lore tier 1 cape would replace the quest cape. We got a riot on our hands when Jagex merely changed the quest cape design, so the notion of removing it entirely caused, well, some concern. While it has since been clarified that the lore tier 1 cape is, in fact, the questing cape, I think it is worth looking at something else that happened during these heated discussions: people were wondering why these changes were made in the first place. “Why is Jagex making this overly complicated?”
I think the design document outlines the problems with the current completionist system from a game mechanical point of view very well. We can also think about this on a higher level. RuneScape never had a well-defined endgame. The game was originally not designed with the idea that people would get the maximum level in a skill in mind. This leads to two problems that crop up in RuneScape. Firstly, other (MMO)RPGs often have some level of replay value. There are meaningful choices to make on character creation – race, class, story background, to name a few. Choosing a different point to start can give you a greatly different experience, both in terms of gameplay (if you are playing a different class), and in terms of story (if you have a different story background). Playing World of Warcraft as a human wizard or an orc fighter are massively different experiences, despite the game being the same. Even then, in most MMOs, progression is often only a part of the game experience. Usually there are good PvP and/or PvE experiences that players end up spending the majority of the time in. This nicely brings us to the second problem RuneScape has to deal with: there are very few activities in RuneScape that are fun just because they’re fun doing, rather than hitting some milestone.
As players have been spending more time with the game, Jagex has had to add new things to spice up the late game, and to keep having things for players to work towards. This has culminated in the completionist cape, and its trimmed variant. This solution worked for a while. However, updates take more time to make than to complete, and thus players caught up. The completionist cape became common-place, and since its status has made the cape best-in-slot, so did its combat bonuses. Suddenly, Jagex could expect a backlash on adding new requirements, and ever since the Menaphos update, there has been few new requirements added to the completionist capes.
Like I said, Jagex has been incrementally trying to push players to keep playing the game. That’s pretty much their job, because their revenue depends on people actually having a reason to log in regularly. We went from capes of accomplishment to max and completionist capes, then the virtual levels were added, followed by the master skillcapes. Yet, every time it’s just a patch up. A new bit of duct tape added to the game to keep people playing. Never did Jagex sit down to find a proper solution to the endgame problem. There are things to learn from other MMOs for sure, but RuneScape is quite unique, and thus it needs a thorough design to fit that very thing that sets RuneScape apart from all the other games. The very requirement to actually make the endgame work prescribes a massive transformative update to achievements, almost by definition.
The achievements rework we got last year would have been the perfect moment to do it. In the lead-up to this update, we had several discussions on the podcast about how the game could be improved by a different approach to achievements. We talked about new ways of using dailies and spotlights, better ways of presenting milestones, and more. Yet all we got was a mediocre interface rework that is still not used to its full potential. It looks like we’ll still get part of what we hoped for, it will just be a year late.
So when people ask why Jagex is making this overly complicated, the answer is actually quite simple: because they have to. Sure, Mod Jack and co could spend time on another content update or two instead, but people would finish it within days. Players will slowly leak away from the game, because there is nothing left to achieve. By investing in completely reworking the achievement and completionist system, Jagex is playing the long game. It means that each update Jagex releases counts for more. It also means that there are steps between maxing and comping for people to achieve. It is unavoidable that in such a process, the old system must go away. This is understandably a challenge for everybody who worked hard towards their achievements, but it is a necessary step in ensuring the long term health of RuneScape as a game. From what I have seen, Jagex could not have been more respectful towards existing cape holders in how they approach the problem. The community repaying them with a small riot is not in anybody’s interest. We have to accept that the old needs to make way for the new. Only then can we create a system that works for everyone.