Fool Me Once

posted by on 29th July 2020, at 2:15am

It’s been a long, hot, dry summer in more ways than one this year. With the exception of recent real-world events, we’ve been here before. Last year in 2019 there was a long period during the summer where we didn’t get any substantial updates. Of course, now we know from our interview with Mod Osborne that is was a series of delays that added together left us without any real update until 120 Farming and Herblore in late fall. I bring this up not only to give us a starting point but also to say this was the first time I began to think Jagex may be bringing expansions back. This hypothesis wasn’t out of left-field. There were reasons to suspect such a move. In fact, over the course of 2019 and into 2020 I was pretty convinced that expansions would be the update schedule going forward all be it by another name. Jagex had shied away from using that term to describe its update schedule for reasons we’ll talk about later. The question of the cadence of RuneScape updates has been definitely answered and it will remain a weekly update cadence. Mod Warden said in a July 9th live-stream that they will indeed be sticking with the weekly update schedule. He then went on to say that they have experienced some delays and challenges working from home during the pandemic. Obviously I was a little surprised. I thought I had put all the clues together and came up with the most reasonable answer, however, this was not the case, expansions were never going to be the direction RuneScape took. I had to ask myself how could I have gotten this so wrong? In a conversation with our very own favorite podcast host, Shane said something that made real sense to me. He said weekly updates were so intertwined with what RuneScape had always been it’s proven impossible to change it.

For those who may be new here or for those who might’ve forgotten, in 2017 Jagex tried to go to an expansion update schedule. This meant that they wanted to package large updates together with small and medium-size and release these as a batch a few times a year. This is a model that works very well in other games probably most notably in Elder Scrolls Online. One problem that stood out, in the beginning, was that Jagex was going to try to still release additional content not covered by expansions so that players could ease into this new schedule. They knew for sixteen years at that point RuneScape had been receiving weekly updates and this would be a huge change for the players. Trying to have it both ways was a problem for Jagex and as in many cases of trying to have it both ways, they didn’t deliver on either of them. They only managed to put out a trickle of content over the six months leading up to the first expansion Menaphos. Add to that Menaphos’ cool reception and expansions were promptly cancelled.

Jagex tried to course-correct but unfortunately never really regained a strong update cadence after expansions. This inconsistency of content finally culminated in last summer’s dry spell. After the release of Anachronia last summer we didn’t have a significant update for several months. This made me start thinking that with the scale of the game and the quality of updates that it just wasn’t possible for them to keep up a weekly update schedule. Towards the end of last summer, we also saw Jagex hire a new executive producer, Mod Warden who began making moves and reorganizing development teams. At the time I remember thinking Anachronia was released in July 2019 then there was nothing significant until 120 Herblore and Farming in mid-November of that year. Then Archaeology was delayed and came out in March. It certainly appeared we were back to expansions albeit by omission.

It wasn’t until the July 9th live stream where mod Warden explicitly said they were sticking to the weekly schedule that the question in many people’s minds was conclusively answered. Mod Warden explained that they had seen challenges from the COVID19 situation and they were doing their best but he was not in a position to make Archaeology scale updates any time soon. Putting that aside there are several reasons to why Jagex is staying with their traditional schedule. First off, games that use an expansion model usually don’t have subscriptions or the subscription-only provides quality of life improvements, experience boosts, and access to DLC. That means you have to buy the expansion but if you want DLC you can buy it or keep a subscription. At first, I thought this would be ideal for both the players and Jagex if they ever adopted this model. What I didn’t account for is that players could and would come and go as they pleased then. Jagex wouldn’t have that steady subscription revenue coming in. For example, if a new expansion was weighed heavily by new bosses then perhaps skillers would just pass on buying it. Of course, this is how it’s done in other games but when Jagex tried it they kept the subscription model so that people kept paying even when there wasn’t content coming out. This placed even more pressure on what was already shaky content to begin with. In short, Jagex can’t make any changes to its subscription model because it is and always has been what powers the game.

There was still one problem I couldn’t figure out and that was how can they possibly deliver the quality and scale of updates that we are used to on a weekly schedule. Honestly, this is yet to be rectified. It would be nice if we could conclusively say that the content drought is all an effect of the pandemic, however that doesn’t explain previous content droughts. I think this is where we have to be realistic at the end of the day. The bottom line is the game is bigger and more complex than ever. Updates that once took a week or two to build now can take months or even years. Jagex is still a fairly small studio even though it has grown over the years. The end result looks to me as two patch notes weeks, one ninja strike week, and a small to medium at best, update to round out the month. You can take that as you will but this is what we have been seeing and this is what they are calling weekly updates.

Lastly, the reason this issue was put to bed once and for all was that a weekly update schedule is so intertwined with what RuneScape is and what people expect that it made change impossible. Players have always been cold to the idea of expansions to begin with. When Menaphos failed it just reinforced the majority of player’s mindset that RuneScape is a weekly updated game. It remains to be seen if players will continue to accept this cadence as weekly updates but so far it doesn’t look good. They don’t seem to really want to accept multiple patch weeks in a month.

At the end of the day, players will have to decide whether or not they are getting their money’s worth. Now that it has been confirmed that they will keep to a traditional schedule, that also means Jagex absolutely counts patch weeks and ninja strikes as updates. The only question is, do you? For myself, I think as long as the quality is high like we saw in Archaeology I accept it. I understand from talking to people in our production team the demands that are put on people that work in this field. It is also a good thing we know for sure what Jagex’s plan is. Even though they never did say they were going back to expansions, there were enough reasons to speculate. I will be enjoying the new quest eagerly awaiting to see if I am right this time or will I be fooled again. Until next time, Happy RuneScaping.

This article is filed under Runescape. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can discuss this article on our forums.