It finally happened! On June 16th Jagex launched RuneScape Mobile. This has been a product that has been in the works since late 2016 internally and we first saw it about 4 years ago in the summer of 2017. It was a different time, Menaphos had just upended the release strategy and the re-birth of player loved content hadn’t happened yet, RuneScape 3 hadn’t hit its golden age. If you want to read more about the actual RuneScape mobile product, check out Bears’ article Mo-bility Mo-players. But you’re probably wondering, where do we go next?
The move of RuneScape to Steam was to bring RuneScape to a new player base. That makes sense, Steam is the biggest gaming platform out there. The RuneScape Mobile launch does the same thing except it brings RuneScape to many many more eyes. In particular, eyes in markets where the game currently is not established. These markets include South America, Asia, and the Middle East. In the western world we game on our PCs or consoles but there is a huge growing segment of the world where mobile devices are the gaming platforms of choice.
As summarized in Bears’ article Jagex has managed to deliver a product that is performant but has a few rough spots around the user interface. The RuneScape 3 user interface is a behemoth and it is the number one thing I hear about when someone returns to the game. Taking such a user interface and scaling it to a mobile device was bound to create some pain points. To the mobile team’s credit, they’re not going away and work on improving the client will continue going into the future.
Now, what does this mean for a new player? Well, last year I highlighted a few issues that were persisting with the beta at the time in How To Avoid a RuneScape Mobile Fail. Some of these have been fixed. Some have not. We have a new top level interface that feels closer to the desktop client. However, issues with font readability, small icons, and small buttons persist even after launch. Yes, having a bank designed for mobile would be great but that’s a huge investment. It would have also been great to launch with vector based fonts but again, the 3,000+ interfaces in the game would like a word with you.
Jagex could very well have delayed the launch of mobile until the player avatar refresh was ready, until we had a better font technology, or until some of the UIs were made more mobile friendly (i.e. the bank). But as it goes with software development there comes a point where the big green launch button just needs to be pressed. Whether it’s for marketing reasons or internal financing allocations we won’t know, but that button was pushed.
How have the players received RuneScape Mobile? RuneScape Mobile has a 4.1/5 rating on the iOS App Store and 3.1/5 on the Google Play Store. When the beta was still running I predicted that the app itself would be a 3 star app for new players and a 4–5 star app for existing players. The reason being that existing players are likely to be more familiar with the UI and not have a difficult time getting started. Nonetheless, having a 4.1 on the iOS App Store is wonderful and the 3.1 on the Google Play Store is interesting. In some discussions with Cireon this could be due to a wider spectrum of Android hardware while iOS devices are generally on the high end in terms of specifications. Apple users also have high brand loyalty to Apple and their brands in general, this could be playing a role as well. A rating on the app store will aid new users in determining if they should install an app. According to the pre-registration push made by Jagex, mobile users make a decision to install an app in mere seconds and these ratings have an impact.
What impact has RuneScape mobile had? When Old School Mobile launched in fall 2018 there was a huge spike in players. That spike has leveled out but overall the game did gain players. On mobile launch we did see a brief spike up to about 40,000 players but that has since dropped off to the pre-mobile average of about 33,000 players. This means that either an influx of new mobile players are not coming to play RuneScape 3 or it will be a slow climb. In terms of modern RuneScape 3 history, the best player boost has come from the launch of the Archaeology skill, not mobile or Steam.
Going forward the mobile development team will be focused around improving the game clients and finding and creating new RuneScape players. RuneScape is a 20 year old franchise and Jagex themselves have never really found a beat that works for them aside from RuneScape. Old School RuneScape is a hit and has flourished since its launch in 2013. RuneScape 3 is the game you play if you want amazing graphics, amazing quests, and want the newest in terms of game updates. Finding and retaining new players should be the easiest thing to do for RuneScape 3.
If new players don’t arrive from RuneScape Mobile or any future initiatives from the mobile team, there will be many difficult questions to be had. Those questions are out of the scope of this article but they should ask why RuneScape 3 can’t grow and what needs to change about the game to foster that growth. Should the RuneScape 3 team look at Old School? If RuneScape Mobile’s slow climb doesn’t begin soon, look for Jagex to answer these questions in early 2022.
At the end of the day, RuneScape Mobile has been a success and established players love it. Whether or not it can grow the game remains an open question but if the first two weeks are any indication, that answer is leaning to be a no. We can not understate how much of a feat it was to bring a game that was exclusively desktop based to the form factor of a mobile phone and let alone have it perform well. There are very few game studios that could pull this off, Jagex should be proud. But in being proud there are many uncomfortable questions about the future of RuneScape 3 to be had.