RuneScape Without Its Warden

posted by on 21st October 2021, at 2:54pm

On October 11th Mod Warden announced his departure from Jagex. Mod Warden was RuneScape’s Executive Producer for just over two years. Mod Warden said goodbye via Twitter saying, “I have resigned my post and left Jagex as Executive Producer for @RuneScape. Exciting times ahead, something big for me is on the horizon.” In a statement provided to RSBANDB he added, “I will be moving my family back to my Canadian Homeland, where I have something new that I am really excited to be part of and can share with my family.” He further shared his love for the RuneScape community encouraging us, Citizens of Gielinor to “take care of the RuneScape team” and reminding us that, “[t]hey watch, listen, and hear you – trust them as they are players as well.” He also thanks the community for giving him “the fuel to press harder to re-establish the worlds foundations and priorities” which in his own words has “made a huge difference.” You can read Mod Warden’s full statement here. Now, we’re going to unpack just what has happened.

Mod Warden made his introduction two years ago after meeting players at RuneFest ’19. He put himself forward introducing himself, showcasing the team, and talking freely about monetization. From the beginning he was clear that monetization needed to add to the user experience and that it had to be “fun, balanced, worth your time, and rewarding.” This was the beginning of a revamp of Treasure Hunter that was just actualized last month and clear value additions between F2P, membership, and Premier members (Yak Track, Prime, Xbox Ultimate, etc.) He opened up his tenure as Executive Producer with an Ask Mod Warden inbox that people could write to about anything RuneScape related and he even replied to people’s emails. From this point on, it was clear to me and Tanis hosting Update that Mod Warden was a communicator and the captain that RuneScape needed.

If we’re to look at the last two years (COVID excluded), the changes we’ve seen to RuneScape can be seen as a wishlist from the players. Prior to Jagex, Mod Warden worked at places such as Lucas Arts, Bioware, Epic, and Blizzard. He worked on products like the Mass Effect series, Fortnite, and Overwatch. This experience undoubtedly had an impact. In weaving the common threads through all of Mod Warden’s experience we find an executive that understands online worlds ripe with lore and story, an executive that understands the need to be agile and respond quickly when needed which fits nicely with RuneScape’s weekly update mantra, and finally, an executive who understands monetization.

As a side note, one of my biggest regrets is that under Mod Warden we were not able to see RuneScape move quicker to be monetized purely with cosmetics as other games like Fortnite and Overwatch are. This leads us into a discussion about where we are because despite Mod Warden being at the helm for just over two years, there were marked changes that all RuneScape players should be happy about.

One of the biggest problems Jagex used to have was that they were unable to capitalize on updates that brought them player good will. An example of this was the Bank Placeholders project which should have been called the Bank Rework and marketed as such. Under Mod Warden players were guaranteed at least one headlining update a month, one ninja strike, and a couple patch weeks. Following the end of the short lived expansions drive with Menaphos as expansion #1, the game returned to weekly updates. While players were happy, the game was not growing. The point that Mod Warden has made clear is that while we can have weekly updates, unless those updates are themed, packaged, and marketed correctly they could end up missing the mark. This largely stopped happening with Mod Warden as Executive Producer.

Another great thing that Mod Warden brought to RuneScape was an implementation of “we’ll talk about it when it’s ready.” All too often in the past RuneScape devs would show off the early origins of a project (Seers’ Village rework) building hype only to have the project not delivered or substantially changed. Taking the approach of not talking until ready also allowed for the marketing team to amp its presence up (i.e. Archaeology and Elder God Wars). This also allowed Jagex to start the process of managing players expectations rather than the reverse. Like it or not, since Mod Warden took over, there have been less updates that have been let downs in the eyes of players.

Under Mod Warden, RuneScape also embarked on a revitalization of its visual identity. The NXT game engine has the ability to make environments and materials that are realistic. The question though is what makes sense for RuneScape? Mod Iroh joined the team as Art Director for RuneScape, an industry expert the players love listening to. You can feel and see that the games visual style is becoming more consistent and work began upgrading the Player Avatar. This project is on-hold currently due to scope and wanting to focus on the Elder God Wars, but is a prime example of RuneScape growing up.

Finally, a willingness to listen, strategize, decide, and act happened under Mod Warden. Through listening and iteration I feel that micro-transaction updates have evolved and are on an interesting path. This listening also brought us a revamped Ninja Team that had hit over hit including changes to the much maligned Shattered Worlds (it’s now actually fun!), Grand Exchange tweaks (it’s more responsive!), and countless other pain points that the players actually suggested.

With Mod Warden’s resignation the question immediately turns to the future. Mod Warden typically stays at a company around 2–3 years and this is on par with the wider game development industry. It could be that he didn’t set some metric the wider company decided it needed to hit for RuneScape. It could very well be that there was a push from the higher ups in Jagex to take RuneScape in a direction he didn’t want and he decided to part ways. It could be that he wanted to go in a direction they did not like. Or it could be as simple as he said, there was an opportunity in Canada to return home with his family. He wanted to “stay longer and do more… [but] the overall circumstances would [not] allow for it.” Where do we go now?

The new Executive Producer is from within Jagex and getting closer to RuneScape 3. This person whomever they may be would be wise to carry on with monthly headliners, a focus on marketing, quality of life updates (Ninja Strikes), and speaking honestly when ready. There also comes a time in which we need to have a discussion about growing RuneScape’s player base since Mobile did not have the effect of growing the player base. From my perspective there are going to two big choices a new Executive Producer has to make in short order.

1.) Does the game embrace direct purchase micro-transactions in the form of bundles like last months Skilling Bundle except with some XP included?

2.) Does the game seek out the mobile gaming audience? Or, does the game rebrand itself to attract traditional MMO players (i.e. New Worlds)? Or, does RuneScape 3 take the Old School path and focus on nostalgia aiming to capture players from yesterday?

These decisions have the potential to be incredibly divisive and turbulent. The game needs an Executive Producer to make the right decision and sell it. But, the community and social teams have to be ready too. Is everyone ready? We shall see.

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