The Skilled Content for Casual Players Conundrum

posted by on 14th October 2021, at 3:17am

Today I want to talk a bit about skilled content. “But Cireon”, I hear you all ask me, “surely that’s a typo and you mean skilling content?” No, I actually want to talk about skilled content. Before we can do that though, we need to define what skilled content actually is. So let’s start with a definition: skilled content is content that requires practice and/or learning to be played in an effective manner. Oof, that’s a mouthful, but what does it mean? Well, some content in RuneScape you can just play by heading to the place, and doing the thing. You don’t need to really understand the mechanics in detail or use any special gear, just show up and dig in. This is unskilled content, because no skill is needed. On the other hand, some content requires you to know what you’re doing, or you’re going to be completely ineffective. You need to read up on mechanics, or be taught by someone else, i.e. develop the skills to play this content: this is called skilled content.

The best way to get an idea of what skilled content means is by looking at some examples. Many skills are unskilled content: Woodcutting, Mining, Fishing all don’t require you to read up on a wiki article before getting started. Just grab your hatchet, pickaxe, or fishing rod, and click the skilling node. You can become more effective by knowing what you are doing, for sure, but not knowing how to optimize your Mining to the tick doesn’t lock you out of the skill altogether. Conversely, many bosses are skilled content: if you show up to Araxxor or Nex with no idea what you’re doing, you’re going to fail pretty horribly. You need to practice, read about the mechanics and strategies, get somebody to teach you, or – most likely – a combination of these.

Skilled and unskilled content may sound like two nice buckets to group content into, but it isn’t always easy to categorize content. Clue scrolls and Dungeoneering are pieces of content that you can dig into without knowing much about it, but you’re going to be really inefficient at it until you start learning some tricks and strategies (and in the case of group content, terminology). This is why in many design discussions you won’t often hear the terms “skilled” and “unskilled”. Instead, we talk about skill floors, and skill ceilings. A skill floor is the minimum amount of skill needed to play content effectively, whereas a skill ceiling is the maximum amount of skill needed to get the most out of a piece of content. This brings us to an alternative definition of skilled content: skilled content is content that has a high skill floor.

A different way of categorizing content is by whether it is solo content, or group content. Don’t worry, I won’t spend as much time on this as I did on defining skilling content, as defining group content is pretty straightforward: group content is content that is typically played with more than one player.

So why did we go through the effort of defining all this? Because common terminology makes it easier to talk about things. There has been a trend within RuneScape to raise the skill ceilings of content, and in particular increase the amount of skilled content. It’s not hard to see this, with communities such as the bossing school being more popular than ever. This development makes sense, as many players are now max level, and so rewards need to be gated in different ways. This poses a problem for casual players, because often – though not always – higher skill ceilings are accompanied by higher skill floors, meaning it takes a larger upfront cost (the practice and learning phase) to actually get something rewarding out of the content. This is why casual players typically limit themselves to only some content (specialists), or accept they’ll only ever be half-decent at most content (generalists).

Skilled group content poses an even bigger challenge. Players with a large amount of time spent in-game will quickly be able to acquire the skills required to be effective at the new content, whereas a casual player will be struggling to keep up. Often, by the time the weekend arrives and I finally get around to playing the week’s game update, many players have already turned into semi-professionals. As time goes by, players either move on from the content – making it harder to find groups – or players get so good, that to ask to join a group as a casual player feels like being a burden to the group: casual players lack the skills, and usually the expensive equipment to push that efficiency.

I was wary of the recent Croesus launch. I was judging it before playing it, and sorta avoided being dragged into it. In reality, I think I was just convincing myself I wasn’t missing out on anything good, because I knew that come the weekend, most people would be working on shaving seconds of their personal records, and wouldn’t be interested in teaching a noob like me how not to die. I am lucky to be surrounded by people who do drag me along, which is why I ended up enjoying the RSBANDB Patreon event where we got in a few kills. I would play more, but with only a couple of hours of time per week, the barrier to join a group and do the boss is high.

I am a big advocate of adding more group content to RuneScape. It’s an MMORPG, multiplayer is part of its identity. For many years, RuneScape mostly released content that didn’t make you feel like you needed other players to play with, quite the contrary actually. That is changing, but it is leading to new challenges due to the high skill floor that many new content updates have. Especially RuneScape’s combat system has grown into such a complex web that requires knowledge of so many different abilities, use of many different items, mastery of techniques such as player flicking, and an understanding of concepts such as affinity and accuracy (something I wrote about already as early as 2019). While the Arch Glacor aimed to make bosses more accessible, they didn’t make combat more accessible. The inclusiveness of modern content updates hinges on the willingness of expert players coming down a notch, and sharing their knowledge and experience with the more casual players. We are fortunate that the RuneScape community allows for this, but whether it is enough to prevent RuneScape from turning into a game that is fun only to those willing to invest (such as many MOBA and FPS games), time will only tell.

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