Alex’s Analysis – Going for Gold

posted by on 26th November 2021, at 1:44am

It started with Easter Eggs. Not video game perks, but literal painted, edible Easter eggs.

They were pretty much hand-traded and dropped directly from JMods at the time; namely Andrew and Paul Gower. Just a little something to celebrate Easter and show their appreciation to the community for playing Runescape for the quarter-year it had existed. It was a nice little gesture, and at the time, the brothers imagined that folks would just use them as food (they did heal a considerable amount at the time in lieu of shark and manta ray). Heck, it went so well that come Halloween, the released the Pumpkin drop. Same ordeal; trading to players, giving them some tokens of appreciation to help out a bit with their training and monster fighting. Being all fancy and all that.

What they did not foresee, however, was how much accumulated value these limited-edition items would have with the general trade economy. Like rookie baseball cards, their trade value skyrocketed as supply diminished. It was intended that the eggs and pumpkins appear in subsequent events, but because of this sudden influx of value, the whole premise of the holiday item changed to something beyond comprehension. They became a symbol of status. Of wealth and showmanship. Folks would trade others just to show off these holiday treats as a form of pompous bragging.

Wild, isn’t it? Holiday-themed items, of all things, actually becoming the most sought-after thing all year round? So, to help the folks along with this, the third and pivotal holiday item was released in the form of a server-wide drop. The Christmas Cracker. An item used directly on another player, and in turn, both players got a sweet reward from it. One would get a runite piece, (best and most expensive in-game armor at the time), while the other (randomly determined who was who) would get a partyhat of a random color. It was a simple little head accessory meant to be one of goofy celebration, and unlike pumpkins and Easter eggs, offered nothing but a simple cosmetic appearance. Not practically worthwhile; it both took up an inventory slot and offered no stat bonuses or anything when worn as a helmet.

I imagined they figured that this would sort of settle the matter of the whole holiday-items-becoming-status-symbols from their ridiculousness. They were based off the original paper partyhat, after all, which is quite popular in Britain. A cut-out piece of paper that anyone could make with a pair of scissors and some tape, used mainly to add a bit of color to a party. If they really wanted to try, they would’ve released the Santa hat, or reindeer antlers, or something considerably more fancy for Christmas. Instead, they opted for the cheapest and most silly party decoration universally available… and it exploded. Rising quickly to the price of runite; folks were trading the runite drops for party hats instead. Then dragon battleaxes and dragonstone amulets. And as time went on and Runescape evolved, this relic of 2001 became used almost as an item of insurmountable currency to get the very best in in-game gear and equipment!

The folks at Jagex didn’t notice this incredible influx right away, as other artifacts followed suit, like the Halloween masks and the Santa hats of 2002. Upon realizing, however, just how much the economy was centering on their rare items, every subsequent holiday item was labelled untradeable. The bunny ears, the scythe, and the yo-yo were among these things; folks could still receive them and show them off to display their status as being old-school players, but ultimately it was a game-loyalty flex rather than a monetary one.

So what was the big deal here? Why not let there be these rare wicked-expensive items? Because of legality issues. They announced the halting of such practice to dissuade folks from going so far as to obtain partyhats via real-world trading, which was a real issue back in the day. Back then, the internet was still getting its bearings on online transactions, and a number of dodgy websites had sprung up offering in-game trades to players of various online experiences, like World of Warcraft. Runescape was no exception, and with the rise of both “legitimate” and bogus scam sites, it wasn’t long before there were parents yelling at Jagex for ripping them off because they didn’t know any better.

The legitimate sites were no better, because to keep up with supply and demand, they created bots, which hogged up resource nodes and NPC spawns. And in the days of Runescape Classic and Runescape 2, a lot of the resources were not instanced like they are today. It was first-come, first-serve, and if a bot was there, you were competing for resources with a computer. Good luck.

Jagex’s response to this was impressively hardcore; the removal of the wilderness and incredibly tight trade restrictions. This took out both the real-world trading market and helped eliminate the majority of bots, and it also restricted the trade of these rare holiday items, so they didn’t pass hands very much. Fortunately, the block on trading was abolished thanks to some new and impressive detection technology, plus the Grand Exchange, and holiday rares returned to the market and reclaimed their rightful place as symbols of monetary status.

Naturally, halting the practice of releasing rares and trading them altogether only served to make them even more valuable. Without changing hands, party-hats and stuff would disappear as folks stopped playing Runescape, and the economy was left in a perpetual state of unknown where nobody knew their value anymore, so out of sheer panic and desperation, the price fluctuated all over the place.

Mind, Jagex could’ve gone the other route, like Runescape Old School 2007 does where the same holiday items are dropped every year. This would equalize the price considerably at the risk of harming the economy, but since it was already messed up from the introduction of unobtainable rares, it was just too big a gamble. Long-time players would’ve been cheesed off as all their acquired assets would have been devalued in an instant. It was just too late. The party hat was here to stay.

Gradually, as time went by and we got year after year of holiday themed cosmetics and items, they rose and rose in value to the point where they hardly were traded anymore. One sacrificed an entire bank just to obtain one of these highly coveted items, almost as a form of wealth prestige mode. They became time-honoured investments, reliably rising in price with each year that went by, promising additional fortune to those who were patient enough to wait and bank on it when the time for them was right. They were literal money generators; top-tier. The best of the best, and only the best (or luckiest to have been around at the time) would ever own one.

So where does that bring us with the Golden Partyhat hunt? Is it really just Jagex’s way of celebrating the 20 year anniversary with the callback to something that was otherwise an accident? The telling of a joke that grew beyond what anyone could’ve imagined into something just so fantastic it’s absurd?

I’d like to think so, yes. There’s no doubt the game-making folks in Cambridge have an awesome sense of humour, as seen in many of the quests and in-game content. This isn’t a celebration of in-game wealth and the unbelievable valuable and rareness of a partyhat, orchestrated to be somewhat repeated due to how difficult it is to obtain a golden one. It’s the celebration of the evolution of a mere gag that completely reshaped an entire in-game community and economy. The show of how the smallest and silliest of ideas could change things, for better or for worse. They’ve already celebrated the partyhat’s value with a couple of equally hilarious gags, like the super-expensive New Varrock cosmetic and the April Fools giveaway of a Pea-Hat (lol).

No, to bring back the concept of a rare, unobtainable, and tradable item and quite literally add a new addition to the partyhat line is homage to the joke itself. There’s no fun to be made here. The Gowers did something funny, and it became something incredible. How couldn’t they celebrate such a feat for a 20th year anniversary?

So I wish you guys luck in obtaining your golden relic of 2001. It’s a tough one to get, but not as impossible as you might think. You just need a little patience and persistence. Just like we did back in the Runescape Classic days of 2001.

And for gosh sakes, don’t bring your golden partyhat out into the wilderness.

Until next time,

Cheers, cannoneers!

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