The Curse of Mid-Level Content

posted by on 30th January 2022, at 12:30am

When you visit Het’s Oasis today, it is surprisingly quiet. After the city’s brief role in the Elder God Wars, the citizens of Al Kharid can return to their peaceful lives. The local city planners had no problem approving the addition of some brand new training methods for medium level adventurers, knowing that after an initial rush, there would be little disruption to the locals. No longer would Al Kharidians have to deal with the invasion of gamblers, overrunning the city not for its beauty, but merely for its reputation as the capital of duels.

From the perspective of Al Kharidians, Het’s Oasis may be a vast improvement over the Duel Arena that was there before. Yet, the moment the update came out, players shouted “dead content” left and right. This is because of what I’d like to call “the curse of mid-level content”.

When a game developer wants to invest in adding new content to the game, ideally they want the highest return on investment. Spending hours on building a piece of content that is only going to be used by less than 1% of the players, it doesn’t take a lot of thinking to realize that’s probably not the best use of time. We don’t know how many mid-level players there are, but we don’t need to know to approach this problem intuitively: players are only mid-level players for some time. Getting through the mid-level range in RuneScape isn’t particularly hard or time-consuming. Soon after reaching the level at which the content of Het’s Oasis becomes very relevant to you, you level up and move on to places that are even more relevant. That means that the time that a player spend engaging with mid-level content is inherently bounded. Any new piece of content splits that time among even more different options.

Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom. Even though only very few players may be in the mid-level range at any given time, every account that remains active long enough will eventually reach that mid-level range. So Het’s oasis may have already been forgotten by many players, it’s going to be a milestone for every future player.

Still, why not add more high-level content? Surely, all future players will also reach that, and it remains useful for more players for a longer time. This is true, and this is where the curse comes in: it seems that high-level content is strictly better than medium-level content when it comes to return on investment. Low-level content has its own advantages, as you want to use that phase of the game to bring players in, but by the mid-level, they’re already hooked.

As the game grows and evolves, the mid-level segment of the game starts falling behind. The low-level and free-to-play areas have gotten numerous graphical updates with plenty of quality of life improvements and interesting pieces of content. We also keep seeing new things being added at the high-end, such as the Elder God Wars Dungeon, pushing most of the high-end players to an even shinier and more beautiful piece of content than the last. This slowly creates a gap in the middle: Ardougne and Yanille have fallen behind graphically, and many mid-level quests don’t quite hold their own against the more modern ones.

Looking at the larger picture, tackling these areas which got little attention improves the overall experience of a player moving through the entire game, but in a sense, the cat’s out of the bag: players will never spend the majority of their time at the mid-level range, so any investment in that area will have limited payoff, unless the content remains relevant for higher levels through rewards that aren’t otherwise achievable. The scarab shells are such an example, though having to use a “bad” training method to get these items can create a feeling of resentment in players who are too high level for that content.

Het’s Oasis may have only gotten two weeks in the spotlight, but it was an opportunity for Jagex to build some mid-level content, and get a bit more value out of it than just releasing it without an event around it. Putting a lot of development time in a limited time event is also not quite worth it after all, so by combining it with a piece of permanent mid-level content, Jagex can satisfy two different use cases in one go. I hope we can use the same model to address other areas of RuneScape as well. I hear the city council of Yanille is looking for some improvements to the local infrastructure.

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