RuneScape is on Steam. Steam is the destination for gaming and discoverability. RuneScape is a franchise that has endured for just about 20 years and has seen its share of bumps in the road. Last year a new Warden arrived in town and it was a push lead by RuneScape’s Executive Producer Mod Warden, that brought RuneScape to Steam after 20 years.
Steam is a critical part of the strategy to grow RuneScape. When combined with the mobile launch pending in 2021, the hope is that the game will see an influx of new players or new blood as it has been called. In the past 5 years RuneScape has gone through a period of writing love letters to its fans while focusing on high level content. It was with an update to the first time user experience and mobile interfaces last year we saw that Jagex was serious about attempting to attract new players.
Before looking at what happens next with Steam, we need to go back to an era known as the Miniclip era. The Miniclip era roughly spans from 2004 to 2008 and during this time, RuneScape 2 saw an unprecedented level of growth. The reason that RuneScape was so successful on Miniclip was because it was a game anyone could play in a web browser by way of Java applet. This made it easy to play at school during lunch break or computer class. With ease of access, Miniclip was the website you went to at school, and because of this, RuneScape 2 growth ballooned.
Steam and later mobile need to act as the one two punch today that Miniclip did in the mid 2000s. RuneScape needs an influx of new players. And with this comes a new influx of community builders and content creators. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the current crop but this is how communities evolve. We know from past metrics that a good chunk of players are mid to high level and this has brought some of the best received updates. These are updates like Prifddinas, Telos, and the Elite Dungeon trilogy.
The player base guides development based on data and metrics today, previously by direct vote. A new influx of players will revitalize and re-focus the beginning to mid-range game experience. It happened in the mid-2000s, and it can and should happen again today! It’s also how Jagex will turn the page and move on to the next chapter. It’s been an interesting few years from large expansion style content and back to monthly content updates with hits sprinkled in between. Clue Scroll rework, Deep Sea Fishing, Safe Cracking, the Player Owned Farm, The Needle Skips, Elite Dungeons, and then Anachronia. Then a drought. That’s not to say that there weren’t smaller updates or quality of life fixes in between, but the strategy wasn’t consistent.
Then comes 2020 with the blockbuster launch of the Archaeology skill. Every major release in 2020 has been branded and packaged as such. Steam games thrive on frequent updates and headline releases. What we’re now seeing with RuneScape’s month to month release strategy is exactly what’s required for a game on Steam. Players should bet on an influx of players from Steam holding Jagex to this release cycle. Not only because Steam demands it, but because it’s good for everyone.
What hopefully follows when you combine a Steam influx and the modern release strategy is a collection of content updates in 2021 that supercharge mid-level game experience. RuneScape’s greatest gift to its players is that you’re never really finished with the game. If you get to level 99, you then may want to get to level 120 or chase 200 million xp. There’s many other options as well such as the max, completionist, and trimmed completionist capes. In the end, RuneScape is about the journey and not the goal. If the breadth of mid-level content is increased, when players reach higher levels they’ll automatically be inclined to pursue the breadth of content that already exists at high level.
The big unresolved question out of all of this comes from whether or not Steam will actually bring in new players. The other option is for Steam to serve as a destination primarily for those who already play. If successful with Steam, the same strategy can then be applied to the Android and iOS launches, and later other store fronts. If this strategy proves to be unsuccessful then over time RuneScape will become a more and more insular game focusing on its high level players and die hard fans. This is a viable strategy but it is not a strategy for growth.
And that’s the big elephant in the room that no one is talking about so far. 20 years on RuneScape is positioned for a period of growth not seen since 2005. That should be the story that players should be aware of at the end of the day. This will only be possible if the game releases regular content updates of quality and if Jagex is able to tap these new store fronts for an influx of players over the next year. 2021 will answer what RuneScape stands for at 20 and whether or not our community can still grow.