Over its lifetime, RuneScape has seen strong leadership leading to periods of outstanding growth. At times it has also seen a lack of cohesive leadership leading to a stagnant or even muddled directive. One of the most important characteristics for a living game (as RuneScape is) is for there to be a consistent direction and guiding principle. RuneScape started off as a tiny project between three brothers and has grown to become a phenomenon spanning generations. After 20 years, it’s only fair to look at where we’ve been and where we’re going today.
Andrew Gower’s RuneScape era is one that spanned almost 10 years from 2001 through 2010. Andrew Gower’s RuneScape was one of small grab bag updates that would be wholesome content week to week that often wasn’t structured. Many including myself consider 2005 to 2007 to be one of the RuneScape golden ages. How was this done with very little structure?
To be fair, most of the early updates were world building. Content arriving was adding new landmasses, introducing characters, and forming the core of what we know as RuneScape today. Many of our core skills arrived during this time such as Runecrafting, Slayer, Farming, Construction, Summoning, and Hunter. There were also tiny updates like Tears of Guthix and the Achievement Diary that form key parts of today’s gameplay.
Andrew’s game design was simple and there’s an argument to be made that if you put this kind of content in front of players today with the game at its current maturity level, it wouldn’t work. The landmass is full of content in most areas, it’s just a question if that content is usable to you. Content released since 2013 has been getting grander and bigger, going backwards would indeed mean going back to 2007. While players ask for week to week headlining content updates, we need to be honest and realize that today’s level of production isn’t feasible with a week to week headline release schedule.
Put simply, Andrew’s leadership worked because the game was young and production was simpler and cheaper back in 2007. Today we would be questioning if we were being served by artificially limiting ourselves in order to have week to week content updates.
Near the end of Andrew’s era the game suffered its first real shock. Longtime players will know that before Mod MMG came on the scene, Runescape was plagued with bots, and it was the number one issue at the time. In 2007, the Runescape leadership had enough, and took a drastic step to combat the bot epidemic that was chasing players away from the game. The solution was a controlled forest burn of sorts: The Grand Exchange and Wilderness Trade Removal. This bold move was necessary to combat the bot epidemic as the heuristics based bot technology did not yet exist.
It was in this environment that Runescape players were introduced to Mod MMG, Mark Gerhard, who presided over the game from 2009 to 2014. This era saw RuneScape’s introduction of micro transactions focusing on of course Squeal of Fortune and Bonds. It was also at this time that we saw the beginning of the Sixth Age, as well as the final nail in the coffin to the bot epidemic that had plagued the game for years. Without this being dealt with, there would be no game today.
This bold action taking also led to the game’s most controversial update, the Evolution of Combat. This ultimately raised a lot of questions in the community and eroded a great deal of trust that the players had in the leadership of Runescape. The player base bifurcated and we witnessed what felt like a significant lack of confidence on Jagex’s end, as a reaction to strong opinions from the player base on either side.
On the podcast we often discuss the natural reaction to this being the sudden increase in polls in 2013 and 2014. These polls were an example of weaker leadership as it left the decision making more towards the players rather than a central team with a guiding vision for the game. As it stands, these polls weren’t needed as 2017 and beyond would prove that there were other methods of recovery, like consistent quality!
The updates in the MMG era ushered in the Sixth Age, RuneScape 3, and ultimately set the path forward for the storyline of today. The updates were still packaged standalone with the overarching multi year Sixth Age Sliske storyline. While the Sliske arc took almost 4 years to resolve, the important takeaway from this era update wise is that the stakes were raised higher than ever before and players became accustomed to updates of epic proportions.
Rod Cousens, who took over the CEO mantle after the departure of Mod MMG can be seen as that of a caretaker. He continued much of the same policies and update styles. He and Mod MMG finished off the Sliske Arc and brought the game and community into the Sixth Age. The replacement for Rod Cousens was Phil Mansell, otherwise known as Mod Pips, who took over as CEO in January 2017. 2017 under Mod Pips looked largely like the previous two years, but a big change hit in 2018 for the better.
Mod Pips had a history at Jagex going back to 2011 starting as a designer and then executive producer. He’s actually played RuneScape and is responsible for where we are today. He captured lightning in 2018 with the hits including the Clue Scroll Rework, Deep Sea Fishing, and the Player Owned Farm. His team also brought the much desired Mining and Smithing rework to players in 2019. 2019 was a tad quiet, 2020 was amazing (for Runescape at least), and 2021 is promised to be one of our best years yet.
Mod Pips also engaged in a hiring spree hiring many senior managers, technical leads, and content developers. It was under Mod Pips that Jagex scored Mod Warden (Ryan Ward) of Lucas Arts, BioWare, and Blizzard fame. The RuneScape 3 team also picked up Mod Hooli formerly Community Manager for the Call of Duty franchise at Activision. The number of content developers has grown and Jagex seems to be consistently hiring even through the pandemic.
It’s the strong leadership of Mod Pips as CEO, hiring not only content developers but also managers and executives, that we are where we are at today. We’re back to weekly updates with monthly headliners and even weeks without a headliner are still substantive. Without Mod Pips as CEO there would be no filling out of the rest of the team and the game would still be stagnating.
20 years on I feel that we are on the cusp of another RuneScape golden age. Jagex has experienced a myriad of different leadership styles, some effective, some not, but something has to have gone right to have a little game dreamed up in a dining room at the turn of the millennium, thriving 20 years later.
To RuneScape’s leaders, past and present, thank you.