It’s been about two months since Farming and Herblore to 120 came out, yet I still play it every day that I log into RuneScape. I don’t play it because I really need those skills maxed at 120, or because I really need to make money. No, that’s not how I play the game; I am not even being efficient about the way I play most likely. I do my daily Farming checks because that’s fun to me. Before you think that Shane has officially brainwashed me: I don’t think Farming is suddenly the best skill out there, but that doesn’t take away that the new content that was released with the 120 Farming update is enticing and a reason for me to log into the game.
This post is not about 120 Farming though. I want to once more emphasize that it is two months since the big Farming and Herblore update came out, and I am still playing with it every day! For fun nevertheless! When it comes to RuneScape updates, there are very few updates that can match that. What is certain though, is that the updates in the last year or so have been much better on that front. Looking back at 2019, we did not get as many content updates as the years before. The Big Summer Update Drought of 2019 (I declare that name is canon now) is known by all of course, but even the rest of the months only really had (at most) one major update in them.
On first glance, people might say that Jagex is choosing quality over quantity. In a sense, that is right, but I don’t think quality is necessarily the right way to describe it. I would instead say that Jagex is getting smarter with their resources. They are achieving more (more engagement, more player satisfaction, what have you) with less updates. If we look at content updates further back, we see that much of the content released into RuneScape is “dead content” within a week. Much content was only enticing because of the rewards, and getting all the rewards only takes a finite amount of time. In many cases, the content was made more and more grindy or dependent on chance just to stretch out the time it took players to finish the content, hopefully having a new update ready to go when that happens. Not surprisingly, this isn’t a very successful strategy.
It seems that Jagex has finally seen the light, because even though some of the recent content does contain some form of grinding mechanic (e.g. collecting the beans in the Player-Owned Farm or folding bars for Trimmed Masterwork), I haven’t experienced them as such. What is an important factor is how suited these activities are for a casual player. It is easy to set ten minutes aside to check on my farm, because I can just teleport there and do my thing, which is very different from having to gear up to do an Elite Dungeon for example.
This is where the secret of this new strategy lies. There will always be players in RuneScape who aim to complete all the content, and do so as quickly as possible after an update comes out. There is just no way that a company like Jagex can pump out enough updates to keep these people busy. Due to their increased engagement with the game, they are probably the loudest group on the different social media as well, but they are also the minority. The majority of RuneScape players are much more casual players, perhaps with only limited free time besides their day job. The new update strategy of releasing updates that are just… nice to play, without necessarily focusing on keep-busy mechanics, favours these players. This makes a lot of sense, since it is near impossible to keep players that will keep running out of content anyway happy. Jagex decided to cut their losses, and focus on a group that is not only much easier to appease, but also potentially much larger, especially considering a hypothetical influx of casual players on mobile.
So how exactly are the updates smart? I have not figured out yet what makes the new updates click so well, but the most likely explanation is that Jagex is just designing fun content and gameplay mechanics, and making the rest flow out of that. A year ago, in this post, I wrote that this is the most effective way of building fun games, and the updates we got in the last year are proof of exactly that. By reducing the number of updates, more time can be spent on the creative process and the design behind the mechanics you interact with. While both the Mining and Smithing rework and the Farming and Herblore expansion were substantial, this investment seems to have paid off more than using that time to build several smaller updates to be forgotten about already. Other updates, such as Yak Track, achieve the same effect of engagement at a relatively cheap implementation cost.
Does that mean there is no room for smaller updates any more? No, I think there needs to be a mix. In the end, when I play a longer game session, I don’t just sit around the farm patch all day waiting for my herbs to grow. I fall back on the massive amount of content that has accrued in the game over the past two decades (well, almost…). Quests, even as a one-off piece of content, still add a layer of depth to the world that makes it so enjoyable to play in. In the end though, those are not really the reasons that make you login in the first place. This is why the strategy of having these “hero updates” sounds like a great approach to me, and I recommend you listen to this Nibble to see what Shane and Tanis had in mind when I asked them about how they would distribute the hero updates throughout 2020 if they could.
We’re seeing less content updates coming into RuneScape, but each update is one to be excited about, because it will bring joy for weeks. The slowdown of the update cadence is – paradoxically – something that excites me rather than the opposite. I hope you will all join me in that excitement, and instead of complain when there is yet another patch week, find consolation in the fact that the time is well spent on building content that will keep you entertained for weeks. Besides, don’t you have a ranch to run anyway?