The monthly RuneScape membership has been around since 2002. For most people, the distinction between free players and members has been part of the game since the dawn of time. For the longest time, being a member was the only way to support the game, and it gave you access to all the game’s features.
But everything changed, almost exactly ten years after the introduction of membership, when Yelps made his way into the game with the Squeal of Fortune. While being a RuneScape member gave you an extra spin per day, even those paying for a subscription now had a piece of content that was time-gated, which could be circumvented by buying spins with more real-life money.
In the same year, Jagex introduced Solomon’s General Store. Again members were confronted with not having direct access to new content: the new aesthetic overrides cost RuneCoins, where previously members got their cool-looking stuff through gameplay or the loyalty program.
At the end of the same year, RuneScape first introduced the premier club. A special version of three, six, and twelve month memberships that gave additional spins and RuneCoins. It was presented as an all-in-one package, and it seemed to take over the position of membership of the highest tier subscription.
Since then, the premier club has stopped to include RuneCoins, and new types of subscriptions have been included: RuneMetrics Pro and temporary events, including the latest RunePass. These changes cause controversy across the community. A lot of this is probably still rooted in the idea that membership is the full access package of RuneScape. From that perspective, it seems that Jagex has slowly chipped off features from membership and brought them under in other types of subscriptions, meanwhile increasing the monthly price of the original subscription service.
Even though it may be difficult, it is worth considering what “membership” actually means. The word itself doesn’t mean much, which in itself may be in need of a good PR pass. Membership is in fact a content pass for all member’s content, which is very regularly updated and added to. Membership also has some advantages feeding into the other subscription models: an extra Treasure Hunter key a day and a 10% discount on Solomon’s General Store. They are significant, but not the main attraction.
Looking back in the past, membership has always just given access to the full content package, yet it always seems to be advertised as more. With the introduction of alternate monetization methods, that just no longer really true. This is the most likely cause of the community’s response.
The gold premier membership was introduced as a tier on top of that. It started with some advantages across different monetization models, but it seems to now mostly be a slightly shinier version of membership. Jagex has admitted that they should consider including RunePass in the premier memberships, so it may be that we will see a return to a premier membership that is more of an all-round coverage.
Of course we all want to pay as little as possible and get access to as much as possible. This is what we got with membership, but it is no longer what we get. There is a good reason for Jagex to not go with this one all-or-nothing subscription. Among game developers that depend on in-app purchases for profit, it is reasonably common knowledge that the majority of the revenue comes from a small core of players. The exact numbers vary by research and platform, but a good ballpark number is that 10% of the players spend 90% worth of the revenue .
If you’re a big fan of RuneScape, you’re willing to spend some money on it. However, once you get membership, there used to not be a way to spend more money. Premier club, Treasure Hunter, Solomon’s General Store, they were all introduced to cater to the group of players who are willing to spend more on the game, while allowing the wider player base to stick to a relatively cheap membership (RuneScape membership is still cheaper than the membership of many other online games). This is why I like Solomon’s General Store so much: it allows players that spend more on the game to subsidize the game for other players in a way that does not break the game, since it’s primarily visual overrides.
The reason I am writing this article because I believe it is important to understand the context when entering the discussion on microtransactions and monetization. The different monetization models have been designed in such a way that people can spend nearly a limitless amount of money on the game if they so desire. If we want the game’s main core of content to remain affordable, we need to accept that other monetization methods are required. While these “whales” (the actual technical term for big spenders) subsidize the game, we can enjoy the majority of the game at a reasonable price.
This is not to say we shouldn’t keep Jagex honest. There being alternative money-spending methods while we are already expected to pay a monthly price is a bit sour, and RuneScape is quite unique in that respect. Most games having similar monetization methods have either just an entry price, or are free entirely. This is a balance that has traditionally appeared to be hard to solve. Rethinking what a premier membership means is a good first step, and there is also a lot of PR Jagex could improve to explain the context that I have explained in this post. However, we, as a community, should always assume Jagex’s best intentions for the game, and hopefully this post goes some way in facilitating a constructive discussion.