The Future of Old School Runescape is at Risk
From delays to scandals, it is hard to see anything positive that has come out of 2021 and Jagex, the developer of Runescape, is seemingly adding fuel to this enormous fire. Now while all is not horrible for the makers of what is to this day, 20 years after release, still one of the most popular MMOs out there, the future is not looking bright. In just the last 10 days, the company has had the players riot twice, the Old School Runescape (OSRS) sub-reddit has broken its upvote record on multiple occasions, the community split between PvE and PvP has reached new heights of toxicity and to put the proverbial cherry on top, the game has entered a point of stagnation that is going to be very difficult to breakout of.
For context, OSRS is an MMO unlike any of its peers. Updates are community polled and require 75% in-favour votes to pass, the development team is reachable with a tweet and is extremely active in its support and the community in the game is extremely passionate, very weary of anything “that doesn’t belong in OSRS” and holds the idea of “keeping true to 07scape” extremely dearly.
No HD for you.
The first of the controversies to bless us was the banning of a community made HD graphical overhaul mod for the game. After 2000 hours of development, a lot of excitement from the community, Jagex on the day of release in the eleventh hour, informed 117 that the mod would not be allowed. Citing the reason that they had their own HD update “relatively early in the exploration stages”. 117 offered a multitude of compromises including letting Jagex use his code, taking his mod down once their version was ready and even offering to help the company make the mod. Jagex said no. And the backlash was immense.
Falador was in flames, reddit was invaded by hordes of angry players were threatening to take down their subscriptions and it seemed the entire world knew about the decision which was made by executives of the company. Jagex reversed this decision and to their credit, apologised and made every attempt to make amends, even going so far as to advertise the mod on their official socials. The mod released and community outrage mostly died down, for 3 days.
A Brewing Storm
For years, PvP in OSRS has been on the decline. Game modes are all but dead, the wilderness is a graveyard and the only people who participate are massive clans who claim superiority whilst killing poor souls 50:1 while they are catching crabs. Deadman Mode, a PVP based tournament with a prize pool and a bracket, therefore, is seen as the saviour and favoured game mode among the community and this year’s tournament proved to be possibly its most popular ever.
PvP streamers broke their records on twitch, some Youtuber’s experienced their highest growth ever and everyone seemed to be loving the two week long spectacle until the final. What should have been an amazing viewing experience with what looked to be an impressive amount of showmanship on Jagex’s behalf was completely ruined by lag. Players could barely click and the tournament became a contest of “who has the highest hitting weapon” rather than a contest of skill, mechanics and game knowledge.
This lag was not Jagex’s fault, a myriad of servers in the UK were affected. The court of public opinion however, did not care about this fact. The following response has been one of outrage. Every youtuber who participated has made a video, reddit is up-in-arms and Falador, the humble white city is again rioting.
In war, innocent casualties are an unfortunate certainty and this proverbial war is no different. It is important to understand that in OSRS, PvP is not in a vacuum. An entire region of the game is dedicated to PvP, worlds exist that are dedicated to PvP and the community really doesn’t have any areas outside of these to satiate themselves. The problem that has presented is that these areas and worlds are virtually dead. One can run in the wilderness for hours without dying, the PvP worlds are never close to being filled and community is forever upset about it.
This is not helped by the voting system where people are known to vote no to PvP content just because. This rift in the community has been growing and growing with different sides of the argument continuously coming up with new ways to spite one another and this tournament has been the straw to break the camel’s back.
Odablock, a popular OSRS streamer has called for his viewers to “vote no!” referencing an update to Ironman mode, a full PvE mode. This wedge, while having intensified in the last 2 days, has been an extremely common theme. A mass of issues has plagued the PvP scene for years and Jagex seemingly has no idea what to do about it. Updates have either done nothing or made the problem worse while any updates that truly, fundamentally change how the system are doomed to fail due to the polling system.
While the issues above describe a few unfortunate scenarios, the stagnation that this game is experiencing is threatening to reach critical mass. As mentioned, OSRS updates are polled by the community and require an overwhelming yes to pass. This has, for nearly a decade, kept OSRS in a space that is loved by its community and kept it immune to the issues that plague War Gaming, WoW and just about every other title that tries to implement new features.
OSRS however, has reached a point where its greatest strength has seemingly turned into its fundamental weakness. Due to the stern traditionalist mentality of the community, any updates that even hint at introducing big changes to the game have been declined by the community. Massive updates such as multiple attempts at new skills have failed and the community refused to accept balancing changes that were sorely needed.
This seems to have led to a trend where the developers are only wanting to put in updates that have no risk factor. The team spends a great amount of energy developing big content updates before they actually poll them so it is easy to understand why. This year, the only big game affecting update is a new endgame dungeon. Which is cool and all but can only be enjoyed by the elite of the game, a status that takes a minimum of 1000 hours to reach. The rest of the development focus has been on game modes, 2 out of 3 of which are temporary.
This is not a system that is sustainable across the games entire existence. If new content and updates only affect the elite then the game is all but certain going to lose players. Furthermore, if new content is solely reliant on new game modes then those will succumb will succumb to the inevitable force of stagnation as well.
OSRS has been a hugely successful experiment into how successful a community driven game can be. The game does not have the ridiculous list of micro-transactions that stain modern gaming yet it is extremely profitable. Things are going to have to change if that is to remain the case however. After nearly a decade of the community deciding the future of the game, it may be time to give the developers a much bigger part to play in the games future.
The fear of handing over the reins to a gaming company, one that has already ruined its other title with micro transactions and clueless updates that went against everything the community wanted is extremely valid. However, it has become apparent that unless the developers are given the genuine freedom to express their creative talent, OSRS will die. Breaking the mould is something that players will be reluctant to do but if players want to play, it may be the only solution if OSRS is to escape its current trajectory.
OSRS has taken some serious blows in the last week. The player base is unhappy and the game hasn’t changed in a big way in too long. Runescape is dear to many hearts and has survived everything that has been thrown at it. The existence of OSRS in itself is a miracle that has been positive to the lives of millions. Its greatest challenge has yet to be overcome though and it needs all the help it can get. Long live Geilinor.
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