Article by Collin Lyle
Among the ever-rising number of failed attempts to recapture nostalgia ,there have definitely been some successes. One of the most prominent of these successes was made by what was once comprised of just a two-brother studio.
In 2001 the UK based company called Jagex releases the soon to be runaway success called RuneScape. RuneScape largely became the success that it was at the time for the way the user engaged with it. First and foremost, in a time when consoles were really starting to hit their stride, RuneScape was on the computer. Users also did not need to download any sort of software to play RuneScape as the entire game client ran in a web browser meaning that accessibility was nearly unparalleled with any other game at the time. The other major asset RuneScape had going for it was that is was also free to play. While they would later change their overall system to that of a limited access for free to play with a subscription model of just $5 a month to get access to all the other content they offered at the time, it allowed them to draw in an astounding number of players.
Over the years, RuneScape evolved in an attempt to stay current. As a result, Jagex began to inadvertently drive off their loyal player base due to the drastic changes made. One of the more notable of these changes was the addition of a Grand Exchange. The Grand Exchange was a system by which players could more easily trade their wares between one another. However this came with the caveat of killing off the previously booming player to player trade scene that was once in its place. To this day the addition of the Grand Exchange is a very heated topic with many for and many against its addition. In contrast, easily the biggest turn off factor for many players that introduced to RuneScape was created in order to help curb illegal gold farming. This development was the elimination of “free trade.” Players were no longer allowed to trade items or wealth between one another unless they were of equal value. This decision marked a pivotal point in the game’s history and a decision that only several years later would lead to official statements by the developers stating how big of a mistake they had made by removing free trade.
Unfortunately, Jagex did not stop there when it came to driving nails into RuneScapes coffin. In 2013 they released a fundamental overhaul to the game’s combat system called EoC, short for Evolution of Combat. It changed combat into one more resembling that of many other MMOs on the market at the time. For much of the community, EoC was the last straw, and it showed heavily in the decline in subscription.
In order to combat the loss of subscribers, Jagex decided that in order to stay afloat, they would have to implement some form of microtransaction system whereby players can either buy cosmetics or boosts for real world currency. Like it or hate it, the addition of microtransactions undoubtedly is what has allowed them to stay afloat as a company. In their 2017 yearly earnings report, they cited that microtransactions made up nearly 80% of their entire revenue base. Sadly, for Jagex, the additions of these microtransactions only hastened the player decline. Upon its initial implementation in 2012, microtransactions were purely cosmetic but as player numbers continued to drop further, they made the decision to add boosts that would increase the rate at which players gained experience for all the various skills or simply just given them experience without them having to actually do anything other than buy microtransactions. To highlight just how bad it had gotten, a Youtuber by the handle A Friend received all skills to max level in under 75 hours simply by using microtransactions, a feat that previously took upwards of three thousand hours.
Jagex was not entirely deaf to the complaints of the community. Since the addition of EoC players had been asking for an older variation of the game; one free from the additions they felt had ultimately ruined the game they once enjoyed. In 2013 they held a poll to see how many people would be interested in an “Old School” version of their game, specifically one take from a save file created in 2007. The poll exploded with nearly 700,000 participates saying yes, they would play an older version of the game if it were to be released. One of the biggest caveats pushed for by the community was the requirement that any new content that was going to be added to the game whether it be bug fixes, or content releases, would first need to be voted upon by the players and achieve 75% favor in order for it to be added to the game.
Having garnered enough votes in 2013, Jagex decided to task a small team of developers who were apart of the studio during its early days with the job of rekindling the nostalgia. Support for a mode many thought to only be a meme of a proposition began to catalyze and as a result, there was a massive surge of player base growth for the company. While many of the developers at Jagex assumed that Old School RuneScape would merely be a flash in the pan of interest lasting no more than a few years at most, they quickly began to realize just how wrong they were. In 2015 the number of concurrent users on Old School RuneScape surpassed that of what had since been titled RuneScape3. Since then, the number disparity has only increased as RuneScape3’s population has continued to decline while that of Old School RuneScape’s has continued to increase.
In the next segment of Resurgence of Nostalgia, I’ll be looking at what the identifiable differences are between the success and failures of developers who seek to harness nostalgia.