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Reflections on RuneScape

It has been about 14 years now since I first laid eyes on RuneScape. Much has changed, and not for the better.

On RuneScape 2

I was introduced to this game by a friend of mine in school. He was very enthusiastic about it at the time, and pushed heavily for me to create an account so the two of us could play together. When I told him I would start playing, he even went through the trouble of creating an account for me and leveling it a bit before handing it off to me, so that I could have a head start. (Yes, I am aware that this would have violated Rule 6, which banned account sharing and trading, but afterwards I ended up making another account from scratch, which is the one that became my main account.)

At the time, I only believed I would play this game for maybe an hour a day at most, or whenever my friend wanted me to log in. I never thought that this little browser-based game would beat every other game I've ever played in terms of time invested, emotions experienced, money spent (for all those monthly membership fees added up over the years), friendships made, and skills learned (typing skills, mostly). It added the label gamer to my identity, and converted me from a casual to a hardcore gamer. It is my favorite game—or, at least, it used to be—and those glorious years in the mid-2000s will always hold a special place in my heart.

I played RuneScape daily, most days for as much time as I possibly could, from roughly October 2004 to a little bit after the release of the Recipe for Disaster quest on 15 March 2006, after which I stopped playing for about 8 months. I started playing again around November 2006, and played daily until late August 2007 (I remember that I stopped this time very soon before school started). From then until about March 2011—the last time I ever played RuneScape—I would go back and play for maybe a few months, and then take breaks lasting several months. Thus, you might be inclined to believe that the period between October 2004 and late August 2007, despite the 8 month break in the middle, is when I formed my first and strongest impression of the game, and you would be right.

Comparison to the mid-2000s version of the game has been a recurring theme in my thoughts of RuneScape for a long time now. Even as early as mid-2008, when Jagex released the HD graphics update, I recall that I reminisced about the earlier, better days of the game. Hell, even in early/mid-2007, when Jagex seriously began to implement a series of graphical updates to existing towns and monsters in the game, I took to the forums and was one of the most vocal opponents of the graphical updates, although at that time, at least, I complained only about the graphical changes, but still believed that, overall, the game's best days were still in the future. It has been well over a decade now since I've ever thought that.

The golden years of RuneScape were 2006 and 2007 (excluding the end of 2007), period.(1) The game reached its peak in a pre-Grand Exchange (GE), pre-trade limit, pre-castrated Wilderness state, back when there was something like 160 worlds and a quarter of a million players online at once. The trade limit, Wilderness removal, and GE did enormous damage to the in-game economy, and the late 2000s was a period of decline for RuneScape. Even the return of free trade and the old Wilderness in early 2011 was not enough to bring the game back to its glory days: the damage had already been done (and the damn GE was still there). The only reason I even bothered to play again in early 2011 was because of the return of free trade and the old Wilderness, but when that excitement wore off, I quickly realized that the game I was playing wasn't really the RuneScape I knew at all, even with free trade and the old Wilderness present again.

If you exclude this early 2011 session as just a result of hype over the return of free trade and the old Wilderness, then the last time I really played RuneScape was sometime around mid-2010. I don't even consider the course of the game after 2010 as real RuneScape: Andrew Gower, the creator of the game and a co-founder of Jagex, left the company in 2010, according to his Wikipedia article. If you follow the reference in that Wikipedia article, you can see that Andrew, his brother Paul (who was involved very early on in the game as well), and Constant Tedder (who I think had handled the important business and financial aspects of Jagex since the early 2000s) all resigned from the board of directors on 3 December 2010, marking the end of the founders' vision for the game. Who even cares about what has happened to the game after the end of the Gower era?

Things would not be so simple.

On Old School RuneScape

Nostalgia is a pretty powerful thing, not just for me, but for a lot of other RuneScape players as well. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, there was increasing dissatisfaction with the state of the game and calls for a return to the old days. A RuneScape private server by the name of 2006scape appeared in early 2012, which offered players a 2006 version of the game. It collected something like over 100,000 account registrations and even offered a Castle Wars preview (which I participated in) before being shut down by Jagex, who then realized that there was a sizable demand and market for an old version of the game.

Thus was born Old School RuneScape (OSRS), launched 22 February 2013, and initially a clone of RuneScape as it was during August 2007. I was very happy and excited when I heard about 2006scape, and even more so when OSRS was released, because the latter would have been under the official care of Jagex, rather than an unknown and unaccountable group of developers like 2006scape was. Finally, I thought, Jagex had redeemed themselves; finally, we, the players, had spoken, and Jagex had listened; finally, after years of declining quality and the disaster that was the removal of free trade and the Wilderness, Jagex would give us a version of the game in its golden era. Any hostility and disappointment that I had felt towards Jagex disappeared at this point. I set aside as much time as I could on launch day to play OSRS, and for a time, I thought everything was going to be alright. The golden era had returned!

Unlike RuneScape, Jagex polls the playerbase on every potential update to OSRS, even very small and minor ones; updates are only put into the game if a minimum of 75% of the players vote Yes on it.(2) We all believed at the time that this was a good decision—after all, we all complained of bad updates that Jagex would put into RuneScape despite overwhelming player disapproval. A little while after the release of OSRS, there was talk about implementing the GE in the game, which I thought to be a ridiculous idea: RuneScape had existed for almost 7 years and reached its peak without it, and OSRS was supposed to be an August 2007 time capsule, whereas the GE came out in November 2007.

And yet, the idea had supporters. Much time was spent by me and others on the forums arguing against the pro-GE crowd, as well as the pro-change crowd in general, the types who tended to vote Yes in the polls to new content and quality of life updates (AKA the I'm too lazy and want this game to become EasyScape updates). We tried to show them that OSRS was a godsend from Jagex, a time capsule from the golden years of the game, and that such a treasure should stay exactly the way it is and not be ruined by updates or changes, the same things that caused the decline of RuneScape in the late 2000s and early 2010s. But poll after poll, more updates were implemented than not, including some major content updates that altered important game dynamics.(3)

I haven't played OSRS since early 2014. I realized the course the game was taking, and that the true veterans were losing out to the EasyScapers, who vote Yes for every quality of life update because they can't be bothered to take the game seriously, show no dedication towards it, and have no sense of achievement.(4) We were also losing to the pre-Evolution of Combat (EoC) kids who decided to invade our August 2007 time capsule and push their easy 2011/2012 version of the game onto the rest of us. The GE was eventually implemented in OSRS in February 2015, but at that point I just didn't care anymore. To hell with OSRS.

Yes, I am very mad and bitter about how OSRS turned out. After years of waiting, we were given a perfect jewel from 2007, only for it to be progressively cracked, chipped, and then covered with garbage as time went on. Unlike RuneScape, which was updated unilaterally by Jagex, with OSRS we, the players, were given a voice, and that voice turned out to be the voice of human laziness, and of ignorance and disrespect of the game's peak. Whereas I once considered us players united against Jagex and their bad updates, now I feel that many of my fellow players have betrayed me and the other old veterans, and turned the wonderful opportunity that OSRS could have been into something that more and more resembles some pre-EoC farce. I would rather the game wither away slowly, static and pure, than have it live each day more mutated and corrupted than the last. There is no compromise for me here: I voted No for every question in every poll. In this regard, I am the purest of the purists.

Our Split Community

It really is a sad thing that has happened to our community. Before the removal of free trade and the Wilderness, we were all united in our enjoyment of RuneScape, and while it's true that RuneScape Classic and the private server scene existed during that time, they were only a very small fraction of the total playerbase. Most of us played RuneScape, and while we might have had our disagreements, we loved the game more than we disagreed with each other about features here and there. We had some great times together.

Then came the removal of free trade and the Wilderness, which led to mass membership cancellations and mass quitting. This was a very major update, and some players quit and swore they'd never return, declaring the game ruined; some didn't like it but continued playing; and some supported Jagex, and told the quitters to not let the door hit them on their way out. When EoC came out, that again divided the community between those liked it and those who hated it. When OSRS was first released, it seemed at first that we old-timers got what we had wanted, and that there would be a constantly-changing main RuneScape alongside a static nostalgia game, but even that turned out to be too hopeful, because the golden-era veterans and the pre-EoC'ers were stuffed into one game, and the differences between the 2006/2007 golden era and the 2011/2012 pre-EoC era are just too great. Through the polling system, the pre-EoC'ers managed to hijack what was supposed to be our game.

Now Jagex maintains two changing and very different games, each receiving exclusive content updates and taking entirely different paths of development. The RuneScape private server scene has also grown over time and taken a fair share of the playerbase. Our community is now very fractured and split amongst:

  1. Those who play the main RuneScape game, which is now known as RuneScape 3.
  2. Those who play OSRS.
  3. Those who play a private server. Even a quick look at a private server list or two and you will realize that there are hundreds of private servers, all offering very different experiences:
  4. And, until very recently, RuneScape Classic was still being maintained by Jagex, and still had regular players even up until the servers were finally shut down on 6 August 2018. (Of course, talk of RuneScape Classic private servers began almost immediately after the shutdown announcement.)

This is different from how things were 10+ years ago, when an overwhelming majority of us played RuneScape, with only a very small fraction playing RuneScape Classic or a private server. Although OSRS is more popular than RuneScape 3, and the private server playerbase is probably smaller than the RuneScape 3 playerbase, the differences in size between each of these playerbases today are definitely not as great as the difference in size between the playerbase of RuneScape and the playerbases of RuneScape Classic or the private server scene 10+ years ago. We are more evenly split these days, and because of that, it feels to me like our community has become much more fractured, as there isn't one game that an overwhelming majority of us play and are united under anymore. It is very unfortunate, because RuneScape does not work well as a single-player game: some minigames require more than player, some quests (such as Shield of Arrav or Heroes' Quest) can't be finished without the help of another player, and being entirely self-sufficient is harder—and thus, for some, less fun—than trading with other players.

Maybe this fracturing was inevitable, and happens to anything that changes constantly. It has already been over 5 and a half years now since OSRS was released, and almost 6 years now since EoC was released, so it wouldn't surprise me if some OSRS or RuneScape 3 players were getting nostalgic now over the state of their game in, say, 2015. This will surely lead to more community splits over time as more private servers appear to cater to that nostalgia, now that Jagex has stated many times on the official forums that they don't want to split the community any further by releasing and maintaining another version of the game.

Meanwhile, what am I and the other true veterans to do? We were screwed out of OSRS by the EasyScapers and pre-EoC'ers, and we cannot rely on Jagex for another do-over. The private server world is currently dominated by OSRS or pre-EoC servers that add their own custom content; true 2006/2007 emulation servers exist and have dedicated regulars, but are not very popular overall. For now, I can only recommend ScapeRune #462 as the best and most polished 2007 remake I've yet seen, and hope that either it or another golden-era remake appears and reaches the level of popularity that 2006scape had in 2012.

Here's hoping our day finally comes, and we old veterans can be united under one game again.


Notes

  1. 2004 and 2005 were also very good years.
  2. I have encountered some cretins on the forums who have argued that updates should only need to get more Yes votes than No votes to be implemented in the game, instead of requiring a minimum of 75% Yes votes, which is more difficult to achieve. What these imbeciles seem unable to comprehend is that OSRS is a time capsule: change shouldn't come easily, and the game should stay the same by default. Only if an overwhelming majority of players support an update should it be put in.
  3. There are some pro-changers who tried to push the terrible argument that I can simply ignore new content that I don't like. Although some updates can be toggled, how the hell am I supposed to toggle off someone attacking me in Castle Wars with very high level OSRS-exclusive content that I'm trying to avoid? Content updates, especially major ones, don't happen in a vacuum; they have ripple effects that impact existing content, and I much as I could try, it is impossible to escape their influence entirely. Every new content update only makes it that much harder.
  4. I remember a comment that Zezima made in the late 2000s about how he doesn't play as much as he used to because the game was getting too easy.
  5. These are the types of servers that interest me. I have played three 2006/2007 emulation servers so far: Rune2006 (which doesn't seem to be working anymore), RuneRebels, and ScapeRune #462 (which, unfortunately, has a 2x experience rate, but otherwise is an excellent remake).

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This page last modified on 30 October 2018.