Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Taking Jagex seriously

I've been hearing a lot about Jagex starting to expand its current MMO operations by actually improving the base graphics for its popular Runescape MMO. As much as it pains me to admit it, Runescape qualifies as "popular" since the free portion of the game has had tens of millions of free accounts created. These free accounts are subject to banner adds and probably bring in a decent amount of revenue for Jagex. Of course, the more solid revenue stream is the 1.2 million subscribers who pay five dollars a month for access to additions skills and game content. The graphics upgrade which is slightly above EverQuest classic level will increase the subscription rate to about six dollars a month and most likely have no impact on subscriber numbers. That should be a decent boost to their monthly revenue.

Also interesting is that apparently Jagex has saved up enough money to start work on a science fiction based browser game which they are calling Mechscape. Not much is known about the game, but if visions of giants robots aren't already rolling around in your head then you're a bit slow. Since Runescape has always had a big appeal with the younger crowd you can probably expect a game about giants robots and spaceships to appeal to their target audience. A big part of Jagex's success is that the free portion of the game helps it achieve that critical mass needed to keep interest in a MMO alive. Since you can expect Mechscape to follow the same pricing structure I think Jagex is probably the only MMO company that doesn't have to worry about cannibalizing its own playerbase.

I've avoided talking about the gameplay in Runescape because I'm personally not a fan. I understand the need for item loss and item decay in some games, but it seems to be present in Runescape for no reason at all. You almost never lose all your items when you die and there are ways that sometimes you can save everything on your character. It all seems a bit random and just depends on the circumstances in which die. I've always noticed a tendency for free to play games to take items away from players randomly. It's like since you aren't paying for a subscription you have less ownership rights over the equipment you've collected for your character. Now a game like EVE Online destroys player ships when they die, but that's tied into a complex crafting economy.

So while I probably won't ever play Runescape or Mechscape because of their design decisions, I definitely take them seriously. They started off as just a couple brothers working from their home and have expanded into a decent sized company. Plus their combination of free-to-play and subscription accounts seems to be a winning formula that can keep people playing a MMO over a longer period of time then most other games. As they expand their portfolio of games they'll have opportunities to use their browser based platform to offer things like social networking applications and perhaps we'll see an all-access pass eventually. Runescape might be something that a lot of MMO players laugh at, but it has the potential to become as big as SOE or NCSoft in a very short period of time.


Cow Nose the 50 Pound Cat said...

Runescape comes from an older generation of MMOs, from a path of "MMOvolution" that is best described as the Ultima Online path (but a number of different MMO's did this same thing, Asheron's Call and Saga of Ryzom to name a few) this is why a number of things in runescape are different from the usual and might seem strange at first.

Relmstein said...

It's mostly losing items during PvE content that keeps me from trying out the game. I thought the Everquest death penalty was annoying and I just don't see an attraction to play a game with similar graphics and worse design mechanics. I understand the game is basically free but I don't have a ton of spare time to keep earning the same items over and over again.

The game comes off designed for people with a lot of free time and not a lot of money. I get the feeling that older people with a work schedule are not welcome. Now I will be looking at their Mechscape game as it comes out since I expect them to update their design philosophy to reflect modern standards. Even if they stick with an older path they should still make some money and be worth following in the MMO news.

Cow Nose the 50 Pound Cat said...

Is it hard to get items in Runescape? I don't really know caus I haven't played it. I know in Ultima Online you lose everything when you die, but its easy to get replacements. I like that system!

Relmstein said...

I believe Runescape uses a complicated crafing system which produces some high quality items. There's a ton of info on the game's website and I think only subscribers can gather some of the materials needed.

I'm just not that into the idea of randomly wiping out my equipment advancement. Even if its easy to get replacements I don't want to micro-manage getting a new set of gear every time I die.

Vaskor said...

It is very hard to die in Runescape. Unless you are engaged in PvP combat (in a dedicated minigame) or being very careless you can manage stay alive indefinitely. Many players experience death in Runescape about once a year (questing or wondering into the wilderness) or not at all. I am not counting death in minigames which are safe from items stand point. Plus, even if you die, you get 3-5 minutes to come back to your gravestone and collect your belongings, which is usually enough time. Or someone can bless your grave and then you would have the whole hour to come back.

Would an adult enjoy playing Runescape? I'd say yes, but it depends on person's attitude and expectations. Many adults play and thrive in Runescape environment, though main target audience is still "early teens". The game does allow for vast variety of different playing styles, so I would not brand it as "teens only".

About cost of items and ways to obtain them. Basic equipment for low/middle levels is easy to obtain. It is indeed can be created using Smithing or Crafting skills. These items are also very cheap. Premium items for high level players (or for good looks) are usually obtained as drops from tough monsters, as rewards to minigames or during special holiday events. These items cannot be created by players and thus may cost a lot. Players are able to get some of them during the course of the game (and it may take years!), thus these items become a kind of milestones for many players. Once obtained, it is almost impossible to loose them.

About Mechscape. Based on Jagex's statements from E3, Mechscape will be targeting older audience, presumably 20-25 year olds, and will have more complex gameplay comparing to Runescape.