Monday, April 3, 2017

DAW: The Old School Team

Yesterday, to my delight, Ravanel asked me if I'd participate in the Developer Appreciation Week event, and while I'd currently find it hard to say anything appreciative of Runescape's community, I'm more than happy to say a few nice words about the Old School Team, the name given to Jagex's team of developers in charge of Runescape 2.

And yes, I know I should be calling it 2007Scape or Old School Runescape, but I just call it Runescape because it is Runescape as most of us know it, and nobody plays Runescape 3 anymore. There's twice as many players on RS2 as there are on RS3, get over it already RS3 lovers!

It's a good thing I'm heading in with that because if there's a good reason the old school version has more players than the original version, it's because of its awesome team of developers. The Old School Team is simply the most honest and communicative developer team I have ever seen. They've decided to make of this game a democracy and keep it free of microtransactions, which they call "MTX". In doing so they've provided us with one of the fairest, least corrupt online gaming environments. I'll leave here this quote from one of the developers, Mod MatK (they all have names starting with "Mod"), and guide you through how an update is processed on Runescape 2 to show you how it all works.

I wanted to clear up a misapprehension which seems to be rearing it's head here concerning the interfering of 'external forces'. I am going to assume that these 'external forces' refer too anyone not in the Old School team and that it implies that there is pressure on the team to add things like MTX or EOC etc. This isn't true.
I am not going to lie, there is pressure to create more revenue from Old School, every business has pressure to increase revenue - if they didn't they wouldn't be a company for long. But everyone throughout the company (from the very top to the bottom) understands that this needs to be done in a way which our community accepts. No one anywhere is suggesting that we add MTX.
The biggest method of increasing revenue for Old School is by increasing the amount of members and we know we can do that by continuing to listen to what you want and delivering that.
Over the last few months we have been doing a lot of work with the Brand Director at Jagex to ensure that OSRS's brand is properly understood by everyone (the team, Jagex and the players) and one of the pillars is that we do what the players want (and we don't think you want MTX).
There is a very strong feeling across everyone here at Jagex that one thing we must do over the foreseeable future is maintain the core and ethics of what Old School is and not allow ourselves to deviate from that. With your help I know we will be able to do that.

So, when the Old School Team wants to update their game, what happens? Well, usually they check out what the community is talking about on the forums, in game and on Reddit and come up with something adapted to their demands. Let's take the example of the latest update to pass, The Inferno. The first time we might hear about it is during their weekly Q&A livestreams:

During these sessions, they answer questions submitted by players and adress possible future updates. There are usually two kinds of updates: new content featuring quests, bosses, areas and such, and Quality of Life content (QoL). The latter is usually about making small tweaks to the game to make it more convenient, like interface changes or new ways of sorting out your bank and inventory. The developers then announce the update via Dev Blogs, such as this one:

These show the new content in detail; where it would be located, how it would work, what requirements it would have, and so on. There are several questions at the bottom of each Dev Blog the players may answer for feedback.

The team then sets up polls with various questions concerning the update. Subscribed players vote to decide whether or not the content will be added to the game. It must have over 75% approval from the community in order to pass. Below is the poll for The Inferno.

And this is why I love the Old School Team. They're rigorous, communicative, talented and above everything, ethical. To me, the fact that RS2 has surpassed RS3 is proof that being ethical gets your farther than being greedy. It's the Golden Egg all over again. Microtransactions are a plague in modern MMOs and most online game companies could learn something from the Old School Team.


  1. I have very mixed feelings about this kind of approach. Yes, it can work to a degree, if it's applied in the extremely detailed way you describe, but even then I don't really trust the process to manage the often self-destructive urges of players. I hugely prefer a development team that has its own agenda and keeps its decision-making to itself.

    It's true that developers need to take account of player attitudes and expectations in order to keep players and stay in business but I have yet to see a set-up where doing so by polling or forum discussion has resulted in anything I would recognize as a healthy development environment. SoE and ArenaNet are two companies who have tried this extensively and made a horrible botch of it as far as I can tell.

    What I like is to get updates and patches and expansions that come as almost a complete surprise. Reading the patch notes and grinning or frowning as each new idea appears is one of the joys of playing MMOs for me. These days I prefer to be treated as a customer not a collaborator when it comes to entertainment although a decade ago I did feel differently.

    1. I think the reason why it works in the case of Runescape is because its community consists of very dedicated players who have been around since the start, who know what they want and know what makes the game great. The community has its flaws, but it's fully aware that adding microtransactions, OP weapons or bosses with absurd rewards would be gamebreaking. It's an experiment that has been going for nearly four years straight, and the results are nothing but positive.

      I don't think the devs would bend to absolutely every whim however. If the whole community was asking for something crazy to be added, like cars or whatever, the devs wouldn't even consider it.

      I don't remember ArenaNet doing anything close to this, but I might be wrong. In fact I get the impression they just live in their own bubble, believing that their horrid NPCs and ingame store prices are fantastic, completely oblivious to most players constantly complaining about their updates.

  2. I must admit that I'm intrigued by this system, and the fact that it seems to be working well. Players have great feedback, but sometimes their idea of game design can be awful, too. I think it really depends on the community whether a system like this works or not. Great contribution to DAW, though! :)