One of the hardest things to do in the gaming industry it not only to appear fresh but to stay relevant. This was the issue that the MMORPG Runescape was facing in 2012, 11 years after the game’s original inception. Developers must tread a fine line when bring innovation to a game, especially one ad old and with a dedicated fan-base such a Runescape; a battle in which they were failing coming up to the year 2012. Many of the changes had alienated the player base and which resulted in a steady decline of players. The answer to this however lay hidden away in the draw of a software developer in Jagex HQ (The Runescape developers).
You see unbeknown to the development team there was a backup of a previous iteration of the game dating all the way back to 2007. This was a harbinger of ‘the good old days’ when the player base was not only robust but content. Usually this would not lead any further, but a decision was made by the development staff to revive the older version of the game that people knew and loved. They took the idea to community, polling the idea to see if re-releasing the game would be a success. The poll had 4 tiers of support with all those in favour and wanting the older version to become live contributing to the amount of backing the developer would give the game. Over 50,00 yes votes would give the green light 250,000 plus would yield a small development team and maintenance and 500,000 plus would give it a full working team and full support. In the end the poll passed in late 2012 with 449,351 votes in favour of the idea and Old School Runescape as a game was born.
Restarting the game that people are familiar with offered Jagex unique opportunities and running it alongside the original game as well gave the development team full reign in what they do. At release the game saw 40,000 players logging back into the game mainly for a mix of nostalgia and intrigue but over the next few years this number dropped significantly, averaging about 15-20,000 active players.
This did not deter the team however and their focus on community eventually began to pay off. One of the big introductions was a polling system in game that meant the players got to decide the new content that is put into the game. This helped with the issue that the game had before of alienation and meant that the game would move forward in a more organic way; an approach that other developers of MMORPG should look to follow. This in combination with content creators on YouTube and Twitch helped to give the game exposure and eventually the number of active players surpassed the other game; a staggering feat considering this was a 5-year-old game running in a 32 bit system.
Over the next few years the community saw a gradual but healthy growth, which is nearly unparalleled in an MMORPG of its age and capability; people came back for the gameplay that they remembered and that is exactly what was delivered. The addition of new content, but in a more gradual way, helped garner even more support for the game and make it still feel fresh and innovative.
Runescape has shown that, in an age where games have a very limited lifespan, older games can not only survive but thrive.
By Ryan Pointon