How would I sum RuneScape up in three words? Goodbye real life. No, okay, I would say, if you can count that as three words… Best MMO ever. Definitely. 15 YEARS OF ADVENTURE This is the story of a world created in a kitchen, of a community bonding as they kill chickens or fish for sharks. It’s a sneaky peek behind the scenes of an online world, of its highs and lows and an attempt to solve something of a mistery. How a videogame can still be loved and relevant after 15 years? When I made this game I thought it was just like any other. It would go online, maybe a few people would play and that’ll be it. Certainly didn’t expect it to be running 15 years later and still be developed 15 years later. It is quite unbelievable how big the game became. I still can’t quite believe it. But what is RuneScape? Many people won’t even have heard of it. Yet it’s a game that holds six Guinness World Records and seen more than 240 million accounts created. Quietly, it has become incredibly popular. Let’s put in perspective. If RuneScape were a country, it would have the fifth largest population in the world. It would have 63% of the population of the USA. It would have 3.2 times the population of the UK and 8.9 times more than Australia. RuneScape could definitely take Australia. For me, RuneScape is the ultimate adventure. You have the opportunity to be a hero in a medieval fantasy world. Saving people’s lives. Killing dragons. All sorts of really fantastical things. And it’s an experience that you share with thousands of people at the same time. There’s mystical magical properties to the world. There are goblins, orcs and elves, and things like that. We never take things too seriously. Yes, you might be battling against forces that are trying to blow up the planet, but you always get a bit of a nudge-nudge wink-wink joke that the players really enjoy. I’d help out myself, but I broke my hammer on a hiker last week. And we’ve got this core spine running through it all. Of gods that stomp about our game world claiming followers and then trying to become the single god entity of this entire universe. You can do whatever you like and that’s the fun part of RuneScape that sets it apart from everything else. Weekly updates across 15 years. You always have something new that you can do the next day. Us, as players, we have the power to contribute to this ever-growing world. RuneScape represents exactly the type of virtual world that I prefer to live in. So much can happen in the fantasy world. Magic exists, treasures, adventures, monsters threatening to rip your face off. Exploration. All the things that we dreamed about and we read in fairy tales. It’s a very social game. I like that. If I’m in the mood to chill out and talk to people, I play RuneScape. That sense of exploration and discovery is far more powerful in a game like RuneScape than most any other MMO. 8 billion fish are caught in RuneScape every year. And every minute, over 2,000 cows are slain, which would make more than 3.5 million burgers in that minute. But that doesn’t begin to explain the very strange base that is RuneScape. Where did it come from? How has it become so popular? Well, to find out, you have to rewind back to the glorious 1980s. The 80s saw a lot of cliché coming up. Bedroom coders make their games. And that’s very important. That sort of ability to, with a small team, in many cases brothers, there’s a load of different brothers who started up games companies and the Gowers are one such set. I grew up in Nottingham with my family and my brothers Paul and Ian. We were always very a gaming family, played lots of board games and computer games growing up. Played lots of Dungeons and Dragons with my brothers and my dad. He was always the dungeon master and we were exploring the dungeons. And I think that gave a lot of inspiration for a lot of the computer games I did, particularly my love for roleplaying games and things like that. They got lots of imagination and were always playing imaginary games, acting out things. There’s a very early fantasy game I played probably when I was about 5. That was an early fantasy game called Sorcerer’s Cave, which is a game where you lay out big tiles on the floor and basically you explore the dungeons as a character. Probably gave me a little bit of what I’d do even then. Paul used to do really detailed pictures of castles and pirate ships and all sorts of inventions. That’s one called “the battler”. They told the others stories about inventing a whole range of characters. A lot is based on what we did. We used to go to castles and go to the seaside. They did a fantasy version of that. I first got into computer programming when I was 7 years old. My dad had a ZX Spectrum and he came with a book of the programs you can type in. The funny thing was I actually bought a book specifically for Paul and another one for Andrew. Paul was far too interested in writing all these fantasy stories and imaginative games to be bothered with tedious computer programming. So once Andrew whittled through his book in no time flat, he then got hold of Paul’s book. I shouldn’t have been astonished really. He then started spending virtually all his time on it. The first program I made myself was a little man that just walked across the screen. It was very simple. I was only 7. But I was excited by the fact that I could do that and it went from there really. It’s very hard to prise Andrew away from the computer sometimes. Occasionally my parents would be like “Go out and go for a walk. Have some fresh air.” And he was like “No, I’m sticking on the computer. I know there’s a sunny day outside but I’m in the rhythm.” I really did spend my whole teenage years just writing computer games. I absolutely loved making them. Most of them were my own takes on things that I couldn’t afford initially or which we hadn’t bought. But I always tried to put my own spin on things. Make it a bit original. One game I particularly remember making up. There was a very famous computer game called Lemmings which came out at that time. I really wanted to play it, but I didn’t have enough money to be able to buy. I couldn’t afford the 20 pounds it cost, so I decided to make my own copy. We had not played Lemmings at the time, so we didn’t know how it worked, which was a good thing because it came out a bit different. It was a game where you had to make little ramps and stuff to move the ball bearing from the start path and there were obstacles to the exits. Andrew did the code and I did the level design for that. I was very proud of that game because it was the first game I made at which I looked and I thought “Wow. It actually doesn’t look like it’s been made by a kid.” It’s a reasonably playable game. I very much wanted to make one of everything. So I made a strategy game. Now I need to make an adventure game, so I made an adventure game, but I haven’t made a shooting game yet. I wanted to see if I could make every type of game. After leaving school, Andrew moved away from his family home to study computer science at Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge. When I got there, took my computer with me, desperately worried it was gonna get broken in the car because that’s the one I had spent a whole year saving up for. Got it all set up and discovered that the rooms had an internet connection. I said to my friend “I’ve never lived in a house with internet. I don’t think I’ll use it.” Obviously this turned out to be completely utterly false. And then a few weeks later I caved and got myself a network connection and I was immediately intrigued by the fact that there was online games you could play. Games played in a web browser were becoming increasingly popular and sites started popping up that hosted them. One such site, Games Domain, contacted Andrew and asked if he’d be interested in making games for them. The biggest game that I made for them was a thing called Castle GamesDomain. This was a multiplayer games parlour. And this was by far the most popular thing I made for them. It regularly had 200 to 300 people playing games. You could go in there and you could always get a game. I managed to get Ian to do some graphics for me for Castle GamesDomain and for quite a few other games I did. I absolutely jumped on that opportunity. So he would email me a list of requirements. I would email him the graphics back again and maybe get them into the game. The funny thing was the money I got from Games Domain far eclipsed the amount I got by paper round. When I saw it, I thought I had spent a whole year saving up for this. And I made it back in a couple of weeks. If only I could have taken a loan. I started thinking I want to make a game a bit more for myself. I wasn’t gonna sell it to someone else. It was gonna be my game. And one of my favourite games online at the time was a text-based game called Nanvaent, which is a MUD you can play online, and I loved the fact that you could play it any time, day or night. It would always be someone there. You can log in at 3 o’clock in the morning and there’ll be some person. Killing monsters and talking and chatting. There was loads of these out there. And trying to make one stand out from the crowd, it’d be very difficult. Because one of the key features of these games was that you didn’t need to install any software, you could just connect to that server using telnet and play. And I wanted to get that same “play on any computer, carry on where you left off” aspect, but with graphics and, because I knew how to do Java games, I realised I could combine the two together. I made basically a graphical MUD with all the benefits a MUD would normally have. When my friend Pete heard that I was making a graphical MUD he said to me “I’ve got a game a bit like that. I’ve been playing on my computer.” “It’s called Ultima Online. Would you like to see it?” This Britannia is but one of many in the multiverse that is Ultima Online. And I played that and I said “that’s exactly what I’m trying to make”. But I didn’t get to play the game, which is probably just as well, because then my game didn’t come out too similar. Until now I never specifically heard that Ultima was an inspiration for RuneScape, but there’s been these waves of people younger than me joining this industry throughout my career. And so, when you do the same thing for so long, it means that you get the opportunity to set a few standards for the younger group to come in and have a chance of look at it first. I finally got it to a point where it works and I decided to put it online as a little test that it worked. Didn’t have any servers, so it just ran on my computer in my room and didn’t switch it off. And probably only about a handful of people ever played DeviousMUD, just a few people that I knew at Games Domain who I invited to give it a go. And then after a week I got enough feedback and I shut it down and carried on working on it. Was the very early precursors of RuneScape. Andrew graduated and found himself in demand. He was offered two jobs. One with his friends in Games Domain and another by a guy called Constant Tedder, who ran a competitor Gameswire. But like a true entrepreneur, Andrew decided to strike it alone and remain self-employed. I decided the time was right to pick DeviousMUD back up and see if I could finish it off. Started it again. Took everything I learned from the previous year or two. And started to make an improved version of it which I decided to call RuneScape. RuneScape is a name we came up with by throwing ideas around between us. Found out lots of fragments of words and then trying to get them in different combinations and seeing what sounded good. Of course also checking that the domain name was actually free. Once we had RuneScape as a name, the original version of the logo was just the name RuneScape in a straight line on the stones, but all of our friends were joking around and they kept calling it “run escape”. So at that point I split the line of stones in two and put the sword in the middle just to make sure there could be no ambiguity whatsoever. This was “rune scape” not “run escape”. One of the things I’ve always been very keen to having from the start was the ability to make it quite easy to add content to the game. It was quite a common thing for text-based MUDs anyways. So I decided I could have my own scripting system, which I called RuneScript. I realised that with the scripting system up on to this point, Paul had always come up with a lot of the ideas and the level designs of my games but he wasn’t a programmer and I always had to implement everything he came up with. I always found that he came up with the ideas far faster than I could actually implement them. So, by creating the scripting system, I realised he could implement the ideas himself and alleviate a little bit of that imbalance. The earlier experiments which I was doing to learn how to use Andrew’s map editor and RuneScript ended up making it into the game in some form or another. So when I was learning how to use them, the RuneScape map editor that Andrew created, I made Lumbridge and Lumbridge Castle. It was quite fun making a great big castle. It ended up being the starting point for the game. The first character which I created just to make sure I could do character conversations was a character called Hans, which is a character who wanders around Lumbridge castle. We made the first quest very early on. That was Cook’s Assistant. A lot of it was inspired by Lucas Arts style graphical adventures as well, especially Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle. A lot of the way the conversation system worked was based on those comical options for what sorts of things to say. This must be that Woodstock place mum and dad are always talking about. So, finally, in January 2001, I got RuneScape to the point where I thought I could actually launch it and give it to the public. We booted the servers for the first time and then we all logged on and picked our characters. And then Andrew went over to Castle GamesDomain because they knew that he was making RuneScape and told to the game players in there “hey guys, RuneScape is launched”. A bunch of players came over from Games Domain and they were the first players of the game. It was far more popular than we could possibly imagine. Initially, we only had one game world and that filled up very quickly. We had to quickly set more game worlds to take on the extra people that are online. There was always someone playing the game. I was trying to do this against the clock because there were more players coming in every day and I was frantically trying to re-engineer it to keep up with the number of players. Didn’t want to turn anybody away. RuneScape launched at a very interesting time because it was just as the internet was becoming a big thing. It was just following the giant dot com bubble, slightly after. But internet gaming in particular was still taking off. Online games were just becoming a thing. Back in the day that I used to play, in the 1970s, Dungeons and Dragons had a tremendous appeal and the internet was now allowing these people to join up together without having to sit at the same room with each other. Imagine choosing any name and personality you want to be and then playing other people from all over the country on your personal computer. The fact that broadband became faster and better in people’s homes and cheaper really meant that online games and the internet transformed distribution mechanisms. It was an independent self-published game in the time when there wasn’t independent self-published games. We were one of the few people who were able to publish our own game. The fact that you could play it without having to install any software, you could just play it in a web browser, it meant it got a big following in schools, people could play during their lunch breaks, and they could play when they got home, people could play in libraries. That really helped the spread. And then disaster stroke. Clicks and mortar firms have flourished but many pure internet companies have had problems this year. Back in March, four net-only firms entered the FTSE 100 because their share prices ranked them as the top UK business. Since then, their valuations have tumbled over 70%. No wonder even casual investors are becoming fussier. The advertisers pulled the plug. They didn’t want to buy adverts off me any more. I certainly got to the point where the amount of advertising revenue wasn’t even enough to cover the hosting cost and I didn’t have a lot in the way of savings. I was like “I can’t afford to run this game”. “It’s costing me money to run it. I’m gonna have to shut it down.” And I really didn’t want to shut it down because I’d spent well over a year making it by this point. I put everything into it. It was really popular, probably about 600,000 people playing it by this point. I really didn’t want to shut it down. A bit of an emergency. First thing I did was trying to save money. I moved back to my parents’ house in Nottingham. We used half of my parents’ kitchen. Mum put curtains and subdivided it in two separate bits, so the kitchen turned into an office. And then we spent about six months working from our parents’ kitchen. They were terribly squashed in. I remember I couldn’t get in to load the washing machine because the computers were all around it. We could all work together properly. We didn’t have to rely on email. And of course we were playing board games again together as we always have done. They were going around the house with microphones looking for interesting sounds. I remember the cooking sound and my mom happened to be frying some bacon one day. I was standing there with the voice recorder, recording it. The sound of cooking in RuneScape classic is the sound of my mom frying some bacon. I was a primary school teacher, so it was a school holiday. So, I got the time and I’ve always loved drawing. So I said I’d have a go. I drew four animals for him. I had a camel, a bear, a spider and a bat. And they are all still on Classic. I did bits and pieces. I started on the RuneScape Classic cow. It was my proudest graphical achievement in RuneScape Classic. After six months of working from home, the game was still costing more than it was making. While anyone else would have thrown in the towel, the brothers looked at other options to keep the game running. We thought about making a members version and hope that enough people would want to subscribe. At this point I realised that if I was going to start charging the users for playing the game, it was going to become a much more commercial operation. We had to do things a bit more seriously. We couldn’t ignore people’s customer support emails. And I didn’t really know anything about running this sort of business. I was a bit anxious about taking money off the users directly. And I thought to myself “well, there was that chap who contacted me”. And I nearly set up a business with Constant Tedder. I wonder if he’d be interested in turning this into a proper business where we actually charge a subscription. Constant was still interested and took them up on their offer. He took on the position of CEO and they prepared RuneScape to accept paid members. We figured we need 3,000 people to subscribe out of 600,000 players to cover our hosting cost. Within the first couple of days we had 5,000 subscribers. I was like “We’re saved. We’ve got enough. We’re not gonna have to shut the game down.” The community and the playerbase overwhelmed us in terms of the number of people we were taking even just in that first day. And I was in a real rush to get the business set up and recruit some staff. Started looking around for an office. Found a little incubator for start-up businesses called St John’s Innovation Centre. Went to them and said “I need an office and I need it now”. We’ve got people paying for the game. We haven’t got any staff to answer their emails. How soon can you give me an office? And they were like “call me tomorrow”. Office tomorrow. Signed the contract. Had a number of people coming in for an interview. We didn’t have any furniture at this point. The interview was taking part in a completely empty office with nothing in it. Andrew was interviewing people while myself and Constant were wandering in and out of the little office with them desks and computers and setting them up behind them, which was probably quite distracting. I remember the night before I was frantically googling how you interview someone. What do you ask at an interview? What are you supposed to do? My interview was awesome because it was just a room. And there was just a table with a laptop on it. And Andrew. And that was it. And then I thought “what have I stepped into?” He said “can you type something?” I remember how he looked at me watching me type. And then he was like “great, all right”. It was brilliant. It was the most amazing. To start off, the company was so small that people’s first task on their first day was to build their desks and set up their computer. We didn’t have any staff who did that sort of things. When I started, there was one other person and that was it. We didn’t have any internet. What? No. RuneScape was running off servers, but we didn’t have any internet in the office. And then later that week at some point we got dial-up. Just like we had grown fast in terms of number of players in the first year, in the second year it was very rapidly adding the number of people paying for the game. We moved office incredibly frequently. I like the fact that we just knock a hole in the wall and just expand, expand, expand. I remember Andrew’s room, though. He used to have five monitors set up. I remember having this banging trance music. A screen of code here and this really thumping techno. I was blown away by that. I’ve grown up looking at things like MUDs, multiuser dungeons, and I have been a roleplayer all my life, running Dungeons and Dragons campaigns and things like that. And the first time I looked at RuneScape, it looked like a graphical MUD. And I was frustrated with a lot of online games that didn’t take the storytelling very seriously. I was engaged in with this quest and there were nice little character dialogs. And, even though the graphics were incredibly simplistic compared to the games I was playing on my consoles at the time, there was something about it, something that really resonated with me as a storyteller. But also someone who wanted to explore the potentials that the internet had to offer. And it just grabbed me and I thought “yes, I’m gonna give this a go”. As well as recruiting a lot of customer support, I was also spending an awful lot of time trying to code the systems to support them because it was all one thing having people in to answer emails, but initially there wasn’t anything we could actually do for the people. People would say “I’ve lost my password” and there was nothing they could do about it. There was no way they could verify that they were the rightful owner. They couldn’t even reset the password. Everything was done by emails, so you had all the reports from players saying “I lost my dragon helmet” and all the rest of that. And they would come to inbox. So, after a while, I had about a thousand emails in my inbox. And I didn’t know how to answer these people. There was probably about 20 or 30 different systems that we actually ended up making in house, all of which had a different function just to support the game. I guess the weirdest thing was that people with outside experience would come in, used to things working in a certain way, and we did them completely differently. I think that’s why for such a long time we actively did not look for people with proper industry experience. Because actually it wasn’t any good to us. And it was good because if you needed the system to do something, you could just go and ask for it, which is pretty cool really. RuneScape’s first incarnation was a little rough around the edges, but it was revolutionary for its time. It was an online world of adventure where players could slay dragons, hone skills and make friends. Best of all, it could be played on even the chunkiest PC. But nothing stays still in the tech world for long and it was time for RuneScape to get a makeover. Around about 2004 we started getting on top of things a little bit more. It was no longer quite such a breakneck day-to-day, just trying to keep up with whatever crisis, surge of growth or new things were happening. We were able to catch our breath and think “what next?”. I decided to start making a new version called RuneScape 2. Totally rewrite the code base, fix all sorts of things that I didn’t like about the original version. And I also took the opportunity to upgrade the graphics. He completely rewrote the whole scripting language and it was far more flexible but it meant we had to rewrite the entire game effectively from scratch. It was risky because we had a lot of people who were really dedicated to RuneScape and, whilst we as a bunch of developers thought that it was good to do certain things, the community didn’t necessarily agree with us. So, when we first put the beta live, this new shiny version of RuneScape, there was a lot of fear from the community like “Is it gonna work like this? Is it gonna work like that?” “Is the value of my items gonna be affected?” It was quite a big deal for them. And we were desperately worried that if we upgraded the version of the game, we could lose a lot of players. So we thought “well, we just keep the old version online just in case”. These people were playing a game 5, 10, 15 hours a day, every single day. It was one of the most important things in their lives. You have to be really mindful of that. As it actually happened when we finally managed to launch it for real, almost everyone moved to RuneScape 2 and there were a very small number of people stuck with RuneScape 1. So apparently we didn’t need to worry as much as we did. Around at the same time that we launched RuneScape 2, we also signed a deal with a third-party website called miniclip.com, which is a portal. A lot of people go there to play free cool games. “Oh, look, what’s this RuneScape thing? That looks cool.” And we got a lot of traffic. A huge amount of traffic. We had so many players signing up at the same time that our account creation system couldn’t handle the load and it was keeled over. This breakneck speed I was talking about up to this point was going about this and all of a sudden it turned a massive corner and went even faster. This meant the previous, what we thought wasn’t gonna be faster suddenly looked very slow. I actually 100% could remember us having a conversation and thinking “we’re having too many players”. Because we couldn’t hire staff quick enough, we couldn’t build servers quick enough and Andrew, honest to God, was like “maybe we should stop account creation”. Because we just couldn’t deal with that rush of people. But it was great, right? It was a great time. Everyone was mucking in and doing bits of everything. You had to. By the time we came down to Cambridge to see them, they told us how many more players there were. The new number was always significantly bigger than the last time we had seen them. Quite impressive really. Once they got up to fifty people in the office, that was an impressive milestone. I thought “they found fifty people, wow”. With the game beginning to take off, Andrew and Constant wanted to reward their staff. And they found a foolproof way of doing so. Constant devised a jolly system where we reward the staff when we hit certain milepoints in terms of numbers of subscribers. Go go-karting, go paintballing, drive a speed boat, all sorts of fun events. And he set it out with a number of subscribers as a target for each different one. It meant all the way up to 100,000 subscribers, a weekend in New York. I remember when he produced the list I was like “we never gonna hit 100,000 subscribers”. “Yes, sure. We’ll do that.” At one point there was like 4 or 5 jollies stacked up. At least, yes. We hadn’t been on a jolly for a couple of weeks. There was 4 or 5 still to take. They were like 25,000 apart or something like that. I remember in one week we hit two targets. Just in one week. When we originally wrote them we were expecting them to be 2, 3 months apart. It didn’t really hit home until a member of the staff that we had recruited mentioned to me that he hadn’t actually done a 5-day-week since starting for us. One thing that was always very nice about developing RuneScape was that you always got some feedback on everything you were doing, compared to when I made single-player games where you made it and you put it out and you couldn’t really tell it if anyone liked it or not. You could look a magazine and see if the reviewers liked it but you couldn’t tell if the actual users liked it. With RuneScape being online and having forums, you’ve got instant feedback. Some of our daily routines were just to log on to RuneScape during lunch or before we started work and just have a chat with some of the players. The people on our friends lists were actually our friends. I remember chatting to them and finding out what they were doing. There was definitely a lot of interaction between the people working at Jagex and the mods and the players in the older days. Felt like a very big warm community that was very passionate about what was going on in the game. As the number of players continued to grow, clans formed, friends lists filled up, and everyone got on swimmingly. For many, friendships formed in RuneScape were stronger than friendships they made outside of it. Those who started playing RuneScape at a young age were growing up in Gielinor. The RuneScape community is quite possibly the warmest community in gaming. A lot of players would actually just jump on and use RuneScape just to chat with other players. In fact, if it’s anything, RuneScape was a glorified kind of chat system for them. A lot of people like ourselves grew up with RuneScape, so we’ve got good strong friendships that have come from playing RuneScape. You can meet all different kinds of people from all over the world and you never know who you’re gonna meet and they can turn out to be your best friend. There used to be a stigma whereby to play a game like RuneScape was to abandon the real world, but I think the two realities feed really well into each other. In my job, working for a student union now, I use a lot of skills that I learned playing RuneScape. And I actually have RuneScape on my CV. And I’m very proud of it. One of my favourite stories that I read from customer support was just this kid who wrote in to say thanks for the fishing skill. That’s a weird thing. But his parents were in the army. When he was in the UK, he used to go fishing with his grandad at a lake. And when they were suddenly moving away, he didn’t have the opportunity to do that any more. But they found RuneScape. And in RuneScape they could fish together. They could log in to the same world, go up to the little lake or the river and just fish and chat to each other as though they were doing it in the real world. I genuinely goosebump when I’m talking about this. You read those kind of messages and you think about the impact that you’re making on people’s lives. So, actually, the social element was more important than the game. The community and the friends they had there were a bigger deal than the game itself. There was an academic study actually done by Brunel University that we reported on about how people use RuneScape. It wasn’t necessarily because it was free play. It wasn’t necessarily to play the game, same as Warcraft. No, it’s basically to hang out and to socialise. There was one girl who used to sit and watch the river and watch the waterfall. There were nice places to hang out in compared to staring at a brick wall in the city of London perhaps. They were real places where people just liked to hang out. In the early days, it was independently thought-provokingly unique that people would not only meet online but they would care about each other online, fall in love online, get married and have children. And now, having lived through that for 15 years, we look at that and go “of course we get it”. It doesn’t happen once. It happens quite regularly. It’s just a truth. It illustrates how powerful the connection is between people that can start with with an honest, shared experience in a virtual world that then translates back up in the physical world and flourishes well beyond the veil of the digital screen. RuneScape has changed my life in a way that a game shouldn’t be able to. It was occasionally a way for me to escape life when I was tired or fed up or I just wanted to go somewhere else. Gielinor is where I go. I get out of this world and just be there. Obviously, at some point, because of Claire, it’s merged into my real life. We met when I was training Thieving in Pyramid Plunder. I had just found this minigame. When you’re in Pyramid Plunder, you let the mummy out and people just run off and leave this mummy and you get attacked by the mummy. And I was going too, but I noticed someone was in the cave, so I’d better kill it. I was killing the mummy and he messaged me after I left. He said “thanks for killing it” and I said “yeah, I only killed it because you were there”. If you weren’t there, I would have run off. We started talking and he was helping me figure out Thieving and best ways to do it. That was our meeting. That was our hello. I’ve had that in real life. How did you meet? She saved me from the mummy in an ancient pyramid. And then we used to chat all the time. And it didn’t stop. We just talked all night long. We couldn’t say “msn” in game in RuneScape. When you typed in “msn”, it was starred out. So, you couldn’t say it. So, we made up a word called “pineapple” instead. So when we wanted to talk to each other we said “going pineapple”. That was our own codeword for it. When we actually met for the first time in real life, I met him at the train station and he had a bunch of flowers in one hand and a pineapple in the other hand. When we did meet in real life, we did all the things that you could only do in real life. We went on dates. We got married. We had kids. We moved houses. And all of the real life things, from an outside observer, happened quite quickly. But we had that background in the game world. When I introduced myself to Claire I was reserved and secretive and I was Zack. So, that was the name that we gave to our son. And then we were about to name Sophie we couldn’t think of a name for a girl. We didn’t have a girl name. And then it was my eldest daughter that said Sophie. And Sophie was the name that we gave to the penguin that goes to Sophanem because I can’t spell Sophanem. We just used to call it Sophie, so it seemed fair. That’s where we met. We met in Sophanem. In the hospital, I called the little baby Sophanem. You did. To imagine not having RuneScape would… I can’t even imagine where I’d be. Because, how would I… No one wants to know where I’d be without you… How would I have met you? Early on, Jagex was focused on the game itself and knew virtually nothing about the players. But as the team worked on their backend support systems, they started to gain more and more insight into their community. So surprised to see how often and how regular some people were playing. Some of the top players were literally playing 16, 17 hours a day. It was mindblowing to us that people were playing the game that much. The highest possible level in a RuneScape skill such as woodcutting, mining or magic was 99. And reaching 99, particularly before your mates, was a mark of huge prestige. And also a sign that you were undeniably awesome. We never actually expected anybody to reach level 99 in any of the skills. When I designed the XP curve, originally it was designed, I worked out how many hours it takes you to get to level 20, level 30, level 40 and so on and so forth. And it went up to 99, fairly arbitrarily, but the actual content petered out around level 40 or 50, because I just didn’t think anybody would possibly get past that because the number of hours to get past that was just so absurd. I’ve seen a number of skills come out over the year and as a new skill comes out, there’s always the excitement of who’s number one, who’s top, who’s at the top of the game and experienced in the new content for the first time. Around 2007 I started putting some major hours. It just never stops. At first it was tough. But really the motivation to keep going for a certain high rank got me into it and eventually it was just routine to me. Close to 2,100 days played now. If you spend so much time on the game, then it becomes a part of you. Part of me is… What should I say? RuneScape is part of me. High-ranked players attained a degree of celebrity within the community. People wanted to be them. They wanted their rank, their high scores, and they definitely wanted their wealth in their banks. But one stood head and shoulders above the rest. Every player had heard of him. Every player knew his name. That name was Zezima. If you’ve played RuneScape, any point in your career, you probably know of Zezima. When I first started in the company we used to get a lot of questions from the players about things to do with the game. And I was given a list of players that I could log in to the game and ask them those questions because, even in those early days, we knew the players knew more about the game than we did. And one of those names was Zezima. Zezima is the most famous player. He is just an absolute legend. He did everything when it was hard to do. He achieved the unthinkable. Zezima. He’s a legend. Everyone knows Zezima. Back when he was on the top of the highscores, there were all sorts of accusations that he was maybe character-sharing. But we certainly investigated and found no sort of evidence pointing to that. You might not know Andrew and Paul but you know who Zezima is. In 2005, he was the top RuneScape player. But, for all his fame, his real identity was shrouded in mystery. Zezima is definitely better off not being revealed because that’s what creates the enigma. That’s what makes Zezima special. I think the longer we can keep his identity secret, the better. There’s rumours and things, but there’s no real clear answer to who he is or much about him. The mystery has gone on for so long. What does he look like? Who is it? And if we can find that out, that’ll be truly cool. I like the mystery of it. The legends. Zezima is a legend, a myth. I think he doesn’t exist. My name is Zezima and I’ve been playing since 2001. I’ve had continuous membership on RuneScape since 2003, so I’ve been around a long time. Kind of interesting to be seen as such a legend by so many people. That’s really the only way I can describe it. I first discovered RuneScape because I was playing a different game, which was a Final Fantasy card game online, and someone I played that game with told me he knew a game that I would never be any good at, so he showed me RuneScape and that’s how I started playing. When I first got number one it was pretty exciting. It was interesting. I wasn’t exactly aiming for that, just going for maxing out but it was nice when it happened. That’s putting in a lot of hours. More than ten hours a day for 5 or 6 years straight. It’s a matter of just feeling you need to complete it. Being so well-known among runescapers made it a lot easier to tolerate comments from people. Negative comments don’t affect me in the game or outside the game at all. It’s helped me manage emotions pretty well. A lot better than I would be able to otherwise. I’ve heard a lot of things about myself that I never know were true. I found out that I’m a girl from Australia. I never knew that. I’ve never been to Australia. And apparently I’m also seven 80-year-old Chinese women rotating one day on the week each, playing on my account. I would love it though to start all over from scratch, everyone at the same time, and then compete for the rank one. That would be awesome. Give him a piece of my mind. It just never occured to us that people would spend that many hours playing the game. Although, funnily enough, my own dad spent an awful lot of hours playing the game. How much time do I spend on now? 4 or 5 hours a day? -Probably not.
-Something like that, yes. And himself got a far higher level than I thought anyone would get, so just goes to show. Much more addictive than I thought it was. Managing an online world was pretty complex and technical hitches were inevitable. Sometimes those hitches became rather spectacular. Bug abuse is a really difficult thing for me to talk about because actually you’re glorifying someone who has broken the rules. One of the most extreme versions of bug abuse was the Falador Massacre. For years and years it stood out as a pinnacle event in RuneScape. Falador Massacre came about as a bug with the Player-Owned Houses. Somebody has discovered that they could kick people from the house whilst in combat mode and stroll around Falador killing innocent players. There were players running around absolutely everywhere saying “watch out, someone’s gonna kill you, make sure you bank all your valuable stuff”. And there were a lot of people going there just to see it happen. People were telling “don’t go there, some player’s killing people”. And then I was like “I want to try this out so I want to go there”. And I saw so many people. I lagged so badly. I do so remember that event. It was one of the biggest events that ever happened in RuneScape. I was called to be told “you know you were vaguely willing to do call out work for us”. “Well we’ve decided to go ahead with that plan. Are you doing anything at the moment?” He probably killed quite a lot of players. Largely because people thought it was an exciting event. Someone was going around killing people outside the Wilderness, so they all came into Falador so that they could be killed by him. I was probably assassinated a bigillion times. It was chaos. It was absolute chaos. It also helps that, for many of our customers, that was a 6/6/2006. In Britain it was actually the 7th, but for the majority of players it was still the 6th. I think Durial321 will go down in history for sure as being one of the darkest days in RuneScape. Events like the Falador Massacre in 2006 will forever be a part of RuneScape history and still chattered about to this day. In 2007, a new method of communicating about the game became popular. YouTube. Over a thousand player-made videos were posted every day. Player numbers were rising. More and more people were talking about RuneScape and there was an undeniable buzz about the game. It seemed like it couldn’t get any better. But this sucess was a double-edged godsword. The community was getting so big that Jagex systems couldn’t handle the number of players and the company began to drift away from its community. With great power comes great responsibility. And the bigger we got, the more responsible we felt for this huge community. And I think we realised that we couldn’t have that one-on-one relationship with all of our players because they were so many of them. So we stopped treating everyone with this personal touch. That day we realised that there were lots of things we weren’t able to do. We were getting hundreds of thousands of reports each week, we were having thousands of tickets each week, we had 10,000 ban appeals each week, which we were doing ourselves because we were banning so many players and we didn’t have a smart way of approaching that. It didn’t feel so much like this little baby of us anymore, like it got its own life. And I think the players and the community were sort of, there were different sorts of groups and different sorts of players that we didn’t relate to as well just because of the amount of them that there were. But one problem stood out among the rest. Gold farming and botting, the bane of any MMO economy. A bot is a program that a player would use to run their RuneScape character for them. So when they are away from their computer, at work or at college, the bot can gather gold for them or fish for them or fight monsters for them. All sorts of simplistic activities that the player would normally be doing themselves. A gold farmer group is an organized group of people who are paid to just get gold from a game and then sell that gold for real world cash. Some call them gold farmers, others call them cheats. They are exploiting the fast growing phenomena of online gaming. Quite often, those people would be running hundreds of accounts, hundreds of botted accounts which are getting all these resources and selling those resources to other players in the game and then getting RuneScape gold. And then actually creating websites, very official-looking websites, where you could enter your credit card details and then organize to buy that gold from one of these gold farmers in the game. For hours on end they sit in the gloom of an airless outhouse hunched over computers pitting their wits against opponents on another continent. They are working in a virtual world but this is a real life sweatshop. Really disturbingly for us, we discovered that there were all sorts of links between gold farming and other illegal activities and dodgy parts of their business going all over the world. And we were really fundamentally commited to stopping it from happening in our game. We had such a large playerbase that some of these companies were earning millions of dollars. I’m pretty sure that some of them may have been building a company with the same sort of revenue that Jagex actually had from just that. You may be thinking “who cares, just fake points in a make-believe world”. But it costs 60 bucks a year to play, hours of time to gain power, and there are dozens of websites offering coins to use in RuneScape for a fee. It was really obvious to everybody that was playing the game that these accounts weren’t real and they were being run by programs. And it really started to upset the fundamental balance of the game. When you walk up to four or five people and no one is saying anything, it was very obvious that they were doing the same pattern over and over again and were controlled by a piece of software. Cheating aside, that’s just a pretty rubbish experience. It doesn’t feel like a cool game with real people playing it, really. All this extra gold slushing around in the game means that the real gold that’s been earned actually is devalued when buying stuff. So, something that may have cost you a million gold pieces is actually now only worth half a million. And this is really difficult for players to invest in their accounts because all of their hard work is undermined by gold farming. A lot of people left the game because of botting and gold farming. It really ruined the experience for gamers. It challenged the players to search inside themselves to value their own accomplishments and ignore what was going on around them because it was a very tough environment to play in when you were going for an achievement and so were 35 bots behind you. It really undermines the integrity of RuneScape. Another problem with this kind of illegal activity that the gold farmers were doing was stolen credit cards. And they were using those numbers to make accounts. And so when people realised that cards were being used illegally, they would contact their banks and they would get all of their illegal payments charged back to the accounts. It was getting into the stage where the credit card companies themselves were saying “we’re not gonna accept your credit cards because you’re getting so many people charging back” “because of the stolen credit cards”. “We think you are too dodgy a person to actually accept a credit card if you don’t do something about it.” At that point we were like “if we can’t accept credit card payments, we really are screwed”. We got to the point where we were like “there are only two ways we can possibly tackle this”. We could either start selling the items ourselves because that would basically dry up their market and they won’t have any financial incentive to keep breaking our countermeasures. Or we could do something really radical. We had one idea for how we could completely break it, which is by restricting the trades. After so many meetings and lots of discussions, we made a decision, which we didn’t take lightly, to remove free trade from the game, which meant a lot of players couldn’t pass items to each other, they couldn’t give gifts or presents to each other. That was pretty huge. But it did also mean that for these bots that were passing to their mules, they couldn’t do that anymore. Those mules passing it to players for real world cash, they couldn’t do that anymore. It also meant that we’d affected player-versus-player killing because people were going into the Wilderness to gain at each other’s weapons or gain each other’s gold. This was done in the Wilderness and that obviously made the Wilderness a vastly different place. Before the change, the Wilderness was probably the busiest place in RuneScape. Overnight that changed and all of a sudden no one was going there. There was no point. All of a sudden the most popular place became the least popular. You could still go into the Wilderness, but it was dead. I mean, it was supposed to be dead, right? There were bones, skeletons, demons, lava and all that kind of stuff all over the place. But there weren’t any players anymore. It was a really disturbing experience walking around an area of the game world where previously it was full of carnage and then it wasn’t really full of anything at all. The removal of the Wilderness was the biggest most dramatic event in RuneScape history and it was unique in that it united the community against Jagex. I don’t know if a game could riot any harder than I remember those world 66 riots that were going on for an entire week or so after that update happened. The relationship between players and Jagex was never quite the same again after that. I don’t think, at least for a very long time. It was not quite good. We made a change that they didn’t like. And they couldn’t really understand why we made it. We tried to explain but all of it sounded like excuses. A lot of people thought we were making it up. So, it didn’t help things at all. That almost insular approach of “look, it is what it is, get on with it” meant that the company didn’t engage. If there’s one thing I could change going back now, it’ll be that decision, in 2007 when we decided to get rid of the real world trading. With free trade removed, gold farmers initially disappeared. Bots were on a manageable scale again. But the cost had been high. It looked like, to a lot of players, we had killed the game. Because the areas were less busy, all these people complaining and saying that they were gonna quit. It was a really bad time. Remember we thought we had done the right thing and it just didn’t look good. Over the next three years, RuneScape faced something it had never faced before. A decline. Player numbers dwindled. And the relationship between Jagex and its players hit rock bottom. It was time to make a big gesture for the company to come down from its ivory tower and meet its players face to face. And more importantly, this was an opportunity to explain why it had made these dramatic decisions. Good afternoon! How ya’ll doing? We decided to do RuneFest because we wanted to do the ultimate community event. We had done a few small things here and there but we wanted to have an opportunity to meet players en masse. And also, to have a platform to tell players about what we wanted to do in the future and to share with them the things that we were most excited about. Look around the office. It’s a pretty cool company with some pretty cool people. We’re not trying to manufacture anything here. We have to give the world the lens into this business. So, we have to do a fan celebration. Good morning, Gielinor! We were worried that people were gonna be horrifically disappointed, that what we would put on wasn’t gonna be good enough. And we were so worried about it that we made the decision to refund everybody’s ticket price for the first RuneFest. All the people who went to the original RuneFest got their money back. They went for free because we didn’t want to let anyone down and we still put the event on but we thought that just in case it wasn’t gonna be any good. And it was still good. It was brilliant. Everyone who went was like “I’m so going to the next one”. Everyone loved it. And then we were like “Why did we do that? Why did we do that to ourselves?” I don’t think we realised how important RuneFest was gonna be really until we had done it. And, once we’d done it, we knew that there was a real need for runescapers to come together. There’s nothing better than meeting the people you’ve been playing RuneScape with for years to suddenly meet them in person and everyone’s in cosplay and if that wasn’t your thing, you might wanna come and meet the developers behind the games. You had 70-year-old grandmas with 17-year-old teenagers. It showed the breadth of our community. It was fantastic. Everyone was so happy to meet one another and finally put a face to a name. – How long did this costume take to make?
– About 200 hours. – 200 hours!
– Yes. – Are you coming a long way today?
– From Canada. To get to find out what they love about the game, to get to see that in their faces. And that changes every update. You’re no longer thinking about what the forums are gonna say, you’re thinking about individual people, you’re thinking about the looks on their faces as they play something. You want to surprise them. It just goes to show that the game goes beyond the barriers of a virtual world. It spills into real life, which is amazing. RuneFest! RuneFest gave everyone at Jagex a spring in their step. But Andrew was beginning to feel distanced from the game he had created. I wanted to get myself in a position where I could still advise Jagex. I love RuneScape. I absolutely wanted to keep working on it, but I didn’t want the responsibility and the stress of being in charge of something so big and so important. So I started looking at selling my remaining stake in Jagex, but it wasn’t meant to be a radical shift. It just meant that it would be a way that I didn’t have to be a director of a huge company. He wouldn’t have chosen to be the leader and the reason I even got the job in the first place was because Andrew didn’t want to be that guy. He didn’t want to be in charge. He wanted to write more code and hang around with other guys. He didn’t even want the visibility of people knowing he was a meaningful shareholder or co-founder. When Andrew came to sell the company, I wasn’t enjoying it quite so much anyway, so I was reasonably happy to go along with that. Whilst I had been quite stressed being in charge, I suddenly realised that, when I wasn’t in charge, all of a sudden, what I had to say didn’t matter so much. People would be doing things not the way I wanted them to do them. That was the whole point of course. The whole point was I didn’t want to be responsible and I just wanted to be out to advise and help and nurture the game I made without having to be so responsible. But, as soon as that responsibility was taken away, I realised “oh dear”. You can’t have it both ways. Without responsibility you don’t have the authority. You can’t have one without the other. By trying to make myself less stressed and reduce the responsibility, I also reduced the authority. And all of a sudden I found that I didn’t have the final say on things. Other people had the final say on things. And I made a mistake, quite frankly. Eventually reached the point where I wasn’t doing anything for Jagex anymore but there was no sort of date where I left. I didn’t have a leaving do or anything like that. It just faded away. I never got the chance to hug him and say thanks. And that was really sad. After Andrew left, Paul continued to work on RuneScape. But things were changing. It seemed like everyone was producing their own MMO. And mobile gaming was looking like it might be the next big thing. The company knew they had to keep up and plan their next move. The challenge was “how can we level this out?” and “how can we go and build RuneScape and grow again?” I remember one day we came into the office and someone said that they got a new way of dealing with bots. And that maybe there was a way that we could bring back the Wilderness. For me it was clear that this was one of the things that we had to fix. We had to go back and say mea culpa. We didn’t get it right. Let’s sort this out. We decided to do a poll online where people could vote on whether we would or wouldn’t bring back the Wilderness. And we made it very clear the pros and the cons of that approach. We had an overwhelming amount of players voting in that poll. Over a million. Like 1.2 million players. And I think it was 95% “yes, please bring it back”. And then the question was “would bots increase?” Sure, it would. Were we bot-free at that time? No. As with everything in RuneScape, it was always a trade-off. And we could have probably continued to keep building things out and delaying putting the Wilderness back. But we decided to go for it, put it back, put in place what we had, which was pretty reasonable when you continue to build more ways to stop the bots. I believe Bot Nuke Day was October 25th 2011. This was the day that we released something called ClusterFlutterer, which is this program that attacked the bots systematically and it did a fantastic job. It knocked out 98% of the bots. I think it removed 7 million accounts in that day, which is fantastic. That really cleaned the decks. Going into the game felt like RuneScape again. The biggest problem we had was that all of a sudden it seemed that our player numbers had just dropped. Some players were saying “oh, RuneScape is not popular anymore”. What they didn’t realise was there was so many thousands of bots in the game at the same time that it looked like we lost a third of our playerbase in one go. But actually it was because these bots had been in the game and it’s taken so much time and space. In 2012 Jagex made a fundamental change to their business model. The addition of microtransactions. Microtransactions allow players to buy cosmetic items and benefits with real world money. Something that was always going to be divisive. The problem we were facing was, as we increased our production value for our content, everything cost more. It took more people, it took more graphics, all of it together meant that a piece of content that we used to make in 2003 cost 3 times as now and we had to work out how do we do. Do we not do the content? Or do we find more players to cover the costs? You can’t keep up with the Ozan. The difficulty for me and for many of us at that point in time was that subscribers had always got everything. Anything new we added to the game, they paid the membership every month and they got it. And all of a sudden there was a bunch of stuff that they had to be lucky and win on a little wheel. Or they had to pay a little bit of money for special bits of costume and things like that. And the players didn’t really like that. And, to be honest, there was a real division in the office as well because we are gamers. I think I actually left the company when they started introducing microtransactions to the Squeal of Fortune. Because one thing I’ve always said to the players was that we wouldn’t start selling microtransactions. So, by them doing that, if I was still involved in the company, it felt like it made me into a liar. I said that we would never do that and then we did. It may not be popular but it was very necessary for, fundamentally, the financial viability of Jagex. People may not think that that’s important, but if Jagex is not around, RuneScape is not around. It’s as simple as that. Although the game had a large group of loyal players, large parts of RuneScape were beginning to show their age. And new players were turned off by outdated graphics and mechanics. One area in particular was targeted by Jagex as the most in need of improvement. The combat system. It was towards the end of 2012 when Daniel left and I was promoted to Head of RuneScape. That was just on the cusp of the release of Evolution of Combat. That meant I had a front row seat for the launch of the new combat system. A lot of content in RuneScape is very simple. Even combat, even fighting a big dragon is like “Have I got the right armour? Have I got the right shield?” Then, I go and I click on the dragon. And I hit the dragon, the dragon hits me. I hit the dragon, the dragon hits me. When we talked to the players that were quitting the game, number one reason was combat is boring. A couple of developers came up with an idea to make combat more interesting by offering different moves, basic moves, and then you can build up adrenaline and then do things like ultimate moves which are massive great big graphically impressive moves, all sorts of swishes and cool little effects that are going on. New death animations and all sorts of stuff like that where combat felt like a more engaging, more immersive experience. And it was great. And it really worked. And actually combat was a lot more exciting. We were worried a little bit about whether or not that was too much of a move. In hindsight, what we should have been worried about was that players were becoming Chuck Norrises of the old combat system. They had become amazing at specialising and working its intricacies. And that move to the new system meant that they lost all that knowledge. I think that’s what should have been our biggest concern. It was really polarised between lovers and haters. A really strong divide. I thought we needed that necessary change. It added a different element to the game. We could fight bosses with different mechanics and different styles. The bosses can fight us with different styles and attacks. It was a big change. I tried my best to get into it, but it just wasn’t the same game. I did struggle to it because I’m stubborn when you have something that you’re so accostumed to and all of a sudden it’s changed. It was difficult. It felt like “we’ve made this update, we can’t scrap it, so it’s gotta happen”. By that time, we had got really locked in because we had six months worth of content to use with the new combat system on its way. We hoped that players would give it a chance and see that it was pretty good and they learn and they stick with it. And some people did. Some people liked it on release. Some people tolerated it and learned it and stuck with it. But some of them didn’t like it. For them it was too big of a change. You could log in the game now and you could talk to players and you would have probably a 50-50 split of players saying “That’s the best thing you ever did. I love the new combat system.” And players going “I don’t get it. You ruined the game for me.” I wish I could go back and change that. Evolution of Combat hadn’t brought the growth that Jagex hoped for. Far from it. But it did give them the push they needed to really start talking to their community. The thing that we really forgot was what really made us special. The things that we did in the early days that the players really loved. And one of those key things was that communication. With community management we’ve done it badly as a company and we’ve done it really well. And we found that happy medium. So we took to Twitter, which was a new thing. I signed up a Twitter account. A couple others set up Twitter accounts. It was a whole new area that we hadn’t actually explored and, seeing the success of that, we started creating this ripple effect. And before you knew it, we had the CEO on Twitter, we had artists, developers, audio, everybody was on Twitter chatting to the players. It’s as simple as that, really. It was turning the community around with just basically talking to them, something that we had lost somewhere along the way. We started doing stupid stuff as well to show the community that we weren’t the big bad meanies that they thought that we were. We started making Player Owned Ports videos and building a ship at the back of the office. Mark and the team made a song. And the audio team made a song for the cow. We did all these things to try to show that we were humans and have a laugh doing it. You can expect the team to be approachable and to listen to when something happens. I’ve been painted blue, in a tutu, as an elf and even as a fish in various points in videos. We’re just being a bit more fun trying out new things as we chat away and give information about what we were doing. Jagex has one of the communities where employees work more with the players than most other companies that I know of at least, which I think is a really good thing because it really strengthens their bonds rather than being an employee-customer. It’s more like interacting friends making something great together, which I really think is pretty great. They don’t shy away from speaking to people. They were openly answering questions in Twitter. That’s very nice. Players started noticing that we were caring a little bit more again. And we stopped focusing our attention on recalibrating the game for a new audience and focusing our attention on making sure that the game was right for the audience that we had. We had reengaged with the community but it was really clear that they wanted one thing, which was an old version of RuneScape. We didn’t know if it was even possible but we felt that we had to do it because we had this huge community that was still enjoying the game, but we knew that there was this old lapsed audience that had left that we could win back if we were able to provide them with an old version. I went to one of my favourite people, Phil Bielby, mod Philip, and I said “Phil, can we get an old school server backup?” Eventually I found at the back of a safe a tape that had a number written on the back, which was 1989. I guessed correctly that that was the runeday that the code was from. That turned out to be August 2007, which was precisely when we wanted to go back to. He said “it’s all back, it’s all working”. “A lot of the tech is not compatible with our current tech but it’s there, it’s running”. We were really excited about that of course, so we decided to put it out for players and see what they would make of it. Depended on how many votes, depended on the support we’d give it. I think 450,000 people voted on it. That was just short of giving it a proper dev team, but because that was so close, it was only 50,000 short, we decided “let’s give it a dev team, let’s give it some proper support and see what goes from there”. That was my ideal time when RuneScape was played. It was 2007. I was absolutely ecstatic for it. It just felt right. Everything was perfect. Oh, my god! That soundtrack, mate! The fact that we’d fundamentally gone to the heart of giving people what they want meant it was a success. It was gonna be a race for the high scores. Being a brand new game, everyone’s gonna be going for the top levels. This was everyone from the bottom. Go! The team behind it was a very small team initially, but they were the truest of the true old school guys, both from a program standpoint and a community standpoint. The head of content came over to my desk to say “Ash, would you be willing to go to it as content developer for a while?” And when he got to my desk, he found out I was in the middle of writing him an email begging to be a content developer. So we decided we were on the same page and I got my wish. Beautiful. It was very much like a business start-up. We got left for six months to do whatever we wanted to do. The Old School team in my opinion is one of the best development teams that ever is in any sort of videogame at all. The fact that they take polls for the community to say “Should we do this? Should we do that?” and the community basically decides what they want in it. And it’s voted upon where time and resources can be spent. It’s genious. The fact that we can talk to the players that directly harkens back to those early days when me and Andrew would go in game and would see exactly what was happening and what kind of issues people were encountering. That reignited all of what we did, what the early Jagex was, and what the early RuneScape was when it was a family company because it was a little family of three, then grew to five. Those who really wanted that original experience, got it. And the people making it were those same people that made that experience for them. When Old School first came out, most people looked at it and thought “this is gonna be a flash in the pan”. “People are gonna get their bit of nostalgia and they’re gonna leave after six months.” “It was a bit of work, a bit of fun. Everyone’s happy.” Three years later, the game is huge. There’s hundreds of thousands of people playing everyday. So I think that was the right call. We had RuneScape, or RuneScape 3 as we were calling it then. We had Old School and we had two healthy communities that looked like they had real longevity in them. So, though we had some turbulent years, actually I think overall, through 2012 and 2013, we came out even stronger. The community was more positive than it had been for a long time. But there was still one main thing that was still holding us back. And that was gold farming. While Bot Nuke Day had really cleared out the bots, it hadn’t been able to completely get rid of the gold farming problem. We had to think of new ways to stop this. And we came up with Bonds. One day, I came in to work and someone in customer support had pinged me an email giving a really interesting idea that was based on another game that they were playing. And that was the simple idea that membership could exist as an in-game item. Someone would buy a membership package and then, rather than consuming it and getting a couple months of membership, they would actually put that item in the game as something that they can then swap for in-game wealth. So, effectively, I’m buying a couple of months of membership and I’m swapping it with someone else for a bunch of in-game wealth. We were quite worried because we had been through some difficult times adding microtransactions into the game and that was another monetary thing that we were doing with the game. We had to be very cautious with how we launched Bonds. We took a lot of care in talking to the players and explaining why we were doing it. But I’m really glad that it went really well. We got a lot of players who paid for their membership with bonds. We’ve significantly cut down the amount of gold farming in the game and I think, both from the player and the economy point of view, it’s much healthier overall. For the first time in years, RuneScape began to see an increase to its playerbase. Listening to the community has proven to be successful for us. And we’re not gonna stop. In fact, the more feedback we can get, the better. We started polling the players on the content that they wanted. We had player visits in our studio. We looked to really improve the combat system. We added Legacy Mode and we pushed RuneFest further and further. I really look forward to what we’ve got coming next for RuneScape. We’ve gone through some tough years and we’ve now come out the other side and we’re now ready to really push on. And I want to make sure that we’re here celebrating 25 years, celebrating 50 years. When I think back to all the different eras of RuneScape, I can see something timeless in there, something that’s really special, that no other game has. And that’s what makes me really confident that RuneScape could be around for a hell of a long time yet. Getting back to our grassroots and dealing with our community again. Getting more of that indie vibe back in the studio. I think one of the best things about that is that we’ve been reconnecting with old members of the staff. And even this documentary is giving us the opportunity to do that. And of course the highlight for me is working with Andrew and Paul. They are genuinely inspirational people. And being in a brainstorming meeting with Andrew and Paul talking about this cool quest that we’re gonna do, putting them in the game as characters, is a real highlight of the year for me. It really reminded me why this place is such a cool place to work. And of course we managed to get them to RuneFest. The players love them. It doesn’t matter how much time goes by, they’re always gonna be the people that they want the autographs for. I think the highlight for RuneFest was giving Andrew and Paul the lifetime achievement award. They didn’t have any idea of what was going on. It was the last presentation for us to make them. We managed to get them, we snuck them in, in front of the crowd somehow. They still didn’t really twig. Giving them that award, that was my chance to say goodbye. And I’m really happy about that. They made the damn game, people! Come on! It’s hard to believe that a little game that I started as a hobby has turned into this. This big convention with all these people coming from all over the world has come from that. Actually, we made that, didn’t we? Yes. It’s just completely overwhelming. The last 15 years of RuneScape have been an adventure to rival any of its quests. From humble beginnings in the Gowers kitchen to a global experience that’s become such a huge part of people’s lives, RuneScape has brought people together both online and in the real world. It’s given people a place to escape, a place to meet and, for Jagex, a place to work. And, whether you’re a runescaper or and Old School runescaper, it’s been a home to us all. Isn’t that lovely? The depth of the world, the functionality of the world and the history people have as a shared experience in that world gets deeper and better over time. And that’s where a virtual world that is grown and built over 15 years continues to have such amazing power. I spend hours and hours and hours playing RuneScape. I was in clans. I made friends. I still make friends, especially off with the Twitch community for RuneScape. I get to travel and hang out with them in the real life now, so it’s crazy but it’s really an awesome thing. For me, personally, it was a great way to get addicted to a game but not only that. To meet some really amazing people through common interest in the game itself. A number of people you run into and they go “oh, yes, my kids play RuneScape”. It’s just ridiculous. The thing that RuneScape was the driving factor that brought me to college, that inspired my career and then eventually hired me is something that I’ll always be grateful for. Blue p owns! I’ve been earning revenue online since 2012. That let me buy an apartment and I basically owe all that to the game. You never quit RuneScape. You’re only ever AFK. You play for the game. You stay for the community. This is like a lifestyle. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s part of you. It’s grown up with you. It has evolved. It has developed. It’s crazy trying to think what my life would be without it because it would be so vastly different. It’s a game but I’m proud of every single second of it. It means that I have a fantastic wife and two beautiful children. It means I have a family. RuneScape means so much more than just Java on a screen. It’s now part of our history. It’s part of our beginning, where we came from. I play a lot of games but RuneScape is right at the top of that list. I’ve been spending so much time on it that it proves that. I think it will always be a part of me. RuneScape and Jagex will always be a special part of my heart. Essentially, games is what this family is all about. You don’t have a day without RuneScape, do you? No. If RuneScape goes down, that’s a disaster. It’s absolutely mindblowing to see how big RuneScape has become, to be honest. I think it’s almost too much to take in. The amount of lives that it has touched is unbelievable. It’s actually quite daunting to imagine to achieve something so big because it means that anything I do now, I’ve got a massive bar to compare against. Anything less than absolutely colossal would seem small. I certainly hope that with my new project I’ll achieve something this massive again. But it’s quite daunting to live up to that legacy. All we can do is try to write a fantasy story and find another way to build a world and eventually give it to the world. In the game, you play as the world guardians. They defend RuneScape from all these evil forces that are trying to take it over. I get to do that in real life. This is a baby that we gave birth to. And it’s grown up. It’s matured over the years. And I get to look after it. I get to make sure it’s ok. I patch up its grazed knees when it’s fallen over in the playground. Or tell it off when it’s doing something a little bit wrong. It is its own self. And it grows in ways that we could never ever have predicted. And that influence on my life is a really strange thing. It means that I never think too much about the future. Just focus on the now and the people around me that really make a difference. Because that is RuneScape. And that’s a life lesson for everybody really.