Last month, Jagex did the unexpected when it opened up a major game-changing decision on its popular MMO RuneScape to a public vote. As part of RuneScape's 10th anniversary this year, Jagex gave players the chance to vote on whether they want PvP in the wilderness and free trade between players to be restored. These are two key features that were removed from the game around three years ago as part of an anti-RMT campaign. Over 1.2 million votes were cast in the public referendum, with over 90% of them asking for the revival of wilderness PvP and free trade. The much-loved game mechanics should be returning to RuneScape in early February. At Massively, we took the opportunity to interview RuneScape's lead designer Mark Ogilvie on the upcoming changes and what the future has in store for this popular browser MMO.
Massively: When you initially put out a vote on the restoration of wilderness PvP and free trade, did you expect the response to be as overwhelming as it turned out to be?
Mark Ogilvie: We really weren't sure. I spend a lot of time talking to my players, but you often find that PKers are a vocal minority. We wanted to run a referendum to see what the truth was, but we really weren't sure what was going to happen. We had a bit of a friendly sportsman's bet to see where the percentages would be, and I'm quite proud to say my guess was pretty spot on. I was really pleased when my bosses said, "let's ask the players and see what they think." Taking the risks to do something like that, putting a decision that big in our players' hands -- that's quite brave.
The trade and PvP restrictions were put in place years ago as part of an anti-RMT campaign. What has changed since then to make removing them a viable option?
Our technology that we have and the speed of response that we now have mean that we can safely bring back the wilderness PvP and free trade and still be able to deal with the problems that made us remove them in the first place. We can close down the websites that offer the money faster and attack the accounts that are holding the cash much faster. We believe that we can identify the software that runs the bots a lot more efficiently, and we also have a lot more mods available to us. Previously, if you botted, we would ban you straight out. These days we can do things like stat-wipe your account or remove the gold from your account. Although that might seem like it's being a lot looser on the offender, actually we find that people aren't repeat-offending in the way that they were before. If it looks like the systems that we've got in place aren't working, then we'll come up with another way. We'll keep working on the system.
Any future developments in combating RMT wouldn't be taking the wilderness PvP and free trade back out, would they?
It was very difficult to do it in the first place; I don't think we want to put ourselves in that situation again.
Is drop-trading going to be making a return with these changes?
For a designer, drop trading is a really odd thing because it's a really unsafe way to trade objects between accounts. There's also a rule that says you can have multiple accounts, but you can't interact between those accounts, so there's actually a rule that says you shouldn't be drop trading from one account to another. However, since the mechanic of things being dropped on the floor works in a certain way for PKing and everything, it's very difficult for me to bring back one aspect of that and not other aspects. So I've actually taken the difficult decision of making the drop mechanics work the way they did before. If I drop objects on the floor, they will behave as they did in 2007.
Will we once again be able to loot players killed through wilderness PvP or accidental death in PvE?
Wilderness death will work as it did in 2007 in that if I killed you and I am the player who has done the most damage recently, then I will get the drop. If I choose not to pick that stuff up, after a certain amount of time it will appear for everyone. Gravestones will not appear in the wilderness; inside the wilderness, it's going to work exactly as it did in 2007. Outside the wilderness, if I die, the gravestone will appear and people around me will be able to bless it as they did before. If people choose not to bless it, then when the gravestone disappears, the objects will appear and everyone will be able to pick them up. I think in the long run this is the best change for all players. I have spent some time considering the feedback on the forum.
A lot of the stuff that was exclusive to the wilderness is now available elsewhere in the game. Is there anything that's still exclusive to the wilderness to tempt players into it?
Yes. The unique equipment that we added with bounty hunters and PvP will still be available in the game. You won't be able to get them via PvP anymore, but you'll be able to get them via a brand-new dungeon that we're adding to the wilderness that will be full of revenants. We're also looking at the Chaos Elemental's drop table to make sure he's a little bit more up to date -- he's unique content in the wilderness. We've added a lot of quests in the wilderness, and we'll be making changes to those so that at no point a quester will be under the threat of PKing. But there are a variety of rewards that you get from those quests that will remain in the wilderness.
Back when PvP was still possible in the wilderness, it was common practice for large groups of players to hop between servers looking for targets. Are issues like this being addressed?
There is now a timer that restricts how quickly you can move between worlds. That's something that has been in place for a while but wasn't in place back then. In terms of a large group of people suddenly appearing in the wilderness, that's part of the joy of the wilderness. I'm not interested in changing things like that, because I think that's part of the beauty of the wilderness.
In a similar vein, it used to be possible to log off as soon as you saw someone on the minimap to avoid attack. Is anything happening with this mechanic?
Assuming that you've been out of combat, then we're not planning on changing that. We're trying to make wilderness PvP as close to how it was when we removed it as possible, considering all the new content that we've added in the last three years.
It was revealed that the grand exchange is being left in action. Do you expect players will still use it heavily or are many expected to switch back to RuneScape's old barter-style trading?
There's different ways of looking at merchanting. There's the old way of looking at merchanting with the idea of shops and me going out and selling my wares. That changed quite dramatically when we introduced the grand exchange because the exchange was easy to use and there's a fixed price. I'm actually really looking forward to that gameplay coming back; I'm looking forward to going on the forums again to find the cheapest price for my herbs. I like that idea of having a favourite trader -- it's fantastic emergent gameplay.
With the price limits on the grand exchange removed, what do you think will happen to the prices of various items for sale?
Player-to-player trades will modify the price of the grand exchange objects, and we'll be using a different price comparison. Obviously we're aware that when people can trade for any value they like, then the prices are going to fluctuate a bit more. There are techniques we're intending to use to minimise that as much as we can without it being unrealistic, and so I think most things will stay the same. Those objects that are new and are kind of buzz items at the minute... I should think that those will fluctuate all over the place. As long as we continue to advise our players on the average prices, I think some objects will move all over the place, but most objects will stay the same.
There's still a widespread perception in the MMO community that RuneScape is somehow less than other MMOs. What would you say to people who hold that view?
I think that's a fantastic question. I think there's this sort of misapprehension of what RuneScape is. RuneScape's been around for such a long time; it's a really established game, and it's sort of a game for everyone. Because it's been around for such a long time and evolved, people have experienced it in different stages. So some people will have played RuneScape in the past (and will remember it when it was classic) or [they will have played it] when it first came out, and that's their experience of it. It's unfortunate that some people knock the game, but I think they have to go in and try it. We've improved the game so much over the past 10 years, and there's a lot of new content. All we can do is to continue to make a great game that millions of people enjoy. Clearly a lot of people do play it. I think it's fantastic that so many people enjoy it, and I think people shouldn't knock it unless they've tried it.
What's in store for RuneScape's future?
A lot of what I was trying to do with dungeoneering was to say to people, "OK you've tried RuneScape once; it was a long time ago, and you've built up some kind of opinion of what you think it is -- now come along try it again." That's why I made dungeoning -- to challenge people's opinions of the game. RuneScape's the kind of game where you can stand in the bank and not know what to do, so right now we're looking at ways of pointing players toward the best kind of gameplay available to them. We're looking at ways of giving them bite-sized content that they can just go and interact with quickly just like dungeoneering.
What I'm trying to do is come up with a way to generate an update digest. So if you've been away for a while, you'll be able to click a button and the game can look at your account in the same way it does with dungeoneering and see what your levels are and what sort of content you like. We can have it look at what we've released since you've last visited and then actually suggest content for you to go and do. There's a new quest that you've got the levels for, and here's where the NPC is, off you go. Literally we started talking about that on Monday last week, so it's a bit of an exclusive. I've not even told some of the other people in the room about this. I'm really looking to fast-track players to content that I think they'll be interested in. If people come back, I don't want them to spend ages reading news posts -- I want them in the game and having fun.
Thought I'd share this as it covers a few things that the FAQ and Q&A sessions haven't covered.