Is Runescape dying? As some one who has played the better part of the last 3 and a half years almost exclusively F2P, I can definitely say there's a downward trend. It all began with the return of Free Trade, and the massive Horde of bots that followed. What's the point of skilling in F2P, if there's 15+ bots (and no that number is not an exaggeration) at all the best resource spots ruining the Exp and Gp/hr?
Many updates particularly in the last few years have been especially damaging to F2P. It would probably have to start with the removal of the F2P Highscores, essentially taking away all competition from the F2P game, and instilling this idea that "If you're not paying, your accomplishments don't matter/exist". Eoc also was not well received by a large portion of the F2P Population (If you think some parts of Eoc were bad in member's, especially at release, imagine what it was like in F2P!) causing a large portion of the Older Players, as well as the majority of the F2P Pking community to leave. As well, Eoc is poorly explained to new players, and many do not understand it, and quit. Solomon's and Squeal Of Fortune weren't particularly well received either, although I don't think an overly large number of F2Pers quit due to that. Even Rs3, with its many changes to the game, has caused many players to move on from the game, and leave.
As well, most new players don't seem to be able to grasp the concept of the game when they start. I'm not sure when exactly it happened, but starting off in F2P went from being very simple and intuitive, to complicated and convoluted. Many, many new players cannot seem to grasp the basics of the game, and it has become exceedingly rare to see new players persist in playing past the first few days. I'm not saying it never happens, but judging from what I've seen (and I used to skill in the starting areas a lot) RuneScape has gone from a 75% return rate to something that's probably below 25%. Now I'm sure all this could be fixed with a much more clear, simpler, proper explanation, but sadly it hasn't been.
As well, by turning F2P from its own, smaller game into merely a demo, they have managed to instill in their players a "Pay-to-play or Don't Play" mentality. It used to be that when some one's P2P ran out, and they were unable to afford / didn't want to buy it again, they would play in F2P for several weeks, or even months, and then eventually buy P2P once more. Nowadays, when some one's P2P runs out, almost all players quit outright until they can buy it once more. Their periods of absence from the game usually stretch for longer and longer each time, and many do not return, save for the dedicated. It used to be extremely common to see high to mid-level players playing in F2P for weeks on end, and now I can't even remember the last time I saw a high-level P2Per in F2P for more then a few hours at most. This is an extremely bad, group mentality, and it is causing the game to lose players in general.
Bots, adbots, beggars, poorly executed updates, lack of content, constant P2P/Microtransaction advertisements, game nerfs, glitches, all of these things have contributed to the decline of the Free To Play game. Now, is the game dying? No, I wouldn't go quite that far. Is it on a rapid decline? Yes. Jagex, to their credit, definitely seem to have noticed this fact, and seem to be trying to revive the F2P game as best they can (new content, etc...) but the act of successfully promoting their Paid version of the game without knocking their Free version of the game is a juggling act that Jagex lost the hang of some time ago. All players start off in the Free Game. WIthout a strong, positive Free Game, what incentive is there for new players to continue playing or go a step further and break out their wallets?
Personally, I'm interested in seeing what they will do to save the free game. They seem to know that without the free game, Runescape doesn't really have any distinction from the many other Mmorpg's out there and are trying their best to save it, and save Runescape in general. Personally, I really hope the succeed, as I would very much like to still be able to play, should I wish, five years from now.
Is Runescape Dying? No.
Is it starting to? Yes.....
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