Keeping MMORPGs fresh
How much can players influence the direction that games take? You may have played RuneScape as a teenager, so how do the developers keep their fantasy massively multiplayer online role playing game feeling fresh, even though it's been out for years? Chris Berrow caught up with Conor Crowley, Director of Game Development with Jagex... who make RuneScape.
Voiceover - Adventurers aren't born. They are. All. He was forced to face first. In the fire was a king Black Dragon. Might have been toast if it wasn't for a passing adventurer. She saved my life. She gave me a shield. I had my. I was going to slay dragons.
Chris - So currently there are two RuneScape games that you can get hold of.
Conor - RuneScape. The 18 year veteran of the games industry now is a has been in continuous life service for those 18 years and we've updated it preaching pretty much every week for those 18 years. We do about 40 odd updates making sure that we're giving new quests new creatures new skills to our players. And then you’ve got Old School RuneScape that came about specifically because our players asked for it. It's just over six years ago now. There was a big swell in the player base and they were looking for that nostalgic that nostalgic game play the game that they remembered because as you continue to update a game it becomes a little bit different so you don't have that same same level of recognition when you come back in. Yeah the players were looking for that kind of conservative type approach to the game or making sure it kept to its original values and felt like home. We're looking for something around the 2006 2007 era and that was kind of where we had our biggest swell of players in the early lifecycle and we were we had about a million members around that point in time and all those people were coming back into the game looking for looking for that experience. So it was a vote that we put to the players. We found a backup pretty much down the back of a sofa of everything we needed to get the game up and running well. So we found that put it to the players and said Is this something that you'd like. And they did. I think it was a half a million votes and we were OK. Well you guys want this will we'll put it life. That was six years ago and we've had it continuously updating itself as well so now we have two games and they are diverging in how they're updated there are different player bases in each they have their own wants and needs and we make sure that we tailor the game to the player base that are playing it and we continue to give them what they're looking for.
Chris - So when you're tailoring a game to the audience how much feedback are you really taking on board and how much of the story and the quests and the things that you have decided by the team.
Conor - So there's been… RuneScape has had in several eras different types of approaches to this. If we take old school as an example to give you an idea of how much the players are involved and engaged in what we do nothing goes into old school without a 75 percent majority vote.
Chris - Wow.
Conor - Everything we do we put it to the players. They have to do a 75 percent majority to say it goes into the game and they've said no to some major things. We had a couple of years ago we were looking at putting in a brand new skill so moonscape is entirely like as you remember right. Yeah entirely designed around progressing multiple different skills. It's classless so you can just update any of them anytime you want. And they progressed as you engage with them. So this was an entire new progression channel for them to focus on. It was around sailing. It's actually a bit of a meme inside in the community. But we put it to the players and it didn't hit that 75 percent majority. So this brand new skill this huge a mount of expansion to the game the players kind of went No.
Chris - Amazing. It’s amazing that you gave players that much control but I suppose then because of that you're actually you've got to really engaged community.
Conor - Yeah yeah definitely. The the level of engagement on the old school team between the community and the development group is incredible. So they are our community would know which developer has worked on which update when it goes out there talking to them directly on Twitter. They like talking about feedback. If they're finding issues there is a constant open dialogue between the two groups and it it's vital really for that game to continue to succeed and deliver what players expect is having that deep connection understanding.
Chris - And also it's worth saying that that version is now available to play on your phone so you can actually cross over and plan to compete to then pick up you know if you're on the move for example.
Conor - Oh absolutely. It was a huge change for us last year trying to bring a team that had spent years continue to service a game. We were five years old over five years old when we actually managed to get it live. But getting the players that are the development team to understand that they were shipping to two platforms but then seeing the impact that we had from the player base and how their play patterns shifted slightly or how they stayed engaged with the game. There was an interesting part we had just at the end of last year where we know and we know our activity or concurrent users the number of people who are logged on at any point in time and every Christmas we would see on Christmas Day that that number would dip a bit. People are like playing with their families or having dinner. We didn't see that as much this year. We see people putting up photos of them playing RuneScape pretty much everywhere at this point.
Chris - Tell us about having that divergent game and that kind of offshoot in a way I suppose is is that a fair way to describe it would you say.
Conor - Yeah it's kind of. So that game has continued to evolve over the years and has kind of we listen to the players we make sure we're trying to get updates that are really appealing to them. The 75 percent majority vote doesn't exist in RuneScape but we have much higher production values is much more surprise and it's much more focused on story. So that game has gone through in 2007 it looked exactly like old school RuneScape. We're now another 12 years on from that point and it has had a whole new UI system redone. We changed the entire game client and all of the rendering so it doesn't look like a new game. So they look very very different but at their core a lot of it is exactly the same. You can go to two places in the same games and you'll see that at least it's reminiscent of each other and in some cases they're exactly the same models you've never updated them. And so you you'd literally be looking at exactly the same thing in two different windows.
Chris - How do you try and plan for the future because you know you've got these two kind of versions now. People obviously still really engaged in the game but you must always have to also continually adapt. So what are your plans to try and make sure that going forward you still maintain that player base.
Conor - Oh yeah it's a it's a core challenge of what we do pretty much daily. If we give you for an hour just to kind of give you context when moonscape was live there was no broadband our social media are streaming are pretty much phones were barely a thing. I remember remember remember this time well I wish I didn't do it in that time we have every time that thing that new technology or new item comes out we have to adapt the game to try and embrace it. So like all of our logging systems are all tied into social media moonscape will be coming to mobile in the future. It's a bigger game. So it's a bit of a bigger challenge. It's completely embraced in like we embrace Twitch and streaming now that's much bigger on old school than is on RuneScape but we make sure that we keep that kind of community going and when we're looking to the future a lot of what Jagex does in terms of development what kind of our our core principles is understanding who our players are and kind of obsessing over what they need. It may not have the 75 percent vote but it does have a constant surveys and questions and that player engagement is still there. So at least once a year we're putting concepts and ideas out to the players asking them what do they think what's working. We do constant focus test bringing players into the studio are reaching out and running tests around the world to make sure that we're getting people's feedback and viewpoints on what we're building trying to be adaptive and how we approach stuff and making sure that we have that constant dialogue means that we can kind of. And that's coupled with a weekly update cadence right so we can see changes turned around very very quickly and get it out into the player base very quickly when we see stuff happen. It allows us to kind of keep on the edge and make sure that we're taking advantage of new technologies as they're turning up.