If you’re around the same age as me, then you likely grew up at the right time to enjoy certain things in their prime. To name just a few, there are the Harry Potter books, beyblades, and the TV show Raven. Another name on that list, which celebrated its 15th birthday on 4th January, is the online game we all played when growing up: Runescape.
[su_spoiler title=”Fun Fact!” style=”simple” icon=”chevron-circle” anchor=”Comment”]When censoring offensive words, chat filters originally substituted them with the word ‘cabbage’, as this was a vegetable the creators hated with a passion.[/su_spoiler]
Runescape has come a long way in those 15 years since its creation in 2001. It has over 200m accounts created, and the daily player count can regularly exceed 90,000 players. The team working on it has grown from two brothers in their parents’ house, to a team of nearly 500 people in Cambridge. It’s now recognised by Guinness World Records not only as the biggest free-to-play MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), but also as the most frequently updated, with new content releases almost every week. Given this, it would be more than fair to say that, alongside the likes of Total War, the Lego games, Grand Theft Auto, and Arkham Asylum games, Runescape is one of the seminal works of British gaming. Sadly, for some reason, however, most people don’t.
[su_pullquote]A brief break-down of Runescape’s history:
1998: The predecessor to Runescape, DeviousMUD, was created by brothers Andrew, Paul, and Ian Gower.
January 2001: Andrew and Paul Gower release the beta for Runescape.
December 2001: The Gower brothers and Constant Tedder form Jagex.
February 2002: The option for monthly membership is introduced to the game, allowing players who subscribed to gain access to new areas, quests an items.
March 2004: Runescape 2 was released, later becoming known simply as Runescape, with the original version being reneamed as Runescape Classic.
January 2006: Jagex banned 5000 Runescape Classic accounts for cheating.
August 2006: Runescape Classic was closed to new accounts.
July 2013: Runescape 3 was released[/su_pullquote]When listing the most influential games made in Britain, people would list the aforementioned games, alongside Tomb Raider and the XCOM games, nearly all rather big-budget games published by corporations with the financial force and security to protect their games. Runescape’s developer, Jagex, has none of those things. It’s self-published, primarily only creating the one game (unless you include Runescape’s different iterations), and has no blessing of Sony or Microsoft to protect them if they veer into dire straits. Yet rather than crash and burn, Jagex has become one of the most successful indie developers ever – most employ 4 or 5 people, not 500, and, on top of that, Jagex takes in a yearly profit of nearly £20m.
This success story hasn’t gone unnoticed by the industry. Whilst the MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) genre was initially created as a high-expenses way of gaming, with the large cost of internet added to a cost-per-hour to play, Runescape was one of the first MMOs to be available to non-paying players. This completly revolutionised the genre, increasing the accessibility to those who couldn’t afford the cost of other games, or those who wanted to try the game before making an investment in it.
Skip forward to 2016, and free-to-play gaming like this is not just more popular, it is the trend. Games like Rift, Elder Scrolls Online and Tera all benefit from the ‘free-to-play, pay-to-play-more’ method of payment that Runescape helped bring about. While it would take the credit from other free games to put this all down to Runescape, it is definitely the case that our playing of free Runescape when young has made us open-minded when looking at other free games when older.
Before 2000, the British indie development community was nearly non-existent. However, when Jagex, Firefly Studios, Introversion Software and other indie developers began producing games, the ball started rolling, and now many great games come from our islands – Plague Inc., Prison Architect and No Man’s Sky to name a few. This first wave of indie developers undoubtedly brought life into the British games scene, inspiring new developers and leaving a market ready for them. Runescape in particular is one of the biggest indie games, and has played a big part in revolutionising our idea of what an ‘indie’ game is, and making us question whether they necessarily have to be maller than triple-A games.
[su_spoiler title=”Fun Fact!” style=”simple” icon=”chevron-circle” anchor=”Comment”]Runescape was initially written to be a text-only game, until the Gower brothers decided to include graphics, and from there the game slowly began to take form.[/su_spoiler]
It’s a far cry to say that Runescape changed the world, but if you look at the roots of modern and British indie games, it’s a fair assessment to say that Runescape is an important part of the landscape of our games today. With any luck, the next 15 years of Runescape will be just as inspirational.