RuneScape: The Best Awful Community Ever

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I’ve been perusing the history of Runescape eBook that was recently released by RSHistory, and it’s got me feeling a lot of nostalgia. I played RuneScape from 2005 until around 2010. It was my first MMO, and the one I played for the longest. During that time, I saw every kind of troll, scammer, exploit, vulgarity (despite the hyper-restrictive chat filter), and general player-created annoyance you can imagine. I saw servers that seemed to have more bots and gold spammers than actual players. I watched the rise of a system for stopping gold sellers and scams by forcing trades to be balanced (through dynamic price fixing), and its fall due to constant complains and protests from players, and predicted the subsequent influx of bots and spammers (personally, I preferred the price fixing). I was even a player moderator–a player hand-picked by the game’s developers to have high priority rule breaking reports, as well as the ability to mute players who are spamming or otherwise abusing chat–with all of the privileges and abuse that come with that (mostly abuse; being a “game cop” isn’t as glorious as some people seemed to think). I stuck with RuneScape when all of my friends jumped ship and played WoW, then came back, whined about how it wasn’t WoW, then went back to WoW again.

The point is, RuneScape isn’t exactly known for its exemplary community. Yet it’s the only game I’ve played where I actually felt like I made friends who I’ve never met in real life. RuneScape is unlike most modern MMOs in that it’s pretty hands-free game; combat, crafting, and movement are all mouse-driven, and the gameplay is pretty much nothing but grinding. This frees up players to chat with people who are in the same area killing stuff, fishing, mining, or whatever. Given that the average age of the players of RuneScape was, at the time, probably somewhere around junior high, you can imagine that this sometimes lead to some rather… interesting topics of conversation. But the point is it actually lead to conversation. It blows my mind to think about the fact that I had more conversations in “say” chat (unless you sent a direct message to someone on your friends list, you could only talk to people you could see, and the game’s draw distance was atrocious) than I ever do now in zone chat, or even guild chat in some games. When you found someone who wasn’t a total jerk, you bonded a little. RuneScape had a somewhat unusual user culture in that it was commonplace to add anyone you had a civil conversation with to your friends list. If you didn’t have your 200 friends list slots filled (and a few ignore slots) by level 50 you were probably a social recluse. People would strike up conversations in private messages, be it about the game or something outside of it.

I’ve often wondered what exactly made RuneScape’s community feel different from that of games I played later. First and foremost I think it’s because of the aforementioned mouse-driven grindfest gameplay that frees players up to type while they play. Also, the fact that there were no guilds in the game (well, people grouped up in “clans,” but there was no official system for it back then, and you technically weren’t allowed to tell anyone to go to any website that wasn’t run by Jagex), so a lot of the social dynamics were person-to-person instead of a group. It also probably helped that, with the MMO market being dominated by subscription-only games, players tended to stick with one game at a time a lot more back then. Most of all, however, I think it was just a very different time in the Internet’s history; people still hung out in chatrooms for goodness sake. The MMO genre was still in its infancy, and people were still figuring out the social dynamics of communicating and cooperating with people from all over the world. Come to think of it, people I know who played older games like Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies, and City of Heroes had similar experiences, so I think the different Internet culture had a lot to do with it. Games have gotten more engaging since then, but are we really better off? I’m not sure.

Anyways, thanks for letting me vent some of my gaming nostalgia.

Crafting: What’s the Point?

There has been a trend in recent years of trying to streamline the MMO experience and get rid of outdated mechanics that only serve to annoy players (see my rant on WoW tapping in the previous post). It’s usually associated with “casualising” games, though I don’t think convenient and hardcore are necessarily mutually exclusive. In any case, there has been a lot of talk about reducing and/or eliminating the “gear treadmill,” that is, the end game mechanic of getting good gear so you can do dungeons and raids so you can get better gear so you can do harder dungeons and raids so you can get better gear so you can… you get the point. Debating the pros and cons of dungeon gear treadmills is beyond the scope of this post. But there’s one MMO mechanic that hasn’t been talked about as much that has me somewhat puzzled: crafting.

My first MMO was RuneScape. Crafting in RuneScape is what combat is in most other MMOs; it’s basically all your character lives for, and everything else is secondary. So when I started playing other MMOs like LotRO and SWTOR, I was a little confused as to why I had to choose just one crafting profession per character. But as I played those games I eventually came to realize the difference. In RuneScape, the whole game, most notably the economy, was centered primarily around player-made items or things that require non-combat skill levels; magic runes, potions, ores, weapons, armor, even most of the quests required high skill levels. In other MMOs, all of those things can be crafted, but you can just as easily get them from drops. In virtually every other MMO, you can get decent gear simply by killing things, anything from rats (where was this rat hiding these platemail pants?) all the way up to fire-breathing wyverns. True, the longer RuneScape goes on the more certain weapon and armor sets come from enemy drops, but there has generally been little to no bind on pickup/equip gear in RuneScape, so once an item has been out for a year or so the exchange is swimming in them.

So back to the original thesis: outside of RuneScape and probably a few other cases where the game is built around it, what’s the point of crafting? Take Guild Wars 2 for example. Aside from endgame crafting which is bind on pickup (which was added post launch), I could easily sell a handfull of materials for the price of a piece of rare (yellow) gear on the trading post, and get exotics for only a little more. Why should I burn hundreds of these mats for the right to make it myself? Better yet, I could simply kill things and get drops that are similar to, if not better than, crafted gear. I know all of the hardcore crafters are screaming at their monitors right now, but really, in a game where I get bags full of good quality drops, what’s the point? Isn’t this just a single player version of that gear treadmill everyone seems to hate so much these days? “Gather mats so you can make gear so you can gather better mats to make better gear, so you can make the best gear, which you have to craft for yourself.” I’m not a crafting hater–I’m just as responsible for the deforestation of Tyria and Middle-Earth as the next guy–and I do get the appeal of being self-sufficient when it comes to gear, but looking at it objectively, I’m not really sure why every game still feels the need to have an extensive crafting system, especially those with a dungeon gear treadmill in place.

Am I missing something?