RuneScape is arguably one of the most historic MMO video games of all time. First released in 2001 by the Gower brothers, it has since gone on to become one of the most played MMORPGs ever made. This is thanks to the innovations and updates that Jagex has continued to implement throughout its history. Recently, I got to interview two of the most notable members of the RuneScape development team responsible for these updates: David Osborne and Ryan Ward. We spoke about a wide range of RuneScape related topics including tick rate, server limitations, and the release of RuneScape Mobile.
Osborne is the lead designer of RuneScape and has worked at Jagex for 15 years. He is the self-described “Bible of RuneScape,” and knows just about everything regarding it. As for Ward, he is the executive producer of the MMORPG and has been at Jagex for just short of two years. He has vast industry experience having previously worked on Overwatch, Mass Effect, Fortnite, and Star Wars Battlefront.
This interview was organized to celebrate and discuss the latest RuneScape development, RS Mobile. The mobile client releases June 17 and will introduce cross-play into RuneScape for the first time in its ever-growing 20 year history.
What is of most interest to us here at PC Invasion is how RS Mobile is going to impact the main desktop client. With a total player base of almost 15 million players, RuneScape cannot afford to ruin the experience for its existing fans. Although exciting, there are some genuine concerns regarding the release of RuneScape Mobile. Here’s what we discussed and what both Mod Osborne and Mod Warden had to say.
PCI: What is the primary goal of releasing RuneScape Mobile? How does it benefit both Jagex as a company as well as the average player?
Ward: Cross-play has been a part of our DNA alongside the living game story. We all talk about games as a service in the industry. It’s all the buzz; it’s where all the successful games tend to be. Jagex has been doing this for a very, very long time. I consider us early adopters of making games in this space. The mission I have for the team is that I want to get RuneScape everywhere. We really love what we’re making, players love what we’re making. Also, doing this helps us drive growth. One of the cool elements of working in this large MMORPG space is the idea of citizenship. With mobile, we’re looking to add more citizens to the world of Gielinor as that’s a key element to building up an online world. People want to be part of something, they want to see that other people are there.
PCI: There are some shortcomings of RuneScape Mobile. The PvM aspects in particular can be a difficult challenge for players to adapt to. Thoughts on this?
Osborne: Of course, one of the biggest gaps between mobile and PC is PvM. Bossing is the end-game for a lot of players. Be it Arraxor, Raksha, Telos, all of these are massively important. We’ve got plans post-launch to help make the player more proficient in this field. An example update could be a way to switch out your entire loadout in one click rather than bit by bit in the midst of a fight. That’s something that’s absolutely viable for all platforms.
PCI: Currently, RuneScape Mobile has some quality-of-life features that aren’t present in the desktop client. An example of this is the larger loot area coverage. Was that a conscious choice and are other similar features expected?
Osborne: We have implemented some quality-of-life fixes and there are more coming. The broad aim is that we want both the PC client and Mobile to be mutually beneficial. There shouldn’t be a scenario where someone feels that their experience on PC is being pulled down by our work on Mobile. These features may start out on only one of the two platforms, but they’ll make their way across to the other one eventually. We’ve already done this in the past when we added canopy cut-out last year. It became quickly apparent on mobile that there’s a lot of buildings and trees that get in your way. It’s not as easy to move your camera around like on the desktop client. To fix this we added a feature where you can see your character’s silhouette through walls. It was clear that this was also a feature that could benefit desktop so we ported it over.
Ward: A lot of players complain that the text can be hard to read in RuneScape and on mobile that problem is exemplified. Currently, the text doesn’t adjust well for different screen sizes and resolutions. To make it more readable we’re swapping from the current ancient spreadsheet technology to modern vector-based fonts.
PCI: The new player experience in RuneScape isn’t all that great. Factors such as the slow tick rate convoluted early game make it difficult for new RuneScape players to know what to do. Have any efforts been made to improve the new player experience?
Ward: Improving our first-time user experience has been a huge challenge. The current tutorial and introduction system will not work on mobile in the same way. We designed several new tutorials and concepts and had our team working on them for some time. The difficulty is somehow capturing the essence of RuneScape in an eight-minute slice. We may not have it right yet, but we’re going to launch and watch the data closely.
Osborne: It was great working on that first tutorial as it stopped being about how to make the player functional. Instead, our new focus is to show how fun RuneScape is. We wanted to create the greatest hits of RuneScape tutorial that made new players envision what the future of the game holds for them.
PCI: Most MMOs have set roles, races, etc. What makes RuneScape unique is that a player can effectively become anything. There are no restrictions. But how do you compact that down and show it to a new player before they get bored?
Osborne: RuneScape’s core design is a double-edged sword. When you think about mobile players coming in or even the existing new player experience, there’s a fear of falling off of the game. If a player doesn’t understand a given path or objective, then they’ll leave. Attention spans are short and there are other games out there for them to play. But on the other side, I think that a true sandbox experience on mobile is rare. Being able to make your own decisions isn’t something mobile games tend to offer.
Ward: And what about the starting point? Where do you drop a new player in the world? What is the first thing that they should see? Well, RuneScape is about the story and so part of that journey is telling some of that story and getting players involved in the lore. So, there’s a new focus of getting players focused on tasks and story aspects from the get-go.
There shouldn’t be a scenario where someone feels that their experience on PC is being pulled down by our work on Mobile. These features may start out on only one of the two platforms, but they’ll make their way across to the other one eventually.
PCI: Are future updates going to be specifically designed to be ‘mobile-friendly’?
Osborne: We are primarily a PC developer. We are driven by the main desktop client, but we have spoken about a few things. Regarding events, could we make it so that mobile players play a different role than desktop players? What if they could affect the parameters of the event, like when a certain type of mob enters a wave at a certain time. We’re tinkering around with these little gimmicks to encourage players to try out cross-play. But any features like these will be mutually beneficial regardless of a player’s chosen platform.
PCI: Perhaps the biggest concern players have with the release of RuneScape Mobile is related to servers. Currently, the servers begin to suffer during peak times and if mobile brings in more players, that could get worse. With the slow tick rate already causing delay, more latency in RuneScape could be problematic. Are there any concerns regarding server issues?
Ward: A lot of the concerns regarding servers come from the PvM players. They want us to do better for the moment-to-moment scenarios, where timing is huge. We’ve actually done a trial run with the Steam launch in October. It introduced a significant new player base on that platform. I’d say it was not completely perfect on every step, but we did pretty well regarding server capacity. The server capacity issue isn’t just a matter of the number of players we can get on them. It’s more to do with the architecture of our game client, the integrated server code and optimizing data server placement around the world.
I know some of the Brazilian players are pushing for a better data center experience. I have to look at the problem holistically. From a capacity per server point of view, we’re working with the same limits as what we had with the Steam launch. However, to handle more players we are adding more servers to the pool to make sure we’ve got that necessary headroom baked in for launch. But the bigger, longer-standing issue to improve the overall experience is more complicated than just adding more servers.
Ward: To give you a clearer answer regarding the PvM experience, we are not going to be launching new servers specifically for PvM. I know what that means to players and we’re going to be watching closely to see if unexpected issues crop up. But I’m pretty happy with the way Steam launched and with the data we’ve got from that. We know where our peak concurrency strains are and what that can do to the experience. We’ve mitigated that with our planning.
PCI: Following mobile, there’s no doubt that Jagex will be taking on a new huge project for RuneScape. For many players, improving the game’s legacy tick rate is considered the most appealing potential update. Just how big a job is reworking the tick rate?
Ward: It is a big task, and it’s not just a server problem. To change the tick rate in RuneScape, we would have to rewrite the existing server code. We’re always continually writing and improving on it. We have our own language called RuneScript. Even that scripting language utilizes overhead that is directly linked to the tick rate. Both the server code and RuneScript would have to be addressed before any adjustments were made to the tick rate. Sure, extra clock rate and the latest and greatest CPUs do help, but it’s still a feat. I owe the community a better response on what our plans to improve the tick rate are so stay tuned on that one. We’re working on it and we’re going to take it more head-on than we have been.
PCI: Final question. Give me a sales pitch on RuneScape Mobile. Why should I, as an already established desktop player care about it?
Osborne: We’ve come to terms with the fact that our players are getting older. Real life encroaches on RuneScape and some players can only free up enough time to have RuneScape be a small part of their life. With RuneScape cross-play, RuneScape is no longer an obstacle. I can load up my phone, jump in and make progress on my character. That’s such a joy. So yeah, the sales pitch for the active player is that you’ve probably wanted more RuneScape in your life for a long period and now we’re providing a tool to do just that.
I’d like to thank both Dave and Ryan for putting time aside to talk to us. With RuneScape Mobile launching tomorrow, there will be plenty of new players coming into the game. This makes now the best opportunity in a long time to get into RuneScape and see what Gielinor has to offer. You can download and try it on Steam for free.