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Runescape Interviews: Citadels and the Future of the Game

By Adam Tingle on September 09, 2011

It has been a very busy year for developer Jagex. Their flagship MMORPG RuneScape has recently added clan owned Citadels, and also fully customizable battlegrounds. Armed with this excuse to talk to their developers, I headed down to Cambridge, and found an audience with Senior Game Designer Chihiro Yamada and Senior Content Developer Ash Bridges.

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MMORPG.com:

Wilderness, Free Trade, and now the Citadels Expansion - this has been a very productive year for RuneScape; you must be very happy with the progress the game is making even after 10 years of development?

Chihiro Yamada:

Absolutely! We have spent a lot of time this year trying to change some fairly major things in terms of how the game works, and the development team is very pleased with the way things are going. It is under my remit to add clan mechanics etc to RuneScape and by adding clan support such as the Citadels we are hoping to encourage players into that side of the game, and hopefully strengthen the communities we already have. We strongly believe that having a healthy clan community means that you have a healthy MMO, and a lot of the content we have delivered this year appears to have been very successful in plugging the gaps we may have had: so yes, we are pleased with the way things are going!

Ash Bridges:

There is also the matter of the in-game technology. Jagex has always been ahead of the curve in terms of the browser-based tech it uses, so we are still pushing the boundaries even in the Citadel expansion. Examples of this such as clan logos, customizable objects, and more flexibility for players in terms of the visuals, but also we are strongly focused on other techs such as keeping up to date with other means to play the game. Recently we added Facebook integration, as well as Twitter - we absolutely love Twitter. We are always committed to keeping ahead of the curve in terms of what our game can do, regardless of its age, and it has been a very busy year for us in many ways.

MMORPG.com:

To some degree RuneScape has received a rough time from various outlets, simply because of its browser based nature; in some ways do you feel vindicated now that your game is on the forefront of what the industry is now classing as the future of gaming?

Ash Bridges:

I actually find it annoying that the rest of the industry is trying to jump into what was our niche. It is why we keep on changing. When I started playing, there was maybe 20,000-30,000 people in RuneScape, some years later when I joined Jagex we celebrated our 100,000 population milestone; then again time passed and there was an even bigger celebration when we hit a million members. So yes in a way it feels good that the industry has caught up with us, and now that we are in the position that our game is refined and polished, we can look back at the older stuff and update the things that were slightly older or needed some attention.

Chihiro Yamada:

We are well aware that the whole playing field has changed, companies have seen that we have been successful and they wish to replicate that, so obviously now there is more competition. In response we have had to be a little savvier about how we try to advance RuneScape. But on top of that, we have a very large player base, and we are 10 years old so there is definitely a lot of content for people to be getting on with, while we continually strive to make things even better. In regards to feeling vindicated, I suppose we feel slightly good about the fact we have a game that is a great example of how to be different, but to be honest we always knew that we had something special and RuneScape has always been so successful we don't really need anyone to point out that what we are doing is "right".

MMORPG.com:

Moving on the Citadel expansion, as RuneScape is split into 2 halves, the membership and free side, did you make a conscious decision to create content that moved away from the idea of RuneScape as having a more "immature" player base, and to something that shows there is a real social community within the game, and perhaps make the membership more alluring?

Chihiro Yamada:

I think you're right in the sense that the free-to-play community is focused on particular types of content, and hopefully things like Citadels will make people have another look at what RuneScape can offer to clans etc. I think it is important to note that clans existed in our game before we even knew about it, or even had the tools to support them. More than trying to allure people to the membership, this is more of Jagex saying "here are some tools to help you achieve your goals" and in a sense we are giving back to clans.

Ash Bridges:

And we don't want to make this an exclusive thing - obviously the Citadel expansion is for the moment only for the membership side, but they can also use the clan chat channels, own the clan sigil cape and so on. Sure, people are always going to say that the game can be immature etc, but now we have the tools to skip other unsavoury elements, and people can jump straight in the clan side of things because the tools are now in place to do so.

MMORPG.com:

With Citadels expansion, not only do clans have a place to call "home" but also they have the extremely impressive Battleground Editor: where did the idea for this initially spring from?

Chihiro Yamada:

Wow, where do we start? We added player-owned housing in RuneScape a long time ago and it was a very popular feature. The idea that the player has their own home in a way mutated in to the thinking of "we need this for clans". Also there was element of simply connecting the dots, RuneScape is the forum for which clans meet each other but oddly their "homes" as it were are to be found on Internet sites and the like, so really a natural progression to this is to allow clans somewhere of their own making within our game world. The second thing was that we knew we wanted to create clan infrastructure as whole, and once we decided that we sat down and said "OK, so we have the infrastructure, what could we do with this to make it really cool?" so flying castles etc didn't take much persuasion as a direction to go. And thirdly, RuneScape supports the idea of emergent gameplay and we love the idea of players finding out about different ways to use things, it is a massive part of what our game is, and so clans seemed an ideal testing ground really to add things like the battleground - they are usually a bunch of players that want to experience the game together so it was perfect for us to give these new abilities to them and see where it takes us.

Ash Bridges:

Once we had implemented the battlegrounds we knew we had something quite special on our hands. From very early on in development we realised that this is something new, fresh, exciting, and so like Chihiro says, the idea of giving a bunch of players that enjoy the game together these new development tools seems to fit.

MMORPG.com:

The Battleground Editor is one of the most impressive things that we have seen in recent times, the idea that players can design their own experience and game seems both simple and yet truly innovative. Was it important to you as developers to add this almost "sandbox" element to your game?

Chihiro Yamada:

One of the things we like about it is that it really feeds into the idea of what an MMORPG should be - a persistent, emergent experience that allows a player to create a virtual reality for themselves. Also the fact that is has relevance to your in-game character - you still use your skills, inventory etc, and your own experiences, helps bring it back to "traditional" RuneScape as well as progressing it.

Ash Bridges:

I also like that the battleground editor can bring clans together in a way that you can set up a map that will only allow you to use the weapons, items, that you have found, and therefore the lowest member can take on the highest. It is a good way to initiate players into their clan experience. Also, the battlegrounds aren't simply for PvP and so players have created singleplayer puzzles and things like that so in a way we are treading new ground by not simply asking our players to involve themselves simply in combat.

MMORPG.com:

The Battleground allows clans to take on other clans within the context of their own mini-games/maps that they have created. What are the rewards for winning?

Ash Bridges:

As you will be aware, if you allow players to reward themselves with experience and wealth it becomes a little trivial and will be over used.

Chihiro Yamada:

As you will be aware, if you allow players to reward themselves with experience and wealth it becomes a little trivial and will be over used.

Ash Bridges:

We have looked into the idea of leader boards or ladders, but for the moment we don't have plans to implement something like this. Clans throughout the existence of RuneScape have run their own clan wars before we even knew that such communities were there, and surprisingly they weren't gaining anything: the loot they dropped was their own and so it was simply for bragging rights. We do have the rated Clan Wars game within RuneScape, but for the time the battlegrounds are left to clans to do whatever they wish with for their own glory. Obviously they can wager their own rewards etc, but really it is up to them.

Chihiro Yamada:

We want this to be something that clans can pick and choose through, but certainly we are looking at ways to reward the victorious - in the next few months we will be thinking about how we can use the battlefields to give more tangible rewards to players.

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