Once a year for the past six years the south of England turns into a Mecca for all things Jagex. High off the celebration earlier this year of Runescape’s 15th anniversary Jagex set out to create the best festival they could for their fans. Held in a temporary structure in Battersea Park attendees had a chance to meet the people responsible for making the games they love, and the developers had a chance to be reenergized by the fans that adore their game. Armed with this knowledge I made the 4200-mile sojourn from St. Louis, USA to London, England to see what all the fuss is about.
This year was the sixth Runefest and from stories told it may have been the best yet. The format has been tinkered with over the years. Previous incarnations have been a two-day affair. This year it was trimmed to just one. In years past they have allowed an unlimited number of fans to attend while this year that number was capped at 1100. The goal? To make it feel like a close knit community affair. They succeeded.
Tickets cost over $130 and can seem prohibitive but it’s not about the money. Jagex is lucky if they come close to breaking even on this spectacle. It’s about treating their community to something memorable. It was evident walking the show floor that everyone in attendance this year was a true fan. From the masterful cosplay to the PvP battle contests. There was a booth where artists would take photos of attendees and turn them into papercraft cutouts suitable to be in the Runescape universe. There was even a face painter. More than one bald person, not me, had their entre face and headed painted. It was clear that those in attendance loved Runescape.
This year’s festival had a nautical theme. Taking inspiration from the Arc, one of Runescape’s latest updates focused on recently discovered islands, there was a ship, a cove, a band made up of Jagex employees on a small island, all holding to the convention’s theme. There were even two ladies on stilts that made their way around the show floor dressed as either fish or mermaids to enhance the ambiance.
The festival kicked off at 11:00 am local time to a packed house. It seemed like all 1100 fans were in attendance with how densely they were packed in to watch the opening ceremonies on the main stage even though a slow trickle of fans showing up throughout the day demonstrated otherwise. The day concluded with a balloon drop at 8:00pm followed by an after party. Drinks, dancing, and codes for free in game items capped off a wonderful day for this group of diehards.
In accordance with the community theme Jagex brought some of the higher profile YouTube and Twitch personalities that live stream and make videos about Runescape. Whether that be the new or Old School version. I was skeptical on how big of an impact they would have but was taken aback by the number of convention goers that were in attendance for these personalities’ panels. I think some of the streamers drew a bigger audience than some of the developer’s panels. They also had a follow up meet and greets where the players could get autographs and buy merchandise from their favorite content creators. The Gower brothers, founders of Jagex and the original creators of Runescape were also in attendance and greeted with cult icon status.
About those autographs. They weren’t just limited to personalities. Fans were also collecting them from the developers known as a J-Mod. Jagex hosted a contest “Hunt the J-Mod.” Each Jagex employee at the convention wore a blue Runescape t-shirt with their J-Mod name and most also had their twitter handle on it. Judging from the amount of blue shirts in attendance I’d be surprised if all of the Jagex employees weren’t at the convention. It wasn’t as easy as just finding the J-Mod either, unless it was JD, you were tasked with doing something for them. Sort of like trick or treat only instead of candy you’d get a signature. Some of these tasks ranged from funny like Mod Jester, “Tell him a joke” to the bazaar for Mod James H “tell him what you would choose to dream about if you could.” There were 46 J-Mods to be found but contestants were only required to find 8 to earn their Goshima skill chip.
Remember those skill chips I mentioned earlier? There was a funny meta game that involved players competing in contests and earning chips. These chips were representative of skill ups players earn in games. This chips were a high quality custom made poker chip. Since players spend a lot of their time in Runescape earning skills it was fun to see them get the opportunity to earn them in real life too. There were a total of 8 to collect to earn the completionist title. Never one to pass up an opportunity for fun I took part in the fishing competition to earn a skill chip as well as a few others. All told I earned 4 of the 8.
It wouldn’t be an event without a little bit of news. Jagex has made a switch to their content release cycle and will have 3 expansions in 2017. The first of which will be the Golden City of Menaphos due out next spring. I’ll have more information about that later in the week.
Players came from far and wide to attend Runefest. I caught up with more than one couple that had made the trip from the United States. I also met people from Holland, Sweden, France, and Germany. This truly was a global festival by Jagex for their fans and it’s great to see companies hold fan centric events that aren’t just PR conventions.