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Jagex: A Not-So-Brief History of Not-RuneScape

General Articles By Connor Wack on March 18, 2015

Jagex: A Not-So-Brief History of Not-RuneScape

Earlier this year I wrote an article about Jagex in which I gave my hopes that, following the shutdown of Transformers Universe, the company wouldn't be too eager to announce another new MMO. Just a month or so out of that closure, we learned through a job placement announcement that yet another MMO is in the oven.

I’m not exactly champing at the bit at this news.

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As overly pessimistic as that statement may seem, it is not without precedent. Way back in 2012, CEO Mark Gerhard actually apologized for wasting time and resources on "hobby projects" like 8Realms and promised that the company would stop doing that. Here's his quote:

“I think to other projects, like 8Realms and things like that, I think that was one of the last hobby projects that we carried through, and obviously that was evident. Now it’s just working on the projects that matter.”

For those keeping track of Jagex's success record, it goes as thus: RuneScape and "Not RuneScape," as I've come to refer to the rest of their library. You have one major success and a whole lot of never-completed projects. I’d like to take you down what will certainly not be a brief history, so you’ll hopefully understand my current position.

It all starts in 2008 with the launch of Jagex's mini-game service, Funorb. Funorb marked not just Jagex's first big release since RuneScape, it was also the company's second paid service with its own development team and subscription rate.

At E3 that year, they announced MechScape, a science fiction MMO, and I want you to pay attention because the news from here on out gets very repetitive. MechScape was announced with an ambitious launch date set for March 2009, just under a year away from E3.

While Andrew Gower, CEO Geoff Iddison, and lead developer Henrique Ollifiers were doing interviews talking about how great MechScape would be, not a single screenshot or video of the game had been released to the public.

And they never would be, for the first quarter of 2009 came and went with no fanfare, virtually nonexistent hype, or even much acknowledgement by Jagex about the missed release date. Geoff Iddison resigned and, in October, Mark Gerhard would finally announce that MechScape had been cancelled because it simply wasn't working out. Just two months prior, Andrew Gower was still talking about MechScape as though it was a viable product.

The cancellation, we would later be told, had cost Jagex tens of millions of pounds. Rather the scrap it completely, however, Gerhard revealed that the team would use the lessons learned and assets saved to re-purpose MechScape into the game Stellar Dawn with the latter ready for release the next year in 2010. Once again an MMO announced less than a year before release with no assets to show.

At this juncture, Jagex had two functioning products: RuneScape and Funorb. While still their most profitable product, RuneScape in 2010 was suffering greatly from updates three years prior that gutted many of the game's trade and pvp systems in the name of fighting gold farmers, at a substantial cost in subscriptions.

Funorb, meanwhile, stopped receiving updates in 2010 without as much as a notice on the main website. In 2015, to this day, there has never been an official announcement on the homepage that support for Funorb has ceased.

In July 2010, Jagex officially launched the Stellar Dawn website, complete with a "coming 2011" banner and, as with MechScape before it, not a single screenshot or video clip. There was concept art and a signup page for the game's beta, plus a "trailer" showing the logo and a message from Gerhard, but there wasn’t anything definitive to show a full product.

The same year, Jagex acted as publisher for the first time with War of Legends, a city-builder along the lines of Evony, also their first game to include microtransactions. Jagex has published several titles since then, however none of these appear on the corporate Jagex website.

In March 2011, we learned that yet another MMO was in development, this time a game based around the Transformers IP, to be ready for launch in 2012. Unlike MechScape/Stellar Dawn, Jagex actually had something to show right off the bat. At Botcon they displayed a functioning version of the character creation tool, giving us a small look at the graphics in the process.

In May, Jagex launched the closed beta for its in-house city builder and HTML5 experiment, 8Realms. Over at RuneScape, Gerhard reversed his predecessor's game alterations and reintroduced both free trade and the wilderness, much to the joy of current and ex-players alike.

Then all of a sudden it was August and while we were assured that Stellar Dawn was still on track for a 2011 release, we still knew virtually nothing about the game. So little was talked about, in fact, that by March 2012 when Jagex finally announced that development was on hold indefinitely, the Stellar Dawn website still displayed the "coming 2011" banner.

8Realms, at this point still in beta testing, was announced for sunsetting in May 2012 due to very low sales (10% of expectations). In February the cost of RuneScape increased to $7.95 per month, alongside the launch of RuneScape's first cash shop: The Squeal of Fortune, a gambling mini-game that in April began allowing players to buy spins. Later in July, Jagex introduced RuneScape's second cash shop: Solomon's General Store. This year Mark Gerhard would also make his apology for treating their games like hobby projects.

At the end of 2012, we learned that Transformers Universe would no longer be an MMO and instead would be repurposed as a MOBA along the lines of SMITE. The robust character creator that Jagex had been showing off at conventions would be scrapped completely and players would instead choose from canon Transformers bots. The team would suffer layoffs, further delays, and employees being shuffled to other projects the following year as we learned that Hasbro wanted the game out by the end of 2013. It wouldn't hit that goal.

Transformers Universe entered closed beta in March 2014 and open beta in July of the same year. In December, Jagex announced that the game would be shut down the following month and that all purchases would be refunded. War of Legends, on an unrelated note, suffered a security breach in December resulting in Jagex shutting down the servers for good.

So now we find ourselves in 2015. Jagex’s current list of titles still consists of RuneScape and Funorb (the latter no longer in active development). There are two known titles currently in development, a Minecraft-esque shooter called Block N Load, and card game Chronicles RuneScape Legends.

My hope is that Jagex’s next game will avoid the pitfalls of those that came before it.

Connor Wack / Connor is the man behind MMOFallout.com, a site dedicated to the business happenings in and around the MMO industry. He writes a regular column here at MMORPG.com about the ups and downs of the MMO world.