With over 17 years experience developing Runescape, Jagex certainly knows a thing or two about running ‘living games’. After managing to notch up over a billion dollars in lifetime revenue, it’s no surprise that the Cambridge, UK-based firm is looking to share that knowledge and expertise. But rather than opening the floodgates, the studio’s now on careful mission to find the best fit for their brand new venture.
Announced earlier this year, Jagex Partners is the all-new publishing arm of the longstanding developer. As Simon Bull (head of third-party product marketing) explained to us at RuneFest recently, it’s also the third strand in the firm’s overall strategy. Sitting alongside the core business of Runescape, and the continued pursuit of internal opportunities, it’s now looking to forge partnerships with other small developers that can last for the long haul.
During our interview, Bull described how Jagex had taken a fresh approach by proposing a set of services based on what they use internally to run their own games. This allows the studio to harness knowledge and experience much more easily, but also enables it to fine-tune the partnership to suit each unique developer. Before that, however, he established what exactly is meant by the term ‘living games’.
“For us, a living game is about three key areas. It’s about that evergreen design and ongoing content delivery. It’s about promoting the deep emotional engagement with the audience and community. And from a commercial side, it’s about a long-term revenue opportunity.”
Moving to a New Model
Currently, the new arm is deep in reviewing over a hundred potential titles that could fit the bill, although that’s only part of the assessment. Bull also stressed that, along with others in the new division, it’s also about ensuring the developer is a good fit for Jagex and vice versa. But for those that measure up, the offer is aimed at helping them focus on making games. It’s built around a service-based model, where Jagex provides a number of core services to the studio, while also offering supplemental services that bolster or fill gaps in the partner’s capability.
“When I look [..] at the number of services that we offer, it’s deep into the double figures. There’s probably six or seven critical services that are really of most interest to a lot of developers, and that’s marketing strategy, monetisation, user acquisition, analytics and data science. It’s a lot of those deeply specialised areas of the games business that many developers either don’t have the resource or the desire to establish. It takes a lot of skill and knowledge to build up those core services, there’s a lot of time attached to it, and many developers just don’t want to do it. Their focus is really on building brilliant games, and our focus as a partner operation is about helping to bring them to market and helping to run them as long term operations.”
Much of this catalogue of services has been built through examining how Jagex runs itself as a business. This has allowed the studio to draw out the processes, “muscle memory”, and knowledge, and apply it to the new team at Partners without impacting Runescape. The result is a model that offers significant breadth as well as depth.
“With millions of registered users and hundreds of thousands of players, as you would expect there’s lots of areas where the company where the company has deep experience, whether that’s player support; the really fascinating, interesting, and critically important aspects like player safety; analytics and data science. The experience that those guys have got in being able to help us guide our partners is vitally important for us.”
“They may not be the most exciting aspects of game development, but for successful living games and the longevity of them, they’re hugely important. And for us, they’re some of the most important aspects of our world.”
“And there’s other things like monetisation design. Most developers don’t have a specialist monetisation design component on their team for a number of reasons, not least of which is that there’s not very many people who do it very very well. Having that vast experience and the people we’ve brought into Jagex Partners that have a good level of experience is really important, because it allows that meeting of minds and allows us to communicate it.”
Not About Logos
Putting the knowledge and expertise to one side, Jagex has previously built platforms for authentication, payments management and customer support. How (and if) these will figure into the services offered by Jagex Partners is something that Bull said would be shared at a later date. For the moment, the focus is on assessing the games and building out those services.
“We’ve looked at hundreds of games, we’ve played a great deal of games, and spoken to a great deal of developers. And, as I said, while we don’t have any hard and fast timings, for our position, I’d like us to be at least talking about one or two projects, and releasing them in the next twelve months.”
Even then, don’t expect to find big Jagex logos plastered on a huge basket of games. If anything, the initial step is likely to be low in both volume and ego. “Our skills and knowledge are what we bring to the project. We’re not about owning IP; we’re not about telling people how to build their games. What we’re about is guiding them and offering our experience. We are going to participate in the release of the project and I expect to be represented in that way, but the size of our logo is not the most important part of our business.”
Despite this, Bull and the team at Jagex Partners have been eager to get the word out, sponsoring a number of developer events in the UK and beyond. In a sign of just how global this initiative is, the division was present at this year’s Gamescom in Germany, and will also be represented at South Korea’s G-STAR expo.
For MMO fans and online gamers, it also raises the tantalising possibility of a new route for these living games to reach us, supported by one of the oldest names in the genre. That could mean more choice, fewer stagnating titles, and better quality when they arrive on our gaming devices.
Now, though, the message from Bull and team is clear. “ We’re open, listening, and ready for business.” Fingers crossed, we’ll be hearing news about those first few deals soon enough.