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RuneScape Going Mobile - Interview With Jason Milena

Ed Orr Posted:
Interviews 0

RuneScape is going mobile! If you’ve not logged in for some time then you might be surprised to learn that the massive MMORPG from Jagex is following its older sibling onto Android and iOS devices. The move into the mobile space is a massive leap for the mainstream of RuneScape and it took a whole lot of work to get going. We got a hands-on preview of the current mobile client at Runefest and things are looking in good shape. That’s not all. We got time to sit down and talk to one of the driving forces behind the mobile move, Jason Milena.

If you haven’t heard of this particular Jmod don’t worry. Jason is officially a Product Developer at Jagex and came on board during 2018. He has focused mainly on getting RuneScape in a mobile state. That’s no mean feat and he has plenty of experience in the right areas to make that happen. With a career than includes Disney Interactive, Lord of the Rings mobile games, and an on the go Hunger Games he definitely seems to know what he’s doing. More to the point join as while we find out if we know what we’re doing in our chat with Jason.

MMORPG: Hi Jason. Thanks for talking to us today. You’re relatively new to Jagex?

Jason Milena: I’ve been with Jagex now for one year and two months and it's been a very interesting experience.

MMORPG: From what I understand, you're one of the driving forces behind mobile?

Jason Milena: Yeah and I was hired on initially to basically drive all the mobile products for the company. What I'm doing now is my kind of remit has broadened a little bit since then. But now at the moment it's laser focusing on RuneScape mobile and ensuring that we get the best potential out of that particular product.

MMORPG: So one of the things that kind of strikes me about RuneScape, is that the systems and platforms that power that experience are varied. Some of them could have been around since before the game launched and now you're trying to use all of this funky new stuff responsive tech. What kind of challenges have you encountered doing all of that and sorting it all out?

Jason Milena: To my knowledge we're not the only company that's faced with those challenges, right? Day-to-day obviously, the optimizations for what we can do are sometimes actually hindered by that tech, but at the same time we continuously try to better it. I think some of the things that speeds it out is actually upgrading to utilize C++ versus Java. These things actually evolve in a manner that actually caters to what we actually need for the long term. Sometimes it does slow us down a little bit, but a lot of our perseverance that kind of pushes us to make sure that we can actually complete it even though, yes, when it comes down to actually switching tech from one to the other, there's some challenges there.

Some of what we do is taking some of our old tech and how do we kind of adapt it to these new technologies or third-party plugins  that we want to actually put into it. In the end, it works. That's not to say that we don't run into challenges once in awhile. When it comes down to the tech stuff, it never stops us. We look for a way to actually make it better through other means as opposed to just tearing the wall down and actually just rebuilding it from scratch.

For example, with mobile we can take strides to actually make it so that our game can feel like a modern game without actually having to rebuild the server structure completely from scratch. These are things that we're actually doing now and we've got some pretty cool stuff to actually show at the keynote to kind of showcase that.

MMORPG: What makes helming something like this different to a normal off the shelf business that our readers might be more familiar with? With so uch bespoke, and old, tech in place is it restrictive and does it influence your decisions?

Jason Milena: Again, when it comes down to tying the hands, I think we acknowledge that yes, old tech does have its constraints, but I think from a game development perspective like we have to also acknowledge  that anything is possible, right? I think the biggest thing for us is taking the players along in the journey because big changes like that can change the feel of that game, the visual look of the game, and things like that. I would actually argue that ensuring that our players are happy has been  a more important thing rather than kind of looking at the back end and seeing what we can tear down and kind of rebuild from scratch.

I don't think that we are allowing anything that we have that's legacy to stop us at all. We 100% acknowledge that both Old School and RuneScape are actually critical to our business and we want players to actually continue to play those games in the long run. Adding things like mobile doesn't call for us to completely change our tech. What sometimes it does call for us to do is making it so that the game is available and accessible to a newer audience, but we also acknowledge that the old field of the games is not necessarily going to facilitate that so sometimes we need to optimize and shift things just a little bit.

Jason Milena: Sometimes we can actually modify our current code that is legacy, to make it so that it accommodates what that goal is. And we don't always need something brand new and shiny, right? There are a lot of capabilities within our engine for us to actually modify and add to, and tack on. You know what I mean? We're not saying that we should actually tear down our engine and it's switched on real or unity or something like that, right? There's a lot of benefits to what we currently have and I would say that, because we built it ourselves, then we're also the direct ones that have the best opportunity to change it and configure it the way we actually want to moving forward as well. So we do see that kind of as a bright side of things. We're happy that we have ownership, complete ownership of the engine, and we have a very talented team on the engine side that are very readily available to make the changes we need to accommodate our player base needs.

MMORPG: One of the things that's been really, really significant for me in terms of playing RuneScape for mobile is how you've retained that very tactile feel of the game in terms of that. I always liken it to kind of point and click adventure. You've also spent a lot of time cleaning up the UI, making it more polished. What have been the kind of learnings and disciplines that you've had to apply in building mobile that have also benefited the core game?

Jason Milena: I think with mobile, and then this is my, this was my mindset when I actually first entered the role, right? Because for me it's about actually getting RuneScape and the IP and the heart and soul of RuneScape to a bigger audience. This is my dream. It's for me, mobile was an absolute fantastic channel for that, right? And what are the problems that I have to solve to actually make it so this is available to that mass audience, right? And for me, the first time user experience was actually a key part of that. How do we represent RuneScape to the new player. I was going at it from a mobile perspective and a lot of this coincided with a lot of the UX and visual updates we're doing on mobile.

At the same time, I think what we also acknowledged was that on the PC side so they could benefit from a lot of the stuff we're actually doing on mobile too. When we look at it from a funnel perspective and we look at our competitors, there are things that we can actually borrow that we can actually employ in the mobile game. However, that id not all RuneScape. So, what we've actually built out with the new user experience is not this 100% railed experience where the user just has to press one button and they get to level 100. If we're actually going to cater this to a RuneScape audience, then it will absolutely 100% fit on the PC audience because it's still RuneScape.

An example that I can give you at the moment is features like play your own farms. Those features lend themselves to a mobile very well. What we actually are doing are giving the desktop users even an added opportunity to be notified when things are actually coming back. So the push notifications obviously, we wanted to make sure that the server understands and knows that if they do it on the PC, then the mobile client will also know as well.

MMORPG: And that's very popular, that a lot of people from legacy kind of your traditional MMORPG, have been crying out for the little pocket MMO experiences, like being able to manage their house or their farm or stuff like that on mobile. The fact that you can do that in RuneScape mobile, but you can also play the entire game as well, it's a big eye opener as well.

Jason Milena: Absolutely, that's not to say there aren't any challenges, you know what I mean? A lot of our current players will attest to this and it's not something I would sweep under the rug. For example, we have no mouse over, right? But at the same time, the game, the things that are inside of our game that are interactive may not necessarily be known to be an interact-able for each of the users that's playing on mobile as you. At the same time, we don't actually want the user to type every single thing on the screen to see whether it's interact-able or not. On PC it's actually convenient, because you do have the mouse over and the icon will actually change when you mouse over. It's facing challenges like that which aree importtant when building the mobile experience.

MMORPG: Then that also kind of lends to accessibility as well, in terms of people who are less able to get into games. They can also start to enjoy titles like RuneScape?

Jason Milena: Sure, yeah. That's definitely a challenge for all games. I would actually argue that it's doubly more difficult for RuneScape given in the scale of all the content and features that's actually inside of our games. You're cramming in all this content but then how do you serve this up properly for everyone? How do you make it so that the buttons are as big as they can be without having to kind of cover half the buttons on the screen just so that people can actually play it.

MMORPG: It seems that those iterations of the UI from the initial layout to what you've got now have made massive improvements. However, I get the feeling that the story doesn't finish when those services launch, and what's next? Do you continue refining, improving, iterating stuff?

Jason Milena: Oh, I mean that's absolutely a great question, but we have to remember that RuneScape is a live game, right? The work fundamentally will never stop, because we can take the game and we can always make it better and as long as the players actually love it, enjoy what they're doing day to day, we will always be willing to actually make it better for them and RuneScape mobile is not the end of it. I would argue that it's actually at the beginning. We're talking about 20 years of content, thousands of bespoke UI screens that we'll have to actually be accessible to everybody, right? You know what I mean? And and how we optimize those so that everybody can get into the content easily and healthily. That will always be continuous work.


Ed Orr