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RuneScape's Latest Milestone: Going Mobile

An interview with Dave Osborne and Matt Casey

Matthew Keith Updated: Posted:
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For old gamers like myself, RuneScape, from developer Jagex, has been with us since the beginning days of the MMO genre. A staple in the MMO space for over 20 years, RuneScape has always worked to find new ways to reach out to the ever-growing MMO community. The team’s latest work towards that goal is the release of RuneScape to mobile devices.

Dave Osborne, Lead Designer, and Matt Casey, product Director, took some time out of their busy schedules to sit down and answer some of my questions about the challenges and rewards of moving a beloved MMO to the mobile space. So grab that coffee, kick back and enjoy this interview with Dave Osborne and Matt Casey.

MMORPG: Dave and Matt, thanks so much for taking the time in the middle of what I can only imagine is a very busy season for you and your team to answer some of our questions. To begin, with such a cast history with working on RuneScape in a PC space can you explain the process that brought you to the decision to offer RuneScape to a mobile audience?

Dave Osborne: As with so many decisions we make, our community was a big driver. With every announcement we made on social platforms about RuneScape, there would be dozens of replies about bringing the game to mobile. There was very clearly an appetite for our community to carry their avatar and its game-world in their pocket, and that only grew and grew. We also knew from surveys and various other channels that our players’ lives are changing and they don’t necessarily all have the PC gaming screen time they used to.

There’s also no other game like RuneScape on mobile. This is an MMO with twenty years’ worth of game updates, an established community and a boundless game world. Other MMOs have made the transition to mobile, but most are direct ports or can’t match the experience on offer. With the relatively simple building blocks of RuneScape, and gameplay that can switch to being more laid-back and low-intensity, mobile play fits RuneScape like a glove. With all of those elements combined, it felt natural that we would make mobile a priority.

MMORPG: It’s a pretty incredible challenge and feat to transition a 20 year MMO over to the mobile space. What was the most daunting part of this transition? Could you highlight some of the biggest hurdles you faced when porting things like the User Interface into a much smaller space?

Matt Casey: Transforming the sophisticated PC and Mac user interface to be mobile-friendly was one of the biggest challenges in taking RuneScape to the small screen. We invested a huge amount of time in refining and testing the HUD and key interfaces for mobile play, ensuring that key components are placed where they are most convenient and accessible for mobile players. We had to balance this against the level of UI customization afforded to desktop players, but now, on mobile, everything you need is intuitively accessible.

Dave Osborne: RuneScape has been optimizing for twenty years to deliver the best experience for PC players. On PC, it offers huge amounts of customization and enables players to build a view of their world that suits their play-style. It also means massive amounts of depth, as there are multiple ways to engage with the game, various ways to personalize or ‘toggle’ how you interact with it, and so much more. That detail and intricacy aren’t always possible on mobile, so we had to prioritize what is available to a mobile player on their screen.

We also wanted to ensure that nothing felt crowded and things were easy to read and interact with. We’ve also pushed a lot of information down into the UI’s layers so that players can find it but it’s staggered according to the likelihood of a new player needing it. In addition, as a PC game, RuneScape is designed for keyboard and mouse play. On mobile, we needed to convert that control experience to one of the gestures using one or two fingers. Thankfully, the point-and-click style of the PC game lent itself well to translating to touch-screen interactions and we’re really proud of what we’ve achieved there.

Then there was the constant headache of various device sizes, aspect ratios and screen dead-zones - every month, there’s a new device and something new to accommodate. Mobile developers are probably rolling their eyes and are used to this, but as PC developers it was eye-opening! It only puts more on the plate of our fantastic technology and platform teams, as well as design, but they have done an incredible job.

MMORPG: Did you need to make any concessions in order to make this all work on mobile?

Dave Osborne: Every single day, but players shouldn’t notice what we’ve done! A good example is combat. We have a vibrant combat end-game in RuneScape, with players graduating to bossing and raids as they reach the limits of their skill levels. But while RuneScape isn’t intensive in the same way that action RPGs such as Diablo are, there’s still a lot of moment-to-moment switching, twitchy gameplay and dodging environmental elements.

We really focussed on making combat abilities one-touch, and to put all the important controls in the players’ hands, but ultimately there is still a gap between what is possible on mobile and what is possible on PC. Over time, we will shorten that gap, and we have ideas that we’d love to incorporate, such as allowing full outfit switching with the press of a single button.

MMORPG: My understanding is that the mobile version will support full cross-play with PC players. What were some of the challenges and advantages to creating this cross-platform space for people?

Matt Casey: Absolutely, cross-play is key to RuneScape on mobile. Back when we started looking at mobile, the overwhelming feedback from RuneScape players was that they wanted the entire game, as they know it and play it on desktops, in their pocket – plus with the ability to jump between desktop and mobile and back again via cross-play. Following the launch of Old School RuneScape on mobile, we saw the vast number of players who use the mobile to cross-play their accounts when they are away from, or don’t have time for, their PC screens. 

Being able to effortlessly switch from playing on desktop to a mobile or tablet, using the same character, with access to all the same content and achievements, and continuing exactly where you left off, is a real winner for RuneScape on mobile. Given the sheer size and depth of RuneScape, cross-play is one of the achievements of which we are most proud and gives everyone a deep, rich, MMORPG experience that you can take with you and play anywhere.

MMORPG: With the introduction of the mobile version are there new limitations in the controls interface to consider when planning new content? 

Dave Osborne: Our aim is that mobile and PC are mutually beneficial and that they are additive to each other. We will only bring mobile elements to PC if the players call for it, or if they clearly benefit both experiences. We’ve seen that happen already, with things including the environment cut-outs, where you can see your player’s silhouette through walls and trees on mobile, and that has made its way to PC.

The same will be true with design. We will look to optimize our content for mobile, but we won’t diminish our content for mobile. That’s a challenge, particularly if we want players to move seamlessly from one platform to another, but we’re seeing success.

MMORPG: As a follow-up, will content release on mobile in tandem with the PC release? 

Dave Osborne: These are the same game, the same world, and any update will appear in both simultaneously. That is absolutely essential if a player is to feel like they can move from mobile to PC and back again. There may be occasions where we bring something to mobile first, if it has been designed specifically to improve the mobile experience. This includes things such as our new tutorial on mobile, which teaches RuneScape in less than ten minutes, rather than the thirty-minute experience we have now. It’s best to test those things on mobile, gauge appreciation and look at playthrough rates and other data, and then bring them to PC if we and our players feel they’re right.

MMORPG: Will players have the same experience across the platforms? 

Dave Osborne: That’s the aim! This is one world, with two different windows into it. It may, on occasion, be more convenient - for the moment - to play on one platform over another for certain gameplay, but everything in the world is the same, the stories are the same, and the players you come across are the same. 

MMORPG: That is a lot to manage. How has it been continuing to maintain and develop RuneScape on PC while also developing the game for a whole new platform? 

Dave Osborne: RuneScape players stick with us as members knowing that their membership brings them weekly updates so that they have new challenges, quests and new ways to train their in-game skills in our ever-evolving world. It’s vital that we keep that train running, but we have the benefit of twenty years of doing exactly that, so it’s become our business-as-usual.

Doing it at the same time as creating RuneScape for mobile has been challenging from a workload perspective, but the biggest challenge has been expertise in the team. Traditionally, we’re content creators for a PC MMO, not mobile developers. We welcomed new people to the development team, who brought incredible mobile experience with them, and that has really helped us on our journey to launch.

MMORPG: With the introduction of team members with a background in mobile development will you have separate teams for maintaining the Mobile and PC platforms once everything is in full motion?

Dave Osborne: We don’t consider our teams to be specifically mobile or PC teams particularly. We have a team dedicated to the legibility of the game, including the UI, which will benefit both mobile and PC. We also have a team dedicated to the opening experience of the game which, again, will eventually be for both mobile and PC. But you can be sure that mobile will be a big factor in our decision making in the future.

MMORPG: The are definitely a lot of pros and some challenges to having one team working with both clients. Do you think that maintaining the client on multiple platforms will add a significant amount of work for the team?

Dave Osborne: Until last year, we were maintaining two parallel versions of RuneScape, as a Java game as well as on our NTX proprietary client, and before then we were maintaining a browser version of RuneScape too. We’re used to curating multiple versions of RuneScape at one time, so hopefully, it puts us in good stead for mobile! Our aim is to reach a point where mobile and PC RuneScape are mutually beneficial, and anything we do to one benefits the other.

MMORPG: I want to transition a bit and discuss the new player experience. Have you had to change up the New Player experience at all to accommodate for the mobile playing experience or has it translated well to a mobile setting? 

Dave Osborne: We knew that we’d be welcoming a load of new players when we launched on mobile, with many of them playing RuneScape for the first time and exclusively playing on mobile too. So, we’ve created a new tutorial for mobile players, which takes place on the rustic island of Davendale.

We want to give them a 10 minute taste of what makes RuneScape so joyful, which is very different from the ‘make a player completely functional’ approach that we have taken with previous tutorials on PC. Our existing desktop onboarding is thirty minutes long, but we know mobile players like a quicker intro that showcases the magic of a game, so that’s a huge step in creating a new-player experience that fits mobile behaviours

The new tutorial for mobile is only the start, as we will have a team dedicated to the new player experience and they will continue to hone the player’s journey from tutorial to Burthorpe, Lumbridge and beyond. That’s without mentioning exciting new developments this year, like an Avatar Refresh project, which will completely overhaul the player model and make it look spangly.

MMORPG: I can’t wait to hear more about the Avatar Refresh project as it comes closer to release. On that note of new content and concepts, How has adding this new platform opened up new possibilities for your player base going forward as you plan content? 

Dave Osborne: New blood is incredibly healthy for the game, and our community knows that. When we launched on Steam last year, we had hundreds of veteran players waiting to welcome the new arrivals coming into the game from Steam to give them guidance and offer them items. It seems that the player base are eager to mentor others and to pass on their knowledge, and it’s great to see that happening organically within the RuneScape community. 

New players, whether they are on mobile or not, invigorate the game, they drive the player economy and bring greater breadth to the community. Plus, so many of our active players have been crying out for mobile. We’ve seen that whenever we’ve posted on social channels. It means a greater opportunity to check in on your character, less pressure to play for long sessions, and you can catch up with your clan with a few taps. 

MMORPG: As a veteran MMO player, I can relate to the feeling of new players joining in on all of the fun. Final question; What can we look forward to post-mobile launch for RuneScape players?

Matt Casey: It’s a massive year for RuneScape content as we celebrate the game’s 20th anniversary. We began the year with the first part of Once Upon a Time, a multi-quest series that continues through the year with references to RuneScape’s past, present and future.

Other new content that features heavily this year - and really steps up a gear shortly after the mobile launch - is the Elder God Wars storyline, which features the legendary beings that created the universe.

Mobile players will join the game as that storyline intensifies and progresses towards a cataclysmic conclusion, with players finding themselves at the epicentre of a siege. Then, as Dave mentioned, we’re very excited about the work we’re now doing on the player avatar enhancements, which is already looking amazing and you’ll see a lot more on that over the next few months. 

Thanks so much to Dave Osborne and Matt Casey for taking the time to share about all the exciting things happening with RuneScape. The official release of the mobile version of RuneScape is June 17, 2021. However, you can pre-order it on both Andriod and IOS at their respective stores today. Be sure to check out all our latest articles on all things MMO over at MMORPG.com.


Matthew Keith

Hailing from the Great White North, Matt's been playing games since the Sega Master System was new. About 20 minutes after picking up his first controller he discovered he had an opinion on the matter. Ever since he has been looking for ways to share it with others! Matt's a pastor, gamer, writer, geek, co-host of @Rollthelevel podcast, husband, father, and loving every minute of it!