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Idle Adventures - Big Story in Bitesize Chunks

Gareth Harmer Posted:
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Building an idle game seems like an odd choice for an MMO studio. But the more I heard about Runescape: Idle Adventures, the more the concept intrigued me. By taking the crafting elements of an MMO, adding a heavy dose of RPG-style storytelling, and serving it up in bitesize gameplay, Jagex hopes to bring the world of Gielinor to a brand new audience.

By partnering with Hyper Hippo, developers of the smartphone hit Adventure Capitalists, Jagex also hope to win over two distinct groups: gamers in search of some ‘second screen’ activity that they can check on while playing or working; and former Runescape fans that can’t commit the hour a day they feel the MMO needs. It’s a game that’s intended to be incredibly casual-friendly, but with an authentic and familiar story to satisfy that adventuring hunger.

During Runescape’s 15th year anniversary celebrations, I had the chance to sit down with Mark Ogilvie, Design Director at Jagex, and Cody Vigue, Lead Designer at Hyper Hippo and creator of Adventure Capitalist. Together, they told me of their plans to build a new style of idle game that evolves over time, how Idle Adventures would tie-in with Runescape the MMO, and what all this has to do with cabbages.

It all centres around Sally, the placeholder shorthand they’ve given to a player-controlled character, and who can be any gender and name the player chooses. A benevolent, powerful being that doesn’t seem to be a god, and yet wields The Needle, a new and powerful elder artefact. With this tool, I’m told that Sally will help the various towns and settlements of Runescape, and forming her own alliances on the way. From the initial sound of things, it sounds ideal for those former MMO fans that find themselves with precious little time for gaming in today’s hectic world.

MMORPG.com: Was your intention to make a game like this?

Mark Ogilvie: I’ve been obsessed with idle games for quite some time, as someone who’s heavily into hard-core MMO experiences. And my life changed – I got family – and suddenly there’s a lot more pressure on the time that you have. So I found myself looking at idle games and thinking ‘These games fit in with what I’m doing’.

At the same time, with Runescape, we’ve got 240 million accounts, so many people playing this game, loads playing it now, but even more people that used to play. They still log on, they play tiny little bits of the game, they follow us on social media. They want to experience Runescape. But, as is often the case with MMO players, they feel that if you haven’t got an hour a day to invest, why are you playing it?

So at home I’m playing Idle games, and at work I’m thinking ‘How can we give them a bitesize experience of the Runescape world in a compelling way? Hang on a minute, there’s an obvious answer.’ So I spent ages talking to my bosses about doing a Runescape idle game, but it was still an emerging genre and they weren’t quite sure about it, and they’re hard-core gamers themselves.

And then, last year, these guys [Hyper Hippo] start making huge impacts in the market, and people start looking, and people who thought they weren’t going to be interested in playing games like that; I walk around the office and everyone’s got Adventure Capitalist running on their computer. While they’re doing work, they flip back, they do a bit of AdCap, they go back. Neil [McClarty, Commercial Director at Jagex] said ‘Why don’t we contact the guys who made this game you’re playing, and ask them?’

It made perfect sense. As a player of games, you don’t understand how those two things can work – an MMO and an idle game. But, as a designer, there are a lot of similarities and experiences, and it just made sense. It’s a kind of perfect union, as far as I’m concerned, because [Hyper Hippo] can represent the Idle side, and I can represent the MMO side, and then we make this joyous thing in the middle.

Cody Vigue: When Adventure Capitalists took off – and it took off in a big way – we were like ‘Yes! Now we get to make what we want and do whatever we want, right? The world is our oyster.’ And we certainly got other offers, like ‘Do you want to do Adventure Capitalists with this skin, or this theme.’

And then we got this email [from Jagex] asking ‘Hey, do you want to chat?’ That had such a huge part of my formative design years, because I played the MMO. We weren’t interested in any kind of work-for-hire scenario; in order for us to invest our passion and interest in a product, and get our full engagement, it was something we needed to be able to creatively contribute to. And Jagex as well, it had to be something that we were mutually invested in.

MMORPG.com: With idle games, they tend to have this huge moment in the sun and then fade off into darkness. How are you hoping to prevent that with Idle Adventures?

Vigue: Adcap has only grown since we launched on mobile. And that’s not just from adding platforms – if you look at the retention graphs, AdCap hasn’t longtailed yet. It’s grown and plateaued, grown and plateaued. It’s one of these weird things with idle games, they have phenomenal retention, so much so that we have fans that are like ‘I’ve been with you for two years, and you haven’t updated this thing,’ or ‘I want to see this thing now finally.’ Two years? There’s very few games that I would play for that long with that amount of engagement.

I think that a lot of the idle games that fade treat them like a fad, and I think that they were an underground genre. They were made mostly for fun, or to make fun of games. Adventure Capitalists was the first time where we went ‘Wait, this has mainstream appeal, let’s do something that makes you feel good. It’s okay to play an idle game. It’s a casual game but you can play it on your own terms.’

I personally feel that the continued lore and the connection to the living world, with Runescape, is a new ingredient in creating longer term engagement, and more emotional attachment to the content.

MMORPG.com: Runescape has fanatical players, and you’re giving Idle Adventures an important part of the story. How do you think they’ll react?

Ogilvie: We have to be very careful with everything that we do. From the beginning, I didn’t want to create a game that was on the fringes of Runescape. I wanted it to mean something to the players. If you want that, then you have to be prepared to identify the storylines that you want to be explored in a different way.

One of the things that we talked out early on, was the concept of giving players content that they knew and loved from Runescape, but were experiencing in a different sort of way through Idle Adventures. You’ve got a different sort of character with a different relationship with the world, and so you can explore story options that you didn’t explore before. Or you can give them the beginnings of a classic quest that they know back to front, and then give them different options, different ways of solving the problems. And I actually think that’s quite cool.

Vigue: The most crucial element for the game, in order to be embraced by the Runescape community – even beyond its mechanics – is authenticity and consistency with the world. If anything feels off, or contradicts the lore, that’s the thing that disconnects me. It’s an important thing to get the small details right, because that’s ultimately what’s going to connect the player.

MMORPG.com: What do you think will make Idle Adventures successful and have real staying power?

Ogilvie: For me it’s simple: it’s about putting depth into an idle experience, and making the decisions that I make meaningful. We know that idle games are successful, but then sometimes they die out, or players feel that there’s not enough of themselves in it. Take an RPG – you’re coming up with meaningful character relationships, choices, and experiences. You combine all of those ingredients, and that’s a successful product.

Vigue: I think that, outside of Runescape, I think that idle games have a lot more to offer. I think that if we can offer an idle game that tells a story, this is the next key innovation for the genre. No-one’s done it yet that I’m aware of – I’ve played a lot, and nobody’s done the lore-rich long-term kind of story. I can’t tell you for certainty that it’ll work, but I can tell you that it’s the thing that’s most compelling to me, that I can imagine myself playing.

If it works as an idle game, if it works as a storytelling vehicle, and if it works for the fans – all those components will make it a huge success.

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Gareth Harmer

Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.