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Interviews: Mark Ogilvie Talks

By Adam Tingle on February 14, 2011

Mark Ogilvie Talks

Be sure to read Adam Tingle's Runescape: The Wilderness & Free Trade Return.

With recent conversions to F2P such as LoTRO and EQ2 Extended, how are you finding RuneScape is coping?

Mark Ogilvie:

Lots of people will type free MMORPG in a search engine and there will always be multiple choices. Lots of players will make multiple accounts before they decide on a game, that is our audience. A lot of what we are doing is making the free game more accessible in terms of the sign-up process, less ticking of boxes, and finding a username can also be difficult. We have recently improved our registration process to suit this - even to the point of Facebook integration etc which is coming soon. These are all things that our competitors do straight away, so we see this and think 'ok let's do this' because there a now more destinations for players to go to - however - there are more people with PCs and more people with an interest in our type of games. So I don't think we compromise our game play or our storytelling because of what other developers are doing. Basically we offer a different experience so our audience is roughly speaking the same as ever.


How many hours would say is in the free-side of the game?

Mark Ogilvie:

A massive number, it scares a lot of people the number is so big. It depends if you want to reach the cap in every available level, over 10,000 hours I would happily say in the free game - of course if you are a member you have the same as the F2P side but all of the premium content of questing and activities etc. Our mindset has always been, hopefully if you play the free-side you will want to convert to full-membership but I don't mind as we don't ever see our freebie section as a demo to the premium stuff - it is a game onto itself and we love our free playing community.

Adam Tuckwell:

On the F2P side of things, we just really love the stories that come out of it and that it does bring people together; we heard of this one that a grandfather and his grandson who live opposite sides of the world meet up together and go fishing - it's just really sweet and we obviously allow people to do that kind of thing. It just reminds us of how diverse our game is and if you want to power-level to the caps, do it, that's fine, but if you want to meet up socialize and just immerse yourself in this fantasy setting, that's great.

Lots of people, myself included, don't always have access to high-end machines, do you think the undemanding requirements of RuneScape is one of its successes?

Mark Ogilvie:

We always want to make sure that we run on as many pieces of technology as possible, we are low spec and purposely do so. Of course now we have our HD mode which actually looks pretty damn good - I am really proud of how that browser performs now. But if you are really low spec, you can still play RuneScape on a dial-up connection or netbook etc. I always think about this picture that I saw around 5 years ago; it was a library in Romania with the article beneath saying on the weekend it gets the kids in because they are playing computer games - most of them are playing online games and on the screens, every single screen is playing RuneScape. These are low-spec computers and bad connections, and this is very important to us. We are a free game at the end of the day appealing to a budget market, and let's be honest the price of membership is pretty low - about the price of a pint and a half of lager right? We talk in pints at RuneScape.

How much is the price of membership for RuneScape?

Adam Tuckwell:

$5.95, but the amount of content you get for that is huge, we have had a members-side since 2004 and have 40 updates per-year. For the price we like to think we deliver good value.

Mark Ogilvie:

Exactly, that many quests, that many skills and of course Dungeoneering our brand new skill.

Dungeoneering is fairly new to the game, can you explain it a little more?

Adam Tuckwell:

Mark will do that all day long.

Mark Ogilvie:

It's the thing I'm most proud of. OK, so you've experienced most MMO-play right? You get to a point in your career where you load up the game and look at your task list, your achievements, your bank: your thinking what am I going to do? You've got so much content to go into etc etc. Sometime players even log-out because they can't decide what to do, basically not everyone logs in with a plan of action. What I wanted to do was deliver bite-sized chunks of game play for someone who says "entertain me right now, I want to go do something right now". So what Dungeoneering does, it looks at your levels, what you like to do and builds a dungeon based around you. The system it uses is akin to something like Warhammer 40k with point based armies - so when you head into the starting room, you have all these different things, equipment, food etc to choose from. So what happens is the system decides that you are worth a certain amount of points, you start your adventure in the first room and the monsters spend the same amount of points decking themselves out to give you a challenge, or alternatively, the system says 'you are this powerful, here is the puzzle or challenge'. So it does this for up to 5 players, so you can go in with 4 mates and it would build a dungeon for you and your mates. There is nothing out there that does that on the market. If you look at instancing, an instanced dungeon is the whole map spread out in the same shape and you know what's going to happen every time. You start Dungeoneering and you never know what's going to happen - and to further this, we have complexity levels, if you want a Diablo-hack-and-slash experience? Complexity level 1. Basically you create your experience based on your taste and mood at the time.

So how do players access Dungeoneering?

Mark Ogilvie:

For your first time you have to travel to a ring at the top half of the map and from then on, you press a button and it is an instant thing.

How do you feel that this kind of game play fits in with players looking for that spark of immersion?

Mark Ogilvie:

Now, there is story built into the dungeons: essentially the dungeons were built a long time ago by a god, he was trying to do something very clever - but I can't really tell you too much as the players haven't worked it out just yet, I don't want to spoil it! There is a lot of back story to the whole thing, and when we build content we always try to build it with that kind of player in mind; lots of players want it to be a medieval adventurer-experience and whenever you talk about a lever or a button, they don't want to hear that, that is your fourth wall. Sometimes we have to say 'we have to take care of the fourth wall' and sometimes we have to say 'look don't worry about the forth wall' such as in tutorials etc.

Recently I sat down and went back through the tutorial stages of the game, what I found refreshing about RuneScape was its lack of 'you are the hero, you will go and save the world from evil' is this something that is important to you as storyteller?

Mark Ogilvie:

That is really important to me; OK, you can play Fable and you are born a hero, you are the embodiment of hero - I think when you log into RuneScape every one has the potential to be an adventurer but if you just want to be a grafter, you don't have to present to be a hero, your just a civilian, not everyone has to the save world in our game.

So would you say that RuneScape tries to encapsulate the essence of 'Choose your own Adventure?'

Mark Ogilvie:

Definitely and I think one thing that helps with that, and hinders in some ways, is our class system. A lot of games will say 'you're going to have to play a certain class: a warrior, ranger, whatever' RuneScape doesn't do that. Now the beauty of this is that your never forced in a direction and you are just allowed to develop as you like. If you are someone who wants to balance your levels or be a specialist in strength: effectively your giving yourself a class - and that is great. The downside to this however, it is a little bit overwhelming. So that is why we are creating things like the Task System, with achievement-diary tasks and also learning tasks so that we can direct players to the best bits of game play and help them make those choices.

So with 'Choose your own Adventure' in mind, do you find that this converts into a strong Role Playing community within the game?

Mark Ogilvie:

Not as much as I would like, I'm a story teller and roleplayer at heart; I worked at Dungeons and Dragons for a couple of years and that is where I learnt games design really. I've been into role-playing all my life and that's why I love it here at Jagex: I know ultimately we are an MMO and we have to have stats and experience but the storytelling aspects we get to put in the game are fantastic and that's what rocks my boat figuratively speaking. So to assist players in trying to create their own stories we have put in just little things like dice in the game, or a voting hat which goes red or green for whatever and then further you can have a clan chat vote and you put on your hat 'yes' or 'no' and the leader can count the votes having a system that says, this amount of that colour and vice versa. We also have flags so players can do races, one thing that is player-created is the 'hide and seek' that players play or RuneGolf. The community makes up crazy games and we try in any way we can to further this for our players. I love players who are creative like that.

Do you find that your community is instrumental in a lot of the ideas you get for the game?

Mark Ogilvie:

They give us really cool ideas no doubt, I love going through the forums and the RP threads with people coming up with their own stories and genuinely I give my developers time to go onto the forums to talk to the players to get involved with some of the concepts the players are coming up with and some of RP stuff.

There is a real thirst within the MMO community for a sandbox game with all the elements of fluff, PvE, and PvP and players are looking to new releases for this. As RuneScape contains all of the aforementioned elements, why do you think it is not a noted contender for players looking for this experience?

Mark Ogilvie:

I think with a game as successful as RuneScape and one that has been about for such a long time, it's very easy for people to judge it on the first time they played. I speak to a lot of people who say they played it more than five years ago and don't realize it's not the same game - they don't imagine it can evolve. RuneScape has 40 updates per year, it evolves and changes so often; so people judge it on that first experience which is fine, but, people need to realize that RuneScape does evolve and it has evolved just as our competitors have. The other issue is obviously the graphics; if you're a console gamer and are used to buying a £40 game with triple-A graphics, you instantly judge a product on the first thing that you see. Now, if you run RuneScape on full Hi-Def, it is a very good game graphically but still a lot of people feel it is not enough for them. For us though it is all about the game play, at the end the day if you are going to invest that amount of time, and all MMOs are an investment of time, it's the game play you want, the immersion, the belonging to a world, the PvP, the ability to go off beaten track, the story, the grind, even chilling out with your mates or putting on a costume and pretending your name is Bob - You just want to do a lot of different things and RuneScape is the place for that. People shouldn't judge the game based on preconceptions of the game years ago or indeed the graphics of a triple-A title. In regards to the graphics though, I can say that we are constantly looking all the time to improve with water-shaders and various different texturing approaches. If you look at other browser-based games we are still miles ahead. Basically if you want a sandbox environment, RuneScape has got that with the game play we offer.

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