On the face of it, RuneScape The First 20 Years is the perfect holiday gift for that 2000s kid in your life. Full of nostalgia, it's hard to turn pages without wanting to run Old School RuneScape. But if you read on, it's a very bittersweet story, as it was lightning in a bottle that would likely never be caught again, and certainly not on the same scale.
We still have cute, independent success stories, and maybe more now that major studios are seeing its value. But RuneScape's story is based on trial and error, which developers rarely face these days. The Gower brothers became an organic community over the years, making mistakes and leaping forward as the state of the industry at the time allowed it. Nothing like RuneScape could be created today.
RuneScape is a multi-year project with passion developed by three brothers in their parents' kitchen. They did this by using free software from game magazines. It has been redeemed so they can justify working on it full time, but the game is still completely free at the same time.
From this kitchen, the brothers finally got their first office - and continued to build their own desks and computers while interviewing prospective employees. It's a lovely story that we all like to believe can happen across the industry.
However, you only need to look at the current MMO games to realize that this is not the case.
Enter a new world. This latest MMO game is powered by Amazon, a gross employment rights infringer and an incredibly wealthy CEO. It costs $ 40 to start and you get microtransactions. Undoubtedly, RuneScape popularized the live service model years before the big players jumped on it, but all its followers spoiled the idea.
"It really didn't make any money, but we've put in so much work at the moment and so many people have been playing," said Andrew Gower in one of the many interviews included in the book. “It was exciting to see 2,000 or 3,000 users simultaneously enjoying the game, many people talking in the forums and loving RuneScape. I just wanted to do it. It was fun, even if it wasn't profitable. "
So we kept the free membership level - they didn't want to scare their players. And as we know, it definitely worked, popularity was just growing.
But as The First 20 Years explains, RuneScape didn't hit the top without some flaws. Even those of us who played the game religiously in 2000 would likely have problems with the first release, now known as RuneScape Classic. Players could attack anyone, even each other. The graphics were beyond the basics. Only about 1,200 players can fit simultaneously without crashing.
Games shouldn't make mistakes anymore. Titanfall 2 is not getting the resources needed to repair an online PC game. The Anthem was scrapped in the middle of a major redevelopment. Fable Legends was decommissioned before it could even be fully launched. No, now you either have to be Fortnite or die trying.
A programmer's passion can also be largely irrelevant to a publisher. Dragon Age 4 has been canceled twice due to disturbances that continually dictate the direction of the game. Metal Gear fans who clearly want single-player games got the Metal Gear Survive co-op game in 2018. Not to mention all the subsidiaries Activision Blizzard waste on the continual development of Call of Duty.
Thank goodness Jagex was created at a time when he was able to remain independent. When the player base began to stagnate in the late 2000s, the publisher would likely pull the plug. Hell, Raven Software started firing people while Warzone was making billions, so even success could spell disaster for the people behind the game.
The success stories we receive sometimes seem like exceptions to the rule. Stars had to adapt to Among Us to find their player base long after release, and arguably the biggest example of this - without the help of a major publisher - was Undertale in 2017.
For this reason, RuneScape The First 20 Years is a must read not only for all fans of the game, but also for anyone who cares about the direction in which the history of games is headed. It reminds us that we are an indie scene that is constantly vying for attention in a huge market.
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