computer games games design games industry

Jagex: Runescape is not Freemium / Free-to-play,pay-for-stuff

This is IMHO a very important point. I don’t normally tell people this – I’m quite happy for them to go around misunderstanding RS, Club Penguin, HH, et al and screwing up instead of providing credible competition for me :). But since the new CEO has just said it:

“RuneScape is different from all other MMOs in that the free game has an epic amount of content (we’d estimate over 2,000 hours worth to get all your skills up to 99 and complete all the quests) and isn’t merely a demo for the members’ version. If anything, we see the members’ version as an expansion pack for those that really love the game”

If you’re citing Runescape *anywhere* in your design, development, funding, or revenue models (or even in your secret dreams of success), you’d do well not to miss this distinction of what the RS free version is. Remember this: it was designed and built as a free game, not as freemium game. The subscriptions were never part of the plan, and the extra content for them was added on as an afterthought. If you want to go head to head with RS with your own “free” content, that’s a high bar you have to hit.

Speaking of the new CEO, Nicholas Lovell has some thoughts on what happens when you have a CTO and and a CTO run an MMO company together.

6 replies on “Jagex: Runescape is not Freemium / Free-to-play,pay-for-stuff”

Hi there, a friend of mine forwarded a blog post you wrote about a talk I gave last year. You correctly managed to express the truth behind my heretics and believers comment from the development of Warhammer.

As ever the talk was crushed down to a pithy comment and then the internet went mad and called me names.

In short heretics are talented people who just don’t meet your team ethic, they are very good at their job but a bad company fit.

These people will counter brief, destroy morale, generate bad feelings and generally be a pain. Sadly, because they have talent you can be fooled into keeping them around. But that’s just crazy, people who are good but have a poor attitude need to go. They do not believe in your companies goals and visions, they do not subscribe to the ideas you are championing and because they are talented they influence how other people think.

They are heretics, and as much as it worries you, makes you nervous, you need to let them go.

When it gets to hiring you are also faced with a dilemma.

Better to hire people with the right ‘can do’ attitude and work together as a team. And thats tough because if you come across someone who is talented but has a poor attitude, you want them to fit in, you need them to fit in and your normal radar can get scrambled. You can forgive them the personality ‘ticks’ that mean they will develop heretical thoughts. You will wind up bringing a talented malcontent into your team.

Better to embrace the less talented soul who really wants to grow and fit in. To protect against the weakness, train and improve them and encourage them to do better. This is someone who if you had to put them on a sliding scale may have less apparent ability but they shine with great attitude, these people are a good fit.

So.. if faced with 5 star ability and an average (say 3 star) attitude and another person who has 3 star ability but a 5 star attitude I say always hire the person with the best attitude.

Thanks for the comment, sadly I could find no obvious way to contact you so I posted here, I hope you don’t mind.

But it’s not 2000 hours, is it? Leveling cooking from 98 to 99, or indeed 10 to 11 is not ‘3 hours of content’, it’s ‘3 hours of meaningless grind’.

I’m not sure what the point is you’ve been coy to make in the past. Surely it’s not watching progress bars == meaningful content?

Adam –

I’ve got to say the criticism of having multiple technical people in charge of a company is more than a bit off base. Certainly having an excellent technical background does not preclude business savvy.

I think most smart Free-to-Play MMOs are designed the same way as Runescape – the free game is complete in its own right. There has been a tendency in the West to see the Free-to-Play / Free part of the “Freemium” model is a demo (and the critiques of the model also focus on the erroneous belief that you pay for a real game play advantage). As you well know, most F2P games paid benefits are from customization & convenience.

That being said, I think a lot of F2P developers don’t focus on the importance of really controlling operational costs (bandwidth/CPU) to support their “free” customers so that they can reach their paid customers profitably. I think the President of NHN said one of their MMOs cost them money every time it was played in the US because the infrastructure costs were so different (and higher) than for the game in Korea.


I don’t buy the bandwidth argumet. I believe most people who say that are liars or fools (harsh, but you wouldn’t believe the lies and illogical nonsense arguments that I’ve had from tech directors etc to justify these costs). IIRC we got the runescape hosting costs down from high six figures annually to high five figures back in 2002, and the bandwidth these days is effectively free and the hardware is literally ten to twenty times the power for the same or less cost.

I struggled to believe claims made internally at various online companies, and when I investigated them strangely enough data usually vanished / became “unavailable”.

I’m now convinced that a lot of poorly qualified IT divisions are pulling the wool over the eyes of the rest of their company. the few cases I’ve been able to find genuine justiications of high costs it has each time been that the IT director / CTO / COO has spent $250,000 multiple times a year on purchasing mediocre hardware to do a job that a $100,000 SysAdmin would implement using open source software in a couple of weeks.

thenthey spend another $250,000 on proprietary software licenses that weren’t needed.

this is not rocket science, although they often jusify it to the board with “do you want us to make buggy proprietary systems, or purchase professional off the shelf?”. in reality it never is off the shelf, it always needs customization, and the “industry standrad” is the DIY approach usig mug higher quality open source components.

it’s a basic lack of ability at the senior mgmt level, and an attitude of “no one ever got fired for buying (pointlessly expesnive) Microsoft licenses”.



but strangely hard to find ANY public data on infrastrucutre costs for other peoples games.

anyway, IME: if it costs too much then you’re doing it wrong and need to hire some higher quality sysadmins. every time I’ve thought we’d need to spend a lot more we’ve fixed it beter just from our internal staff getting clever with the available systems.

some of the above comment is worded badly and comes across not how intended, but the crap crap crap Safari-on-iPhone makes editing text practically impossible, sorry.

@Adam –

I agree with what you said… but the point for both of us is identical – it is very important in a F2P environment to control costs for free customers… everything you said is part of a successful strategy to do so.

I think the subscription model has allowed people to be lazy in thinking about operational costs… and that operational issues should be considered from day one (or zero) of the development process. F2P SHOULD make you want to wring everything out of your infrastructure you can (while planning for growth).

As you noted, the capabilities of hardware have been growing virtually exponentially. Yet I talk to game companies that don’t consider leasing server hardware but buy it.

… of course this all follows from the rather absurd general argument that the only way to be a “games tech director” (or a number of other areas in games development) is to be from the game industry as opposed to a tech director from elsewhere .

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