How Free Can You Be: RuneScape

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How Free Can You Be is a series of articles I had the idea for way back in 2009, and it deals with a complaint that I see a lot when it comes to MMOs: Players who don’t know what they’re going to be expected to pay for before they jump in. The idea was put on hiatus between 20010-2012 because of the massive amount of MMOs transitioning to free to play, and even those free to play models making pretty dramatic changes. So after waiting for the market to settle down, I’ve decided to give the column another go.

For the first game to cover under the new editorial, I’ve decided to pick RuneScape. If you have any feedback, I would love to hear it in the comments section below.

1. Free To Play Vs Membership

For the most part, RuneScape is still technically a “freemium” title, that is to say a game where a wealth of content is available to free players with the option to pay a subscription for the whole package. Membership costs approximately $8 a month and gives access to everything not part of Solomon’s General Store (more on that later).

There are 25 skills in RuneScape, all of which can be trained by free players to a certain extent. There are nine skills that were previously available to members only, but can be trained up to a maximum of level five which offers a bare minimum for items in those skills. There is an exception to this, since free players still don’t have access to player owned housing, and therefore have no use for leveling construction. Otherwise players have access to basic potions, fletching, agility items, and more.

For the other sixteen skills, free players are able to level all the way to end-game (99 per skill, 120 for Dungeoneering) with certain limitations in access to weapons, equipment, potions, areas, and monsters. All of these restrictions, it should be pointed out, are lifted under membership and are not sold ala carte in the cash shop as in Turbine’s MMOs. As far as quests, skills, locations, mini-games, etc are concerned you are either limited behind free to play or you pay the $5-8 a month to unlock all of it. Jagex estimates approximately five thousand hours worth of gameplay available to free players. Skills that are fully available to free players are still limited once you hit higher levels. The most powerful tiers of equipment and better money/exp making areas are members only. For the sake of not pushing free players away, Jagex limits the use of members items to members worlds, so you will never be outmatched in PvP because the guy you’re fighting has equipment that you can’t access.

Overall, the freemium system in RuneScape is pretty inoffensive. Jagex has ramped up over the past couple of years bringing more content to those who aren’t willing to fork over a subscription, including opening up a preview of members skills, and CEO Mark Gerhard has even gone to some length to remove many of the in-your-face members advertisements that existed in the game world. New content is released every single week, with some exceptions, and except in a few cases is mostly members only.

2. Solomon’s Store

Solomon’s Store acts as RuneScape’s cash shop, and is the most likely reason that this “How Free Can You Be” article will need to be updated by the end of the year. Solomon’s items can be purchased by free players or members, with members receiving one free promotional item per month as well as a 10% discount on anything on sale in the store. The store has some pretty regular promotions, and nothing is as obscenely priced as you might find in some other games.

As for “pay to win,” that depends on your view of the game’s goals. Since RuneScape is all about leveling your skills and collecting large quantities of stuff, the fact that there are emotes and cosmetic outfits hidden behind the paywall will offend some more than it will others. For the most part, the goods in Solomon’s Store are purely aesthetic. Alternate animations to gathering or crafting skills, emotes and teleports don’t change the function of the skill itself, but they do allow you to show off to your fellow players. Cosmetic outfits that display over your equipment allow you to fight in style, with varying degrees of fashion.

Where Solomon’s store does step into the pay-for-advantage realm is in the pets. There are currently three pets for sale that can forage for items, but they can also bank one item every ten minutes from a player’s inventory (excluding when in the wilderness pvp area). The pet can also scavenge items dropped from enemies. Players are also able to buy bank boosters, increasing bank slots in increments of 50 up to five times. Jagex has stated that the bank boosters were supposed to be buyable with membership “loyalty points” accrued each month, however that has not been added in yet.

3. Squeal of Fortune

Squeal of Fortune is a small activity where players receive daily stipends of tickets to spin a giant wheel of fortune. Players can also choose to buy spins for real money, and spins can be received randomly in-game while skilling, fighting, or taking part in other activities. Rewards offered are mostly experience lamps, experience pendants (double experience gain in a skill up to a certain amount), low to mid level resources, cosmetic items, experience boosting clothes, and more.

In a previous article I wrote, I discussed that while Squeal of Fortune has the capacity to enrich a player who spends a good deal on spins, the odds of getting that lucky off of the mini-game are extremely low and, ultimately, a massive waste of money that could have been better spent as a donation to your old pal Uncle Omali. You have the chance of obtaining a grand prize of 200 million gold, high end equipment that is character bound, and more, but with how low the odds are, you’re better off planning for the martians to invade earth.

Perhaps the highest criticism against Squeal of Fortune has to do with the fact that there are indeed items that can shake up the game that are time-sensitive, a blatant and unapologetic grab by Jagex to encourage buying large quantities of spins. There was an uproar when Jagex introduced a discontinued rare item into Squeal of Fortune for a limited time. The developer has also recently taken to retiring items from Squeal of Fortune, again to gin up more spin purchases.

4. Conclusion

As far as RuneScape goes, you can’t get much better in terms of an inoffensive cash shop. Free to play has access to a lot of content, and membership grants access to every quest, monster, skill, and location. As I said earlier, with Jagex’s commitment to weekly content updates, odds are that this article will need to be updated in the future, in which case you will see a notice on this page.

To give some perspective, I originally pitched the How Free Can You Be set of articles in 2011, and picked RuneScape because it was the easiest game to review, with neither Solomon’s Store or Squeal of Fortune present. Barring Squeal of Fortune having a habit of some rather unsavory business practices, I give Jagex an A- on the “How Free Can You Be” meter, since the game can be played to its full extent without paying a dime above the membership cost, and Squeal of Fortune can still be enjoyed with the daily stipends.

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