The past year or so has shown RuneScape to be one of the oddest games I’ve ever had to cover here at MMO Fallout. While traditional MMOs branch out with expansion packs, often times altering their names to match the latest version, RuneScape is one of the first that I’ve seen to actively spin itself off into new modes. Granted this has always been the case, with the original RuneScape existing alongside the updated version as RuneScape Classic, but what Jagex has done with these new titles is to create entirely separate entities, actively developed, with their own communities and economies.
Old School RuneScape popped up in 2013 with a crazy premise: Reboot the game as it was in late 2007 with active content development that would only be implemented if 75% of the (voting) community approved of it. In September this year, we saw the launch of DarkScape, a pvp-oriented mode with open fighting, multiple Grand Exchanges and banks, and a world very different than the one players were used to. Last month saw the launch of Deadman mode, a hardcore variant of Old School.
In Deadman mode, dying means not only losing the items in your inventory, but a notable amount of experience and a substantial number of items in your bank as well. Killing others is just as dangerous, as it means being stranded out in the open for a good half hour before you can get back into the safety of town, a marker over your head letting everyone know that you’re carrying goods on you.
I had a chance interview with Mat K, product manager for Old School RuneScape, to discuss how the game mode came to be, where it has been, and where it is going.
Connor: Deadman was community polled, correct?
Mat: That’s right, yea. When I started playing RuneScape back in 2004, and my wife introduced me to it, I sat there and thought you know what would be really good is if this game was a pvp game, there was pvp everywhere. Little did I know at the time it used to be back in classic, but it’s taken me ten, eleven years, but I finally got us a proper hardcore pvp version of the game out there, and it’s just great.
Connor: Was it difficult to pitch Deadman as something to put active developers on?
Mat: No, not at all. The biggest challenge for Deadman was the technical challenge behind actually making it work rather than the content challenge for content developer. Fortunately we’ve got Ian Gower on our team who does all the technical side of stuff, which we needed and he was up for it. It was a real big challenge for everybody but everybody wanted to make it work so they could see the value in it.
Connor: How closely connected are Deadman and Old School in terms of updates?
Mat: The way it currently works is that the basic game is going to be the same for both, so if we make an update on Old School that same update will be on Deadman as well. It doesn’t have to remain that way, we can put them on completely separate builds and develop them separately as things go forward, but right now it works on the same build mainly because it is easier for us to do it that way.
Connor: Do you see Deadman evolving into its own product the same way DarkScape was pitched?
Mat: It could do. Deadman’s been out for three weeks, it’s too early to say whether it will or it won’t. We’ve got the option to do it, and if it gets super big we can give it its own website and its own development team and everything else. But we don’t want to rush that too early, right now three weeks in we need to watch what’s going on to see how the players react to it, see what they’re doing in the long term, look at the viability of it in the long term, and if it needs more support we will do that, if it doesn’t then we won’t.
Connor: Speaking of players, has Deadman brought back players in the same way that Old School did?
Mat: Loads, and these players aren’t going anywhere else, they’re staying and playing the game which is wonderful.
Connor: So it does have good retention?
Mat: Absolutely. We’ve had hundreds of thousands of players and out of the core group of players who actually play the game, we’re talking a retention of over 90%. It shocked us when I got the report through today and I had to go back and double check it to make sure it was right, and it was so that’s how much it shocked us as well.
Connor: DarkScape was something that came out of Deadman, correct?
Mat: Not really. They were designed very separately. We had the idea first, we were developing what we wanted it to be and polling it through the community, and at the same time the same idea was going through RuneScape, can we make a pvp type of game work. They were developed completely independently and some of the mechanics we came up with arrived at completely separate places. So it wasn’t a result of Deadman mode, it arrived along the same sort of thinking.
Connor: From my own play time, it seemed that gold farmers were initially a problem but then disappeared. Is the Deadman environment too hostile?
Mat: There’s been no problem with gold farmers at all, there was a lot of noise on day one where I think they thought they could make a lot of money by selling stuff really expensively, but there’s been no large influx of bots at all since it came out. We track those numbers very carefully, it’s been much lower than we ever expected it to be. I think it’s because you just can’t farm gold in the game because you’d be killed doing it, if you tried to use a bot to do it you’d be dead in no time at all. It’s just not worth a bot farmer’s efforts to actually do that.
Connor: Have you seen a noticeable problem with players using mule accounts, alternate accounts to safely store items?
Mat: Not significantly, we’ve got some reports that run that as well. What a lot of people seem to be doing, we’re absolutely fine with, is they have multiple accounts that do multiple things. So you’ve got one account with a set of protected skills and another account with a different set of protected skills. They can trade between those accounts and move the items around there, that’s what most people seem to be doing, but mule accounts in themselves haven’t appeared yet.
Connor: Do you have any ideas for where the game is headed that you can share?
Mat: It all depends, we’re three weeks in, it is too early to say for sure where we’re going. We’ve got some great ideas of what we want to do, for example what we’re looking at doing next year is to run a tournament in Deadman worlds, so effectively we’ll create our own Deadman world for a four day long event, we’ll ramp up the exp so you’ll get ten, twenty times the exp, and throughout those four days we’ll start taking away the safe zones. At the end of the four days, we’ll put everybody in one spot, everybody will kill each other, and there will be a winner, and that winner will win a whole lot of cash.
The other big question that players are asking about is can we turn it into a seasonal thing? Again, that’s something we’re quite happy to do if it is the right thing to do, but three weeks in we don’t want to make those decisions yet because we don’t know how it’s going to be in another month’s time. We need to watch carefully, make the sensible decisions now, make the sensible changes now, but watch what the long term impact of making these changes will be and then we’ll make the decision.
Connor: What is the status of the Grand Exchange in Deadman mode?
Mat: There is no Grand Exchange in Deadman mode itself, what happens with the Grand Exchange in Old School is we take the value of items from that to work out the value of items when you die so players can get the most expensive items. We’ve got no plans to put the Grand Exchange into Deadman mode mainly because it will make the game too easy.
One of the core things we’re focusing on at the moment is to make sure that we’re supporting the players who want to play Deadman mode for what it is, so for the core group of players that is a very hardcore and difficult to play game and if you die you lose an awful lot of things. Now there’s some players that are coming to us and saying it’s too difficult, it’s too hard, but if we start looking at why people are not playing the game and are moving away to our other games, we then run the risk of turning Deadman into something that is too easy for our core group of players.
Connor: The game has been balanced where guards are more deadly, but there are also updates like health insurance. How do you decide what updates get polled, what goes past polling, and what isn’t up for debate?
Mat: The way we look at it, what is the best thing for the game long term. If there is an update which isn’t critical for the long term success of the game then we’re quite happy to poll it to the players and let it work out, but if it’s critical we have to make the decision of do we poll it to the players, will the players vote for it to start with, and then we can make that decision on a case by case basis, there is no hard rule.
For example, we made some changes to the death mechanics when people die in guarded zones, and that was something that was designed to stop a particular form of gameplay that was damaging to the game. So we made that change, we weren’t going to poll it because it was going to damage the game if we let it continue, and we will continue to do that. As long as it isn’t critical to the long term success of the game, we will poll the players on everything.
The hitpoint insurance, for example, was something that as far as we were concerned wasn’t going to be a major changeup to the game going forward. I think it was a good thing to have, but we let the players have the final decision on that one.
Connor: Do you keep stats on how much is being dropped and killed off of players?
Mat: We do, I can’t remember one off the top of my head. Everything in game is monitored so I have an analytic team that I send an email to and they come back to me with numbers, but we do monitor everything.
Connor: A few of the Jagex mods livestream Deadman mode. Do you as well?
Mat: Yes, I did it for the first week and it was very good fun. Nobody managed to kill me which was quite nice.
Connor: What is your greatest kill?
Mat: About twenty minutes chasing my wife all over the place until I finally killed her. We’ve got a very RuneScape family, I play it, my wife introduced me to it.
Connor: It sounds like many of the Jagex employees are people who have been playing the game for quite a while.
Mat: Everybody in the entire Old School team apart from Mod Gareth have played for ten years plus. We’ve all grown up with RuneScape and this is why we love doing what we’re doing, because this is a game we grew up with. None of us, apart from Ian obviously who started making it, thought we’d end up making the game that we loved playing, so it’s a dream come true for all of us.
I’d like to thank Mat K for taking the time out of his day to come talk to us about Deadman mode, and I would also like to thank everyone who put in the effort to make this interview possible.