Old School Runescape’s Unexpected Rise in Popularity

Runescape is a veteran when it comes to MMOs. The 16-year-old game has always been a popular one but lately, there has been a surge in its popularity and suddenly more and more people are picking up the game. Of course, like any hit game, there has forever been a core group of players who have not stopped their adventure online, but it seems like those who have left in the past are returning in numbers, and they’re not coming alone. So why the sudden surge?

I’ve chatted with a few players on Reddit and in various other sources and I have a better idea of why people are returning and continuing to play. The hook is well and truly out and whatever appealed to them as younger players still resonate with them now.

One user told me that he had been playing since the early 2000’s. “I had times where I would stop playing and then come back to the game after a few months away. This would usually be when the developers released new updates like mini-games or quests. I wanted the rewards they offered and because I had a few friends who still played, it seemed worth my time.”

Runescape was one of the first truly free-to-play MMOs. It opened other developers eyes to how you could sustain a free online game, whilst still be able to cover the development costs.  Kids from all walks of life could jump online with friends without having to ask for their parent’s credit-card details. The prospect of unlimited free gaming was seductive and although the business model has changed slightly since then, it’s still just as simple to play as it was back then.

When a game offers you a simple and effective character creation like Runescape, you instantly feel at home. From slaying your first enemy to completing its effective tutorial, you can see why it’s easy to get hooked. You can even download a client that lets you play in a browser, just like old times.

For many returning players it’s a case of the familiar with a nice dose of nostalgia that brings them back. “This was the first MMO I ever played after being introduced to it by a school friend. We could stay up all night questing and I think I just grew attached to the camaraderie it offered since then” states another user. “He doesn’t play much anymore, but he tends to drop in from time to time when I tell him about the updates. I love how the developers are continuing to support a popular, yet very old game with large updates so I like to show my appreciation for that.”

The beauty this game offered was the chance to enter another world rife with dangers around every corner. Runescape actively pushed players towards working together, whether that was in your guild or teaming up following a random encounter. The sense of community this game has created is evident on the forums alone and from my experience, they seem a friendly bunch too.

Runescape steps away from the traditional co-operative MMO play of simply slaying monsters together and edges towards other diverse tasks that encourage people to work together. For example, players can borrow skills from other players at a higher level. This is quite a unique concept for an MMO, but this is just one of a number of recent changes to the game which may have impacted the surge in players returning.

One player told me “The game has really changed since its first release and most of that is for the better. I love the casual play it offers and it’s one of the first things I look for when I’m just wanting a chilled out night with my friends. You can go at the pace you want and in the direction, you want too. If you want to fight mega-bosses, then you can, but if you just want an AFK night, chopping down trees then that’s also fine.”

Of course, there have been some historic changes that haven’t gone down as well as developers Jagex would have hoped. One longtime player recalled the events telling me “Back when they (Jagex) updated the wilderness which basically changed PVP as people knew it there was outrage. Without the help of things like Facebook groups back then it was a matter of all grouping together in game to voice our displeasure.”

That said the majority of the changes have been welcomed and that only adds to people favorable loyalty to title many have played for more than 10 years. When I started speaking to the community I realized that the player base is so diverse. People of all ages group together in guilds and groups and the interaction between them seem friendly and nonhostile, for the most part.

“There are people who are 40 years old who play Runescape with their kids in my guild. There’s no bias towards younger or older players and I haven’t really found that in many online games before” A user told me.

It seems like everyone has their own reasons for still playing Runescape, but from what I’ve learned from speaking to people, nostalgia can go a long way in keeping you hooked on something. Runescape is the gateway for many of us into the world of online gaming and it works for people on both ends of the spectrum.

Casual players and hardcore players alike seem to find common ground in a non-hostile and less-trolly environment. Runescape is back on the rise and when you speak to the people at the heart of that it’s easy to see why. The world of Gielinor is still very much open for business, come in wipe your feet, perhaps even slay a zombie pirate or two.

Constantly threatening to write a book, but always with a story to tell. Tom has a typical northern English soul. He may sound as mundane as Jon Snow, but at least he tries to articulate. Lover of video games, comics, geek pop culture and wishing he could play Dungeons & Dragons.