Classic online Runescape set a record at the start of November 2020 for the most concurrent players the series has ever experienced. Even more impressive, this wasn’t for a recent version of the game, but rather the older fork based on the 2007 release. Announced by the lead content developer on Twitter, this record sat at 157,445 simultaneous users.
— Mod Kieren (@JagexKieren) November 1, 2020
One of the oldest remaining MMORPGs, the original Runescape went live in January 2001. Quickly becoming famed as a free, fun, and low-requirement game, it offered a profound look into the future of online gaming. Being built on such a limited engine, however, meant that it had to undergo a series of massive content and gameplay updates.
Rather than completely replace old assets, the developer Jagex took an interesting route of cutting Runescape into different versions. Named Runescape 2 and 3, running simultaneous versions allowed players to stick to exactly what it was they loved, without losing the game to changes.
Why the Popularity?
The fundamental reasons for the popularity of Runescape Classic tie into two elements, playerbase, and reputation. For playerbase, the majority of users got involved with Runescape in its early stages. This gave a connection of nostalgia which stood the test of time. Even when the later iterations released, players longed for the classic experience, so they stuck with it.
Over the years, this cemented Runescape Classic with one of the most famed reputations of all online games. Stories of heroic victories, hilarious bugs, and world-changing events still permeate online forums from over a decade ago, giving newer players a reason to be interested.
Given the relatively young age of online video games, events such as this are rare. However, they do have precedents in other forms of interactive entertainment. One of the best examples of this could be found in online casino games, like those at Space Casino. Here, titles like First Person Baccarat and the Vegas Nightlife slots rely on histories going back decades. While updated, these still stay true to the fun of their original versions.
The other side of this popularity is well illustrated by the tragic tale of Star Wars Galaxies. Originally heralded as the first title to truly live up to the ideal of an open Star Wars game, the galaxy eventually soured. Patches kept making modifications to the base gameplay, oversimplifying what players loved in order to draw in new audiences.
What happened was the opposite effect. Patches and the New Game Enhancements, or NGE, made Galaxies bland, as Raph Koster explains. Rather than giving players a way to keep enjoying what they already loved, the developer Sony Online Entertainment forced everyone into a new system. The new system was unpopular, and so the game died out.
Not the Best Looking
When newer gamers see the success of titles like Runescape, their first comments usually revolve around how poorly it has aged. Undeniably, Runescape is a limited experience visually, yet this has never really hurt the player numbers. What this record and the game’s continued success has proved is that looks don’t matter as much as we might think. Really, it’s the gameplay, legacy, and community which keeps a game strong. Runescape might not ever be good looking, but it will always be popular for these reasons, and this has meant there is no end in sight for the series.