Designer Diary: Episodic Content
It's traditional for us to assess our plans as the year reaches its halfway point, and we're going to shift our focus to four key areas of the RuneScape experience:
To reflect this we've split RuneScape development into three teams - Episodic Content, Live Ops, and Core Game Experience & Mobile. Over the coming months you can expect dev diaries detailing these teams and the road ahead for the game. Each diary will include both a video hosted by me – Mod Osborne – alongside a guest who knows the topic inside out, as well as a written version (like this one) and a livestream to address any questions you have.
Today we're kicking things off with a look at the Episodic Content Team.
You’re probably hazy about what ‘Episodic Content’ means. Quests, combat challenges, skill training, landmasses - the things you play and do in the game are all Episodic Content. And with a whole team now focused on exclusively that, you can expect this content to get A) better and B) more frequent. And with me as product owner, we’re going to ensure that no other work disturbs that vision. It’s a huge part of why you play the game, and we're going to ensure that we deliver.
We believe that RuneScape faces three core problems, and the Episodic Content team will be integral to solving every one of them.
Problem 1: There is already too much content in the game, making it quite confusing to pick up
For the past 18 or so years, RuneScape's geography, storyline, challenges and skills have pushed outwards. The game has got bigger and bigger. That makes sense to a degree, as people want new challenges, and subscribe to access them. The consequence, however, is that everything gets messier and messier for active players and becomes largely impenetrable for new or returning players. What do they do? And where do they start?
Our aims of delivering ongoing and dynamic content releases, but also removing these knots and mess of the game, might seem contradictory... but we have a plan!
So how can the Episodic Team both fulfil its mission and help address this problem? We're beginning by working on something we’re calling ‘Remasters’. For context, you can probably classify the Clue Scroll Overhaul and the Mining & Smithing Rework as 'Remasters'. These updates take a loved, iconic or potentially satisfying part of the game and takes it stage by stage through a Remastering process which involves:
For example, a God Wars Dungeon Remaster might improve it graphically and mechanically, rebalance it to make it worth doing, add a new boss and a new tier of godsword, and an elite dungeon to take you from boss to boss. Or a remastered Varrock might make it stylishly murky and claustrophobic, while adding things to find in each building, as well as new gang stories.
If we're successful, this Remastered content will be compelling to both subscribers and returning players. It will be both familiar and new.
Remasters won’t be the only way that we address complexity and unfamiliarity in the game. We won't be afraid to remove things if they deepen the problem. Brand new content will still exist, but will be critically assessed for complexity before we consider releasing it.
Problem 2: We’re trying to do too many different things at once
We're always trying to do new things and create new genres, but this huge disparity of content presents two issues:
1. It makes the game complex and confusing.
2. It means we're making less of the core content that many of you want.
Questers want quests and combat players want combat, but we’re reducing their frequency because we’re trying other things. This is about focus. We want to identify the stuff that our wide community loves the most, and then make more of it. And be better and more efficient while we're at it.
With that in mind, we’re going to be focusing on seven content types, at least in the short-to-mid-term:
Our plans don't stop there, however.
Even more than the elements mentioned above, we're aware that for many players Skilling remains the most important aspect of the game. We are going to be taking bolder steps with skilling, mostly because it’s so core to what makes RuneScape great. The feeling of leveling, unlocking new activities and then filtering those things into your routine is just so joyful. We want that feeling more often, so we will be making a few changes. These include:
Problem 3: The war with dead content
We do monthly surveys about new content (you may have participated in one) and every update we’ve launched over the past two years has had the same major feedback: "the rewards weren’t worthwhile". And we feel that there’s a good reason for this - we're so focused on making sure that we are not invalidating existing rewards. The GP gained against a boss released yesterday has to be balanced against the GP gained from a boss that was released 15 years ago.
This makes creating rewards almost impossible, as the huge wall of existing rewards have to be factored into a new reward’s design. In most instances we release rewards that are incrementally more powerful in certain situations or with certain kinds of player. The result? Generally, that means dead content for 90% of players.
We want to make a change, and this change starts with a simple statement:
It should be okay for new content to improve on older content.
A new boss can be more rewarding than the last. A new training method can be more lucrative than something 10 years old. This might seem scary, as we all have banks full of items that we value. But we want to reassure you that the changes mentioned above will make all of this a deal less scary.
First of all, ‘new’ content will, in the vast majority of cases, be a Remaster. So, the new, ‘best farmable boss to fight at mid-levels’ might graduate from Queen Black Dragon to become King Black Dragon Remastered. In a few years’ time, Queen Black Dragon Remastered might become the best-in-slot again! With a sure hand and confident design, the game will retain its familiarity, including the rewards, and yesterday’s dirt might be this year’s gold.
Second of all, the game will grow to accommodate these changes. As skills move to 120 and challenges are Remastered to be more challenging, then the playground for you to use your newly powerful items becomes bigger and more exciting.
What the team won't be doing
It’s also worth noting what the team won’t be making. We won’t be working on temporary content - we want our content to enrich the game in the long term. We also won’t be making world events, random events, minigames, D&Ds, new content types, or huge lavish quests that have no connection to the current narrative. This won’t stop innovation in the team; in fact, we want to grow it. We’ll just be working within categories we know work, and that you get a kick from.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read about these changes. To us, they feel like ‘RuneScape’. As opposed to other games, we are a game that expands and offers new challenges. But we want to retain the cast of characters and iconic elements that got us there. This approach preserves these two elements without making them a contradictory mess. Hopefully, we will even get to the point where existing, returning and new players feel abundantly welcome and know exactly what they need to do.
This isn’t a perfect initiative, and I am sure you have questions and feedback. We want to hear your thoughts on our social channels, particularly on Reddit and Discord, as we will be answering them on upcoming livestreams. And if you haven't already, please do fill out our Annual Player Survey. It's the perfect chance to tell us how we're doing and let us know what you think about our upcoming plans.
Remember, you are only seeing a fraction of the picture. We have other teams with other goals, and we'll be talking about them in the coming months in more Designer Diaries.
All the best, and see you at Runefest!Mod Osborne