Understandably, most people will likely remember this year for one thing: This was the year that RuneScape beat the bots. Following the momentous Bot Nuking Day, players logged in to find a distinctly emptier world but one filled with real people. RuneFest 2011 was a success, with presentations from the game's developers and a special focus on breaking the bots. This year also saw the interesting story that the Dutch Supreme Court ruling that stealing RuneScape items is the same as theft of real life goods.
In this anniversary retrospective, I look back at some of RuneScape's top news stories and game additions of the year.
Breaking the bots
In October of last year, we heard the unfortunate news that RuneScape was losing the war on bots. Servers were being overrun with botters, and illicit RMT markets had exploded with RuneScape stock. Developers would spend days making changes to break the bots, only to have each patch countered within hours. Just as all seemed lost, developers unveiled an unholy deathstar of a weapon: The Cluster Flutterer. In a single day celebrated across RuneScape as Bot-Nuking Day, over 1,350,000 free accounts and 150,000 paying members were banned for botting. The company did this despite losing $750,000 per month in revenue from banned member account bots.
Player activity on the servers dropped by 60%, and an estimated 98% of all bots were rendered ineffective, but Jagex didn't stop there. The company took the fight to the legal stage and threatened to file a class-action lawsuit against botters. Jagex showed that botting software violated the company's copyright under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and the studio released a letter to all players suspected of botting offering a one-time amnesty. "If you ignore our offer and instead continue use botting software," the letter warned, "we reserve our rights to pursue statutory damages against you for between $200 to $2,500 per act of past, present, and/or future botting." This year will forever be remembered as the year Jagex beat the bots.
Clans have always been a huge unofficial part of RuneScape, originally formed by players back in the game's first incarnation as a way to team up against people in the wilderness. Clans were officially implemented in April with a massive clan patch that introduced clan chat channels, mottos, motifs, and cape colors. New clan-only features were introduced, including rated clan wars, private clan forums, and a full stats page for tracking membership. The patch caused a horde of new clans to appear, but it was just the start of what would be one of RuneScape's biggest and most exciting sandbox features to date.
With the Clan Citadels expansion, every clan got its very own castle on a floating island. While many other MMOs were getting updates with new dungeons or a slightly higher maximum levels, RuneScape got flying castles! Clans work together to build and maintain their citadels and use special rooms like drop party halls, auditoriums and dance floors.
Is RuneScape a sandbox?
Following the success of last year's Dungeons of Daemonheim update, Jagex was keen to add more gameplay with essentially limitless replay value. With clan citadels being launched, this new sandbox style gameplay came in the form of a battlefield system that put game design in the hands of players. Using an impressive editor, players are able to design massive levels with spawn points, walls, traps, flags, balls, teleporters, and dozens of different types of terrain.
Jagex literally just handed players the tools to design whatever they wanted, and players excelled at it. Within just a few weeks, players had used the new system to develop everything from mazes and capture the flag games to bloody deathmatches and social ice rinks. As part of the clan system, clans are able to challenge each other to matches in these arenas. Interestingly, despite there being a ranking system for clan battlefields, most folks ignore it and just play for the fun of winning.
Out with the old, in with the new
The secret sauce that has enabled RuneScape to flourish for so many years is an iterative update model that sees new quests, items, and gameplay mechanics released every few weeks. This year has seen a major release about once a month, with everything from new dungeons and sound upgrades to special events for every major holiday. Jagex also launched a new RuneScape website this year with RSS feeds and a wiki, with the goal of pulling the community together in one place.
Newer RuneScape players may not realise that they're essentially playing RuneScape 2, the second evolution of the game. Seven years ago, the RuneScape 2 beta officially became the live version of the game, and the previous version was renamed RuneScape Classic. Characters were duplicated on both versions of the game and could lead separate lives; many players continued to hold on to the familiar game they grew up with. This year Jagex noticed that years of content updates to the main game had caused almost all players to switch off the classic servers. Signups on the classic service were re-opened for a limited time to let people experience a heavy dose of gaming nostalgia. As of the time of writing, there are around 100 people playing the classic service, with about a third being veteran players.
Another year of interesting stories
This past year has been filled with interesting RuneScape stories, but none piqued our interest more than a RuneScape related ruling at the Dutch Supreme Court. In 2007, two teens held a youth at knifepoint and forced him to hand over valuable items in RuneScape. The two attackers were convicted of the violent crime as well as the theft of the virtual items. One of the teens appealed the court's decision to include theft in his sentence, arguing that the stolen goods were not tangible and had no economic value. The Dutch Supreme Court delivered the legal equivalent of "nice try," declaring that the items had value because they represented the time and energy invested to acquire them.
It's been a good year for RuneScape, the little browser MMO that just won't stop growing. New features like the coin purse and tool belt have been met with a positive reaction, and the new achievements and XP meters have added a strong incentive for players to keep playing the game. The relaxed trade and wilderness PvP restrictions have continued to have a positive impact on the game, though the grand exchange has become a sea of people yelling "doubling money legit" at each other. If you have an old RuneScape account and haven't played the game in a while, I'd definitely suggest giving it a try again. All of the small patches and huge content updates have really improved the game.