RuneScape takes place in the fantasy-themed realm of Gielinor, which is divided into several different kingdoms, regions, and cities. Players can travel throughout Gielinor on foot, by using magical teleportation spells and devices, or mechanical means of transportation. Each region offers different types of monsters, materials, and quests to challenge players. Unlike many other MMORPGs, there is no linear path that must be followed. Players appear on the screen as customizable avatars, setting their own goals and objectives. Players can combat both monsters and other players, complete quests, or increase their experience in any of the available skills. Players interact with each other through trading, chatting, or playing combative or cooperative mini-games.
DeviousMUD, the forerunner to RuneScape, was created in 1998 by Andrew Gower. The game, which was never publicly released, used isometric graphics. Gower completely rewrote the game in 1999, albeit with no improvements to the graphics. This version was released as a public beta version for approximately one week before it was withdrawn.
As a Cambridge University undergraduate, Gower worked on a complete rewrite of the game with the assistance of his brother, Paul Gower. The isometric view was replaced by a mixture of both three-dimensional and two-dimensional sprites. The game, renamed RuneScape, was released to the public as a beta version on 4 January 2001 and was originally operated from their parents' house in Nottingham. In December 2001, the Gower brothers and Constant Tedder formed Jagex to take over the business aspects of running RuneScape. Jagex developed an interpreted domain-specific scripting language called RuneScript which is used by RuneScape's server for event handling. On 27 February 2002, a monthly membership service was introduced, allowing access to additional features including new areas, quests, and items.
RuneScape's popularity is partially attributable to being accessible from most web browsers allowing players to play the game in many locations. As RuneScape gained more users, Jagex began planning major changes. The developers completely rewrote the game engine so that the graphics were entirely three-dimensional producing a version called RuneScape 2. A beta version was released to paying members on 1 December 2003, and the finished version was launched on 17 March 2004. Upon release, RuneScape 2 was renamed RuneScape, and the older version of the game was kept online as RuneScape Classic. On 12 January 2006, Jagex banned more than 5000 Classic accounts due to cheating and RuneScape Classic was closed to new accounts and restricted to paying members who had played Classic at least once since 3 August 2005, and once every six months after that.
To support RuneScape's' free content, advertisements appear on an advertisement banner above the playing screen on the free-to-play servers. On 13 July 2006, Jagex signed an exclusive marketing and distribution contract with WildTangent Games, which granted WildTangent the right to handle advertising in and around RuneScape in the United States. The deal also allowed WildTangent to distribute RuneScape through the WildTangent Games Network, a distribution channel, reaching over 20 million consumer PCs. Jagex moderators have stated that in-game advertisements will not be re-introduced. Since computer users may use advertisement blockers, which may discourage such advertisers, Jagex introduced a rule that prohibits players from blocking the advertisements in the free game.
On 16 May 2006, Jagex upgraded RuneScape's game engine, primarily as a back-end upgrade rather than a visible graphical boost. Programmers reduced RuneScape's memory requirements, allowing the game to be expanded and improved without increasing the loading time for most players. The engine was upgraded once again on 26 June 2007 to allow the addition of future content. On July 1, 2008, Jagex released a beta of their "High Detail" mode for members, with a free-to-play version released two weeks later. Before the launch, Jagex stated that it would be officially revealed at the 2008 E3. At the same time it was announced that the cost of membership would rise on August 4, adding an additional $0.95/£0.30, raising it to a total of $5.95/£3.50 a month. Currently, existing members whose membership does not lapse for more than 2 weeks will continue to pay the previous price set in 2002.
There are more than 150 RuneScape servers located throughout the world, which are numbered and referred to as worlds by players and by Jagex. They are located in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Mexico, Brazil, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, and New Zealand. Servers are located in areas where they will, at the given time, provide the best connection for players in the most cost-effective manner. Servers are moved or added as the need arises.
Each of the RuneScape servers allows 2,000 players to connect simultaneously, allowing a maximum capacity of more than 300,000 players. The servers are divided into free servers for all players and member's servers. Players can play on any eligible server. Some servers are given activity labels, allowing players performing tasks that require or desire group participation, such as mini-games, to group together. In addition to the RuneScape servers, there are two members-only servers for RuneScape Classic, both located in the United Kingdom. Each of these is limited to 1,250 players, allowing a total number of 2,500 simultaneous RuneScape Classic players. Players can no longer create new accounts for RuneScape Classic.
Skills in RuneScape are the abilities that enable players to perform activities in the game. Players gain experience (EXP) in a skill when they utilize the skill, e.g. mining ore trains the mining skill, thereby increasing their level in that skill. As the skill level rises, the ability to retrieve better raw materials and produce better products increases, as does the experience awarded. The total skill level of a player partly symbolizes the player's status in the game. The RuneScape highscore tables can be viewed by all players. Upon reaching the highest available level in a skill, members may buy a special cape, referred to as a "Cape of Accomplishment" or a "Skill Cape", to symbolise their achievement in that skill.
Some skills, such as woodcutting and fishing, enable the player to collect raw materials that can be processed into usable items using other skills, such as fletching and cooking, respectively. The items created can be used by the player or sold to other players in game for a profit. Other skills allow players to kill certain NPCs, build their own houses, move around the map with greater ease, steal from NPCs and various stalls and chests located in-game, cook their own food, create their own potions, create runestones and weapons, grow their own plants, hunt NPC animals, and summon familiars to help in combat and training skills.
RuneScape features a real-time combat system. Combat is an important aspect of the game, allowing players to retrieve items or gold dropped by dead creatures. Combat is also necessary to complete many quests. A combat level gives an indication of how powerful a player or NPC is in combat. For players, it is determined by applying a formula to the eight combat skills. Players engage in combat by clicking on the enemy they wish to attack. A player will automatically continue fighting until they kill their opponent, die, or leave the fight by running away or teleporting. Most of the game's weapons are medieval or fantastical in nature and feature different strengths and weaknesses. Players may also summon a familiar to assist with combat.
Combat is subdivided into three main categories: melee, magic and ranged. Melee attacks are close range with or without weapons, magic attacks focus on using runestones to cast spells, and ranged attacks use projectile weapons like arrows, darts or knives. These combat types make up the "Combat Triangle". Melee attacks are most effective against ranged opponents, ranged attacks are most effective against magic opponents and magic attacks are most effective against melee opponents. Unlike most games in the MMORPG genre, RuneScape does not require players to choose a character class nor are players bound to a specific category of combat. They may freely change between the three styles of combat at any time by switching weapons and armour. Players can even carry the weapons and armour of the three combat categories in their inventories and switch between or combine the styles. The advantages and disadvantages of the combat triangle apply to both NPCs and player opponents.
Players die when their hitpoints are reduced to zero. Lost hitpoints can be recovered by eating or drinking certain items. Players can use potions and the "prayer" skill to boost their combat ability and defences. Players who die reappear at one of three respawn points with their hitpoints, and any other reduced skill levels, restored; however, they drop all but their three most valuable items. A special prayer allows the retention of one more item. There are situations in which all items will be lost upon death, or just one with the prayer. The items dropped form a gravestone, and they can be retrieved if the player can return to the gravestone before it dissipates. Players can purchase longer lasting gravestones and fellow players can repair or bless a gravestone to make it last longer.
Player versus player combat (sometimes called "PvP Combat") can now only be performed in specific controlled mini games. Bounty Hunter gives players a chance to keep their opponent's items, Duel Arena offers limited staking, and some other PvP type games offer their own rewards (Fist of Guthix, Castle Wars, etc.)
Before 2008, Player Killers (pkers) were players that went to an area known as the Wilderness, to fight other players within a certain combat level range, hoping to gain their items. In RuneScape Classic, players could opt in to PvP in most areas outside of Lumbridge. Many player killers created "pures", which were min-max characters designed to have as low of a combat level as possible by heavily training some combat skills and not training other skills to achieve a desired advantage in the combat triangle. However, in December 2007 the Wilderness was radically changed to prevent players from transferring in-game items for real currency. New creatures called Revenants were added to maintain adverse pressure on players in the Wilderness, and PvP was restricted to specific mini games as mentioned above.
On 15 August 2008, Jagex announced that they intend to introduce special worlds where players would be able to fight each other almost anywhere, in a similar way to RuneScape Classic, as mentioned above. To prevent players from using these worlds to transfer in-game items for real currency, Jagex state that rewards for successful kills will be generated by the game. This update is scheduled to take place sometime in October 2008.
Players receive various rewards for completing a quest. Rewards depend on the quest's difficulty and include gold, unique items, access to new areas, increases in skill experience and/or quest points. Quests form the storyline of RuneScape, and many are part of a series of quests that become increasingly difficult. The longest and oldest (the first part of this storyline was released in 2002) of these is an incomplete seven-part series known as "Plague City". The storyline takes players through a massive conspiracy and unlocks areas inhabited by elves. Jagex has stated that it is the closest thing RuneScape has to a central storyline.
Many NPCs populate the realm of Gielinor. Some NPCs, such as shopkeepers and characters in quests, are unavailable for combat. However, most NPCs can be attacked and these are generally referred to as monsters, regardless of their race. Monsters range from common, low-level creatures, such as chickens and goblins to unique, and often much more powerful monsters such as the King Black Dragon, Kalphite Queen, Elvarg (in the free version), or TzTok-Jad. Each type of monster has its own strengths and weaknesses. Demons, for example, have a weak defence against magical attacks, while most dragons have extremely high defence against magic. Monsters may either be aggressive or non-aggressive. Non-aggressive monsters simply ignore players unless they are attacked. Aggressive monsters may attack all players or may only attack players with combat levels below a specified level, depending on the circumstances or location. This can make certain areas throughout Gielinor dangerous or inconvenient to players with lower combat levels.
RuneScape also features independent mini-games for its premium players. Mini-games take place in certain areas and normally involve a specific skill. Mini-games usually require players to cooperate or to compete with each other. Popular mini-games include Castle Wars, which is similar to the real-life game Capture the Flag, Pest Control, a highly combat-focused mini-game, and Fist of Guthix, a minigame where one player (the hunter) tries to stop the other player (the hunted) from collecting charges into a magical stone.
Random events are short interludes that occur during the game, requiring some form of player input. They were introduced to deter players from using automated programs, known as macros, autoers, or bots. Some random events require players to click on a non-player character who has appeared, or to leave the area temporarily. Others require more sophisticated actions from players, who must respond to these events quickly and correctly to avoid a negative effect, such as being teleported to a random area or taking damage. Players are rewarded for responding correctly to random events. Jagex revealed on March 27, 2008, that it plans to reassess the random event system because "the threat of bots and macros has been largely removed."
Before the institution of the Grand Exchange, inflation and deflation caused some instability in the game economy. Inflation was caused by the large number of resources put into the game by macroing. Deflation occurred when more expensive items, such as certain weapons and armour, lost value over time because they became more prevalent and because newer items were introduced. Typically there was a huge impact on the day new items were released, with prices in the tens of millions for the first few hours, and then decreasing to a few million by the end of the day. The prices of rare items (items that were released in RuneScape Classic for holidays and can no longer be attained by any means other than buying from another player) tend to increase over time. For example, party hats were relatively cheap when they were released and are now worth hundreds of millions.
RuneScape can be run with high or low-detail graphics; high-detail mode enhances texture and design, whereas low-detail provides a cleaner look and can reduce lag on older or less powerful computers. RuneScapes graphics have gone through two major overhauls, the latter of which was released on 1 July 2008.
The second, gradual overhaul began in February 2005, starting with several towns in the free-to-play area. When the engine was updated on May 16, 2006, allowing graphics of higher quality than before, the pace accelerated. As of 2008, most of the free-to-play area has been updated, as well as some member's only areas and a large number of NPCs.
On July 1, 2008 Jagex released a major graphical update. The most noticeable changes are a full-screen mode, the addition of textures and shadows, and an increased level of detail. During the first two weeks of July 2008, this version of the game was still a beta and only available to members. On July 14, the HD version came out of beta and became available to free players. To avoid causing difficulty for players with lower-performance computers, there is an option called "RuneScape", which combines the previous "Low Detail" and "High Detail" modes, and a "RuneScape HD" option.The July 2008 update is advertised as "HD" and is the first time RuneScape has used hardware acceleration, as well as Java OpenGL, as part of its rendering.
RuneScape features a character-customization system. Unlike many MMORPGs, player characters are always human; however, players can choose the gender and a variety of hairstyles and colours, body types, facial features, skin colour and clothing options. Appearance is further complemented by wearing or wielding items. Standard weapons of the same class, such as swords, use the same set of animations in combat; however, a few special weapons have their own, distinctive animations.
Players can be transformed temporarily into objects, plants or animals, depending on the circumstances. These "morphs" sometimes allow players to avoid negative gameplay effects or access otherwise unreachable areas; however, they restrict certain normal activities. Players can also express emotions through the use of specialized animations called emotes, some of which are standard and others earned through gameplay or released during holiday events.
RuneScape has music, sound effects, and ambient noises throughout Gielinor. The music is designed to define the underlying cultures of the various locations accessible. Sound effects, such as the "sploosh" heard when a lobster trap is submerged in water, are heard as players train their skills. Ambient noises, such as the cry of seagulls flying over the ocean, occur in logical places. As different locations are visited by the player, new music for that area is unlocked and can be played back later. Players can loop a song, adjust the volumes of the music, sound effects, and ambient noises independently of each other.
Players can submit email questions to any non-player character in the game. Selected letters are answered in a monthly update called Postbag from the Hedge. This feature began on 26 September 2005 and has since become one of the most accessed pages of the site. Beginning 24 September 2002, players could submit questions to the RuneScape gods; however, this feature was discontinued on 9 December 2004. Players can also submit original RuneScape related artwork, some of which is displayed in a gallery on the RuneScape website. Media featured has included sculptures, comics, drawings, and paintings.
Every Easter, Halloween, and Christmas, Jagex hosts a holiday event in a specific location in the RuneScape world. Players who successfully complete the required tasks during the event receive an exclusive reward. Holiday items released after Christmas 2002 can be retrieved if lost. Earlier holiday items such as Party Hats and Santa Hats can be traded between players and sell for large amounts of gold on the player market. Many holiday events also reward the player with access to a new emote that allows the player to perform a gesture designed to show emotion or action.
Many RuneScape fansites have been established by players, none of which are supported or recognized by Jagex. Although in the early days of RuneScape the official website had a links page which listed several fansites, this is no longer the case. In order to provide players with an alternative, official site to get the information they want or need, Jagex introduced the Knowledge Base, which offers information on gameplay, the main RuneScape rules, and account security. For account security reasons Jagex discourages the discussion of fansites within the game or the official forums - and a rule specifically prohibits sharing web addresses. A major fansite has criticised Jagex for not recognising fansites' contributions to the development of its game.
Jagex has put in place a number of rules for player conduct, such as rules against offensive language, scamming, and bug abuse. To enforce the rules, RuneScape uses three types of moderators: Jagex moderators, who are actual Jagex employees; player moderators, who are trusted ordinary players that enforce the rules within the game; and forum moderators, who are trusted players who police the game forums. On the forums, Jagex moderators are identified by gold crowns and backgrounds on their posts while forum moderators have green crowns and backgrounds; in game, Jagex moderators have gold crowns next to their names in chat while player moderators have silver crowns. In addition, any player has the ability to report rule-breaking using a "report abuse" feature; misuse of this feature can result in action being taken against the reporter.
There are also rules prohibiting the use of third-party software to play the game, known as macroing, and the sale of game items for real money, known as real-world or real-money trading. In an attempt to stop cheating, Jagex made direct interaction with the client very difficult, and established rules against the practice. In response to continued gold farming—exploiting repetitive elements of a game's mechanics—Jagex issued a statement condemning real-world trading. In the statement, they also claimed that they were seizing billions of gold and banning thousands of accounts every week for cheating. Nevertheless, real-world trading and macroing activities still continued.
From October 2007 to December 2007, Jagex began a war on real-world trading by releasing a series of drastic updates to restrict unbalanced trades. These updates established the Grand Exchange, limited the value of items staked in duels, removed player killing from the Wilderness, made valuable player drops invisible to other players, introduced gravestones for the items of dead players, and instituted the LootShare, CoinShare, and player-assist systems. Collectively, these changes were designed to make it extremely difficult for real-world money sellers to distribute gold and items to players.
In its 2008 intellectual property profile of the game, Developermag.com state that Jagex's recent changes to curtail real world trading resulted in "a wave of user criticism, although growth is understood to have resumed since". Its analysis posits that "RuneScape’s mass-market appeal lies in its simplicity and accessibility (both financial and technical). It has tapped into the vast market of games players unwilling or unable to spend premium prices on PCs capable of playing the latest, expensive, processor-intensive games. Its core gameplay concepts are very similar to its retail-distributed RPG and MMORPG analogues".
Guiness World Records has recognised RuneScape as the most popular free MMORPG in the world for the second year in a row. At the 2008 Leipzig Games Convention Jagex was presented with a certificate to commemorate the achievement. .
However, aspects of RuneScape have been received negatively by RuneScape's users. In late 2007, an update by Jagex removed two popular parts of the game — free player-vs-player combat and free trading — in an attempt to rid the game of unbalanced trades involving real money being traded for virtual goods. The updates also affected legitimate players, mostly player-vs-player oriented, who were angered about this, resulting in many of them actively complaining on the forums and in-game via "Riots" - virtual protests in which disgruntled players congregated in RuneScape's main cities and spammed the screen with messages of objection to the changes.. Jagex issued a Customer Support News article explaining that the updates were a tough decision, admitting that the updates may not have been an ideal replacement for what was removed, requesting patience, and promising to remedy potential problems with updates in the future. After the changes subscription numbers fell by 60,000, although no figures were given as to how many were legitimate players and how many were those accounts involved in the trading of goods that Jagex intended to stop.
Additionally players have also criticized RuneScape's purportedly weak community. These complaints focus on incidents of scamming, general spamming, and arguing amongst players.