Microtransactions and RuneScape: A Sordid History | Big Daddy Digest

I know, I know, why would I want to talk about RuneScape of all games out there? Well, besides the fact that I have a soft spot for the MMO. Having played since I was a small boy, I have formed many long-term friendships and enjoyed my almost twenty years within the world of Gielinor. 

But, that doesn’t mean that it has always been sunshine and rainbows when it comes to Jagex’s flagship MMO. After all, you can’t keep the lights on if there is no money coming in, though I can’t imagine that that is an issue when you have a player base in the millions.

Now I want to clarify, I am not here to knock on MMO subscription models in general. As I said, something needs to keep money coming in to keep the lights on. Nor is RuneScape a pay to win kind of game, but there is a long history of RuneScape and microtransactions. With the announcement of their upcoming ‘Hero Pass’, I thought I would dig into RuneScape’s past and present and look at the various microtransactions they have tried prior.

The Bonds System

While this is not the first example of microtransactions in RuneScape, given the game’s lifespan so far this is a more modern example having been released in September 2013, they are important as they were one of the first in-game items you could buy directly from Jagex, at £4.99 (or $7.99), for in-game and out of game use.

When introduced initially, they were a way for players to use in-game currency in order to obtain some premium benefits, such as two weeks of membership, RuneCoins (which we will touch on shortly), more recently Treasure Hunter keys (another topic we will touch on later), and other various rewards and perks.

Honestly, when they were first introduced to the game they seemed like a fairly decent idea. It allowed players that were short on funds or didn’t have time to play a lot, to purchase an in-game item to get them benefits when they needed it. 

The main issue however is these aren’t price regulated. Their price has been influenced by the trading market, and have been far out priced for their original purpose. Making me see them as little more than a consistent microtransaction flop, and more that they exist as an “approved” method of converting real world currency into gold in-game. Having lost their original purpose they just feel more predatory than anything else.

Solomon’s Store and RuneCoins

Everyone loves cosmetics in games right? I am not above wanting to customize the appearance of my gear and have unique animations for my character. Enter 2012 and Solomon’s Store, Loyalty Points, and RuneCoins.

Essentially this is your standard cosmetics store you see in other online games. Having been made a regular feature in most modern games, this is not exactly surprising today. The loyalty points system rewarded people for purchasing and continuing membership in the game and players could use those points to buy a lot of different cosmetics. 

RuneCoins are a purchasable currency through Jagex that is used exclusively within Solomon’s Store. The main problem I see with the system as it stands is not everything within the store can be earned through loyalty points. There are several buff related items in the form of Auras that can only be obtained through RuneCoins. Which isn’t exactly bad, but most of these were added post-launch of the store, kind of pushing aside the original purpose for the store, rewarding players for being continuing patrons of the game, and more to a cash grab. 

The system still exists in-game today, but has fallen into disuse for releasing new cosmetics and animations over more profitable options. But before we get to that we have to talk about one more thing RuneScape adopted but tainted over time.

Premier Club, Benefiting the Player

Okay, so this is still something we have to talk about but I want to be upfront that I don’t see this as egregious in the long-term. Premier Club is basically a bulk subscription model for RuneScape that gives those that pay into it some extra stuff. But it mostly boils down to “pay in bulk, save money on membership and get a few extra goodies.” The plus side being that players can use twenty bonds instead of real cash to purchase a year.

Most people who read my usual work would probably wonder why I am okay with that. Well because discounted subscription models are pretty standard and unlike the prior examples, the buffs given to those that can pay multiple months at a time are basically just extra xp items for in-game. That is until they tainted it in a few ways.

The first few years of this being on offer, it went pretty hard on the FOMO mentality. Being able to purchase the discounted membership packs in three months, six months, or a year interval, was only offered for roughly a month during November each year. Thankfully this has been changed and it is available for purchase all year round now. But still marks what the original purpose felt like for this to be a welcoming change.

However, even having changed that for the better. There is still plenty of FOMO treatment applied to this concept with some of our upcoming microtransaction fronts.

Treasure Hunter Cracks Open its Chest

Alright, time to talk about treasure. More specifically we are going to talk about Treasure Hunter, which is a system where players open chests daily containing various rewards like xp items, money, cosmetic items and more.

Players can buy keys for real world money or bonds, which combined with special limited time events leads into the FOMO mindset that these mechanics seem to love, creating a feeling of needing to buy keys if you want all of the rewards.

While I think this system is a neat way to entice daily playing, it has been long noted that people feel pressured to login daily just so they don’t miss possible rewards. Though they did implement another system to reward players for daily playing that, while not a microtransaction, I feel should be mentioned.

Daily Challenges and Weekly Rewards

In order to help players feel like they had something to do in-game, and for absolutely no other manipulative reason to keep player count high, they introduced daily challenges in 2012, but the versions we are focusing on are the reworked versions of 2019 and 2021, as this is where the system say some more direct manipulative practice implemented.

The original version of the Challenge system was a daily task appropriate for your level and it awarded xp in the skill of your choice. After the first rework it was Switch to 5 random task appropriate for your level and you earned xp in those skills, an xp chunk, and treasure Hunter keys. 

Today’s model embodies manipulative behaviour further by dropping down to three tasks, but they are more generic and only skill related and a weekly reward system that gives you bonus items for completing a certain number of tasks.

Nothing says that these rewards are required to earn, but I very recently felt I had to complete my tasks every day because a specific item I wanted rolled on day seven. It just created more anxiety around the game than enjoyment. But, enough about a system they are getting ready to replace, let’s talk about other ways they try to squeeze the player base for money.

RuneAnalytics and Wealth Evaluator

This one just seemed out of left field when it dropped to me. Essentially these are tools built into the game locked behind an additional pay wall. The Analytics tool gives you a breakdown of your experience rates and other information like damage break downs. The Wealth Evaluator just gives you a breakdown of your character’s value through various factors.

Neither of these tools are essential for the game but yet we’re added at a markup while websites that gathered this information for you prior to its launch were taken down.

Yak Pass, I Mean Battle Track, Grrr, I Mean Yak Track

Well, we are finally caught up to where RuneScape currently is and discussing another soon to be removed feature, Yak Track.

This was basically a guided Battle Pass in a sort of way. Each spot on the track would have two different tasks that the player could complete in order to pass that step. There were two reward tracks, one exclusive to those in the Premier Club mentioned prior or bought into at the time of the Track, and another for general people playing. And you guessed it, most of the unique rewards were on the paid track.

Not only did this lock players out of rewards unless they could buy in at the time of the Track, which mind you wasn’t possible until a later date, but the task grind for these tasks was horrible. As you progressed, the requirements for each task increased to the point that some tasks could take hours of play time to complete. 

Though don’t worry, because Jagex says they have something better for players. We can finally get to their newest attempt.

Hero Pass or Hero Scam?

Before we dig into this, I have to stress that at time of writing this system has not been placed into the game. Hell, it just got announced the day before writing. But the video itself, that will be linked here, has given us plenty to work with.

So what is Hero Pass? Well it is going to be similar to Yak Track in the same Battle Pass styled set up. It will have tasks to complete, but shorter and longer goal tasks instead of the previous structure.

Also, the Pass levels will stay a consistent progression requirement from 1-99, and then from 100-120. Which is a welcomed change from the exponential growth seen in the Yak Track series.

So where is the issue? Well the first one is that it is just like Yak Track in that there is a tier for Premier members, with most likely a buy-in option. While this seems like a standard Battle Pass system being implemented, the main question is why? 

As mentioned prior, not only is Yak Track being removed come 4th September, 2023, but so is the Daily and weekly challenges system. While I see the former being removed due to it being similar content. I have no idea why they would remove the only reliable source of Treasure Hunter keys in the game without a suitable replacement.

Now, I need to clarify something because Hero Pass is being heralded as an amazing way to earn cosmetics and buffs. And well, this would be fine, what about the people that can’t buy into the pass not getting these same buffs?

This question is new here because even in Solomon’s Store players could just save loyalty points for any actual game play buffs and they weren’t impactful. But they have shown buff systems that feel like they belong in a mobile game.

Not to mention that Jagex had generated hype for this as a mystery major update for the game to the community right before their newest skill launch. Which could be a bigger disappointment to many who expected a new area to explore or a major rework, like I personally thought we would finally get another graphics update to bring the game world as a whole more in line, than to just get another microtransaction related money pit.

Final Thoughts

As I have shown here, Jagex is not above looking for new ways to pull in more money from its player base. No one can really be sure right now what the Hero Pass will bring to the game. But I can say for sure that the community as a whole has been very vocal about being displeased with this announcement. I for one am only shocked it took them this long to do it.