It seemed like a nice job: to be given the opportunity to write a light-hearted piece on the first steps in the browser-based MMORPG RuneScape – an industry outsider that’s quietly the Western world’s second most successful MMO. Nip in, work out what everyone loves, hide my conclusions at the end of some amiable fluff, and phone my bank to tell them not to be shocked when millions of Eurogamer pounds fly into my account. I’ll start with my guesses as to its popularity, then play it.
First, RuneScape is accessible. A Java-based browser application, it’ll run equally happily on PC, Mac and the years-old laptop I installed Ubuntu onto for a lark. So kids can play without having to install anything, and even the most restrictive corporate networks will usually allow a nice bit of certified Java.
Secondly, RuneScape is free. Or a slice of it is. Some skills, such as thieving and agility, aren’t open to guests, and the majority of quests will be denied anyone logging onto the guest servers.
Finally, RuneScape is everything that seemed amazing in 1990. A year when people would gather around a 386 processor and listen to the latest public-domain MIDI files. When children would stand in plastic tree trunks and pay 15 pounds per hour to wear a cripplingly heavy VR helmet and try to pick up an imaginary key. RuneScape has the strong whiff of the Rogue-like about it – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, when you consider how involved and deep some Rogue-likes can be.
The fact that it’s so hugely popular makes RuneScape a game that demands to be taken seriously. But from the first burst of pitch-bent MIDI trumpet on the title screen, there’s a worried smile on your face. A smile that you’d give a unicorn that trying to give you a neck massage. A smile that says “I appreciate what you’re doing, but I’m not sure this’ll work, and you really shouldn’t exist”.