Business Model of Runescape (A Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game)


The first truly worldwide MMORG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game), in our generation at least was Runescape. Developed and published by Jagex, initially releasing in 2001 for browsers. Blossoming into a phenomena, the game currently has over 200 million accounts created. To put that in perspective, that is approximately the population of Pakistan. New players are whisked through a character creation module and then find themselves in the land of Geilinor.

The business model that sustains this monolith is worth unfolding. Free users constitute the overwhelming majority of the company’s clients. Averaging to about 10 million unique monthly users, only one million of whom are subscribers, the rest play the game absolutely for free. So how does a free to play business model actually work? To begin with it minimizes the companies investment in advertising. Jagex doesn’t spend any money on it as the free service is the advertising! To be fair to capitalism however the bulk of the ‘developmental work’ on the plot and missions built into Geillinor are for the monthly subscribers. Standard quests available to everyone include freeing the city of Falador from evil mages and slaying a dragon on a volcanic island.

A far less discussed aspect of this entire scenario however is the transactional economy linking in game items to real world money. Runescape has a fully functional trade system where players can put up their wares at prices set by them which buyers seek to match. This works much like any real world commodity trading. Rare minerals for example like runeite gain in stock value when smiths buy the mineral from the trade exchange instead of mining it themselves.

What has emerged around this simple market mechanism however is a real world economy built around trading domains fixated on Runescape which trade in in-game commodities, traded for real world money. Compounding the issue is the prevalence of ‘bots’ or in game profiles created for no other purpose apart from mining in game currency to sell for its real world counterpart. Runescape bans 8000 accounts every week for resorting to such measures. As the use of bots not merely compromises the economy in Runescape, it also detracts from the gaming experience of every other honest player on the server.

The genre of MMORG’s has grown increasingly sophisticated however and following the release of World Of Warcraft on the 24th of November, 2004 the gaming enterprise was never the same again. With over 100,000,000 accounts created since it’s inception WoW is easily the highest grossing MMORG with over 10 billion $ in revenue. Unlike Runescape, World of Warcraft is built entirely on paid subscribers to their game world, Azeroth. Drawing from a history of brilliant productions at Blizzard Studios WoW lives up to the billing by the megalith publishing house which set the platform for the release of it’s own MMORG with the real time strategy game franchise Warcraft, (1, 2 and 3 not counting expansions).\

The incidence of MMORG’s have only been on the upward curve since the clearing of its genre was established by the frontrunners. Where they will go to from here we cannot say, but already a number fascinating experiments are being conducted by academics gauging and utilizing the mechanics of these virtual world to create an index of how humans may respond to pandemics for example.

O the 13th of September, 2005 for example an in game event known as the ‘Corrupted Blood’ incident was released in WoW. Initially designed to be a hp draining feature restricted to the region of its inception, an oversight on behalf of the developers allowed minions and pets to carry the ‘disease’ across regions. A virtual epidemic hence ensued which even drew the attention of epidemiologists who mapped the contagion as it was directly related to the movements of the humans who controlled the playable characters. Crowded cities were abandoned for example and lower level players perished. It was finally rectified when the developers initiated system resets and effected quarantines.

This concludes our brief history of MMORG’s and their institutional ramifications for the real world. Perhaps you may be piqued to try one. Keep in mind however the ramifications of real world trading of in game commodities and perhaps learn a thing or two from the digital demographics you encounter. Peaceout.