If you have been living in the United States for the last 4 months you have likely experienced the impact of a prolonged quarantine. A lack of social interaction, travel, and prolonged loneliness has impacted the lives of people in ways they never could have imagined just half a year before. In the midst of all this chaos, many people have begun searching for an outlet. A way to escape the daily grind of waking up, not leaving the house, going to sleep, and starting over again. One of these escapes has been video games.
Video game services have seen unprecendented growth since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic. This growth has been influenced by a number of factors including the need for virtual social interaction, and a desire to pass the time in some meaningful way. Video games provided an outlet for people, a way to temporarily escape the dreary world that has taken hold since March. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at Twitch.TV viewership since the start of the pandemic.
Twitch viewership grew 52% in the second quarter of 2020, and most of this growth has been caused by the current world situation. Now, Runescape, a game that has been a staple of online MMORPGs since its induction in January of 2001, has seen unprecedented growth. Runescape saw an all time high of subscribers, and a quarterly revenue of $137.6 million. So, why is it that people are flocking to a game with mechanics originally developed almost 20 years ago? Well, let’s take a deeper look.
Runescape is a game designed equally around chance and perserverance. Leveling of skills is a mixture of a players willingness to “grind” or invest a large amount of time, and the will of the RNG gods. Essentially all skills are leveled using a system that works like this.
Step 1: Choose a skill
Step 2: Do an action repeatedly to gain experience points to improve that skill.
Step 3: Repeat Step 2 in a new location, or with new monsters, or using new gear.
While this stands as a slight oversimplification of the system, it suffices in laying the groundwork for you to understand that leveling of almost any skill is based almost entirely on time invested. Other factors such as the amount of gold a player has, or their willingness to take risks can impact this slightly, but overall the only way to improve a skill is to invest the time required to level that skill. Runescape isn’t alone in using this system, most MMORPGS use a similar system. What makes Runescape different is that the way the game works is considerably more relaxed than other MMO options, and therefore more accessible and relaxing for new and experienced players alike.
The way that Runescape has done this is by creating a system that essentially divides skills between two classes, active, and passive. Active skills include, combat, agility, thieving, slayer, and others that require the player to provide active input at short intervals. These skills require that the player be mildly attentive in keeping track of their hitpoints, position, and other variables that impact their ability to level the skill. However, for context, even active skills require less player input that a similar skill in another MMO such as World of Warcraft.
Passive skills are what have made Runescape such an appealing option for new players during the quarantine though. Passive skills encompass many non-combat skills within the game, such as fishing, woodcutting, fletching, and others. These skills allow a player to gain levels while doing something that is for the most part passive. Fishing is a perfect example of this system. In order for a player to gain levels in fishing, they must catch fish (seems logical). To catch fish a player walks to a designated area where a fish they are high enough level to angle for is located and click fish. The players character will then continue to fish in that spot until either their inventory is full, or the spot moves. The only input required by the player is to move to a new fishing spot which happens occassionally, or to empty their inventory (27 slots). This means that oftentimes players are able to enjoy the escape of the game while not expending much mental energy to do so. This combination is what makes a game such as Runescape so appealing at a time when our mental fortitude has already taken such a hit.
Runescape has been put in a position to naturally capitalize on one of its built in tenets. It provides both a temporary escape and a low effort transition into the virtual world. In a time when our mental resources are stretched so thin, maybe we could all use a little virtual fishing trip.