Jagex are the name behind the staggeringly popular free-to-play, browser based MMO Runescape. They’ve come a long way since they started up in 2001, producing 39 games for their gaming portal FunOrb.com and registering more than 165 million users for Runescape. They’ve grown to become the UK’s largest independent games company. On the eve of the release of their new game, War of Legends, we caught up with Adam Tuckwell and Christian Reshoeft from Jagex to discuss their new game and to hear their thoughts on the popularity of broser games and their place in the future of PC gaming.
The Reticule – Can you give us a bit of an overview on War of Legends, what’s the game about?
Christian – Essentially the game about building up your Kingdom, making friends, co-ordinating, attacking, defending, forming Alliances and helping each other out. You pick one of those two sides and then you join an Alliance and what that means is that you essentially share your resources. For example, you build your Kingdom and log off for a couple of hours, somebody might attack you. Then the people who are in your Alliance can defend you. They can send resources to your kingdom and they can send their army to protect your city.
War of Legends is also a persistent world game, so even if you log off the game will still be running in the background. When you log back in some things you started building when you were last logged in might be finished. It’s quite different from other RTSes out there, you don’t have to follow the production of the units and you also have your Legends which you then assign troops to. The Legends themselves can be levelled up and you can equip them with items, spells, armour and all that sort of stuff, so there are RPG elements on top of the strategy.
Adam – The game is based on Chinese mythology, set about a thousand years BC. We’ve tried to, not change the story, but we’ve certainly focused on culturalising it. There are so many Tolkienesque and Arthurian fantasy RTSes and so forth and what we wanted to do was bring a new genre of backstory into the RTS category. We imagine people will play the game differently. There’s a large PvP aspect to the game, but there’s also a lot of resource gathering and we can foresee people spending time gathering their resources, building up their cities to make them as strong and successful as they can be and focus more on trading or merchanting rather than going out there and doing the fighting.
TR – It sounds as though there’s going to be a strong multiplayer element to War of Legends. Can you tell us more about how multiplayer will work?
Christian – For example, you build your Kingdom and log off for a couple of hours, somebody might attack you. Then the people who are in your Alliance can defend you. They can send resources to your kingdom and they can send their army to protect your city. There are a lot of tactical elements to it. Different units are more effective against certain unit types and you really need to balance that. You can spy on people as well to actually find out what’s in their city so you can send the appropriate units.
Adam – One of the key features we thought was lacking in other RTSes is productive multiplayer. We’re going to have 2000 concurrent users on each server so the game worlds are going to be relatively large and well populated. We’ve brought the skills and knowledge we’ve gained from our other games to ensure that people do have a really enjoyable multiplayer experience. We’ve worked heavily on the chat and clan functionality of the game as well as community support and we’ve also encouraged players to make groups among themselves. There are two sides you can align yourself with, but within those two sides there are multiple factions and Alliances that are all at different levels of extremity. Some Alliances will be focused solely on PvP, going in and taking over other cities and empires, others will be more focused on trading.
TR – So Jagex will be providing community support for the game?
Adam – Yes totally, there’s nothing worse than playing a game and feeling you’re alone. From an in game point of view we’re going to have clan support and there’s the chat system that’s used within the game and also from a company point of view we’re extremely committed to community support. We actually have 150 support staff just based on community management and development for all of our games. We’re keen to build a community and have fansite support to enable people to get into and enjoy the game as much as possible.
TR – This is the first third party title to be published by Jagex, and it’s from an Eastern developer. How did that come about?
Adam – We saw War of Legends last year, we’ve worked with a developer from Shanghai, China to do some graphics work for Runescape HD, they’re both a game developer and an outsourcing house, a number of big developers use them. When we saw their RTS War of Legends we were really captivated by it and our CEO and founder who went to see it fell in love with it and we thought it would fit really well into our games catalogue. We also think we have the skills and the reach to publish it in the West.
TR – It seems like a new step in more ways than one. Am I right in saying this is the first game that Jagex have used Flash instead of Java?
Adam – Yeah, that’s is a very new thing for us. With all of our backend technologies and all that we’ve developed we’ve created everything using our own version of Java. Using Microsoft’s back end stuff is unusual for us as well because everything we normally do is proprietary. The important thing is that the spec is really low, it’s instantly accessible in terms of being able to jump into it on any PC, and also being free and available in the browser without a download. Accessibility is the key and we’re trying out Flash rather than Java with this one.
TR – Games in the past have claimed to be browser based, but have ended up seeing you downloading and installing the client, is it REALLY browser based?
Adam – Yes, the game is truly browser based, there’s no download, exactly the same as Runescape, You can play it in any of the popular Internet browsers. It doesn’t download anything to your PC and there’s no client or anything like that.
TR – Previously, with Runescape Jagex have favoured providing a premium service for those who are willing to pay for new features, but with War of Legends there will be microtransactions, can you tell us more about what these will be?
Adam – What we’ve done with microtransactions its basically allowed people who are time pressured to reduce the amount of time it takes to build certain things, so for example if you’re building you can shorten the amount of time it takes to level a building or set up a Barracks or to progress a Temple from level 1 to level 2, you can use microtransactions to speed up that process, but there’s nothing that can be gained from that that can’t be achieved by simply playing the game. You can also purchase items or spells, but there’s nothing you can buy that can’t be found in the world or gained through attacking other people.
TR – War of Legends is set to be updated every 2 months. What can we expect from those updates?
Adam – We’re not a publisher who wants to ship the game and pack it. We have a really good working relationship with the developer and we’re keen to increase the game. The content will be partly based on developing the story so there’s a number of tasks you can complete throughout the game, similar sort of quests to traditional MMORPGs and we’ll be developing more of those.
Essentially we’ve got a relatively open mindframe We can build the game very quickly and we have huge advantages in being able to get the game developed and, because of the technology and our distribution model, we can get those changes out instantly. We’re also relying quite heavily on user feedback so we’ll be able to develop the game further as and when the users want it to. We’ve got a lot of updates in the pipeline already in terms of developing new content and new items and abilities within the game.
TR – In many ways Jagex has been at the forefront of free to play games with Runescape. Where has Jagex succeeded where other developers have failed with browser based games?
Adam – I think we’ve been successful for a number of reasons. We focus quite heavily on being a technology driven company so we’ve developed our own proprietary technologies which have allowed us to focus and build and deliver high quality games very quickly and efficiently, and also very cheaply. Our production and delivery costs are extremely low and lightweight because we’re able to enhance the game to be as light on the user’s computer and Internet connection as possible.
I think what we’ve done is essentially focused on providing a really high quality and deep free-to-play experience. If you think about Runescape, the highest level Runescape free player has played the game for about 17,000 hours without paying and they’ve only just reached maximum level, so there’s tons of stuff to do. The key thing is accessibility. The fact that you can play anywhere, our games are genuinely available anywhere in the world with an Internet connection without download.
Browser based gaming is a really crowded marketplace now. I think last year there were 160/170 new free to play browser based MMOs that were released. Lots of people are really interested in it and lots of people are quite keen to see how much money there is to be made in it. For us it’s been extremely successful but we’ve worked very hard for it. We’ve also approached it in quite a novel way. We haven’t traditionally spent much on marketing or PR, we’ve very much grown through word of mouth. A large percentage of people who play our games have been told about them by other people which is a really sign of success.
Also we’re quite a modest company, we invest well in our staff. We don’t really recruit from the videogame industry, we tend to recruit graduates and then spend 12 months training them up to be the best developers that we can get. We try to be unique in what we do as well. A lot of people misinterpret a lot of the things we do, people often believe that Runescape is aimed at a younger audience than it is when we actually have a really diverse user base.
TR – With the growth of the Netbook and widespread Internet access, are browser games the future of PC Gaming? Will they one day overtake the juggernaut AAA titles?
Adam – I don’t think there needs to be just one way, there will always be different genres of gaming. I think the requirements are either going one of two ways. We’ve obviously focused on the bottom of the market in terms of technical requirements, which means our games can be played on Netbooks or Internet enabled devices. There’s always going to be a place for hardcore gaming on really expensive PCs and consoles, but also the world is starting to understand that casual games don’t have to be simple games, they can be hardcore games that are be played in a simple way. War of Legends for example can be played to a very high level, or you can log in for 10 or 20 minutes a couple of times a day to be able to manage everything, set things up and let them roll when you’re not there. I think the games industry is constantly evolving and it’s a fantastic place to be and I always think there’s a future for hardcore as well as casual gaming.
TR – Thanks for talking to us today and good luck with the new release!
War of Legends is released today over at waroflegends.jagex.com.