Speaking to NME, developers on Old School RuneScape have broken down the online multiplayer game’s busiest month since launch – from the birth of dubiously-named community activity Sq’irkin, to the return of its much-hyped Leagues game mode.
Last week (November 15), an Old School RuneScape (OSRS) update added the Trailblazer Reloaded League – a temporary game mode that’s separate from the rest of OSRS.
In the current League, players start from scratch and can only play within one region in Gielinor. Other areas must be unlocked by completing tasks, while powerful perks and exp bonuses make the game mode something of a power fantasy in comparison to standard OSRS.
Just like prior League modes, Trailblazer Reloaded has been hugely popular. On Sunday (November 19), there were over 200,000 concurrent players online – the highest since its launch in 2013.
“Based on where the [past] record was, we thought there was a chance we could eclipse that – though it would depend,” associate design director Kieren Charles told NME. “But it’s blown our expectations out of the water.”
“The whole thing has gone down so well,” agreed lead community manager Ben Cowley. “For the most part, it’s the smoothest launch we’ve had.”
As for the game mode’s popularity, Charles and Cowley feel that Leagues are fan-favourites because they offer new ways to play a game that some fans have been playing for decades.
“You get to try out the most broken and absurd power-ups that should not exist, but the fact they do is incredible,” explained Cowley. “It’s definitely the whole power disparity between [the] main game for sure.”
“But it’s also just being able to experience something new with everyone at the same time, it goes back to that traditional community sense,” Cowley added. “When Leagues is on, the game worlds are full. Every area of the game is full across the entirety of Geilinor, which you don’t normally see in the main game because everyone’s spread out. It brings back that MMO aspect of the game.”
However, the success of Leagues isn’t the first time that OSRS has made news this month. Recently, minigame Sorcerer’s Garden – which tasks players with sneaking past guards to steal Sq’irk Fruit from a garden – made headlines when players gathered in their thousands to try and rush through the garden, rather than sneak past guards individually.
It turned out that the guards were only able to catch a handful of players at once, and the method became a social way of training the game’s Thieving skill. It even got its own nickname – “Sqirk’in” –and has since been endorsed by Jagex with two official worlds to play on, titled ‘Sq’irkin” and ‘Sq’irkin’ too’.
“My first notice of it was from a Reddit post gaining traction quite quickly,” recalled Cowley. “It said ‘They can’t stop us all’. I thought ‘Oh my god, this is absolutely brilliant – but it will blow over. [At Jagex] we thought ‘Okay, it’s funny, it’s a bit of a meme, they’re going to stop’. But it never stopped. They carried on.”
Rather than try to restore Sorcerer’s Garden to Jagex’s original vision, the developer has instead embraced the tactic and has no plans to change it. According to Cowley, this was “the one time” where all areas of the community unanimously wanted to keep an unintended feature, while Charles confirmed that internally there “wasn’t even that much of a discussion” about letting it stay.
“There’s a question to be asked: do we fix it? Change it? If people were getting a million thieving exp per minute [we’d step in], but it’s in a really good place,” said Charles. “We don’t need to make changes, it’s something we can completely embrace and allow players to do that. And the sort of emergent gameplay pieces are great, and we’d love to enable more of that sort of thing. It’s hilarious.
“Those organic moments are really what makes the game special at times,” he added. “We had no hand in it, the community just did this thing. And suddenly they’re all engaged with this feature. So many of my friends who haven’t played recently wanted to go Sq’irkin, and that’s a verb now!”