The Design Director of RuneScape talks to TCS

Sam Raby 2 May 2015

Runescape is an enormous and well known online game created by Jagex studios, whose company headquarters are based in the Cambridge Science Park. Sam Raby spoke to the Design Director, Mark Ogilvie.

Could you give a brief outline of what Runescape is?

It's a medieval fantasy adventure where thousands of people work together to kill the dragon and rescue the princess. As they do they raise their skills and improve at the game to take on bigger and bigger monsters. Runescape's also special because we take our story telling quite seriously; there's hundreds of quests in the game and we're talking about proper, epic, adventures – not just, say, killing 20 bandits.

Is the story emphasis what you would say differentiates your MMO (massively multiplayer online game) from others?

That's a big thing, but the other thing is that we have Guinness world records for the most updated game in the world. Every week you log on there's something new and shiny to do, and that's not a bug fix, it's a genuine new piece of content. Monsters to fight, dungeons to explore, quests to get involved with. We've also got 50 mini games within Runescape that are individual games in their own right.

As the director of design what's your job?

I always describe myself as a manager of goblins rather than a manager of people. I will identify areas that we need to improve or make additions to in the game, and put together what we would describe as a core aims brief. We get a rough idea of what space we need to fill, give it to a designer to get work on a solution which is then checked over by people like me for balance. Then we get the artists and technical developers involved to make sure it's possible, then Q&A, graphics and development implementation…it turns into a scrum of people really. Then it's put together, tested and released into the game. I help people make the best content that they can, I don't actually design any of it myself any more. There's about 200 people on the Runescape floor and I want all of them to put their own stamp on the game.

You've been here for 12 years, has the company changed a lot?

A lot, yes. While I think we still retain the indie vibe of the company, it's a lot bigger. We've got loads more staff and loads more players. That means loads more people having expectations about Runescape and we've got more business sense then we had before. The game's grown so much too, and the nature of the players has changed as well. If we made the same game as we had 12 years ago no one would play it. We've got a lot of players growing up as they play it, there's lots of people who started playing in their teens and are still going as adults, but with lives of their own now as well. As such we have to be aware that the appetite for content has changed, I could show you stuff from 10 years ago and we'd never make anything like that again! We're competing for attention as well in a way we weren't before. If you're playing PC games today, you'll have YouTube and Twitter open as well, and your phones. People today will try a game for five minutes on their phone and if it hasn't grabbed them then they'll move on. In the past people might put five hours into a game first. The players have grown up and the scene's changed.

I'll take the pressure down a notch now, what's your favourite game?

I'm always a sucker for Mario Kart, original Mario Kart on the SNES, that's my go-to. I think my ultimate favourite game of all time is a game called Laser Squad, which was a game on my Amstrad CPC464, that kind of evolved into things like X-Com today, it's like a spiritual successor. It's a good example of how games have changed now as well. In X-Com today you have two things to do a turn, but back then you had a pool of action points it'd take four to move forwards, eight to move backwards, one to turn 90 degrees. Then you've got to choose whether to burst fire or snap fire, prime your grenades…it's a lot more accessible now.