Jagex has quietly crafted in RuneScape the world's second-largest Western MMO -- with roughly 5.3 million active players per month, the free-to-play, browser-based title comes in just behind World of Warcraft. Now, the UK-based company's heading for a new frontier with a game portal called FunOrb.
The recently-launched site offers what the company calls "deep casual gaming" -- the aim's to provide deep and compelling game experiences within the same time frames usually associated with casual titles.
It's a promising idea with some unique aspects to it -- and is sure to pose a challenge for the company as it's tasked with maintaining its growth plans for thriving RuneScape at the same time. Jagex CEO Geoff Iddison talks to Gamasutra about the details of FunOrb and how it plans to balance its goals.
I first heard of RuneScape back when I was working in the specialist press. We'd always check our traffic position relative to other gaming websites -- and RuneScape was always the third-biggest!
Geoff Iddison: It's at least that -- probably number two. It's the second-biggest Western MMO, currently. If you look at the number of active players for our game over a month period, we're about 5.3 million per month. World of Warcraft is about 9.3 million, and number three is well behind us. We're number two in the Wstern world.
We launched our new game in March of this year called FunOrb. FunOrb is a deep casual game experience -- there's nothing quite like it on the market -- and we feel that it's really going to appeal to those ex-MMOG players who no longer have the time to play an MMO but want a deep, compelling gaming experience within an easily accessible, relatively short period of time. Playtime for the FunOrb games is between 12 and 40 hours, so it's deep minigames.
The whole business model of Jagex products, and this business model will go forward with our new MMO coming out next year, is free to play, and if you want deeper content, you pay a subscription. Subscription is five dollars a month for RuneScape and three dollars a month for FunOrb. To go into that content, you pay the monthly subscription, so it's basically a free to play model.
About 60 percent of the game content is behind that subscription barrier. In RuneScape, it may be different quests, the same quests but deeper, and it may be certain skills that you have. House building, for example, is a members' benefit. There's a number of skills and quests and things that you can't do as a free member.
How do you find that the subscription model works for you, in terms of free to play plus subscription?
GI: The subscription model works really well for us. We've got more than a million subscribers currently and growing, so it's worked well. Margins are very good and we're extremely profitable, so it works for us. But going forward, we are considering in our future MMOs having not just subscription but micropayments too.
Companies with several different MMOs can have a slight self-competing problem. How do you look at that issue?
GI: We don't know yet. But we positioned our new MMO at an older demographic than RuneScape. It's sci-fi, so it's a different genre altogether. You're not going to get people playing multiple MMO, they're going to be playing one at a time, so there may be some cannibalization of our RuneScape userbase going over to our new MMO. Tthe way we've positioned it is RuneScape, our new MMO, and then FunOrb, the deep casual game experience. So there should be a migration path from one to the other in those three games. But it's going to be interesting to see how it overlaps.
Can you explain the philosophy is behind deep casual games?
GI: We've got all of the infrastructure in place to do a full casual game offering to an audience that wants a multiplayer game. FunOrb is leveraging that technology and giving a far more satisfying, deeper playing experience; it's more satisfying from a graphics perspective and from a content perspective, and the subscription model is free to play.
40 hours of gameplay on a casual game is currently something that's not generally available on the marketplace. It's early days. We launched in March, and we've got around 300,000 uniques in a two or three week period. So it seems to be going well and the model seems to work. We've got a new game going live on FunOrb every two weeks -- the same as RuneScape; new content goes onto RuneScape every two weeks.
What goes into these updates?
GI: Some updates have taken a year or 18 months to develop, like the update that we did around three months ago, and some updates are relatively minor.
We watch our forums and take the feedback very seriously and use that feedback in a lot of cases to improve the game. We have a player poll every two weeks as well, asking them what they'd like to see and what they don't like and whatever else.
It's one of the first social networking sites, RuneScape. It's been around since 2001, and potentially, it has over 130 million people on that network, so that feedback that we have is always taken seriously and we plug it into the game in development.
What's your primary demographic?
GI: RuneScape's demographic is from 7 to 18, with a sweet spot being around 13, 14, or 15. It's 85 percent male, but we're keen to get more females into the game. There's puzzles that are aimed at the female audience, as opposed to the PvP stuff, which is more male-oriented.
After 18 is where FunOrb comes in. People at college perhaps haven't got the time to spend 12 or 14 hours a week out on RuneScape and MMOs, so naturally they'll graduate onto something else. But this is where our new MMOG comes in. We're hoping to collect a lot of those people graduate out of RuneScape to our new MMO.
But we've got a lot of people over 40 playing Runescape; we have whole families playing the game. We have granddads and grandmas meeting their siblings, nieces, and nephews within the game. We want to appeal to the whole. For anyone who wants to play RuneScape, there's something in there for them.
Your strategy is to stay completely browser-based for all of your products?
GI: Absolutely. It's so compelling, and I think other companies are seeing this now. So the distribution model of the browser base is just fantastic. There's no third parties. We are the developer and the publisher. Anywhere in the world, you can access your MMOG. You don't need a high-spec PC. With any PC that's connected to the internet, you can just log on and you're there in your game with your avatar. That model is just so good for us, and we feel it's going to become more competitive in this space because the model's so good.
However, the barriers to entry on a massive MMO which is browser-based are pretty high. The infrastructure that we've got in place not just from a technical perspective, but the design, is pretty sophisticated. The black mark system, all of the filters, the chat filters, the policing of the game... those things are pretty high barriers to entry. You don't go diving into the browser-based MMO market without having to overcome some of those hurdles. It's not just a matter of getting a game out there.
And there's a whole regulatory perspective of this as well, with an MMO that's browser-based and accessible from anyone's PC, you want to make sure it's safe to play. That's why half of our company is dedicated to player support.