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RuneScape is a fantasy massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) released in January 2001 by Andrew and Paul Gower,[2] and developed and published by Jagex Games Studio. It is a graphical browser game implemented on the client-side in Java, and incorporates 3D rendering. The game has approximately 10 million active accounts per month, over 156 million registered accounts,[3] and is recognised by the Guinness World Records as the world’s most popular free MMORPG.[4]

RuneScape takes place in the world of Gielinor, a medieval fantasy realm divided into different kingdoms, regions, and cities.[5][6] Players can travel throughout Gielinor on foot, through use of magical teleportation spells and devices, and via numerous other methods, such as charter ships.[7] Each region offers different types of monsters, resources, and quests to challenge players. The game’s fictional universe has also been explored through a tie-in video game on its maker’s other website, FunOrb, Armies of Gielinor,[8] and a novel, Betrayal at Falador.[9]

Players are represented in the game with customisable avatars. RuneScape does not follow a linear storyline; rather, players set their own goals and objectives. Players can choose to fight non-player character (NPC) monsters, complete quests, or increase their experience in the available skills.[10] Players interact with each other through trading, chatting, or by participating in mini-games and activities, some of which are competitive or combative in nature, while others require cooperative or collaborative play.

The first public version of RuneScape was released on 4 January 2001 in beta form,[2] and in December 2001, Jagex was formed to manage the game.[11] As the game’s popularity grew, the game engine was rewritten, and its beta was opened to paying players on 1 December 2003 under the name “RuneScape 2”. It was renamed RuneScape upon its stable release on 29 March 2004.[12]

RuneScape logo
RuneScape’s logo (since 1 July 2008)
Developer(s) Jagex Games Studio
Publisher(s) Jagex Games Studio
Designer(s) Andrew Gower
Paul Gower
Platform(s) Java
Release date(s) RuneScape Classic (beta):
4 January 2001
RuneScape 2:
17 March 2004
RuneScape HD:
14 July 2008
Genre(s) Fantasy MMORPG
Mode(s) Multiplayer
Media/distribution Web interface (Java)
System requirementsMinimum: 128 MB RAM, 500 MHz CPU
High Detail: 256 MB RAM, 1.5 GHz CPU, Nvidia GeForce3 or equivalent graphics card[1]



A screenshot of the typical user interface in RuneScape

Players begin in a secluded area, where they are taken through a tutorial, a set path where they learn the most basic skills in RuneScape.[13] After the tutorial, players have access to tutors and advisors located in the towns they explore, who can give players appropriate information about their respective skills.[14]

Players set their own goals and objectives as they play the game. They can train their in-game skills, engage non-player character (NPC) monsters and other players in combat and complete quests at their discretion.[10] Players interact with each other through trading, chatting, or by participating in mini-games.


The 25 skills in RuneScape enable players to perform various activities within the game, allowing for interaction with NPCs, the environment and other players. Players gain experience points in a skill when they utilise it. For example, mining an ore trains the mining skill, and when the player accumulates enough experience points in the skill, their character will “level up”.[15] As the skill level rises, the ability to retrieve better raw materials and produce better products increases, as does the experience awarded if the player utilises new abilities. The total skill level of a player partly symbolises the player’s status in the game and the official RuneScape high score tables can be viewed by anyone. Upon reaching the highest available level in a skill, members may buy a special cape known as a “Cape of Accomplishment” or a “Skill Cape”, to symbolise their achievement.[16]

Some skills, such as woodcutting and fishing, enable the player to collect raw materials that can be processed into usable items for other skills, such as fletching and cooking respectively. The items created can be used by the player or sold to shops and other players. Other skills allow players to kill certain NPCs, build their own houses, move around the map with greater ease, steal from various NPCs, market stalls and chests located in-game, light fires, cook their own food, create their own potions, craft runestones and weapons, plant their own plants, hunt NPC animals, raid dungeons, and summon familiars to assist in combat and training skills.[17]


RuneScape features a real-time combat system. Combat is an important aspect of the game, allowing players to retrieve items or gold dropped by defeated creatures or players and complete quests. A combat level is an indicator of how powerful a player or NPC is in combat. For players, it is determined by applying a mathematical formula to the eight combat skills.[18] Players engage in combat by clicking on the enemy they want their character to attack and will automatically continue fighting until they kill their opponent, die, or retreat from the fight. Most of the game’s weapons are medieval or fantastical in nature, and feature different strengths and weaknesses. Players may also summon a familiar to assist with combat [19] and use potions and the Prayer skill to boost their combat prowess.

Combat is subdivided into three main categories: melee, magic and ranged. Melee attacks are close range,[20] magic attacks focus on using runestones to cast spells,[21] and ranged attacks use projectile weapons like arrows, darts or knives.[22] These combat types make up the “Combat Triangle”, which states that melee attacks are effective against ranged opponents, ranged attacks are effective against magic opponents and magic attacks are effective against melee opponents.[23] The advantages and disadvantages of the combat triangle apply to both NPCs and player opponents. Unlike most games in the MMORPG genre, RuneScape does not require players to choose a character class nor are players bound to a specific category of combat. They may freely change between or combine the three styles of combat by switching weapons and armour.

Players die when their life points are reduced to zero. Lost life points can be recovered by consuming certain food or drinks. Players who die reappear at a respawn point with their life and skill points restored; however, they drop all but their three most valuable items.[18] The items dropped form a gravestone, and they can be retrieved if the player can return to the gravestone before a certain period of time. However, there are situations in which all items will be lost upon death.[18]

Player versus player combat

Player versus player combat (sometimes called PvP combat) can be performed in specific controlled mini-games and in an area known as the Wilderness. The Duel Arena allows players to stake money and items,[24] while other PvP games offer their own rewards. In the Wilderness, players can engage in combat provided that their combat levels fall within a certain range of each other, and if a player kills their opponent they will be able to claim their opponent’s items as a reward.[25]

Before December 2007, players went to the Wilderness to fight other players within a certain combat level range, hoping to kill them and gain their items.[26] In December 2007, the Wilderness was altered to prevent players from transferring in-game items for real-world currency.[27] PvP combat was removed from the Wilderness and temporarily restricted to new mini-games named Bounty Hunter and Clan Wars.[28] Bounty Hunter was replaced by special Bounty Worlds on 6 May 2009 in which players were confined to the Wilderness and could be assigned specific targets to kill.[29] “PvP Worlds” were introduced on 15 October 2008 where players could fight almost anywhere in Gielinor,[30] but these and “Bounty Worlds” were removed when PvP combat in the Wilderness was restored on 1 February 2011.[31]

Non-player interaction

NPCs populate the realm of Gielinor. Some NPCs, such as shopkeepers and characters in quests, are unavailable for combat. However, most NPCs can be attacked and these are generally referred to as monsters. Monsters range from common, low-level creatures, such as chickens and goblins, to unique and often much more powerful monsters, such as the King Black Dragon, Kalphite Queen, TzTok-Jad, or the Corporeal Beast.[32]

Each type of monster has its own strengths and weaknesses. Demons, for example, have a weak defence against magical attacks, while most dragons have extremely high defence against magic. Monsters may either be aggressive or non-aggressive. Non-aggressive monsters ignore players unless attacked, while aggressive monsters may attack all players or may only attack players with combat levels below a specified level, depending on the circumstances or location. This can make certain areas throughout Gielinor dangerous or inconvenient to players with lower combat levels.[32]

Player interaction

Players can interact with each other through trading, chatting, or by participating in mini-games and activities, some of which are competitive or combative in nature, while others require cooperative or collaborative play. Players can trade items and gold coins with each other, either through a face-to-face trade,[33] or by using a large automated marketplace known as the Grand Exchange.[34]

The chat system enables players to communicate with each other. Public Chat broadcasts text to players in the local area on one server, both by text appearing above the speaker’s head and in the message box. Clan Chat broadcasts text in the message box only to certain players tuned into a specific channel, who can be available on any RuneScape world. Each Clan Chat channel has an owner, who can assign different ranks to individual players; players’ ranks dictate their ability to perform administrative tasks within the channel.[35] Private Chat allows for one-to-one communication through a player-controlled Friends List. Quick Chat allows players to choose from a list of predetermined messages to send as Public Chat, Clan Chat, or Private Chat.[36]

RuneScape also features independent mini-games, although most are only available to paying members. Mini-games take place in certain areas and normally involve specific in-game skills, and usually require players to cooperate or to compete with each other. Examples of these mini-games include Castle Wars, which is similar to the real-life game Capture the Flag, Pest Control, a highly combat-focused mini-game, and Fist of Guthix, where one player (the hunter) tries to stop another player (the hunted) from collecting charges into a magical stone.[37]


Quests are series of tasks with a storyline that players can choose to complete. These often have requirements including minimum levels in certain skills, combat levels, quest points and/or the completion of other quests. Players receive various rewards for completion of quests, including money, unique items, access to new areas, quest points and/or increases in skill experience. Some quests require players to work together, and many require players to engage in challenging combat. Quests are grouped into categories based on requirements and difficulty.[38] Once a player completes all quests in the game, an achievement cape known as the “Quest Point Cape”, will be awarded.[16] New quests are released periodically.

History and development

Andrew Gower developed RuneScape with the assistance of his brother Paul Gower.[2] It was originally conceived as a text-based MUD, but graphics were incorporated early in development, adding it to the ranks of what were then known as “graphical MUDs”.[39][40] The first public version of the game utilised a mixture of three-dimensional and two-dimensional sprites. It was released as a beta version on 4 January 2001, and originally operated out of their parents’ house in Nottingham.[2] In December 2001, the Gower brothers, along with Constant Tedder, formed Jagex to take over the business aspects of running RuneScape.[11] Among its early innovations Jagex developed an interpreted domain-specific scripting language called RuneScript, which is used by RuneScape’s server for event handling.[41] On 27 February 2002, a monthly membership service was introduced, allowing access to additional features including new areas, quests, and items not available to free users.[11]

As the game gained more users, Jagex began planning major changes.[42] The developers rewrote the game engine, producing a new version of the game with entirely three-dimensional graphics called RuneScape 2. A beta version of RuneScape 2 was released to paying members for a testing period beginning on 1 December 2003, and ending on 29 March 2004.[12] Upon its official release, RuneScape 2 was renamed simply RuneScape, while the older version of the game was kept online under the name RuneScape Classic. On 12 January 2006, Jagex banned more than 5000 Classic accounts for cheating. To prevent further cheating, RuneScape Classic was closed to new accounts, and access was restricted to accounts who had played Classic at least once between 3 August 2005 and 12 January 2006.[43]

Ranged combat in RuneScape Classic

To support RuneScape’s free content, advertisements appear on a banner above the playing screen on the free-to-play servers. Since computer users may use advertisement blockers, which may discourage advertisers, Jagex introduced a rule that prohibits players from blocking these advertisements.[44] On 13 July 2006, Jagex signed an exclusive marketing and distribution contract with WildTangent Games,[45] which granted WildTangent the right to handle advertising in and around RuneScape in the United States, and to distribute RuneScape through the WildTangent Games Network,[45] reaching over 20 million consumer PCs.[46]

On 16 May 2006, Jagex upgraded RuneScape’s game engine, improving the game’s loading times and reducing its memory requirements.[47] The engine was upgraded again on 26 June 2007 to allow the addition of future content.[48] On 1 July 2008, Jagex released a beta of their “High Detail” mode for members, which was extended to free players two weeks later.[49] Before the launch, Jagex stated that it would be officially revealed at the 2008 E3 trade show.[50]

In September 2009, it was announced that RuneScape Classic would be re-opened to the public, including a feature where players could rent and administer their own server, giving them the ability to allow or ban any player of their choice, as well as enabling or disabling cheat codes they want.[51] The game was re-opened for two weeks on 11 November 2009, and again for two weeks on 1 June 2010, to paying RuneScape members, who were told they would be permitted to continue playing Classic after that time provided they had logged in during the two-week period.[52][53]

In an interview in May 2008, former Jagex CEO Geoff Iddison stated that, “We do plan to go East with it [RuneScape] to the Asian market and the Eastern European market too” […] “RuneScape is not for Japan, but it could work well in Malaysia for example. And where’s India in all this? I think RuneScape is a game that would be adopted in the English-speaking Indian world and the local-speaking Indian world. We’re looking at all those markets individually.”[54] RuneScape later launched in India through the gaming portal Zapak on 8 October 2009,[55] and in France and Germany through Bigpoint Games on 27 May 2010.[56]


RuneScape server locations

As of August 2009[update] there were 171 English RuneScape servers located throughout the world, which are numbered and referred to as worlds by players and by Jagex. They are located in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, Finland, Belgium, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Mexico, France and India.[57][58] The large number of servers scattered around the world provides the best connection for players in the most cost-effective manner. Servers are moved or added as the need arises.[59]

Each RuneScape server allows up to 2,000 players to log in simultaneously,[60] allowing a maximum capacity of more than 340,000 players. The servers are divided into free servers which are available for all players, and servers which are reserved for paying members. Some servers are given activity labels, allowing players performing tasks that require or desire group participation to group together.[61]

In addition to the English servers, there are two RuneScape servers where the game is translated into French,[62] five servers translated into German,[63] and six servers translated into Brazilian Portuguese.[64] There are also three servers for RuneScape Classic.[65]

Graphics and sound

RuneScape can be run with varying levels of graphical detail. High-detail graphics enhance texture and design, while low-detail graphics provide a cleaner look and can reduce lag on less powerful computers. RuneScape uses a graphics engine called “RuneTek 5”, which provides support for multiple graphics platforms such as DirectX, OpenGL and video game consoles, as well as graphical effects such as sky boxes, bloom lighting[66][67] and Z-buffering.[68] The high-detail version incorporates hardware acceleration and can be rendered using either Java OpenGL or DirectX.[69][70]

RuneScape features a character-customisation system. Unlike many MMORPGs, characters are always human; however, players may choose the gender, hairstyle, body type, facial features, skin colour, and clothing options.[13] Appearance is further complemented by wearing or wielding items. Players can express emotions through the use of specialised animations called emotes, some of which are standard and others earned through gameplay or released during holiday events.[71] Standard weapons of the same class, such as swords, use the same set of animations in combat, while special weapons have their own, distinctive animations.

RuneScape has music, synthesised and “real world” sound effects,[72] and ambient noises throughout Gielinor. The music is designed to define the underlying cultures of the various locations accessible. Sound effects, such as the “sploosh” heard when a lobster trap is submerged in water, are heard as players train their skills. Ambient noises, such as the cry of seagulls flying over the ocean, occur in logical places.[73] The game engine also incorporates voice acting in the game’s tutorial.[74]


Artwork drawn by a fan in a setting based in RuneScape

A set of official forums are provided by Jagex on the RuneScape website. On the forums, players are able to participate in game discussions, take part in player-made forum games, arrange to buy or sell items, post suggestions for game improvements, vote in polls, and otherwise interact with the community. Unlike many MMORPG official forums, the RuneScape forums have limited features. A user can set an avatar and have a separate display name,[75][76] but cannot set an automatic signature. User profiles only display the number of posts a user has made along with the option to disable smileys. Users cannot use text formatting, post links, nor display images.[77] The privilege of posting on the forums is limited to paying members, as well as free players with a total level exceeding 350.[78]

Between 24 September 2002 and 9 December 2004, players could submit questions via e-mail to the RuneScape gods, which were published in the form of letters.[79] On 26 September 2005, a new feature known as Postbag from the Hedge was introduced, where players can submit questions via e-mail to a non-player character in the game.[80] Players can also submit original RuneScape related artwork (such as sculptures, comics, drawings and paintings), some of which is displayed in a gallery on the RuneScape website.[81]

During various holidays, including Easter, April Fools, Thanksgiving, Halloween and Christmas, Jagex hosts a holiday event in a specific location in Gielinor. Players who successfully complete the required tasks during the event receive a reward such as an item or an emote, allowing the player character to perform a gesture conveying an emotion.[82] Holiday items released prior to 2002 are tradable among players, and due to their rarity are worth significant amounts of money on the player market.[83] Holiday items after Christmas 2002 are untradable and limited to one per player, and can also be retrieved if lost.[82]

Various RuneScape fansites have been established by players, which are a source of information about the game.[84] In the early days of RuneScape, the official website had a page which listed links to several fansites, but has since been removed.[85] In order to provide players with an alternative, Jagex introduced the Knowledge Base,[86] which offers information on gameplay, the main RuneScape rules, and account security.[87] For account security reasons, Jagex discourages the discussion of fansites within the game or the official forums – and a rule specifically prohibits sharing web addresses.[88] A major fansite has criticised Jagex for not recognising fansites’ contributions to the development of its game.[89] However, as a result of announcements made in 2009, Jagex has promised to increase communication with fansites.[90]

Rules and cheating

Jagex has employed rules for player conduct, such as rules against offensive language, scamming, and bug abuse.[91] To enforce the rules, an in-game feature exists that allows a player to send a report to Jagex if they notice another player breaking a rule.[92] RuneScape also uses three types of moderators: Jagex Moderators, who are actual Jagex employees; Player Moderators, who are trusted players that enforce the rules within the game; and Forum Moderators, who are trusted players who police the game forums.[93] Players who repeatedly break the rules may be temporarily or permanently banned from playing the game.[92]

There are also rules prohibiting the use of third-party software to play the game, known as macroing, and the sale of game items for real money through real-world trading. In an attempt to stop cheating, Jagex made direct interaction with the client difficult, established rules against the practice,[94] and introduced random events that required player input to complete.[95] In response to continued gold farming, Jagex issued a statement condemning real-world trading, stating that they were seizing billions of gold and banning thousands of accounts every week for cheating, and promising to increase their efforts to prevent real-world trading in the game.[96]

From October 2007 to December 2007, Jagex began releasing a series of updates to restrict unbalanced trades. The updates limited the value of items staked in duels, removed player-versus-player combat from the Wilderness, made valuable player drops invisible to other players, introduced gravestones for the items of dead players, instituted systems for assisting players with skills and sharing loot among groups of players, and established the Grand Exchange, a sharemarket-like trade system for RuneScape goods. Collectively, these changes were designed to make it extremely difficult for real-world traders to distribute gold and items to players.[27] In December 2010, a referendum was opened to decide whether to restore unbalanced trades and player-versus-player combat in the Wilderness,[97] which closed with 1.2 million votes cast and 91% of voters in favour of the proposal,[98] and these features were restored on 1 February 2011.[31]

Press reception

PC Gamer UK stated in December 2003, that while the “traditional RPG values of questing, slaying monsters and developing your character in a familiar medieval setting” will not “have the big boys trembling in their +2 Boots of Subscriber Gathering,” this is offset by the game’s accessibility through a web browser, “compounded by a version of the game that allows free adventuring player the opportunity to upgrade to a members’ account”, describing the game as “an unsurprising success”.[99]

The Yahoo! 2006 Buzz Log stated that, “while it may not be as easy on the eyes as some other popular online RPG games, like World of Warcraft, City of Heroes, or EverQuest, RuneScape is still a lot better way to kill time than pushing around cells in a spreadsheet“.[100] A 2007 JustRPG review summarised RuneScape as “a fun, addictive game, and while the graphics may not be perfect, for a game written in Java, they aren’t bad. The skills are varied, the community is alright, and it’ll eat up your time if you aren’t careful”, giving it a score of 83%.[101]

In its 2008 intellectual property profile of the game, stated that whilst Jagex’s changes to curtail real world trading resulted in “a wave of user criticism… growth is understood to have resumed since”. Its analysis stated that “RuneScape’s mass-market appeal lies in its simplicity and accessibility (both financial and technical). It has tapped into the vast market of games players unwilling or unable to spend premium prices on PCs capable of playing the latest, expensive, processor-intensive games. Its core gameplay concepts are very similar to its retail-distributed RPG and MMORPG analogues.”[102] In August 2008, RuneScape was recognised by the Guinness World Records as the world’s most popular free MMORPG. Jagex was presented with a certificate to commemorate the achievement at the 2008 Leipzig Games Convention.[4] A 2009 EuroGamer article criticised RuneScape’s in-game community for being unfriendly to newcomers, although they have stated that the Fan-Forum community is more approachable.[103]

Player reception

In December 2007, updates by Jagex removed free player-versus-player combat and unbalanced trading in order to rid the game of activities involving real currency being traded for virtual goods.[28][104] The updates also affected legitimate players, resulting in many of them actively complaining on the forums.[105] Jagex issued a Customer Support News article admitting the updates may not have been an ideal replacement for what was removed, requesting patience and promising to remedy potential problems with updates in the future.[106] During the changes, subscription numbers fell by 60,000.[107] No figures were given as to how many of those subscriptions belonged to legitimate players and how many to gold farmers. In an interview in February 2008, Jagex’s head of content stated that, “we were really afraid we were going to lose our members over this change, because other games had in the past. But we are very, very pleased to say that we have lost practically none of our members.”[108]


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External links

Official sites
Major fansites



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