RuneScape developer firefights desperately as new battle pass leads to player revolt and review bombing: 'They've gone too far down the rabbit hole'

RuneScape players
(Image credit: Jagex)

Update: The day after this article was published, RuneScape developer Jagex announced that it will remove the controversial Hero Pass features.

Original story: "Cancelled my subscriptions after playing for more than 15 years, see you around boys and girls," says sfouggarakhs. "Been playing RuneScape since I was a child and this is the first time I really have a bad taste in my mouth from an update," says ExileAgent.

Welcome to the recent and "mostly negative" reviews of RuneScape on Steam: and they all take aim at one thing. "Why do I have to pay for a battlepass for a game that has a monthly subscription," asks CommonClapton. "People are already paying membership for this game and they're tryna milk as much as they can from their players," says Chriwigi. "They've gone too far down the rabbit hole."

Yep, RuneScape's added a new monetisation method, called the Hero Pass, on top of its existing subscription fee, and the 'Scapers are revolting. This is the version of the game some refer to as RuneScape 3, and its official forums and subreddit have been taken over with posts from players who say they've cancelled their accounts, contacting Jagex to request their accounts be permanently deactivated, and generally fuming about the Hero Pass, celebrating the review bombing, and calling developer Jagex various nasty names.

Fuel was poured on the fire when popular content creator Asmongold caught wind of the controversy, and posted a video with the incendiary title "RuneScape is ****ED. How Jagex is lying to you" in which he reacts to a RuneScape content creator discussing what had happened. It's about as subtle as the title suggests and ends in a big rant with Asmongold calling on players to stop playing the game.

The most amusing thing about Asmongold's video, incidentally, is watching RuneScape players discuss it and being torn between going along with the "yeah eff Jagex" vibe but also their desire to correct the several mistakes he makes while discussing and describing the game.

Either way, the scale of the outpouring clearly caught Jagex on the hop. The developer's been in the business long enough that it must've expected some degree of backlash when adding a new monetisation system, but this is ferocious and ongoing. A new blog post begins: "We've been listening to and discussing your feedback on improvements you want to see for the Hero Pass experience."

I bet you have Jagex. While it understandably sticks to the kind of bland language typical of developer communications and doesn't explicitly address things like the review-bombing, it's pretty clear the developer was desperate to get something out there that might stem a bit of the tide. Good luck with that because the key messages here are basically some tweaks to make daily missions more generous, a bunch of promises about future Hero Pass functionality, explanations of the intentions behind content buffs and the Hero Pass, and an explanation of why progression works the way it does in Hero Pass.

This is not really the substantial reckoning RuneScape players are out for, particularly as it makes abundantly clear that the Hero Pass is here to stay. But Jagex does say it screwed up its introduction to the Hero Pass that it apologises for "clearly getting that wrong." In a masterpiece of corporate verbiage it says it's "taking it forward as a learning" before a little swipe at the ragers: "We also want to say a big thank you to anyone who's provided feedback in a constructive manner that we can act on."

The post, needless to say, did not land well. In fact it made people even angrier. And in a final twist, Jagex promises more… but tomorrow. A short message from Mod Keeper, RuneScape's executive producer, says: "With regards to the recent Hero Pass launch on Monday 4th of September; we hear you loud and clear. We are not done, and we will provide further detail tomorrow." It's anyone's guess whether those details will make things worse or better. 

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."