RuneScape is what gamers and programmers within the gaming community call an MMOG, a massively-multiplayer online game.
MMOGs origins are based on the 1979 creation of Roy Trubshaw and Rich Bartle called the MUD (multi-user dungeons). In a MUD, gamers would log into a “MUD Server” using an IBM dumb terminal at a library or college campus, and then players would develop their characters skills by fighting monsters and completing quests – all within a virtual networked world of real-time text descriptions flying across the screen.

Today, the evolution of this gaming world finds itself on the brink of a major breakthrough, and advertisers who take notice now are sure to start bringing in some unbelievable revenue. Games like RuneScape, in particular, are set to capture a huge portion of the online population – represented a demographic of people who have money, and are not afraid to spend it online.

What’s The Big Deal about Online Gaming?

According to a July 10th, 2007 press release by the internet monitoring company Comscore reported that one in four internet users visit a gaming site, indicating that online gaming is extremely popular.

The report states, “The fact that these websites are pulling in over a quarter of the total worldwide Internet population shows what a global phenomenon gaming has become.”

However, digging deeper into this global phenomenon reveals not everything is as they appear. For decades, the world of online gaming was dominated by younger males aged 16 through 25. In fact this was an accurate statistic during the pre-internet years when PC games dominated the market. However, an entirely new phenomenon is now taking over the gaming world, and women are dominating.

In a 2005 issue of IGDA Online Games Quarterly, writer Wade Tinney interviewed several CEOs from the top online gaming companies such as MSN Games and FreshGames. In this interview, the executives revealed that online games that do not require any sort of software installation (known as “casual gaming”) has a significantly higher number of female users. MSN games alone reported that 60% of its online players are women. Even more surprisingly, FreshGames CEO reported that 65% of its users are women, and over 90% of its paying customers are over the age of 30.

The flip side of the coin is MMOGs. In the case of these massive online networked games, usually involving fighting mystical creatures and going on “quests” with fellow magicians and swordsmen, a 2005 Nielsen study indicates that 76% of men play these games.

Second Life vs. World of Warcraft

Second Life and World of Warcraft are two of the most popular worldwide online games. These games individually appeal to different segments of the online population. Second Life is almost entirely a social networking site embedded into a 3-dimensional virtual world where people can actually see the other player’s avatar and hold conversations with them or even do business with them. In the case of Warcraft, the goal of the game is action and adventure – to conquer creatures and succeed on adventures and quests.

Second Life appeals to the online user who enjoys social networking. Warcraft appeals to the adventurous and goal-oriented. The split between male and female demographics also clearly indicates this.

Online casual gaming sites such as MSN games come close to introducing a hybrid environment that attracts both segments of the gaming population – the ease of use and lack of installation as well as the social networking features attract casual gamers, and the game itself attracts gamers – though not many. For the most part, “core gamers”, as they are called, are not flocking to these online casual gaming sites.

How is RuneScape Different?

RuneScape introduces the perfect hybrid solution that could potentially appeal to both types of online gamer. RuneScape has entered into a unique niche within the online gaming market, and its market advantage is that it can be defined as both a Casual Game and a MMOG.

No Installation – Casual Gamers Love It

Almost a quarter of the gaming market is made of up casual gamers, and this segment of the gaming market is growing exponentially without any end in sight. While Google search terms for every other aspect of online gaming is either flat, or on a very gradual climb, since 2006, the popularity of the term “casual games” has increased by 50% by 2008.

The beauty of online games such as Pogo or MSN Games is that they require no software installation. You can log in from any internet browser and play the game. Jagex Ltd, the developer of RuneScape, established the browser-based game in 1999. The programming is centered on Java technology, where the browser-based Java runtime environment.

RuneScape offers this casual gaming advantage to online users. Players are able to log into the game from any internet browser and continue playing from wherever they left off. Of course, RuneScape also appeals to casual gamers in another way – you can play for free.

Socialize and Kill Dragons at the Same Time

On May 3rd, 2007, RuneScape hit a historic milestone of one million subscribers. This success came only two years after the phenomenon of “casual gaming” begins to take hold over the online internet gaming marketplace.

As more and more internet users who were previously “non-gamers” begin to discover the popular world of online browser-based gaming, RuneScape is set to break even more records within the next few years. In January of this year (2008), Jagex Ltd launched “RuneScape High Detail” . By July 2008, RuneScape became the leading MMOG in terms of internet searches.

As more and more people seek out convenient and simple forms of entertainment on the internet, websites like Runescape are already positioned to attract both the demographic seeking a virtual 3D community for social networking, as well as the demographic looking for the action and adventure of a virtual reality world filled with other players from around the world.

This is the future, and RuneScape is poised solidly within a niche that is ready to explode in the coming years. In fact, it is in the process of exploding right now.

Should I Play?

One warning to anyone who has never played a massively multiplayer online game before: Play with caution. These games are highly addictive. Set a timer nearby the computer, because these large virtual worlds have a strange ability to warp the time dimension and cause five hours to flash past in the blink of an eye.

An even more pressing concern than considering whether or not to play the game, is whether or not to invest in Jagex stock. In October of 2007, Jagex appointed Geoff Iddison, the former European CEO of Paypal, as company CEO with the hope that he would help to drive the growth of RuneScape. It appears from all indications that the growth of RuneScape has no end in sight.