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After weeks of non-stop memeing, developers and fans came together with a common goal.
Old School Runescape's 'final' Justicar armor. The community was not impressed.
Old School Runescape, the proudly antiquated version of Runescape that still looks and plays like the game I sank countless hours into when I really should've been studying, is getting a raid. Its second raid, as it happens: The Theatre of Blood. A good raid needs good rewards, so when the Theatre of Blood was announced late last year, players were anxious to see what clearing the multi-man challenge would earn them. Jagex responded with Justicar armor, a new best-in-slot armor set (above). There was one small problem: players absolutely hated it.
In fact, they hated it so much that, for months, the Old School community dogpiled the armor on the 2007scape subreddit and memed it to hell and back. They memed on it so hard that Jagex is now totally changing the armor's design. And not only that, the artist behind the Justicar armor, "Mod West," is using designs submitted and voted on by players. Almost all of Old School Runescape's updates go through player polls, but this is the first time a suit of armor has been forged in a fire of memes.
"I was expecting a bit of a response"
The irony is that while players hated the 'final' armor revealed earlier this year, they loved the prototypes shown when the raid was announced. Originally, the Justicar armor was bulkier and part of a trio of new armor sets, West tells me, but as the Theatre of Blood went from vague idea to actual content, the armor changed with it. Players said there was enough DPS gear but not enough tank gear, so it was narrowed down to just one armor set. And if they were only going to use one set, Jagex figured they might as well make a new one based on the armor worn by the raid's big bad.
"We thought to change it up a bit made sense," West says, "but players weren't quite on board with the original proposal we shared on stream. And then, well, Reddit went wild."
The memes came hard and fast. Some players said it was too similar to existing armor, including armor from Runescape 3, the newer, mainline version of Runescape. Many demanded a return to the prototype designs. Others thought the new armor didn't look tanky enough and generously provided some alternatives, with some calling for a more drastic redesign.
It got so bad that some players started to seriously believe a meme that the updated armor was by a different artist, and that the artist who made the prototypes had left Jagex. But then something amazing happened. Even as memes blotted out the sun, slowly but surely serious suggestions started to shine through. It started with crude Photoshop jobs, but soon proper illustrations and fan art started to crop up. Players rallied around the idea of a bulkier, blessed armor set inspired by the Runescape god Saradomin, so they went back to West's prototype designs and made some changes.
And then, a hero emerged: legend_arts, a talented and well-known Runescape fan artist. Driven by the memes and inspired by elements of West's designs and other players' suggestions, legend_arts created a hybrid armor design so good it not only silenced the memes, it got the attention of West himself.
"What the memes brought"
"When I first pitched it to the community over Twitch, I was expecting a bit of a response," West says. "Because when you're showing best-in-slot items, you've either got no response—which is what you're aiming for really because that means they're happy—or you get a very loud response which, as we've all seen on Reddit, is what happened. Of course, what I didn't expect was for another artist to pop in. But when Legend_Arts posted his concept where he made it bright and shiny, it got like 10,000 upvotes on Reddit, which is why I then went onto the live stream to let them watch me build it. "
"It was almost like a collaborative approach," says community manager "Mod Ayiza." "It's a much more favorable position to be in than everyone just complaining and shouting. We were fortunate. Sure, there were a few memes here and there, and they were pretty good. But what the memes brought, which was so great about this instance, was genuine people that actually wanted to put together good designs. And as much as there were memes, the good suggestions that people liked weren't overshadowed."
Legend_Arts posted his hybrid armor on April 9. The same day, West selected some player-made concepts to work with. Two days later, he streamed the process of turning the most popular ones into in-game models. Two days after that, he shared a few variations complete with polls to once again let players shape the armor. And he wasn't just spitballing. This is the armor coming in the Theatre of Blood. Players provided the metal, and now Jagex is hammering it into form.
"What I worked on last week will be the first design the players liked," West says. "The Gothic design turned blue was a little behind the player-suggested design. But by that point, I'd already set out to make both, so what I'm gonna do is make the other set in-game and we'll have an official poll so they can finally decide which one they want. I don't really mind which one wins. I like the one players suggested."
For all the memes, the Justicar armor fiasco is a great example of the benefits of a player-inclusive approach, especially for an MMO. Sure, some Old School players just want to watch the world burn, but the majority genuinely want to help improve the game. In this case, they weren't happy, they offered suggestions, and because Jagex acted on them, everyone is getting a better raid.
"I think players like when they have a say and when their voice is actually acted upon," West says. "It gives them more power to shape their game, which I'm all for. Being recognized that way by the devs is fantastic, it brings the community into the dev side. ... A lot of comments were questioning how it feels to be an artist getting so much honest criticism, and I feel like that's the stuff you learn from. If you're going to ignore negative criticism, you might as well ignore all criticism. It's enjoyable, but it takes a few years to get used to. "