"Give them hell": Beaten down by microtransactions, MMO community revolts after "predatory" battle pass pushes them too far

 Runescape Necromancy
Runescape Necromancy

The RuneScape community is facing the perfect storm of MMO drama, and this is among the maddest I've ever seen this particular bunch. A new battle pass recently hit the already microtransaction-filled MMO, and players have responded with review bombs and protests amid reports of a corporate buyout at the game's parent company.

For the record, we're talking about Runescape, not Old School Runescape (OSRS), which deliberately avoids the more modern play style and monetization of the mainline game. While Runescape pours kerosene on a fire that was honestly lit years ago, OSRS is actually doing quite well and inching toward its first-ever community-voted skill. OSRS is often semi-jokingly regarded as a refuge for Runescape players, and the Old School community's been sympathetic during this battle pass debacle. OSRS players have even loaned the Runescape sub their heavily memed Nan, who once again will not be released until change arrives.

Runescape, meanwhile, has well and truly stepped in it. On August 29, developer Jagex announced a new Hero Pass which it said would deliver "a better, more rewarding Runescape" beginning September 4, with a new pass coming every three months.

The pass would be free to all players, but with premium rewards locked behind a paid version tied to premier membership. Most Runescape (and OSRS) players have a membership subscription because it unlocks the bulk of the technically free game, but premier membership is notably distinct in that it's a 12-month package with extra bonuses. After gaining access through a subscription or a la carte membership Bond upgrades, players also have the option of buying hero pass levels to skip the grind and unlock rewards sooner.

Folks, the pass has not been perceived as better or more rewarding thus far. You know things are gonna get ugly when the Reddit news thread comes with a disclaimer: "Please be civil and constructive, and have mercy on the subreddit (and us mods)." The YouTube reveal isn't faring much better, with 2,000 dislikes to 322 likes.

Criticism of the Hero Pass runs deep and wide. Players bristled at the way it was described as a major update to Runescape, especially on the heels of the well-received Necromancy combat update, instead arguing that it's actually more of the same MTX mess they've seen before. "MTX is not content," reads one Reddit reply.

The Hero Pass is basically a new version of Runescape's (also troubled) Yak Track promo, after all, not unlike the way the pay-for-XP Treasure Hunt system replaced the poorly received Squeel of Fortune. In the announcement, Jagex even affirmed that this is not its first rodeo: "With RuneScape’s prior attempts in this space, we haven't achieved the bar set by other Battle Pass systems."

The presence of gameplay-altering items and buffs has also heightened pay-to-win criticisms. In addition to cosmetics like pets and outfits, the first Hero Pass, Underworld, includes boons to skills like Slayer and Woodcutting, and flat experience buffs of up to 15% for entire groups of skills. There's even a buff to reduce damage taken in a specific boss activity, which some players have skewered as a balance overstep for a promo event.

Others have pounced on the accompanying streamlining of daily challenges. Jagex says some players enjoyed the daily boost of XP, while others resented the "Dailyscape" FOMO urge to min-max every day. Under the Hero Pass, dailies are overall less impactful yet seemingly more time-consuming, with more emphasis on completing weekly and "special" Hero Pass missions instead, which has been perceived as a downgrade by some.

Runescape's Reddit community, which now describes active users as "very angry, grr," is currently wall-to-wall Hero Pass feedback, with a good chunk of the sub consisting of screenshots or posts from players canceling their membership subscription.

"Give them hell," advises one player. "Your standards should have been held higher over 10 years ago, but the second-best time to hold them high is now. Give them hell, cancel your membership."

"I'm tired of you treating RS3 like it's a secondary game, when it used to be the main game," another Redditor writes, zeroing in on the competition between Runescape and OSRS. "RS3's dev team isn't allowed to be as open or transparent with their players, and are always walking on eggshells. Old School's dev team is all about being open and transparent towards its players. It doesn't mean they don't mess up sometimes - but they certainly try to make it right."

Bringing us full circle, PCGamingScrump writes: "OSRS player here who’s canceled all my subscriptions. I’m in this with you guys."

Runescape's post-Hero Pass Steam reviews, which have plummeted to mostly negative against the game's overall very positive rating, sing a similar but visibly wearier song. Microtransaction fatigue is a recurring theme in these player protests, and that's come through especially clearly in user reviews. Steam has the most visible feedback of the bunch, but even Runescape's App Store and Google Play listings have seen some Hero Pass backlash.

"I love this game, but recent MTX battle pass type update is about to kill it," writes one Steam user with 1,828 Runescape hours logged. "More avenues of monetization than a free-to-play game," adds a 1,127-hour player. "Thanks Jagex for helping me play the other games I bought over the past years by adding a terrible, predatory battle pass system," echoes a 4,243-hour veteran.

Even former Jagex dev John Pi has chimed in: "It's very disappointing to see this go through," he wrote on Twitter (X), sharing a post from Runescape streamer Sick Nerd, who lamented the boss-altering combat buff on the Hero Pass. "End-game combat was deliberately ringfenced away from MTX during my time at Jagex, including DTD's not working. Seeing it added to a battle pass (which should be cosmetic only IMO) makes me a very sad Pi."

Jagex hasn't been weathering the storm in silence. It released a new blog post addressing Hero Pass feedback yesterday, September 6, promising shorter and more rewarding daily missions as well as a cleaned-up interface. The company also acknowledged concerns regarding gameplay-altering Hero Pass buffs, insisting that "we'll be looking at where on the Hero Pass track Content Buffs are generally placed, with the aim to make buffs easier to acquire through organic play," as well as asking players what kind of buffs they actually want to see.

Speaking of organic play, Jagex says its own data shows that "moderately active players" would reach rank 99 on the Hero Pass "with their normal playtime," but only "around 30%" of the player base would realistically max it out at rank 120. "We’ll be combining that data with your continued feedback to keep a close eye on how Hero Pass is matching the goals of the balancing," the developer says of pass progression.

"For now, we’ll be focusing on keeping you updated on how we’re looking to refine Hero Pass based on your feedback and make sure it's living up to its intentions," the post concludes. "We also want to say a big thank you to anyone who’s provided feedback in a constructive manner that we can act on – this is the best way to drive change and it’s been incredibly helpful for us to focus in on making meaningful improvements."

"I still firmly believe that we need to do more to make Hero Pass better but this was a chance to show we're talking," said one Jagex mod. "I listen to feedback. On days like today, I fight like hell for it, even if you don't see what you wanted here."

The protests certainly seem to have had an effect. In a shorter update posted today, Jagex added: "With regard 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."

One Runescape high-roller recently hit a triple drop so rare that people struggled to even calculate the odds