Runescape News: Uproar Over Jagex Microtransactions

by JoHarrington

Real world trading had always been a no-no; in-game gambling had been discouraged. Then came Squeal of Fortune.

As unpopular decisions go, this one was a biggie.

Less than a month after the news was leaked that Runescape was now in the hands of venture capitalists, the whole ethos of the game was changed.

For years, Jagex had railed against micro-transactions. CEO Mark Gerhard called them a 'stealth tax'.

Suddenly they were in the game, with the very rules being altered to facilitate them. Players began their revolt.

Riots Erupt in Falador Over Official Runescape Real World Trading

Not to mention a swarm of protest messages on the forums and across the fan-sites too.

The stench of hypocrisy has settled over Gielinor. Fresh from nearly a decade of fighting against real world trading, Jagex have apparently swopped sides.

The introduction of a new mini-game entitled Squeal of Fortune allows players to spend their real world cash on virtual bonuses. It's a development which runs contrary to the long established ethos that socio-economic status in reality should never impact upon the same in-game.

In the escapist world of Runescape, the issues of real life can be put aside, while people play out a better reality.

Wheelchair bound people can become mighty warriors or champions of agility. Cash-strapped poverty can be ignored for an hour or two, while players can afford high level items, with virtual money earned in game. Discrimination can be side-stepped, as everyone exists in the same level playing field. In game merit is all.

But not any more. Now wealthy players in real life can buy their privileges in game too. But the backlash is immense.

Wearing Mourner clothes and setting up cannons, a growing clutch of players gathered in Runescape's Falador to protest the Squeal of Fortune. The giant V denotes a Veteran cape, which indicates a player's five year longevity in the game.

They were also armed with a 'toy horsey', ironically the target of a recent Jagex initiative to stamp out gambling in the game. It was being used now to convey that very message to the company itself.

Image: Player protesting Squeal of Fortune
Image: Player protesting Squeal of Fortune

Meanwhile a single thread in the official Runescape forums had attracted over 15,000 messages of condemnation. More were flooding in all of the time. It wasn't alone. A petition thread had been maxed out three times and was now on its fourth incarnation.

Another thread had nearly 800 people each quoting the Runescape rules back at Jagex. It's the comment encircled in red below.

"We don’t want players to be able to buy their way to success in RuneScape.
If we let players start doing this, it devalues RuneScape for others. We feel your status in real-life shouldn’t affect your ability to be successful in RuneScape."
Jagex: The Rules of Runescape

Speaking at the Free to Play Summit, in London, March 28th 2012:
'...a gentle introduction of item sales over time “could possibly be introduced, providing our audience is happy with it”.'
Rob Smith, Jagex's VP of Operations.

In a week of protest, there had not been an official word of response from Jagex. But perhaps the executives would have glanced with some concern at the hundreds of long-standing members of their player base professing to have just cancelled their subscription.

Yet more were stating that they had reported the company to the UK Gambling Commission or its counterparts abroad. In addition, those players were explaining to their peers how to do just that, while quoting the chapter and verse of British law.

A player based in New York City was preparing to collate forum feedback and deliver it to the offices of Insight Venture Partners itself. The private equity investors hold a majority share in Jagex.

So what precisely is all of the fuss about?

The Squeal of Fortune Mini-game Inside Runescape

Image: Squeal of Fortune
Image: Squeal of Fortune

How Does Squeal of Fortune Work?

It's a lucky dip where pressing a button secures an in-game prize. But some players already know how to manipulate it.

Every day each player gets two opportunities to win on Squeal of Fortune. This is free of charge.

It's a very prominent mini-game, with the access module placed on the screen as soon as the player logs in. They either play it or dismiss it. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, the majority of players will click that button.

Once inside, the wheel spins and the goblin bounces up and down on his chain. Pressing the big, red button causes a large boxing glove to smash into him. He screams and flies left across the screen. The animation causes the wheel to stop.

Wherever it lands relates to a prize (redeemable only inside the game) from the selection below. Those in the red boxes are the most desirable.

For example, if I was playing in the illustrated game, I'd have my eye on the Godsword (third from the left) or the massive XP lamp in the middle.

It's far more likely that the counter will stop on a white or gold box. That's disappointing. I could have had a Godsword, but now I have two pieces of clay.

But there's now another option. Up the corner there's a green button, inviting me to buy spins. It's very easy. One click and I have another 10 spins, or 25, or 75. Surely there's a Godsword amongst all of those!

Even more enticingly, some observers have already worked out the exact moment to press, in order to gain the item that you want. It's a counting game coupled with the speed and skill of a twitch player.

That takes away the element of luck. A player could become extremely well kitted out, or gain untold skill levels, employing that strategy. All that's needed are more spins on the Squeal of Fortune.

Buying Extra Spins on Runescape's Squeal of Fortune

Image: Extra Spins on the Squeal of Fortune
Image: Extra Spins on the Squeal of Fortune

Books about Gambling Addiction

Buy these books to understand the dangers in impulsive gambling for young people.

Gambling Addiction and Debt Dangers in Easy Sales

Parents beware, while real world trading hackers rub their hands together in glee.

I'd barely have to see the payment happening. It's coming straight from the credit card through which I pay my monthly membership subscription; and there's no verification placed upon its use.

There is an upper limit though. I would be forced to stop spending after £200 a day had been spent on the spins. That's still £1400 a week (around $2,200 in American dollars). But that's my look out. It's my money.

But what if it wasn't?  Alarm bells should already be ringing for the parents of young Runescape players. It's their credit card details which are logged in the system; and there's no alert to tell them that it's being used.

Just as worryingly for myself is the fact that, over the past month, four of my friends have lost their accounts to hackers. It might have been only temporarily, but with an onslaught of phishing attempts, websites with keyloggers, hacker ingenuity and just plain stupidity on the part of some players, such things are happening with increasing regularity.

Those hackers would have control of the registered credit card. Moreover, using it to gain access to in-game items would be a lot easier than the usual mode of trying to get into a player's Runescape bank. Such items attract vast sums of real world money on illicit real world trading websites.

Jagex had obviously considered the backlash from parents and those with stolen accounts. On April 2nd 2012, the day that buying spins on Squeal of Fortune was introduced into the game, the company updated their terms and conditions:

We reserve the right to charge you for any unauthorized use of your subscription by third parties.

In short, even if your credit card has been used without your knowledge by your child or account thieves, no responsibility is attached to Jagex. They retain the right to keep the money that paid for those spins.

Buy Related Runescape T-Shirts

All of these slogans have an alternative meaning within the game, but they are very relevant to the issue now!

Training Levels Only Through Squeal of Fortune

A Runescape player, after changing their game name to Squealscape, has used only lamp XP from spins to gain experience this week.
Image: Runescape player Squealscape's hiscores
Image: Runescape player Squealscape's hiscores

Buying Runescape Skill Levels with Real World Money

Squeal of Fortune provides XP lamps, which translate into gaming experience points.

Figures are flying throughout the player base. By spending real world money on Squeal of Fortune's spins, it's guaranteed that levels can be gained.

The cause célèbre is Runecrafting.  Though any in-game skill level can be raised in this way, Runecrafting is the biggest beneficiary.

Ordinarily hundreds of hours of repetitive grinding is the only other way of reaching level 99. As a result, Runecrafting skill-capes are one of the most rare and respected sights in Runescape. But now players willing to pay real world money could gain that skill-cape with no actual gameplay involved, except for pressing the Squeal of Fortune button.

Last night in Falador, a central town within Runescape, a veteran player was wearing his Runecrafting cape. He forlornly told anyone who'd listen that it had taken him five years to gradually chip away at the XP needed to achieve the coveted level.

Then he added that the same thing now cost just $1,000 in buying spins. He could have worked and saved up that money, in far less time than it took to reach the same point fairly.

There was no doubt in his mind that the Squeal of Fortune devalued his accomplishment. All around him, voices were sounding in despondent agreement.

Meanwhile, a British player armed with a calculator was taking in all of the data. He concluded that an average of £36 was needed to purchase 1m XP points in game now. It takes 13,034,431 XP to complete any skill.

£469.24 for a 99 anyone? 

Buy a PvIVP Anti-Microtransactions T-Shirt

Player versus Insight Venture Partners, a whole new category of gamer!

Video: Runescape Squeal of Fortune - Important!

SilentcOre is a well-respected Runescape video maker. He discusses the implications of this update on buying levels with real world money.

Buy High Level Runescape Apparel

Those who worked for the level can wear their clothes with pride. Those who bought it on Squeal of Fortune can demonstrate their real world wealth.

Jagex Changes the Rules to Allow Real World Trading

It removes the quotation which has haunted them on the official forums for three days.

For years the Jagex rules on Real World Trading have included three sentences, which encapsulated the company's ethos.  It was the same paragraph quoted at the top of this page.

Within an hour of my article being posted, Jagex Moderator SteveW had altered the official guidelines from which it derived. I cannot take either the blame nor the credit, as hundreds of Runescape players were similarly quoting the same in the website's forums.

As the Runescape rules are presented in Wiki format, the historical alterations can be tracked. This amendment was made on April 5th 2012, at 14.52.

Image: Runescape's Mod Stevew removes embarrassing rule.
Image: Runescape's Mod Stevew removes embarrassing rule.

In short, the Jagex policy on Real World Trading has now shifted away from its toxic influence on gameplay. Virtual devaluation is now not even on the agenda, nor are concerns about stolen accounts.

Instead, the new regime is concerned only about who legally owns the virtual items; and therefore who may be permitted to conduct real world sales. It appears that the company no longer wishes to admit that account theft even takes place.

In addition, at around the same time, a whole section on Virtual Currencies was added to the Runescape Terms and Conditions. In a nutshell it firmly stated that nothing in-game had any monetary value outside.

This is an important point, particularly after a Dutch court recently determined otherwise. This left Jagex vulnerable to a raft of potential law-suits, which the Squeal of Fortune issue cannot be helping.

However, the addition went on to state that 'we offer certain virtual currencies for sale or, in our discretion, as free promotions.'  Furthermore that 'virtual currencies can be redeemed (ie used) to acquire certain digital goods / services, which we describe below as "Items".'  The word 'redeemed' is key. It reinforces the notion of 'no monetary value'.

This is an on-going story, with major developments coming swiftly, I will endeavor to up-date this page as more transpires.

Is Squeal of Fortune a Good or Bad Idea?

  Display results
Thank you for voting!
Image: Runescape Players Protest in Falador World 66
Image: Runescape Players Protest in Falador World 66

Advertising Standards Agency Rules in Favor of Jagex

Complaints to the ASA were not upheld, after Jagex changed their credit card security mechanism.

In Britain, any legal or moral issues with adverts can be referred to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA). 

Jagex found itself under investigation when Runescape players complained to the ASA about Squeal of Fortune.  The charges surrounded Jagex's irresponsibility in advertising the mini-game to children.

However, the ASA refused to uphold the complaints. It was satisfied that Jagex was 'robust' in its parental consent mechanisms, and in stopping children under thirteen years of age playing the game.

(I read this while talking with two people who had started playing aged ten and twelve respectively. They laughed.)

Also Jagex had altered the process for buying spins. Credit card payments now required its three digit security number to be entered for purchases.


MC Ubs - Without Squeal (Eminem Runescape Parody)

Set your sarcasm barometer high with this scathing reposte from a couple of players. Warning! Strong language!

Related Runescape articles

These pages have information relevant to the discussion at hand.
It was inevitable that Runescape would transform into a Nexon clone. Runecoins sees real world money cashed in for cosmetic game items.
Runescape U-turns into aggressive real world trading with Insight Venture Partners' Jeff Horing at the helm.
US firm Insight Venture Partners now owns the majority of shares in the British company Jagex. What will this mean for the future of Runescape?
On April 27th 2012, I was invited to look behind the scenes in Player Support at the company responsible for Runescape.

Runescape Items on eBay

NB This has been filtered to keep out account sales, which are illegal.
Updated: 03/19/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 12/04/2012

There are people getting 99s on SoF alone. They can legitimately buy their XP.

That was damaging enough, but it's the whole ripple effect which has torn this game apart. One of my friends went through and counted all of the updates this year. The overwhelming majority were about SoF or Solomon's Store, with very little going on in terms of game content.

I didn't log on for over a month. I popped back in to find that I had XP lamps worth over a million in my inventory. I got that for doing nothing.

So many of my friends have cancelled their subscriptions and just left now. It has been in protest over all of the microtransactions and other game-breaking developments. Those who remained are currently raging about EoC. In context SoF was just the very damaging beginning of it.

Danni on 12/03/2012

SOF really isn't to bad if I was to spin 10,000 times it wouldn't even give me a 10% boost to my total exp. It's still practically all traditional training is the way to go unless your willing to spend 10s of thousands on a video game which I really doubt anyone in there right mind is doing. The occasional person why buys even a large spin package will see little to no benefit in comparison to there total exp.

JoHarrington on 04/06/2012

Great find! Thank you very much, Cathy, and please keep them coming. I'm seeing a lot of forum posts shut down for discussing things like this. I'm MORE than happy to collate that information here.

That is a massive U-turn by Mark Gerhard!

Cathy on 04/06/2012

"Former Jagex CEO Geoff Iddison said that he wanted to merge the premium subscription model with micropayments. How do you feel about the idea?
I don’t think you can take a game like Runescape and retrofit microtransactions into it. The game’s just too big, and I don’t think it would add value for our players. Obviously that system could be more remunerative, but I think it would price a player experience too far up."


So who's responsible when the CEO of the entire company thinks it's a bad idea?

JoHarrington on 04/05/2012

Thank you for that very extensive apprisal of the legal situation. I know that you certainly know what you're talking about, as this is a field of some expertise for you.

You're also not alone in your assessment. The RSOF last night had people on both sides of the Atlantic coming up with the same conclusions. One lady was sitting with a lawyer specialising in gambling issues. He relayed the fact that there was a legal case here, particularly because minors are involved.

That was a valuable comment. Thank you for adding it.

Andrew Robinson on 04/05/2012

There are 2 issues here. Firstly is the emotional one about micropayments, but more seriously there is also the issue of encouraging children to gamble. The first is just an unpleasant decision by a company trying to maximise profits, but the second potentially has much bigger consequences. My first move was to contact the MP for Cambridge (Julian Huppert, a Liberal Democrat and interent rights campaigner who I've talked to on twitter in the past) and let him know that there's a potential problem on his patch.

Secondly, I've been looking into the legal side of the gambling element. It seems Jagex have found a loophole to avoid this being classed as a lottery. Because players are given one or two free 'spins', this is not technically a paid lottery, even though youngsters are being encouraged to buy additional 'spins'. I've spoken to the Gaming Commission, and they believe this does not require a licence, and isn't covered by their rules, but they note that they only regulate legal gambling.

Because the gambling game is advertised to children, it is definitely in breach of the rules of the Advertising Standards Authority, and I have reported Jagex's in-game advertising to them, as it exploits the gullability of minors, misrepresents the chances of winning (the size of the red portions of the wheel are vastly exaggerated) and because it risks gambling debts and gambling addiction, it (and this is a yukky phrase) "endangers their morals".

If this move doesn't get anywhere, there is always the possibility of getting the police involved. Because it does not fall under the lottery exemption, it looks very much like Jagex are committing an offence under Section 46(1) of the Gambling Act 2005: "A person commits an offence if he invites, causes or permits a child or young person to gamble." ( Their 'but you always win something, even if it's worthless so it's not gambling' line of reasoning might hold some sway on forums, but it's highly unlikely to stand up in a court of law.

I for one would be cheering on anyone who made a formal complaint to the police on this matter.

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