MMO developer Jagex outlines 'MechScape'

Jagex runs the second biggest public forum on the internet, via its incredibly popular browser-based MMO, Runescape - with its latest game 'codenamed' MechScape set to launch very soon
Jagex runs the second biggest public forum on the internet, via its incredibly popular browser-based MMO, Runescape - with its latest game 'codenamed' MechScape set to launch very soon

Jagex's Runescape is one of the most popular MMOs in the world. And it is certainly the most popular browser-based MMO, with over over 156 million accounts registered to date and in excess of 104 million active players that have spent (often inordinate amounts of) time on the game.

MechScape is currently the codename for the company's forthcoming game, another Java-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game based on the company's proven, incredibly stable and secure proprietary technologies used to create RuneScape.

Jagex has already said that MechScape will target a slightly older demographic to RuneScape and – while concrete detail on the game is still thin on the ground – fans are predicting real-world trading in an online and hugely in-depth space/sci-fi themed MMO.

TechRadar caught up with Jagex's Chief Executive Officer, Mark Gerhard, at this month's Develop Conference in Brighton, who gave us a fascinating insight into the background of this leading British games developer, in addition to a glimpse of where the company is aiming to go in the future.

Before joining Jagex as CTO in February 2008, Gerhard previously worked as the Principle Security Architect for the UK's National Lottery. His engineering background and IT security knowledge has clearly set him up for steering the hugely successful company into the future.

Principally a tech company

The company also recently hired Sensible Soccer developer Jon Hare as Publishing Director – a clear indication that it plans to engage more with the (more traditional) games publishing sector in the future.

"I think of Jagex first and foremost as a technology company," Gerhard told TechRadar. "We have millions in our community and as a result there is always a subsection of any community that is 'unsavoury'… and we get in the region of 200,000 denial of service (DoS) attacks a day," he reveals, clearly proud that Jagex's servers are among the most secure in the world.

"Jagex uses a secure system, built from the ground up. We've written all the code in-house. It has to work. The game has 10 million active players per month. And of course, it is 24/7," Gerhard explains.

"Runescape has the second biggest public forum on the internet, with around 2.8 million posts a week," explains Gerhard. "Yet we host that [forum] on a machine with around 1GB of RAM which you probably couldn't even sell for £50... because our technology is that good."

The entire game of Runescape is server side, with the game running on machines with ultra-low bandwidth (down to 28k) and, as a good idea of the level of traffic Jagex is dealing with, the company receives around 85 BILLION page impressions a day.

"Bear in mind that we do this with running costs that are sub £1 million a year," says Gerhard. "Which, if you compare it to something like Age of Conan which only has about 250,000 active players but has running costs in the region of $200 million or World of Warcraft with costs in the region of $500,000,000 per year, puts things in perspective… Our running costs are effectively 1/500 that of WoW!

"It is because we use all of our own technology in house," he adds. "We don't use any standard middleware."

So what's new? What's next on the horizon for Jagex?

Codename MechScape: public beta

The first major project already under way is the casual and free games over at – with more classic games promised along the lines of the aforementioned Sensible Soccer and "popular RTSs, strategies and other games featuring new mechanics," says the Jagex CEO. "FunOrb is something of an R&D bed for us."

The real news that the 100 million plus Runescape players out there are gagging to know more about is when they will finally be able to play 'codename MechScape'.

Gerhard remains resolutely quiet on detail at this point, merely reminding TechRadar that "Andrew [Gower – Jagex Founder] has been writing games since he was seven! The initial public beta of Runescape was launched in 1999 and in 2001 Jagex was formed."

The Jagex team are clearly proud of the fact that they have had to do little active marketing or public relations since that time, purely because Gower's games have done the business themselves. The players have effectively done the marketing job for them – so there was no real need for traditional publishers or PRs or any paid-for marketing because the word-of-mouth was that good.

As well as making (hugely) appealing fantasy MMOs, the company also appears to be doing something right about its staffing.

"For 95 per cent of our staff, Jagex is their first job," says Gerhard. "We have around 400 permanent members of staff right now, which can go up to around 450 around crunch time, with freelancers."

And hardly any of those staff ever leave, it would seem. The company also takes on around 80 work placements each year, offering twelve months of intensive training for the candidates to learn to work with its proprietary infrastructure.

So Jagex is clearly do a number of things right. And it will be exciting to watch as the company's latest MMO tears up the internet later in 2009 (on which note, watch out for news on the forthcoming closed beta test for Jagex's 'codename Mechscape' right here on TechRadar very soon indeed).

Or if you fancy a gander at Runescape head over to the site and sign up for a quick go on the world's leading browser-based MMO. (It's free, but beware, you might become VERY addicted...)

Adam Hartley