For the past 10+ years the Old School Runescape grind has been real. Known by many to be “grindy” to max out some or all of their skills at 99/99, why do so many people do it?
Runescape’s skill list may seem simple at first glance but in reality it is a complex weaving of various value chains, sources and sinks, and other economic levers and pulleys.
Going over the entirety of the Oldschool Runescape skill-tree and its various economic interactions within the game-world could take up the space of an entire book series – so for this essay we will be looking at a few, more specific, examples that we can dive into.
Particularly I want to look at the value chains that exist within the Oldschool Runescape skills.
What Are Value Chains? 🔗
This is a good question, and I will attempt to summarize below. If you wish for a full, in-depth description of these then please see this Lost Garden Blog post.
The essence of a value chain is a chain of actions that a player takes in game to achieve an “anchor” which is some form of intrinsic goal or value for the player. These intrinsic goals are what drives your in-game economy. The images below are examples, and credit goes to the Lost Garden Blog.
In this case self-expression is the intrinsic goal at the end of this particular value chain. The player collected the stick to craft the lamp to decorate their house so that they could express themselves. But there are plenty of other intrinsic goals such as (but not limited to) mastery over the environment, relaxing/decompressing, or even competition.
Value chains, preceding the anchor, generally consist of the following:
- Source - Source of items in your economy
- Transform - Actions or items in your economy that transforms one element into another
- Sink - Actions or processes that remove items from your economy
Sources and sinks both have several different types that can be implemented in the chain. The types of sources are capped, trickle, grind, investment, and random. Sinks consist of fixed, repeatable, exponential, and competitive. Again, for a full deep-dive into these types (with graphs!) please see the Lost Garden Blog post on this topic.
Value Chains In Oldschool Runescape 🔗
Oldschool Runescape (referred to as OSRS from here on out) currently enjoys 23 skills that all have varying degrees of interaction. The image below is a non-exhaustive list of skill interactions from a source-sink perspective. The lines originate at the source and the arrow on the line points to the sink.
You will notice some skills stand alone or with very few connections – this is not saying they do not interact with other skills but rather they are not easily associated with a source/sink dynamic. Strength, being the only one in the above chart without a line, is the skill which determines your maximum damage output in combat (if that combat was with another player then one could argue it is a sink for Hitpoints, which is itself a sink for other skills).
Some lines are not drawn, such as Woodcutting -> Farming. While Woodcutting does help you collect some seeds the drop rate is very, very low. As well, monsters in the game world drop items that are related to all sorts of skills so lines from the combat skills are not drawn.
Examples Of Intrinsic Motivation Anchors For Skills In OSRS 🔗
There are a multitude of examples to pull from but I am going to limit my scope at two of the skills for this short post.
The construction skill serves the purpose of allowing the player to better construct their player-owned house. The player may, at any point, begin the use of this skill by paying one of the realtors in game a total of 15,000 gold coins1 for the purchase of the player owned home. The first home location is in Rimmington and players may pay additional gold coins to relocate the home to another town. This is beneficial as with a high enough magic level you can teleport to the home, thus saving time if you wish to get to that city.
Construction of items within the house, however, is not free. That takes resources and an appropriate construction level. There are a plethora of rooms and items that one can put into their house. The items are a mix of both decorative and functional, with the player given almost complete control of the layout (you have to stick to a grid system and overlap rules, etc).
Plenty of these rooms serve no functional purpose other than self-expression such as the quest hall for displaying trophies, a throne room, and the formal garden. Other rooms, such as the portal chamber, offer lots of utility to the player.
Look at the chart above and you should notice that a couple of skills are connected to more than all of the rest. The smithing skill is used to turn metals into other objects such as swords, armour, arrowheads, and other utility objects. Smithing also acts as both a transform and sink for mining, as well as both a source and transform for crafting.
What is interesting about the smithing skill is that a lot of the things you can make at a higher level can be purchased from vendors at a lower level2. An extreme example are the rune platelegs which can be smithed at level 99 smithing but worn at 40 defense. These platelegs can be purchased from Scavvo’s Rune Store in the Champion’s Guild for 64,000 gold coins.
While mining does produce items such as gems, smithing is almost a skill you can just “buy”. So why do players do it? An answer is self-sufficiency. While a large part of the OSRS experience is working with other players (or at least buying/selling with them on the grand exchange) there is also a culture of pride around skills and being able to do things yourself.
This culture is so strong that Jagex added a full character mode dedicated to it: Ironman Mode. Characters in this mode are unable to trade with other players, use the grand exchange, or even see items dropped by others3.
OSRS does a great job at pulling the players toward long term goals with intrinsic motivation regardless of who you are or your play style.
It is worth pointing out that OSRS has some quests locked behind some skill level pre-requisites, so completionism intrinsic goals are also pulling people’s numbers up! Often time these quests unlock portions of the game world for the player, so those exploration seekers get pulled too.
OSRS is currently celebrating its 10-year birthday. If you have never played, or you have not played since you were a child, come give it a go and get some free in-game swag and stay for the pixelated point-and-click nostalgia.
I would like to point out that OSRS has never been pay-to-win. The only thing you can exchange real-life money for is a game-time token called a Bond, which you could sell to another player for in-game coins if you wished. This benefits those who wish to get a small head start (maybe a returning player) and those who wish to grind out enough items to sell on the Grand Exchange to afford a “free” membership to the game. ↩︎
You can buy any item from other players on the Grand Exchange, including items that no merchants can sell you, apart from the select few the game has marked as untradeable. This leads to another intrinsic motivator: getting in-game rich (mastery over the economy/environment)! ↩︎
There are further modes for those with even more of an appetite for this, such as Ultimate and Hardcore Ironman. There is also a Group Ironman option for those who wish to be able to trade with just their friend group from the start. ↩︎