Jagex reckons that RuneScape makes "possibly" as much money as World of Warcraft, and is officially "the world's biggest free game".
"More than 10 million [people play RuneScape]," Jagex CEO Mark Gerhard told Eurogamer. "[But] It depends if you're taking a day, a week, three months. We did another stat for the Guinness Book of World Records that was total active unique [users] over time, and that was just over 105 million. So 105 million people have touched it."
"An honest answer is we don't measure the success of the business based on financial returns," he said. "The company is very strong financially, and it is thanks to RuneScape, but for us it's all about active players. It doesn't matter to us really if they're free or paying for the expansion - as long as it's going north we really don't care."
RuneScape has been around for nine years, and has around "a million lines of scripted content", which Gerhard believes classes the free-to-play MMO as "an epic game". Even now, Jagex updates the MMO weekly with fresh content, and that hefty backlog is "the only reason why RuneScape is always ahead of the curve", designer Henrique Olifiers chimed in.
RuneScape was completely free for almost four years and supported by adverts, but financial pressure eventually forced Jagex to introduce an optional "premium content kind of thing", he said, that could have swung either way. Luckily, Jagex did well out of it. "Overnight 20 per cent of our players just switched." Gerhard revealed that that percentage of paying customers remains the same today.
"But we're very, very conscious that every game has to be completely free: no demo, no trial - it's a completely free game. If you like it, if you want more, then there's the expansion pack too," said Gerhard.
Jagex now employs a whopping 400 people across two Cambridge studios (and one London branch), and puts them to work on RuneScape, casual portal FunOrb and new sci-fi MMO MechScape. The latter has had tens of millions of pounds of investment and is nearly ready to be unveiled.
Head over to the full interview with Jagex CEO Mark Gerhard and MechScape designer Henrique Olifiers to find out much more.
Alternatively, head to the RuneScape website to give the browser-based MMO a go.