This Developer Blog is copied verbatim from the RuneScape website. It is copyrighted by Jagex.
It is written by Paul Gower and is dated 6 January 2011.
The First Four Years

Launch date - 4th January 2001

When we launched RuneScape (what we now refer to as Classic) back in January 2001, the game was very small and there were lots of things clearly missing, so we called it a beta launch. The four corners of the world were Lumbridge swamp, the Wizards’ Tower, the Jolly Boar inn and "Ghost Town". Ghost Town was a small deserted ruined town with a couple of ghosts in it, which later got revamped and became Edgeville.

Even that small area was much sparser on features than it is today, and Draynor Village didn’t exist at all. Oh and there were no banks! There were six quests on launch: Cook’s Assistant, Demon Slayer, Restless Ghost, Romeo and Juliet, Shield of Arrav and Sheep Shearer. We passed a peak of 30 simultaneous players on the first day, which we were happy with!

At the time, the full-time staff consisted of just me and Andrew. Andrew wrote the main RuneScape game engine and created a special RuneScape scripting language called RuneScript, so that we could create content for the game relatively quickly. I was mostly writing quests and skill additions in RuneScript, and creating the RuneScape map using the map editor Andrew had also created. Our other brother, Ian, was working on graphics for us part-time while studying for his A-levels, and we roped in other people for some small bits and pieces.

Launch of Asgarnia - 6th April 2001

The kingdom of Asgarnia was our biggest update up to this point, which included Falador, Ice Mountain , the Dwarven Mine, Port Sarim, Rimmington and four new quests . Players could see developments of the new kingdom on the other side of a fence, so this was a highly anticipated update. When we launched it, lots of players logged on to play and we passed 1,000 simultaneous players for the first time.

Control changes - 2nd May 2001

In the first few months we made lots of fundamental changes to the core of the game, trying to get the gameplay right, and this update was one of those changes. It used to be that you only had two options for interacting with things in a square - one with the left mouse-click and one with the right mouse-click - so, for example, a door was left-click to open and right-click to examine.

If there was a pile of things all in the same square, then you simply couldn’t interact with lower priority things. Unsurprisingly, this often didn’t work very well, for example, if someone died and then two players stood on their items, then no one was able to pick up any of the items, because the players were a higher priority for interactions. We changed it to the now familiar system of having all the options appearing on a menu when right-clicking.

This change was viewed by sections of the user base as controversial. Suddenly, things that previously required one right-click now required a right-click followed by a menu selection. People ranted that extra clicks were slowing down some skilling activities. We tweaked a number of areas where this was particularly a problem, but, after a while, people generally got used to the new system.

A whole new world - 9th May 2001

RuneScape got its second world server, and we took the decision to let all characters be playable on both servers (rather than having to create a different character for each server, as some other games choose to do ).

Plans for members - September/October 2001

We had originally planned to run RuneScape entirely for free and earn a living from advertising banners. By the time the game was launched, though, the 'dot-com bubble' had burst and internet advertising was not paying as well as it used to. We managed to run the game for free for a while anyway, but it just kept getting harder and harder to find banners that gave us any sort of decent money. It got to the stage where we needed to do something or we’d have to close the game.

We’d seen other free games go entirely pay-to-play and subsequently destroy their own communities. We didn’t want to do that, so we decided we’d create a members’ version so people could pay us for extra content, but could carry on playing for free if they wanted.

Founding of Jagex Ltd - 1st December 2001

We’d actually been operating under the name Jagex for some time, but we were still self-employed. With plans to launch a membership service, we wouldn’t be able to do everything that was needed on our own; we needed to set up a proper company and employ staff. We had no experience of doing something like this, but Andrew had contact with a chap called Constant Tedder, who happened to be in the process of selling his games retail website and was looking for a new opportunity. Together we set up Jagex Ltd.

Runescape members launch - 27th February 2002

We launched RuneScape members on this date. Launch features were the Herblore skill (actually called Herblaw on release) , five new quests, duelling, Taverley, Catherby, White Wolf Mountain, Zanaris, deep Wilderness and shark fishing. It didn’t seem like a lot; we crossed all our fingers that we’d get enough members. We were aiming for 3,000 to make the game self sustainable; we passed that figure in the first week.

Setting up the first Jagex office - March 2002

Now we were employing staff, we couldn’t really operate the game from our bedrooms anymore. So, we started renting our first office, which was a small room in an office building with just enough space in which to squeeze seven desks. We employed our first two Customer Support staff. One of these was Mod Ian (not to be confused with our brother Ian) who is still working with us to this day as head of our audio department.

RuneScape 2 development starts - sometime in 2002

RuneScape 2 wasn’t originally going to be a separate version of the game, it was to be a graphical update to the existing game, but then we started making other large changes while we were at it. The biggest ‘while-we-were-at-it’ changes were some large, but much needed, changes to RuneScript. These changes meant we needed to convert all the existing code to the new RuneScript, and since we were rewriting the code anyway, we decided to make all sorts of other changes to the game including a complete overhaul of the combat system.

This was a huge job that slowly required more and more staff. By the middle of 2003, our entire team was working on RuneScape 2, which meant that the original RuneScape received no updates between September 2003 and the launch of RuneScape 2.

RuneScape 2 beta - 1st December 2003

RuneScape 2 was first launched as a beta version. People didn’t get to keep any levels they gained in the beta, as we were going to transfer all their existing accounts over from the original game once the beta was over. There were also some pretty nasty bugs during the beta, the results of which we wouldn’t have liked to have seen impacting the game permanently. We also used feedback from the beta to make adjustments to the combat.

The worst bug was with the new Party Room chest, which allowed players to duplicate items simply by putting the items in the chest and withdrawing them again!

RuneScape 2 full launch - 29th March 2004

RuneScape 2 was finally launched and we converted everyone’s RuneScape accounts. It was at this time that RuneScape 2 became known as RuneScape (to reflect that it was now the main game) and the original RuneScape was renamed to RuneScape Classic, as we were no longer going to update it, but we kept it around for nostalgia’s sake.

In-game player moderators - 14th June 2004

We introduced the new player moderator system so that volunteer players could help us with creating a safe environment for people to have fun in. We introduced silver crowns in front of these players’ names so others could see who the mods were. The first batch of player mods was a very small group of people who were already known personally by Jagex staff, so that we could see how well the system would work.

Castle Wars - 13th December 2004

We launched the Castle Wars minigame, which became an instant hit, and has had large numbers of players playing it ever since!

Keep your eyes peeled for the second half of this blog, which will cover from 2005 up to the present day.