How Jagex protects its gaming communities – and raises millions for charities
Kelvin Plomer, senior director of player experience at Jagex, runs the programme responsible for raising a massive £1m for charities at the Cambridge Science Park-based video games company.
The milestone is all the more notable because Jagex has undergone multiple changes of ownership – from Insight in 2012 to Hongtou to Zhonghi Holdings to, last year, Macarthur Fortune Holding, and – this year – the Carlyle Group.
And at times – at least until Phil Mansell’s appointment in 2017 – there seems to have been a rotating door in the CEO’s office. It really is quite heartening to speculate that, while the corporate furniture has been continuously juggled, the RuneScape company has maintained a remarkable vigil on its own values and its place in the gaming community it serves.
Kelvin is delighted to have achieved so much for the charities Jagex supports.
“It’s been a natural evolution,” he says of his role, which started in 2005 as head of community management and included posts as director of customer services, director of customer support and director of player experience, then director of player experience, before taking on the senior director post last October.
“When I joined 16 years ago there were 50 people and there’s nearly 500 now which is fairly meteoric, there’s been a few ups and downs but more ups than downs.
“I started off in player support, community management and payments – things around contractual arrangements. For the last five years I’ve headed up player support, for anti-cheating, online safety, duty of care, our philosophy and approach, and our charitable giving.
“I’ve headed the charitable side up since 2017 and in that time we’ve raised £1.1m, the vast majority of which is fundraising events in-game.”
The funding model involves picking three charities – one local, one national and one international – to support for two years each.
“In 2019 and 2020 we had a two-year partnership with CPSL Mind locally, nationally it was Prince’s Trust and internationally Rise Above The Disorder, which is based in California – that’s a game-focused charity which provides grants to help with mental health support costs, it could be a doctor, or counselling, in the US. One hundred per cent of revenue from in-game charity events is passed to the three charity partners.”
The full 2021-22 cohort is yet to be announced, but the Cambridge Independent can reveal that the national charity will be Blueprint for All, previously the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust.
“We’ve just had a big ownership change,” Kelvin notes, “so we’re finalising the budgets in that context.”
The unflagging pace of Jagex’s contribution is remarkable: it does everything to keep up with the curve but isn’t afraid to take the lead and put it to good use – hence the February launch of Old School Runescape on Steam.
“RuneScape has one million monthly average users globally, we’re a microcosm of what’s going on everywhere else,” Kelvin says. “As a business we’ve started to focus on mental health awareness, and we don’t want to split that focus too much. We can’t fix the entire world, what we can do is make a difference in a specific area, and the core is mental health.”
Jagex monitors the in-game chatrooms in case the talk turns dark.
“Our approach to online safety takes account of a number of factors, for instance if players report abuse from other players, also we monitor the in-game chats all the time and if a player mentions certain key words that then goes manual and is reviewed by one of our team.
“We’re screening 46 billion lines of chat every year, it’s 24/7, to look for content that might be terrorist or extremist-related threats, or any underage sexual references... there are probably less than 300 escalations to law enforcement every year, and the vast majority are for self-harm.
“With RuneScape, anyone aged over 13 is allowed to play, but the vast majority of reports are over 18, only 1.5 per cent are aged between 13 and 17, so it’s not a kids game but we’re still very conscientious in that regard.
“In terms of how we do the review of these chat logs, the National Crime Agency and the police are involved with Jagex, we triage the situation. If we look at, say, a threat from someone in the US to kill someone in the UK, we can generally say that’s not going to happen – but 0.002 per cent of the contacts we get are related to online safety.”
With a team of 45 in Cambridge in the team, Kelvin can be confident of providing full player support including technical and accounting services, deliver online safety, and address online cheating.
“We’re flexible enough to adapt to peaks and troughs.”
Jagex also regularly engages with regulators, crime agencies and government departments.
“There are lots of round table events to help inform future legislation,” notes Kelvin, “so for instance the government wants the UK’s internet to be the safest place in the world and has initiated conversations around that with the Home Office and the Department of Culture, Media & Sport.”
Some of the threats are from overseas: back in 2014 when I interviewed then-CEO Mark Gerhard (for another title), he told me that there were effectively gangs of players engaging round the clock to maximise a character’s assets – which could then be sold in the real world for cash.
“It’s less so in China now,” Kelvin says when I mention this.
“Monetising Runescape takes place more in the US, Lithuania, Latvia and Lithuania. If we see people moving vast amounts of wealth in-game we will track it using PlayerWatch, and we can impose a take-down using our legal team –this is for big wealth generators, selling on the black market.”
It’s an epic tale, and Jagex’s initiatives around mental health within the gaming community, wellness culture in the workplace and keeping children safe online have set new standards for how to look after the community of players who, let’s face it, need protection to be able to fully enjoy their gaming.
“Jagex is a leader across its sector in online safety initiatives,” says Emma Hardy, director of external relations at the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).
“Their commitment to the safety of their gaming community is clear. They implement such a vast portfolio of safety features we have asked Jagex to talk to others within IWF membership to share their knowledge in this area.
“Jagex has been a valued partner of IWF since 2008.”