How is it that a free-to-play title remains more relevant than some of today’s biggest blockbuster should-have-beens? Suit up, buckle in, and prepare to enter the world of Warframe.
For big-budget games-as-a-service titles such as Anthem, Battlefield V, and even Battlefield V have struggled in recent days. Each game hasn’t managed to stick around, provide a hit, and somehow awe the crowds with their graphics, their content offerings, or even launch-day numbers. Each title has struggled, each delivering less-than-spectacular results to both shareholders and fans of the games.
Anthem remains one of the most controversial games in the current scheme of things, failing to deliver on its 90-day roadmap, struggling to meet launch-day expectations due to bugs and various other issues with the game, and now, remains seemingly dead in the water despite BioWare promising fans they are still on board with the game.
Battlefield V has provided less-than-noteworthy experiences compared to its predecessor Battlefield 1. It’s staying power is half-than-expected, it’s Battle Royale feels like an unpolished experience, while its story-mode – War Stories – remains one of the strongest portions of the entire experience to be had.
On the other hand, Destiny 2 is finally gaining momentum, finding itself right where it should be, but only years after its ill-received launch. It struggled to really get the ball rolling, washing up very few strong micro-expansions that were – well – not worth the $70 dollar experience on top of the $80+ fans already paid.
Meanwhile, there’s a less-than-big budget title standing in the back, waving its hand about, smiling as its millions of active players wander about in the crowd, happily diving into the magnificent and carefully crafted world by industry veterans, Digital Extremes. Their title and their studio, both reaping in the rewards of great levels of success, acclaim, and the prestige that comes with their dedication to their title.
But you might be wondering: How did a free-to-play title get to where it is now? How is it staying ahead of the competition and why are fans not bothered by its microtransaction schemes? Well, there are answers to all those questions and even greater reasoning behind each of those answers…
How Warframe found success as a free-to-play title even with microtransactions available to all
Since the launch of Warframe from independent developer and publisher, Digital Extremes, the game has continued to defy all the odds against it. From its struggles to a game without a story, without any form of a premise, Warframe continued on, building upon the consistent feedback that players of the game (also nicknamed Tenno) gave the development team, allowing them to begin building the very pillars the game has been built upon since its inception.
While we could dig deep into the history of the title, even during the initial pitch for the Hayden Tenno was indeed what we play now, but we aren’t going to. Rather, we want to talk about how it found its mind-boggling success and why it continues on the way it has, despite the downtime between major story content drops and minor story elements such as sidequests regarding newly released frames themselves.
Surprisingly enough, the success of Warframe comes from several different approaches that Digital Extremes holds dear as one of their founding pillars for the current state of the game. They are open about what is going on with the game, from communicating on a weekly basis with their fans through their consistent stream schedules, allowing for them to show off new content, talk with their fans, and bring their fans into the very fold they helped create.
During the streams, the community gets recognition, but also updates regarding upcoming content drops and patches that may contain brand new features and or bug fixes for the title. Let alone do they constantly give and take feedback, Digital Extremes ensured that their game will not block players off through paywall barriers, allowing them to enjoy every portion of the game as they please.
Surprisingly enough, part of the game’s success isn’t because it started out as a PC exclusive title, but rather, how readily available it is to all who wish to give it a chance. Shipping to the PlayStation 4 was only one step in the right direction. Sooner or later, it landed on Xbox One and slightly later, the Nintendo Switch, allowing it to land on all readily available platforms, giving Digital Extremes a chance to allow their fans to play it wherever they pleased, however they pleased, and when they please.
The only drawback to it? The inability to take your progression with you wherever you decided to go, making it tough for fans to just invest the time and money they had already done so with, into another platform. That aside, Digital Extremes has made exceptions before and there’s no doubt, they’re probably looking into cross-progression on accounts.
Last year alone, Warframe broke its record for peak simultaneous online players on Steam at 130+ thousand players, alongside being one of the 20 most-viewed games on Twitch. A mind-blowing sense of success for a free-to-play title. We can only imagine how big it would be if both console and PC players were added together, Steam Charts aside.
Why the microtransactions don’t bother fans and give them the freedom fo choice
If you’ve ever played a free-to-play title, you by now know what to expect: Microtransactions, loot boxes, and required payments to further your experience with that title. It’s an endless loop that almost feels like a chore when it comes to free-to-play games. After all, it’s how these games make their money, by sinking their talons into the minds of players, blocking off portions of the game if they don’t dive into some paywall or another.
So how does Digital Extremes go about that? Freedom of choice. They’ve made everything in the game completely earnable by those that play the game. This means almost nothing (aside from platform-specific skins) are hidden behind the microtransactions aside from a few Prime attachments that eventually come out of the vault at some point in time or another.
The team has even ensured that the story, all of the stories rather, will always be free to everyone. That not a single part of it will be hidden by some paywall or another. It’s all progression based, and fortunately, even the real-currency market is extremely active, allowing for fans to use the Platinum they buy (the real money currency) to purchase in the user-based market (trade) or head onto the actual in-game market to purchase items of their choosing.
It’s a perfect example of microtransactions done right. There’s no expiration date on them (except if the servers were to shut down), gifting is fully possible, and the fanbase remains comfortable with how Digital Extremes treats their monetization systems. But we can’t forget to mention the user made content and their partnered Tennogen creators.
One of the best parts about their game isn’t just the fact it’s a game for the fans, by the fans, it literally involves the fans. They have the potential to become content creators thanks to the Tennogen workshop, which allows fans to vote on user-created content, and in turn, see that content come to life. It allows for content creators to get their name in the game, allowing them to be recognized as a valuable part of the Warframe community.
But how do they stay ahead of the competition, what makes them stand out, and why is it working so well?
Content. A constant flow of content as well as a consistent update from members of the team such as the director of the game, Steve Sinclair, who consistently keeps fans in the loop with new systems they are testing, including tweaks being made to the game. Unfortunately, games like Destiny 2, Anthem, and Battlefield V aren’t that open and it’s almost as if the teams don’t care or try.
Why do I say this? It’s not a problem, or shouldn’t be, when it comes to industry standards. Digital Extremes is ahead of the curve, constantly discussing what’s going on behind the scenes, keep their minds and eyes open for future possibilities that could set their game apart from the competition. Let alone have they kept this as part of their golden standard, they also ensure that there’s a steady flow of content.
Whether it’s a new Warframe to collect, new items to be earned, or even new missions to enjoy – there’s always something new to enjoy. The world of Warframe is ever-evolving, bringing in new story elements with every major update, and ensuring older content remains relevant to both players new and old. It’s a problem that a multitude of developers have had so far this generation, each one struggling to somehow – even with the money backing them – do what Digital Extremes has done over the course of the past six or so years.
The transparency is part of what won the fans over. It’s the constant flow of content that served as another piece to the bigger picture, but what really sends it all home? The love the team has for the game, their ability to feel comfortable enough to show the world their development cycle for a brand new game and to bring them into the overall fold.
We don’t see that often in the industry. You don’t see big-name publishers and their studios discussing day in and day out what’s going on behind the scenes, what steps they are taking to enhance the end-user experience and deliver on the feedback and requests their community has made about the game. A shining example is their open discussion regarding cross-platform progression.
While that’s still a long-term goal, it’s there, and they wanted to let fans know they’ve been heard and they are looking into what it will take to bring that request to life. If developers took these steps, looked at what makes Warframe such an astonishing game, I’m sure that others would find some form of success, some form of initiative, and even, maybe, a passionate fanbase that keeps coming back for more in the future.
Until then, Warframe is here to stay. Whether you are a Fashionframer, a Warfarmer, or a chatty cat on the game, there’s a place for you and there’s no exemption to the kind of communities that the game has formed. That, Tenno, is the Warframe magic.
Warframe is a free-to-play title available for download on PC via Discord, Steam, and the Warframe website. Additionally, the game is also available for download on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.