The Warframe Story: A True Underdog
Even outside of video gaming, everybody tends to love an underdog story. In this particular instance, the Warframe Story is most certainly one of those, as developers Digital Extremes went on a dark journey to find the light at the end of the tunnel and produce one of the most popular and enthralling free-to-play games in existence.
Many people may not know that Warframe was actually a concept that had existed for 13 years, prior to its release in 2013. Releasing a press release back in 2000, Digital Extremes outlined the concept of a game known as “Dark Sector,” which would eventually release in 2008, and would turn out to be something very different from the Warframe-looking game trailer that had been showcased in 2004.
Fast-forward to 2012: Digital Extremes are kicking around the idea of Warframe once again, as they attempted to revive the original Dark Sector project under a new name. You’d think that today’s success of Warframe that publishers would’ve been throwing themselves at the chance to publish such a game, yet this couldn’t be further from the truth.
As creative director Steve Sinclair put it, it was a complete “crisis of faith” where Warframe was concerned. They repeatedly had doors slammed in their faces, and were told on a persistent basis by publishers and developers alike that they would fail. There were reasons as to why this was happening concurrently, from the lack of interest in new sci-fi games at that particular time to the belief that the West couldn’t produce a successful F2P game because of their often over-emphasis on graphical superiority instead of regular updates and new content.
The problem Warframe had was that it was considered by many to be too good for Digital Extremes to be able to sustain. With constant rejection from publishers and lay-offs coming in left, right and centre, Sinclair decided to go all-in with the game and continue ahead without a publisher, which was a bold move in itself.
Digital Extremes faced a further crisis in 2013 when they released a Star Trek game that was a critical failure, which could have been a release that effectively doomed the studio. There had already been lay-offs for workers who had been with the company for a very long time, reportedly letting 48 of the 180 staff go.
Despite these tragedies, there was a glimmer of hope for Warframe in the form of founder packages, which regardless of the apparently doomed sci-fi theme of the game, were actually selling well. These early buy-ins formed a small yet passionate community, one that gained momentum and never stopped, giving the team the surge that they desperately needed.
Sinclair and Digital Extremes were told on a frequent basis from those who said they would fail that they wouldn’t be able to evolve the game and it would eventually stagnate. However, this is something that is at the very core foundations and beliefs of Warframe, that change is indeed good, and even if it does mean alienating some players from time to time, there is a consistent evolution going on and players will grow to love it.
It is still with imperfections, of course. Many have criticized the new player experience of Warframe, which is a downside of the game’s philosophy of constant evolution, so starting out can be a little daunting and confusing. Even so, it seems to be a necessary downside for what we have today, and the several million players that have flocked to the game are bound to agree.
The sheer bluntness of being told they would fail thankfully led the team to question why they would fail, instead of simply listening to the advice given and packing it all in. Now, we have an experience that although is still frustratingly unknown to the mainstream in many ways, it could well be on the way to something bigger with the recent addition of the Plains of Eidolon, given that the update alone has managed to nearly double the already well-established playerbase.
Ultimately, Warframe serves as a prime example that if you believe in something, you should be persistent, and don’t ever take no for an answer. Persistence is certainly paying off for Digital Extremes, who are now reaping the rewards of their faith and labor over the course of nearly two decades.