Noclip take on Warframe’s unlikely success story

Warframe

If you were to look at Warframe now, it’s hard to even imagine that Digital Extremes’ free-to-play mega-hit ever had humbler origins. Even harder to believe that its very existence was a desperate last-ditch plan to keep the lights on at a struggling studio that had been turned away by every major publisher.

In the latest in their oft-excellent series of candid interview-heavy documentaries, YouTube outfit NoClip went and pinned down the core staff behind Warframe’s success, and have managed to extract an hour of surprisingly candid history from them, equally educational and emotionally resonant. Worth a watch.

The first half of the documentary covers the origins of Digital Extremes as a studio, and their struggles to make ends meet while they tried to sell their pitch for a high-concept sci-fi action RPG to an industry obsessed at the time by gritty modern urban combat. While I knew that they were co-developers on much of the early Unreal series, I had forgotten that they also produced the likes of Extreme Pinball, which I played way too much of in my youth.

The latter half of the documentary charts the evolution of the game itself, from its threadbare earliest iteration (containing effectively just one level and a handful of enemy types) right up to its evolution into an open-world game with NPC-filled towns. A direction that even the Warframe team themselves admit is bringing them back to their original Dark Sector concepts. There are some quite candid insights into the good intents behind the business model of a game like this, and how they can fail. There’s also some fun anecdotes about how some major gameplay mechanics were inspired by exploits found by creative players.

Noclip have promised that extended cuts of some of these interviews will be coming in the next few weeks, but there’s already good a hour of human interest industry history to chew on already. One thing I did find interesting in an almost offhand mention of Digital Extremes selling a majority share of the studio to a pair of Chinese companies (primarily to a chicken meat producer) in 2014. While this doesn’t seem to have affected the trajectory of the game or studio, it does feel like something that should have earned a few minutes of interview time.

With that, I’ll leave you with an interesting hypothetical: Epic and Digital Extremes were hoping to merge at one point, but the price of tax payments put the companies off the move. Imagine just how different the games industry might look today if they had gone ahead and absorbed that cost. At this point, I’m increasingly convinced that most successes in games can be chalked up to blind luck.

18 Comments

  1. SquarePeg says:

    I truly wish they would make a stand alone single player game. I feel like it could be the Mass Effect Andromeda that everybody wanted but nobody received.

    • Dominic Tarason says:

      After trying (and failing) for nearly a full decade, I can understand them being a little hesitant to walk that road again, even if they’ve got more in the bank now.

    • haldolium says:

      Their original approach to that (Dark Sector) looked more like Metal Gear in space and was then turned into an entirely forgettable and bad game before using the art style for Warframe again

      • KenTWOu says:

        You should give the link to the whole cinematic demo.

        link to youtube.com

        I still think it’s one of the greatest in-engine cinematics ever made. Given the limitations of those times camera work and editing are both absolutely amazing. I can’t believe they had problems with pitching that concept to publishers.

  2. Excors says:

    When I saw the URL of that chicken article, I had high expectations. I was not disappointed.

  3. BaronKreight says:

    Its all fine and dandy but they seriously need to crack down on bugs. Right now the game is unplayable for me. It simply freezes a few seconds after login. This bug has been around since 2015 at least. So if anyone of you, faces of Warframe, is reading this, push for the fix.

    • elevown says:

      The issue is, it is unplayable FOR YOU. You are only seeing it from your perspective – which is irrelevant to them.

      If this bug is that old and has not been fixed, it must be a seriously rare bug effecting a very small number of players due to some specific hardware or software combo etc. It can not be common because the game would have shut down by now if a big % of people could not run it.
      They are a pretty small dev and I’d guess have more important bugs to squash or things to develop to keep the money coming in. They may well have looked at that bug, seen it affected like <1% of people, and was also difficult to fix and it just was not worth it.

      If the game is otherwise very stable for the vast majority of players, then no.. they do NOT need to crack down on bugs. YOUR experience might well be completely unrepresentative. Obviously it is a shame for you though.

      • Unclepauly says:

        Exactly. I’ve played it on 3 different pc’s and not had any issues.

      • BaronKreight says:

        It’s not only for ME but for many OTHER players as well. Do some research dude. If it’s workign for YOU, doesn’t mean it’s working for others. This game has a lot of bugs, it’s a fact. They introduce new content, game becomes unstable and new bugs appear. Everyone knows this.

        • Darkyr0 says:

          In fact had this too. I changed my video card and that solved the problem, so confirming what elevown said, the problem was “due to some specific hardware or software combo etc.”. They’ll not fix a problem you can solve yourself by buying hardware or things like that, mostly because is not that much people having this issues, you look for this in the forum, you get a 12 comments page like these:

          link to reddit.com

          Or no comments at all:

          link to forums.warframe.com

  4. Samudaya says:

    That’s what I thought. At the very end: Digital Extremes sold a majority stake to two Chinese companies. Integrity saved! Yeah, just tell the story of a failing indie studio making a successful F2P game. Don’t ask them how much player money goes to corporate owners rather than back into development. Nothing to see here, move along.

    • Nelyeth says:

      You sound angry and bitter, are you okay? What did Digital Extremes do to you? Did it touch you in a bad way?

      I don’t care where their money goes, and I don’t know why you would. I have played Warframe for 400 hours over the course of a year, and what I personally saw was an active and passionate devteam, pushing update after update and making community events by the dozen. Their economic model is fair, there’s content aplenty, and the game’s still growing, so I’ll ask again: what’s your problem?

    • KidWithKnife says:

      LOL, being an actual Warframe player I find the implication that DE isn’t putting sufficient resources back into the game pretty hilarious.

  5. milligna says:

    Find it difficult to take anyone wearing that headgear indoors seriously, honestly.

  6. skyturnedred says:

    Noclip is just the best.

  7. ottovius says:

    You can meet people “literally” or “virtually”, dude. Come into the new millenium — you might like it.

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