When you get right down to it, Warframe is a pretty unusual title. While there are plenty of free-to-play MMOs with a PvE bent, few are as focused as Warframe. While other elements have been added over the years, its focus on PvE “dungeon grinding” have made it a favorite for gamers interested in a certain kind of experience.
But its unique nature made it hard for Digital Extremes to attract attention from publishers during the game’s development. That’s the crux of a recent interview with Digital Extreme’s Vice President of Publishing Meredith Braun over on VentureBeat. While DE conceived of Warframe 10 years ago — and even produced a similar game, Dark Sector, for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 — it couldn’t find anyone willing to take a chance on what seemed like an impossible vision.
“They told us the game would fail because it was PVE [player-vs.-environment] and it was too sci-fi. No one was going to get it. To survive in free-to-play land, they claimed, you needed to be first and foremost a [competitive] PVP game, and you needed to have some sort of relatable premise, which wasn’t science fiction. At that point, we decided, well, we’re going to do this on our own. No one’s going to talk us out of this again.”
And “do it on our own” they did, though there were some rough points along the way. I haven’t followed Warframe from day one, so I was surprised to learn that, at first, it had a payment model similar to many PvE titles: progress for free up to a point, and then pay to continue. As Braun put it, the community “brought out the pitchforks” and DE removed that limitation.
Of course, when you remove the paywall, nobody pays for anything and the game fails. That’s why so many F2P games, especially PvE ones, do it. It’s the only way they can pay the bills.
“We tracked what happened, and — lo and behold — it made almost no difference in how they were paying. In fact, the less aggressive reach for money turned out to be the best way to go.”
Oh. It’s almost as if people really don’t like pay walls. Who could have predicted that? In truth, DE’s approach sounds a lot like what competitive PvP games do, but with a PvE focus. It’s similar to something I suggested could work, and Warframe seems to be proof that that’s the case.
The publishing industry as a whole resists that notion, as it did DE’s attempt to produce a F2P, non-PvP game in the first place. And a game like Warframe is a far cry from a full-featured MMORPG, but maybe Warframe’s success will give an enterprising developer the inspiration needed to usher in a new, more enlightened, age of free-to-play gaming.