‘Warframe’ documentary charts spectacular rise

Players become nimble, powerful, and highly customizable space ninja in “Warframe”. (AFP Relaxnews pic)

ONTARIO: With the fifth anniversary of free, glossy sci-fi adventure “Warframe” on March 25, 2018, the documentarians at Noclip have released a two-part survey of the game’s humble origins and spectacular rise.

As Noclip’s documentary tells it, Ontario-based “Warframe” developer Digital Extremes was on the brink of collapse when it set sail on board a supremely ambitious project; free, high quality, and a self-publishing debut.

It was, in the words of studio founder James Schmalz, “a real hail mary” and, as newcomers to the free-to-play arena, senior staff were in serious danger of walking straight into a number of studio-scuppering blunders. In fact, they very nearly did.

Had they broken the cardinal rules of free-to-play and, with that, their chance of building a loyal audience?

Were they guilty of making, even if unintentionally, what was nothing more than a digital slot machine?

And, if they were driving “Warframe” and its studio straight into a cliff, how could they possibly turn it around?

The two-part Warframe Documentary takes viewers inside “Warframe,” its studio, and the founder’s career beginnings, charting out the story of how a team, once cripplingly dependent on outsourced work for famous studios, managed to establish itself as an independent force at the very last moment.

One of the key factors was that a core of early “Warframe” fans responded to its concept pitch and basic demo with wild enthusiasm, backing it with a commonly inadvisable generosity and commitment to match the studio’s own passion for the project.

In turn, Digital Extremes leaned into supporting that nascent community, making features out of bugs that players had latched onto, steering away from disliked pay-to-win mechanics in favor of cosmetic upgrades, and deploying regular free expansions, both big and small, to keep new players coming in and keep veterans engaged.

It has an annual fan convention called TennoCon, a weekly show, an in-game market for community artists, and a policy of breaking up routine with surprising announcements or unanticipated new directions.

“How do you treat boredom? With ambition,” says Rebecca Ford, Live Ops & Community Director. “You need shock and awe. Sometimes you need a new flavor. You need to try.”

Warframe is available to play on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC.