[Update: After our story went live, Digital Extremes reached out to Destructoid to further clarify the early days of Warframe, offering the following quote:
We've been making games for 25 years; we always knew we had something special with the original idea around Dark Sector and we took a big chance on it. The initial reaction to it confirmed we were right so we've laid everything on the line to grow it since 2012 learning from any mistakes along the way and working with our community throughout has been a key success factor."]
In 2013, developer Digital Extremes released two very different games. One was Star Trek, a licensed adventure game that hit the market in time for Star Trek Into Darkness. The other was Warframe, an original IP -- the company’s first since Dark Sector -- that would end up being the company’s first attempt at a free-to-play game. Neither title set the world on fire at launch, but where Star Trek fans moved on quite quickly from the game, people playing Warframe decided to stick it out. Because this was an all-or-nothing gamble for the 20-year-old company, Digital Extremes stuck it out with them.
“A lot of the lessons we’ve learned, we’ve learned through mistakes,” Mark Ollivierre of Digital Extremes explained to me. “We’ve done a lot of things early on that we really didn’t know what we were doing. We were like, ‘This is how our game should work, right?’ and our customers and player base were like, ‘This is terrible and you should change this’ so we just listened.”
Ollivierre was in San Francisco recently with fellow Digital Extremes employee Doug Perry and Adam Creighton of developer Panic Button. In a hip office space in SOMA, the trio was showing off the upcoming Switch build of Warframe, which is now in its fifth year on the market. It had a rocky start. No publisher wanted any part of it. The company had to lay people off to pay for it. And early reviews weren’t exactly kind (we scored the Xbox One port of Warframe a 6.0).
But the fans didn’t abandon the game when it didn’t meet their standards right out of the gate, and they were vocal about what they wanted from it. As evident nearly every day in this industry, every developer or publisher has their share of vocal fans, but not every company, like Digital Extremes, put all their eggs in a single basket. While many companies say they listen to fans, the team at DE made player input a priority, and it’s a decision that has allowed the game to grow into a title with more than 38 million registered users.
“It’s definitely been that relationship, that direct line of communication we have with our players, that’s allowed us to iterate and refine systems,” Ollivierre said, “and the entire game as a whole to ensure we’re providing something that is satisfying to them. First and foremost, we want to make sure they are happy; they’re pumped with what we’re doing. It’s a reciprocal relationship. When we do something they like, they support us and it just feeds that machine.”