Digital Extremes wanted to make Warframe years ago.
The idea of a free-to-play shooter starring "space ninjas raiding ships and collecting loot and leveling up" was bouncing around inside the developer since it created Dark Sector. The problem the indie studio faced was that publishers weren't interested in the pitch.
So Digital Extremes took matters into its own hands and eventually came to see the free-to-play model as a strategy that could be bigger than casual or mobile games with which it's often associated. The developer believed it could be a way to create the hardcore game it wanted while retaining creative control.
"We looked at the free-to-play model and thought, 'Okay. This is a way we can make a game that we want to make without anyone telling us it's too strange, or it doesn't resonate with the focus group demographic test that we did, we need to see X, Y and Z,'" studio general manager Sheldon Carter told Polygon. "You can't argue with that stuff. You just have to kind of roll with it. And now [with Warframe] we got to test it out ourselves with real players, and real players love it."
"For us, as an indie developer, it's kind of a no-brainer."
So, without the help or funding from a publisher, a small team within the studio created a single level and launched a closed beta to see how players would react. They reacted positively. The proof of concept that attracted players later attracted Sony, who approached the developer about bringing Warframe to PlayStation 4, were it will launch alongside the console this Friday, Nov. 15.
Carter believes that the free-to-play model is one that many other developers, particularly indies, will adopt.
"For us, as an indie developer, it's kind of a no-brainer," he said. "I think a lot of other devs will look at this and say, 'Hey, these guys didn't have to roll with a publisher to make this happen.' Our relationship is purely ... for this game, is with Sony. Sony came to us and said, 'Hey, we think this game's a great fit for our platform. Do you want to bring it to us?'
"We're the masters of our own domain, and I think [at] every developer, that's what you want. Ultimately, you want full creative control, and that's what we've had. I think it speaks for itself."
Samit Sarkar contributed to this report.