The persistent online loot-ninja shooter Warframe announced a host of upcoming gameplay additions at its annual convention Tennocon. With a new expansion and spacefaring adventures on the way, that's a lot of game to develop; but Digital Extremes' chief operating officer Sheldon Carter says the team takes a longer-term approach to development, as opposed to crunching in short-term.
In an interview with Eurogamer, Carter notes that Warframe is an evolving game with only one immovable date—Tennocon—and it can move other updates around. But to build a game for as long as it has, it needs to be flexible.
"Warframe is a game that's been around for seven years and the reason why we've been around for so long is that our development team—generally speaking—take the idea that it's a marathon, not a sprint," Carter tells Eurogamer. "If we sprint, it's not going to work, it's not even a comment on crunch or the industry, it's literally for our business model to work, we have to treat it like a marathon. If we did treat it like a sprint, we'd be dead."
Being transparent has helped a little, Carter says, in setting those expectations. Doing activities like developer streams and being open about content delays builds a relationship between Digital Extremes and the community. Whether this model could work for other developers isn't quite so simple.
"I personally lived in the classic build-and-release cycle for a really long time, and I know that's incredibly hard to manage and to figure out and to meet deadlines, so I have a lot of sympathy and empathy for every developer that's in a different position than we are," says Carter. "We're in this great one, so I love it."
Crunch, or the practice of long and often mandatory overtime for developers leading up to a game's launch, has been an ongoing pain point for the video game industry. Studios like NetherRealm Studios and the now-shuttered Telltale Games went through periods of crunch, while other developers like Playground Games and 343 Industries have spoke out against the practice.
Digital Extremes is set to launch a lot of Warframe content over the coming months, including the spacefaring Empyrean update, a new open-world area, and The New War update coming this Christmas. There's a lot on the horizon for the space-ninja loot-shooter. It's comforting to know the developers of Warframe aren't working themselves to the bone to make it happen.