Warframe Removed A Microtransaction Because A Player Used It Too Much

Warframe Removed A Microtransaction Because A Player Used It Too Much

A Warframe player petting their lovely, blue Kubrow. Screenshot: Imgur

In a new documentary about Warframe, the game’s developers discuss what they have learned about building a free-to-play multiplayer game over the years. It includes the story of how someone paying for a microtransaction 200 times helped them realise they’d accidentally created a slot machine.

In the most recent episode of Danny O’Dwyer’s Noclip documentary series on 2013’s third-person shooter Warframe, studio manager Sheldon Carter talks about designing the game’s economy. “The guiding tenant is try not to push them so that they’re going to grind their face off to get something but also give them enough variance so that getting those resources is interesting,” said Carter.

In one of the more interesting examples of a studio being candid about when it does microtransactions wrong, picked up by PCGamesN, Carter mentioned the time a microtransaction had to be removed from the game because it was being used too much.

Back when Kubrows, virtual pets that help you on missions, were first introduced into Warframe, players could pay a premium currency called platinum to randomly generate a new fur pattern and different colours for it. The price was 10 platinum or about $US0.67 ($1). “We had a lever, basically, for all intents and purposes,” Carter said in the interview. Players could pay the fee and then pull the lever to change their pet’s appearance.

The idea was to offer players the option to pay for more customisation options, and then also give them the ability to trade the prints they’d received for their pets with others. Customising cosmetics was one alternative to simply going further down the pay-to-win route of having microtransactions help players grind faster or give them rare, more powerful items. Unfortunately, the randomness element had unintended consequences.

Screenshot: Noclip, YouTube

Screenshot: Noclip (YouTube)

“And we saw, you know, a guy pull the lever like 200 times,” Carter said. “And it’s just like, ‘oh my dear god, what have we done? We’ve created a slot machine.’ And so you know, it was a couple days I think it took us to take it out — a day, day and a half. That one is a big regret.” He added that while the feature turned out to be extremely lucrative for the studio in this particular case, it completely went against what the intent of the Kubrows, and Warframe itself, was supposed to be.

While paying platinum to randomly scramble your pet’s appearance until you got something you liked was controversial among the more dedicated parts of the game’s fan base, it’s interesting to know that it was specifically whale behaviour (a few players spending a lot of money on a game) that drove studio Digital Extremes to quickly rethink the feature and patch it out with Hotfix 14.0.5 in the summer of 2014, a year after the game’s official launch.

Mistakes like these and what the studio’s learned from them are at least partly responsible for why the game has one of the better free-to-play economies out there.

You can grind for everything or spend a few dollars here or there to speed things up, but the variety of customisation and possible items you can discover and craft helps keep it from feeling like a rat race to keep up with other players, something plenty of other games are still struggling with. 


  • I have a lot of respect for the Warframe devs, I mean it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing in terms of monetisation, but the fact that you can actually make a lot of headway without ever paying a dollar by trading your excess loot to other players is a pretty customer friendly design.

  • It’s quite a positive thing that they actively recognised this behaviour and fixed it. You can’t say the same for most other developers.

    • yeah, it wasn’t just because one guy did it, rather they noticed it and realised what the end result was.

      • That’s similar to the way I do development at work – If it annoys me, it’s going to annoy someone else.
        Warframe devs thought – One guys doing it, there’s probably going to be more.

        Kudos to them, I may just pick up Warframe again because of this.

    • am I naive, or is it mostly the publishers who are to blame for loot boxes and not the game devs?

      • Most devs don’t really make continual bank on things like loot boxes, I don’t think. So yeah, I imagine you’re right.

      • I imagine it would depend on the situation, but here Digital Extremes are both the devs and publishers.

  • “And we saw, you know, a guy pull the lever like 200 times,” Carter said. “And it’s just like, ‘oh my dear god, what have we done? We’ve created a slot machine.’ And so you know, it was a couple days I think it took us to take it out — a day, day and a half. That one is a big regret.”

    I just want to take on of those slimy, exploitative EA execs who mandate this kind of thing as an intentional, desired consequence of deliberate design choices, and rub their fucking nose in this quote until they remember what it’s like to be an actual human being instead of a worthless, soulless lizard person.

    • I am pretty sure that when EA does it… “The intent is to provide players with a sense of pride and accomplishment…” 🙂

    • Also if you told an EA executive that a user just did that 200 times they would ask…
      A) Why isnt 400?
      B) How do we get more players engaged to do that?

      • Well obviously they must have enjoyed it, to do it 200 times. It’s the ethical and humane thing to try and bring that same joy to as many people as possible.

  • EA gets too much flak.

    Not because they aren’t awful. They are. Andrew Wilson is the devil.
    But at least they fixed their broken system in BF2.

    Imo, Blizzard Activision are almost as bad (NBA 2K18 makes me sick… and everyone gives Overwatch a free pass, but its ridiculous that you cant just choose to buy the skins you want, A LA Fortnite).

    Ubisoft lets you pay REAL money to make the SINGLE PLAYER quicker/easier (wonder if this has a run-on effect on game design?). Shadow of War deserved to be panned far more than it was. I have no doubt Far Cry 5 will be ridiculous.

    Square Enix charges you for save slots.

    Don’t get me started on Valve.

    Besides the obvious holy grail which is CDPR, Sony and Capcom are the stand-out big name publishers right now.

    • Bf2 is not a good argument, the amount of attention it was getting bordered on mainstream news hysteria. They likely knew that if it got any worse they would have someone from Disney calling them soon enough.

    • Did you play Marvel vs Capcom at all? It might now of had micro transactions but they did have a character pass.

      • Yeah, fair enough. I skipped that one because the art looked ridiculous. MvC2 is the real MVP.

        Also I think it’s incorrect that I included Sony. Like Nintendo, they want to sell more consoles (and make a percentage of other developers digital sales). So there is a vested interest in removing MTX.

        Sigh. Is it really just good-guy CD Project Red?

        • Is it really just good-guy CD Project Red? *and Digital Extremes apparently.

          • Fatshark (vermintide Devs) do loot boxes…. But no MTX.

            It’s so weird, the boxes are just a way to hand out randomised loot. You can’t buy them with any kind of currency, you just earn them from completing levels.

        • Croteam are pretty damm good, and have never really engaged in crappy practices. Same with Wayforward.

    • I stopped playing overwatch, a game i genuinely enjoyed because of their shitty loot box system

      • Yeah, always happy to hear from people who take this stance.

        BF2 was disgusting. No question. But way too many people give Overwatch a free pass.
        I mean, it’s a full-time priced arena shooter. New content = occasional new character.
        In the VERY least, it should be affordable paid cosmetics. BUT lootboxes? Tired of people defending it.

        • The amount of duplicates and the amount you got for duplicates. I had saved up all my credits, I wanted all the dances. I couldn’t afford all the dances and after paying $35 in loot boxes and getting maybe 3 new dances, I just went, this is bullshit.
          It was frustrating that duplicates gave you maybe a 1/3 to a quarter of what the cost of the actual item was.
          A 3000 gold item would give you 500 gold or something like that. It was ridiculous.

          • I tried it once and felt ripped off. I also complained on the forums to let them know exactly why I wasn’t playing the game any more.
            I knew people that would buy $50 and $100 worth for specific costumes, every event.
            That is where the money is and they are the problem.

    • Wait, are you saying Capcom are good? They RUINED so many games with their DLC. They purely see their incredibly dedicated legions of fans as untapped money.

      • Monster hunter world should be enough to show they are at least trying to get back into good graces. all new content is free. the only microtransactions are chat stickers and gestures. then again, I like to think with MH:W it is the monster hunter team telling capcom to leave it alone.

        • That sounds good. I haven’t played that game, but Street Fighter 4 was bad, SF vs Tekken they were charging for alternate colours (colours!) and Street Fighter 5 was just too much. They were charging for everything.

      • And only for a limited time. And it’s not like you can buy it outright with money, you have to hope to get it or have enough overwatch points.

    • No, they have a guy renting living space in their office who advises them on game balance and monetisation issues. He’s very good at it.

    • Nah, they asked Jim who lives in the next flat down. He always gives great advice and guidance.

  • It’s funny when I argue that loot boxes are a form of gambling equivalent to partial win slot machines in most discussions people disagree. Now here the Warframe developer has the exact same perspective I do and although I haven’t read every comment, I didn’t find read any that disagreed with the developer’s position and action.

    • The vast majority of people arguing that lootboxes were fine, are fans of the games lootboxes are used in. They wouldn’t care for the most part, if it weren’t for the fact they didn’t want their darling game criticized in any way.

      As risky as it might be to mention his name around here, when the games journalist Jim Sterling made a video slamming the use of lootboxes in Overwatch, he got an OBSCENE amount of messages from fans arguing that the lootboxes were fine. Which he found incredibly amusing because those people didn’t give a single shit about his opinion when he was ‘only’ slamming other games like Plants VS Zombies Garden Warfare for using similar systems. Several of them quite literally admitted they only cared about the discussion when their darling game was the one under fire.

      So if people don’t give a shit until they’re “personally” being attacked (I use the term loosely, although some people seem to take criticisms of their games as a personal insult), they’re certainly not going to waste any time disagreeing with a developer who decides of their own volition that lootboxes are bad.

      That being said, there was one chap who said “well the guy who pulled the slot 200 times must have enjoyed it, we should be sharing that joy to the world”. Bless his little socks.

  • While EA and activision and 2K games on the other hand wouldnt be saisfied until the whale pulled that slot machine lever 2000 times, and thats in their fully priced US$60 games not a free to play game like warframe

    Warframe isnt for me just because of the game mechanics but while i played i never felt like i was being manipulated into shelling out, and the game is bloody free

    While too many full priced games try to desperately force you into buying lootboxes and microtransactions, i would bet a years income EA games has microtransactions that an individual has used more than 200 times and they did not care about the moral implications of that one bit, they bloody design their games around whales and gambling addiction mechanics

    Even rockstar made GTAonline a terrible grindy experience made to push you inot buying thousands of dollars of shark cards to buy all the GTAonline dlc vehicles in the game

    While a free to play game, the kind of game that is allowed to make microtransactions be a big deal in thier games because they are FREE, manages to make a system so much more fair than full priced triple A games

    What the fuck? Is this bizzaro world? Free to play games being MORE FAIR AND LESS GREEDY AND MANIPULATIVE THAN FULL PRICED GAMES!

    • Yeah, as fun as GTA Online is, it’s such a f**king cash-grab. I played for like, 2 days straight to get the s**tiest apartment in the game, the only reason I have a better one now is because of a free $200k in game giveaway, I had to stop playing it because of the jerks that payed and used their OP rocket cars on everyone else. Although single-player is fine. Decently priced for a compaign and not a microtransaction in sight.

  • So did they let people generate random fur patterns for free, or remove the feature entirely, or what?

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