Warframe creative director Steve Sinclair says it isn't easy being a middleweight

Most mid-sized studios ‘dead and gone’

Most mid-sized developers are dead and gone, says Digital Extremes creative director Steve Sinclair.

Speaking to Games Industry International, the Warframe developer discussed the challenges facing mid-sized teams in today’s industry.

He said that while smaller teams can thrive on low-budget indie or mobile titles, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for middleweight studios to find a project to fit their resources.

"Massively harder," said Sinclair.

"Ridiculously harder. Most of us are dead and gone, and the quadrupling down on a few franchises means that a mid-size developer like us that can’t throw 500 people on a single project don’t have any work. So this game has given us a new lease on life."

While most teams have moved to tablets and mobile devices to reach audiences that don’t expect triple-A graphics, Digital Extremes has stuck to the PC, and has recently moved into the console scene through a deal with Sony.

"I suppose internally over the last few years we’ve had a lot of the team ask why we aren’t making a tablet game, or why aren’t we making phone games," said Sinclair.

"It seems like it’s feast or famine there, and the team sizes are much smaller than ours. And we wanted to keep the people we had. If you want to get two or three guys and take a shot at mobile, it’s probably awesome for you. But for a mid-size developer like us, it’s even riskier than going free-to-play."

Warframe isn’t exactly low-budget. The third-person co-op shooter is in beta on PC and has been confirmed as a PS4 launch title.

The team hadn’t planned on a console version, but Sony got on board when the beta launched on Steam and propelled the game into the top ten list.

“They approached us, and they’ve been really, really good to us, helping us get more dev kits than they wanted to give us," Sinclair explained.

"They definitely squeezed themselves for us and the fact they put us up [in their E3 booths] three months after they sent us dev kits has been awesome for us. And it’s given us a chance to expose the game to people that maybe weren’t as interested in it when it was just PC free-to-play, because there’s that certain stigma surrounding that."

As the project has grown, so has the team working on Warframe. Originally a crew of 30, Warframe now commands most of Digital Extreme’s 200 staff.

Even with the expanding studio and team size, Sinclair said he doesn’t want to become part of a big studio.

"I don’t like huge huge teams," he said.

"It takes some of the fun and spontaneity out of the job. It gets mired in process and bureaucracy and people are able to distance themselves more from the projects. And the great thing about Warframe is to see individuals making massive differences to players and getting instant feedback from the community. That’s still very gratifying to keep the team as small as possible."

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