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Warframe devs discuss a decade of growth as mobile version launches

We sat down with Rebecca Ford from the Warframe team at Digital Extremes and Jussi Elonen from mobile publisher Nitro Games to unpack Warframe Mobile’s secrets.

Warframe Mobile interview: Four different warframes all posed differently on a blurred galaxy background and outlined in white

For over a decade, Warframe has carved out a unique space for itself in the free-to-play third-person shooter genre. From humble beginnings on PC back in 2013, the Digital Extremes dev team has worked to spread the Tenno faction across multiple console generations, finally bringing Warframe to the portable gaming audience with its Nintendo Switch launch in 2018.

Digital Extremes kicked off 2024 by uniting Warframe’s expansive player base with cross-platform save files, putting the final piece in place for the game’s jump to mobile. In celebration of Warframe’s iOS debut, we sat down with Rebecca Ford, Warframe’s creative director at Digital Extremes, and Jussi Elonen, Nitro Games’ Warframe lead, to get the inside scoop on this impressive and long-awaited mobile port.

Ford describes Warframe as Digital Extremes’ baby, saying “We’re excited to grow and add the cooperative, friendly community to Apple devices everywhere. We couldn’t do it, of course, without the expertise and intelligence of our Nitro partners.” Nitro Games is the Finnish free-to-play mobile game developer and publisher that partnered with Digital Extremes to transform Warframe’s complex gameplay for mobile.

Elonen explained that the two companies began working together on the project last summer, leveraging Nitro’s mobile-specific expertise to make the port to iOS as smooth as possible. “So we are a mobile developer and obviously we do have the expertise in how to make things work on a small screen.”

Warframe Mobile interview: Warframe Mobile's key art showing three warframes jumping out of an iPhone

Warframe’s journey from a PC-only experience to the multi-platform behemoth that it is today took place over a long stretch of time, so we wondered why 2024 is the year for Warframe’s mobile debut. Ford explained, “For us, it’s just always a good time to grow. We have been beta testing for the better part of 2023, but we didn’t want to open it to the public until we had experts look at the usability, because we were getting ourselves caught up thinking, ‘We can play it but can people that aren’t Warframe veterans play it.’”

Enabling cross-platform saves for Warframe’s existing platforms played a key role in timing the mobile port’s launch. “We wanted cross-platform save to exist, and cross-platform play just so that the community was bigger, and so that a person that has been with us for a long time can progress regardless of where they’re playing. Our game is very much about long-term account growth and progress, and having to start over again isn’t always the best choice for our community. So we wanted cross-platform save live to at least start things off on a mobile launch.”

Even with Digital Extremes’ wealth of knowledge of Warframe’s ins and outs, the game’s famously fast-paced and complex mechanics required the expertise of Nitro’s mobile veterans to make it work on tiny touch screens. Elonen’s team focused on simplifying and automating what they could to stay faithful to Warframe’s unique feel while still being accessible to mobile gamers.

Warframe Mobile interview: Two warframes posing with weapons by a staircase

“There’s going to be an auto shooting option, but also those can be disabled from the options menu. We did add a HUD customizer so players can totally customize their HUD to their preference. So we do have a default setting for everything, but we are also giving the player the opportunity to play around and see what suits them best.” Nitro was also able to import Warframe’s console controls to the iOS version for players using mobile controllers instead of the touchscreen.

You can probably tell already that maintaining core aspects of Warframe’s identity in the mobile port and making the world accessible to new players are both important considerations for Digital Extremes. Ford told us that the expansion to mobile aims to encourage the player base to grow and provide existing Tennos with a convenient way to play on the go at the same time. “We kind of have two schools of thought internally. One is the more pragmatic business people, they’re like, ‘Oh, we’re gonna get a whole new community, a whole new audience where we have thousands of pre-registrations. These are all new people that are going to experience Warframe for the first time.’”

“But there are others who are like well, now I can get all my account progress on the go. So ideally, it’s like matrimony made in heaven between getting a whole bunch of new people into Warframe and then people like me who travel a lot or visit family a lot and really want to catch something in Warframe even though I don’t have my laptop or whatnot with me.” Ford’s passion for the game was present throughout our call, with her own experience as a veteran player clearly informing parts of this process.

She continued, “I am really optimistic that new people are going to give Warframe a try and just become charmed with our weird little game we’ve made.” Ford hopes that this mobile option will help with the amount of time that Warframe requires from fans. “I’m hoping that veterans like myself will really benefit from just having the portability and the usability of a Warframe mobile client to do the things that Warframe asks you to do a lot, which are time-limited alerts, events, clan engagement, anything like that.”

Warframe Mobile inteview: A warframe holding the mobile game's exclusive starter pack gun

We wanted to know if mobile players would get any special platform-exclusive benefits, such as cosmetics or currency, but Ford said that, where possible, Digital Extremes follows a philosophy of offering the same things on every platform. With Warframe’s decade-long history, there have been exclusive items in the past that can cause complications when porting to a new platform. She said, “Our game is old and we’ve had a lot of exclusives in the past. So for instance, we couldn’t bring over a Nintendo Switch exclusive Excalibur skin to mobile, just like we wouldn’t be able to bring over a PlayStation skin to Xbox, right?”

Warframe also offers a lot of user-generated content, so the team is working to license these items for mobile where possible in order to treat their artists fairly while offering all players the same experience across all platforms. Ford continued, “There will be a slower rollout of some user-generated content on mobile, but the intention is to get as much as we can contract by contract. It’s a long process, but that would be a very long answer to say that we’re trying not to do exclusives but we’re an old game. So read the fine print.”

In terms of what the future holds, once Warframe’s iOS rollout settles, the team will pivot focus to 1999, the game’s next huge content update that adds to the story’s progression. Digital Extremes is also still working with Nitro Games on bringing Warframe to Android. While we don’t have all the details just yet, you can sign up to join the Android beta tests via Warframe’s website. If you’ve got an Apple device, Warframe is available to download for free right now!

Hey Tenno, while you’re here, take a look at our picks for the best mobile shooters, as well as our list of the best free mobile games. If you’re looking for some new peripherals to play Warframe Mobile with, pick something up from our best phone controllers list.