The Cleverness of Warframe's Economy
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Warframe’s economy is, in my eyes, extremely intelligent, and well-designed.
Credits are a currency that can be gained as rewards for finding it in the game, killing enemies, or clearing missions. Credits can be used to purchase Blueprints for Warframes, Weapons, Sentinels and other items the player can build. They can also be used in the process of Fusing Mods, which is equivalent to putting Skill Points into Passive Skills in other games. Fusing Mods is how a player gets more powerful, basically. However, Credits cannot be used to purchase weapons or items immediately. In order to get a weapon, a player must purchase its Blueprint, acquire the necessary materials from combat gameplay, then build it in their Foundry.
Platinum is a currency that can be gained by purchasing it with real-life money. Platinum can be used to instantly purchase Weapons, Warframes, Sentinels and other items the player can build, with no other cost, and no waiting period. Platinum can also be used to expand a player’s Inventory space, adding more slots for Weapons, or for Warframes. It is also the only way to get cosmetic or vanity items.
So far, this all sounds par for the course when it comes to Free To Play games. But this is where it gets interesting!
In Warframe, there are certain items or Warframes that have the suffix “Prime.” Prime items are always far, far stronger than their non-Prime counterparts. Ash Prime is leagues above Ash, for example. These Prime items cannot be bought with Platinum. The game does not have it as an option. The only way to get the strongest items in the game, is to earn them yourself.
Warframe allows its players to trade items and currencies. Including Platinum! Other games would not allow this to happen, saying that the premium currency must be a sterile thing belonging only to the player who purchased it. Warframe doesn’t do this. Warframe allows players to trade Platinum. And Prime Blueprints.
This means that players can grind for Prime Blueprints and parts, selling them to other players for Platinum. Eventually, the Platinum will be “sunk” into the game’s official Market (ingame store) and be lost forever. The only way to introduce more Platinum into the system, is, of course, by purchasing it with real money.
This is indescribably clever.
Players who have paid real money for this game are able to use it as a powerful currency, rewarded for their donation. Players who either do not want to spend money on Warframe, or cannot do so, can acquire Platinum by literally working for it, farming the pieces and blueprints for extremely powerful equipment to sell it to players who possess Platinum. Finally, spending this Platinum in the Market destroys it permanently, effectively making less money exist in the system, with the only way to add more being to support Warframe’s development in an active, concrete way.
This feels superficially similar to EVE Online’s ISK system, though that game is fundamentally about its economy, with everything else being secondary, and it's out of the purview of this post.