Tenno Thoughts – The Shift to Cross-Progression

Gamers have long been able to witness the Video Game Multiverse. Initially we were bound within the box that was our console, but as technology has improved, so too has our ability to cross the digital divide. At first this was restricted to only like-for-like consoles serving as the end points, PC to PC, Gameboy to Gameboy, and the like. More and more though, we are seeing the walls between systems erode. Digital Extremes has recently hinted that these fissures in the “garden walls” may now be reaching our corner of the Internet void.

To set the stage a bit, we are about two weeks since the last DE Devstream, which was the last one before Tennocon 2019. During the stream, the team made mention the we Tenno may begin to cross the rift between our platforms through cross-progression. This news also comes at the same time that we are hearing from multiple other game developers that cross-progression and cross-play is either already here or coming. A sign, perhaps, that the platform gatekeepers are now lowering the drawbridges? For many Tenno, moving to cross-progression presents clear opportunity. A chance to make new friends or join those they had been separated from before. But for those of us that already exist on multiple platforms, what is to come and what should we expect?

Really quick to make sure we are on the same page: here is what I mean by cross-progression versus cross-play.
Cross-play I would consider to be the full ability for Tenno to play on any system with another Tenno from any other system. That is, you could start on PS4 and get paired with someone on PC. Later on in the day, you pick up your Switch, play with the same save file, but maybe this time your teamed up with someone on XBox.
For cross-progression, while on your PS4 you'll only ever be teamed with other PS4 Tenno. If you then later pick up your Switch, you login to the same account with all the same gear/progress, but now you'll only be teaming up with other Switch Tenno.

Given what cross-progression ideally represents, I’m going to assume that, once implemented, there won’t be any changes when you change platforms – with the exception of short-term windows for updates. More on that in a moment. This is more regarding the rollout and going from 2+ accounts down to 1. When Switch-Frame launched, PC players were able to copy their accounts in a one-time transfer. Full disclosure: this is the perspective I play from. Before transferring my PC account to the Switch, I made a point of completing all quests and farming most of the non-Prime frames before transferring. Of course, there are plenty of Tenno out there that have played through the whole quest line more than once, requiring a much larger time investment. It also means for the player having some of the same gear in both places. A straight merge of all your accounts would mean then having basically two or more copies of a lot of things. In some cases this could be beneficial, i.e., two Equinox frames, but in most, such as non-Rivened weapons, it just means a lot of extra gear that now won’t be used. Even with rare or one-time weapons – what would you do with two Azima? For example, I have an Arca on both platforms. However, because I have a Riven mod on one, requiring adding a Polarity that’s not used by it’s counterpart, they use different builds. If I suddenly had access to both, I’d probably still only use the Riven one, but do I then sell the other, which has had multiple Forma and Catalyst investments? Not an easy thing to sell, but to do so also means a freed up Weapon Slot.

Both the Player and DE Platinum Market will also see quite the shock. For starters, selling off a bunch of weapons and frames means a lot of slots are likely to be opened up. As a result, we would likely see a drop in the number of slots being purchased from the DE Market. There would probably also be ripples through cosmetics unless a multi-platform player bought the exact same palettes and skins. Any differences between the two now eliminate the need to buy the cosmetic on the platform you were missing it on. 

For the player side of things, you would be opening up the trade Market tremendously. Players would be able to go between platform markets buying and selling as the free market allowed. Right now, player market prices on Switch are way higher than the Switch’s older counterparts. But that can be expected, with a smaller player base and smaller window of time for players to have farmed items. In some cases, the only copies to exist are those that transferred over with PC players. Looking at Nekros Prime for example, which goes for around 350 Platinum on average at the moment on PC, while on Switch you’ll be at 800-1000 Platinum if you even find a seller. If these Markets are bridged, we can expect an increase in the part supply on Switch because of the player demand. The end result is that prices will come down on Switch, and over time we can probably expect to see more equal prices across the board between all platforms. (Editor’s note: NekrosPrime wil be available as a TennoLive Twitch Drop.)

One thing we’ll have to see is how Platinum purchases are handled. All systems will occasionally provide Platinum coupons as a login bonus, but they do not operate the same between PC and Console. On PC, this coupon serves as a discount on the actual purchasing of Platinum from DE with real-world money. For Console, it is a coupon for a discount on Platinum spent in the DE in-game Market. If there is no change in this system, a player could, in theory, buy Platinum at discount by getting a coupon on PC, then wait until one pops up on Console to make a store purchase, effectively getting a double discount. I suspect with cross-progression that this sort of mechanic would be stopped, which I personally find reasonable. One method to address thiswould be that Platinum purchases don’t cross between platforms, while another possibility would be for all Platinum purchases to move to the Warframe website instead of being Purchased through Console stores. Of course, it must also be said that this approach has, at times, met with resistance from platform holders when suggested by other developers. 

The current norm for games with in-app purchases is a revenue-share of the sale for the platform. If DE tries to move all Platinum purchases to their website, the platforms would lose this income stream. The shift of one game out of the platform stores may not have a big impact, but it would potentially have other game developers looking to do the same. This would increase their revenue at the cost of the platforms losing what helps keeps the servers running. If the coupon drops do not change, it would be expected that players would make a PC account just to get the purchase discount. After all, who doesn’t want to save money? 

Whether or not this would cause a problem with license agreements would fall to legal teams. There are currently games where the in-game premium is shared cross-platform, regardless of which one is it purchased on. If the platform makers have issue with the PC purchase discount, an alternative is for Platinum coupons to either all go to the in-game Market style used on Console, or – worst case – just go away entirely. Personally, I believe it would be more likely to go to the in-game Market. This would not affect the price of Platinum on console, as it’s not purchased with a discount there. It would make PC Platinum more expensive though, as many players hold out for the coupons before buying Platinum. The end effect is that this path would lower the revenue stream from DE’s largest player pool. In almost every case, DE will take a revenue hit by going to cross-progression. What is negotiated with the platforms, we’ll only see the end result of. Like most of this change, it will require the players to trust DE will do what is best for the community overall, knowing that, regardless of the final choice, they are likely to take a revenue hit.

A lot of this also depends on the assumption that our accounts will be merged with the rollout. There is no guarantee that this will be the case, and players may be required to pick one account to sync across platforms. The more time players have spent jumping between platforms, the worse this impact will be for them. Platinum is also an issue if it was purchased on different accounts. The player would then be leaving behind both invested time AND money. In my situation, my PC account has progressed further than my Switch, but post transfer I’ve made a point to try leveling different gear. For what was leveled on Switch, I plan to do the same eventually on PC, but that doesn’t mean that simply abandoning the Switch progress would be enjoyable. I’m also very aware that most of my Switch progress was from the transfer. Someone who started fresh or started on console then moved to another platform would be having to step away from much more. If/when DE is able to roll out cross-progression, we can be sure these are things they’ve considered. It may also be possible that even if DE wanted a straight merge, limitations from PC and the various consoles prevent it, putting the choice outside their control.

There’s also the Clan factor. Not every player and not every Clan exists on every platform. This may already have the groundwork laid out though. Starting up a second account on a different platform doesn’t require you to be in the same Clan. It would seem this system would continue, with your account switching Clan membership based on what platform you load on. Most likely easier said than done, but would seem the most likely path. Since we’re talking cross-progression, not cross-play, you would not be able to have cross-platform Clans at least as far as in the game.

One other big factor that we can expect to weigh into the decision making is: how many players does this effect? Likely if/when implemented there will be an uptick in multi-platform users since you can pick up where you left off anywhere. With about 50 million accounts out there, if multi-platform users comprise only 1% of the player base, that is still half a million players. Not an insignificant numbe,r but in the grand scheme of things it may be small enough that a straight merge, double Kubrows and all, may not be seen as a huge impact overall. In research for this article, I found around half the player base is on PC and it’s estimated this is followed by PlayStation, XBox, and then Switch. There do not seem to be published numbers on how many are on multiple platforms, though, so the numbers are based on anecdotes from Devstreams. If we’re 10%, 20%, 30%+ though, then this impact grows with an increased pool of spare Prime Parts, Arcanes, and other Player Market items. But the hurdles don’t end there.

Even after all the player gear, Market, and Platinum details, there is still more. Warframe is a living game – tuned, balanced, and overhauled through regular patching and hotfixes. Currently, DE has reduced the PC to console update separation to about two weeks. Though this delay means console players always get things after those on PC, the ability to roll out Hotfixes on PC allows DE to do a large scale test of the new content. Testing by DE’s team versus tens of thousands of players who will jump in on launch day are two very different experiences. It ultimately means console players get more stable updates to accommodate the certification process that the updates need to go through on those platforms. On PC, players might see a couple of updates per day with new content. This would be stretched out to weeks because of the third-parties between DE and the console boxes sitting in our homes. It may be possible for DE to load some of the content into console patches even if it’s not accessible right away. 

Switch-Frame released immediately after Fortuna launched, but Fortuna was not accessible on Switch at the time. Players who copied from PC, though, saw some of the content in their Switch files. A few mod placeholders and couple of gems and minerals were about the extent of it, but they were there (Editor’s note: I had ful access to my Kitgun from day one, although the Mastery Affinity didn’t apply). Then the update came and players who had transferred quickly found that Fortuna items  farmed prior to the account copy were restored. This even included Garuda Blueprints and Solaris United Standing Ranks. This benefit we received may be a double-edged sword, though. On one hand, DE has shown it is possible to pre-load content ahead of the main chunk of the update, though this may not have been an easy thing to do. Also, this was a one-time one-way transfer. How game breaking, in both the literal and figurative meaning of it, could it be? How hard will it be for the code to hide new gear, affinity earned with that gear, achievements, codex entries, and more  – especially when you consider that players could potentially switch between PC and console multiple times while the console patch is being polished and certified. And in the worst case, if something does break, a new console patch has to go through the console certification process again, possibly locking players out for an extended period of time. A situation that the current system of PC launch, hotfixes, and then console launch helps prevent.

Going to cross-progression would be a massive shift for Warframe. It would rival, if not surpass, any expansion we’ve already seen – at least in terms of complexity. For us multi-platform players, is it a case of hoping for the best but planning for the worst? At this stage,though, there’s no confirmation that this will even be implemented, let alone a timeline for it. At times it’s hard to ignore that time spent on my Switch may be abandoned. Then again, how many games do we walk away from at some point? Should it just be about enjoying the roller coaster ride along the way, knowing eventually we’ll arrive at the platform? Even if alt-accounts do have to be abandoned, my personal opinion is that I think it will be good for the player base in the long run. It will allow Tenno to try the other platforms without having to juggle main and alt-accounts. I do have concerns on the impact to DE, though, as by doing this they are potentially impacting revenue streams, which is a higher cost to pay than just the time we’ve spent playing. What I’m sure we can believe in now is that DE is tackling this sort of change methodically. A shift like this that will have to go through code restructuring, testing, balancing, testing, and more testing is not going to be done willy nilly. DE has a record of keeping players in the loop and conversing with the player base as well, so I’m sure our input will be considered. They’ll ultimately have to decide on what’s best for the future of Warframe, even if it means maintaining the current system. I’m looking forward to what’s to come, it will definitely be a journey to play.

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