The balance design within Warframe changed forever on May 23, 2013. Update 8 introduced a new item which would change the way players mod their equipment forever: the Forma. Though almost every major update brought with new mechanics which would change the flow of gameplay, nothing has impacted the game to the degree which Forma have. The Forma investigates the origins and controversy surrounding its namesake and those most affected by the ongoing crisis.
The Advent of Forma
During the Closed Beta period of Warframe, there had been a bit of controversy surrounding “Supercharged” equipment which would later become Orokin Reactors and Orokin Catalysts (aka “potatoes”). By paying a cash premium, you could double your potential power compared to other players who had not. Digital Extremes addressed these concerns of locking power behind a paywall by adding in a way to obtain them through randomly generated Alert missions, as well as dealing them out after Devstreams on occasion.
With the advent of the modding system, players would have to prioritize equipment with better innate polarities in order to fit on more mods. Installing a potato would allow you to budget more mods, but you were still subject to a maximum capacity of 60 mod drain. The Forma items changed Warframe forever by allowing you to install additional polarities on any piece of Rank 30 equipment. Each Forma installation would effectively increase the number of mods you could equip.
Forma was developed as another way to increase your power without having to pay a penny. You could earn these new power-ups by playing through Orokin Void missions unlocked by using Void Tower Keys at the time. The Forma were a bit of a grind to obtain and took 24 hours to craft, but they were free and reasonable to acquire, unlike the very limited potatoes. Forma were also available for a premium purchase through the Market for those who have more money than patience.
However good Forma is for the community as a whole, it is not without cost. The immediate effect felt is that players would be forced to re-level their equipment each time after installing a Forma. A weapon would become effectively useless in high level content and force the player to trudge through low level content or hotjoin into a mission like Xini and AFK leech for a while. This was not too much of a problem for warframes at the time because they could equip their abilities via the bonus capacity from an Aura Mod plus the Mod cards for the abilities, but each Forma would render a weapon virtually unusable until ranked up once more. Over time, this dynamic switched and now weapons can be useful at Rank 0 if you have a high enough Mastery Rank, but warframes are useless until you rank them up and unlock abilities.
The real cost of the Forma would not be felt for over a year after its addition to the game: Addiction. Forma have been at the center of a shattered community, broken down by misuse and abuse of this consumable item. Digital Extremes has not formally acknowledged or taken steps to help the individuals affected by this epidemic of addiction in the last four years. Instead, Digital Extremes has created more opportunities for the addiction to catch on to the public by offering “Fire Sales” and “Bundle Discounts” to move their ever-increasing supply of “Yellow Mellow” (a slang term for Forma). They have also allegedly broken down class action lawsuits related to Forma by silently settling disputes outside of court with constrictive non-disclosure agreements.
The use of Forma has become so widespread within the community that is now expected of players when forming squads or sometimes even an admission process to join a Clan as a means of proving themselves being “hardcore” enough to join. Digital Extremes had cultivated a community ripe for addiction by encouraging the acquisition or purchase of Forma, freely available with a seemingly infinite supply, and educated the public to its benefits.
To their credit, Digital Extremes has not misinformed the community and Forma are indeed a healthy consumable when used for prescribed purposes. It’s the unchecked and unregulated recreational use of Forma which leads to addiction. When properly used, Forma can provide several benefits to the gameplay experience. However, there are not any warnings about potential abuse or addiction with the product or how many Forma are considered “normal” use for any given piece of equipment.
A Closer Look At Addiction
Shortly after Update 14.10, on October 15, 2014, a young Kthal who was only MR17 at the time got his first taste of Forma as a recreational consumable. Having seen someone on the official forums mention that the UI only showed up to 13 installations of Forma, Kthal thought it would be funny to install 14 Forma on his favorite equipment. Other players in the thread pointed out this was just a bug in the UI or discussed the practicality of needing so many Forma installations, but it was already too late for Kthal.
One year later, after concerned friends had reached out to the local authorities about Kthal being missing for several days, he was discovered locked away in an Orokin Void Tower clawing at a resource cache. Malnourished, crazed, and non-responsive, Kthal was taken to an emergency care facility and placed in a medically induced coma to stabilize. The emergency response team was shocked to learn that it had all been in pursuit of more Forma after having exhausted all of his remaining Platinum purchasing them from the Market.
Not all who had reached this level of Forma addiction were lucky enough to recover, let alone to have received help at all. There is an estimated 130 Tenno each year who burnout after abusing Forma according to the Sol Drug Association (SDA). This official estimate provided by the SDA is explicitly defined by a requirement of having installed at least 10 Forma on a single item. Our researchers estimate that the rate of burnout among users who use more than Forma at all is at a staggering 30-40% of all Tenno.
After two weeks in the hospital and a 6-week state-mandated rehabilitation course for “self endangerment” (as Forma are not officially recognized as an addictive substance), Kthal re-entered society. The ordeal had changed him, but perhaps not as the state had hoped. Kthal had learned about the dangers of Forma addiction and had experienced rock bottom first hand. It showed him what he needed to do next. He turned to religion.
When treating addiction, some specialists recommend turning to a higher power to help give structure to what feels like a broken life. Within a year, Kthal founded The Sacred Church of the Holy Forma. Learning from his own experiences what the dangers of Forma addiction are, but not ready to give up the Forma quite yet, he created a structured system to not only regulate his usage, but to fund his addiction through tithing of the faithful.
Taking things one step further, Kthal adopted the moniker of “Forma_Addict” to embrace his experiences. He had found strength in claiming his weakness and became a symbol to his peers. What began as a joke and nearly ended in tragedy had miraculously brought Kthal to social ascension beyond what would have been possible before. He wasn’t just another helpless addict, he is the Forma_Addict. Where once people had feared to become him, they now aspire to become more like him. They want to use Forma like he uses Forma.
Meet the Forma_Addict
Our reporters reached out to Kthal for an exclusive interview to look into his transition into becoming the Forma addict. As it turns out, Kthal was not around when Forma were first added to Warframe. He began playing sometime around or just after the Cicero Crisis had ended, which he remembers clearly because it was the only Inbox message he had ever deleted.
“I remember opening up my message inbox when I first started and seeing a very confusing message which didn’t make any sense to me. It’s the only message I deleted from my inbox since it didn’t actually pertain to me. Since then I’ve kept every message in the inbox. I don’t see the point in throwing anything away.” Kthal solemnly recollected, measuring the distance from where he began to where he is now.
Where It All Began
His origins were that of any player: a bit confused and overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe set before him. Hot off the heels of an event, Kthal quickly immersed himself to learn more about the game. Before the incident on the forums even took place, Kthal was already enjoying ranking up equipment and making use out of Forma to polarize them to his heart’s content. “I really liked the Lex Prime, so I decided I would polarize every slot in it. Then it was mentioned that there was a limit and I thought, well, if there’s a limit then I have to push it. Then it was raised and so I kept on going.” The first steps of escalation.
Initially he was only installing an excessive amount of Forma onto the Lex Prime because he liked the weapon so much. It felt like a labor of love, but he was conscious that there wasn’t really a benefit in doing so. When the Lex Prime was later buffed, Kthal felt vindicated for all the time and energy he had spent into adding excessive Forma. With such an unexpected and potent positive reinforcement, it’s no wonder he carried on with so many other items. Now with rumors of the Mastery Rank requirement changes, it might be getting buffed yet again. Unlike when he was still new to the world of Forma, Kthal is being careful to avoid hitting rock bottom a second time.
Kthal’s use of Forma wasn’t all just a passion project, however. Using Forma had dramatically changed the way he constructed a loadout from the weapons and warframe used as well as creating a conscious effort in missions to spread the Affinity toward the items which needed it most, constantly checking mission progress to even out the spread. “I remember when I was getting very heavily into it, I would optimize a Volt for Electric Shield and go into Tower 2 Defenses and bring on players with the understanding that I would be mostly useless in terms of warframe powers, but I would always bring at least one decent weapon so I could carry my load.”
Reason Veiled by Madness
Making a point not to be a complete burden on his squad, Kthal had generally refrained from entering missions with a complete set of unranked equipment fresh after Forma installations. He might not be pulling the lion’s share of work, but he would meaningfully contribute to the squad’s goals and his own Affinity generation. The modding capacity changes have allowed him to be more reckless in that regard, but he still makes an effort to have at least one part of the loadout designated to carry.
As time went on, Kthal began to meticulously plan out his loadout for weapons and warframes which would compliment one another. “I don’t just indulge and pick a set thing and throw Forma at it. I will invest a few Forma, get these things built up, and see through trial and error what works nicely.” Each loadout had been carefully constructed and tested before embarking on the path of 100 Forma installations.
Planning out mods proved to be quite difficult sometimes. For some weapons, like your run-of-the-mill rifle with mediocre critical and status chance, you could reliably slap on the same core build and expect decent (if not optimal) results. However, melee modding options have become a bit bloated by comparison. “There are too many melee mods for these things. Given the mod diversity that we’re getting, I wonder if it’d be worth it to reduce the cost by all mods by 1 or 2 points and add 2 extra slots to all weapons.” Kthal mused as we discussed how Forma have shifted the balance of modding equipment over the years.
“I am definitely concerned about the increasing mod costs. Riven Mods are a bit alarming with 18 drain.” Kthal also pointed out concerns with increasing costs of mods like Hyperion Thrusters, a luxury mod for Archwings, which has 10 ranks and consumes 20 capacity. He also mentioned Kubrows and Kavats and how even if they are fully polarized it’s impossible to fit all max ranked mods on them for an efficient build.
Kthal has picked up a few habits and found a few tricks in optimizing his multi-Forma installations over the years. Often times when installing a new Forma, he opts to not actually change any of the polarities on the equipment — a feature which may very well be declared a bug at some point and cause problems for Kthal’s future plans.
When Kthal is looking to pick a new weapon to add Forma to, he generally prioritizes Prime equipment. For some ‘base’ versions of weapons he’ll polarize every slot if he likes the weapon and it’s somewhat unique (like the Zenistar), but he only invests the obscene amounts of Forma into Prime equipment. The only exception to date is the Taxon with 100 Forma after being issued the challenge by Digital Extremes. It’s not that he as a problem with non-Prime equipment, it’s just that he has no real motivation to do so. It’s moreso that the equipment has to earn the Forma for Kthal to invest so heavily.
Apart from the recent sale event reducing the Forma to a historically low price, Kthal has crafted approximately 75% of the Forma he’s used to this day. The remaining 25% consists of the ones he bought directly from the Market and only a couple which were rushed in the Foundry. He had bought 1,000 outright in the recent sale and has already used 50 of them.
Interestingly enough, he never put much stock into acquiring Affinity Boosters to aid in his expeditions unless there’s an Affinity Booster Weekend on the horizon. He supplements this with the occasional purchase of Prime Access Accessories which comes with Affinity Boosters and has generally kept him covered. A notable exception to this is when he was working on Nova Prime’s first 50 Forma he did not have an Affinity Booster active. “I’m not particularly bothered either way. They do make things easier.”
When asked about how his Forma usage has affected the way he plays, Kthal stated “I don’t play the game just to do Forma, it’s just I’m always using Forma when playing the game.” Kthal estimates that he has used close to 1,500 Forma to this day, not counting Forma used in crafting equipment such as Exilus Adapters or weapons.
One of the woes some players experience when ranking up new Forma installations is that it will cut deeply into your potential to generate Focus, even with an active Convergence. Maybe through building up a tolerance for patience, Kthal is not dissuaded by the meager Focus gains when playing. For him, the minuscule gains are enough because they add up over time and he’s simply not interested in progressing the various Focus schools.
Recognition from Digital Extremes
On February 9th, in traditional fashion before an update, the infamous “Red Text” broadcasted the following message to all Tenno currently logged in:
Kthal interpreted the Red Text as a challenge directly from Digital Extremes to install 100 Forma unto the Taxon and set off on a mission. Dozens of missions, in fact. Nearly 100 days after the challenge, Kthal provided proof that the task was done. Rumor has it that a special new trophy is on the way for the addict. Data miners have found files which seem relevant and Digital Extremes reached out for his personal contact information in that same thread on the subreddit.
Kthal stated “I need to think of what I can do as retaliation. There always has to be an escalation.” He later jokingly commented that he is expecting a Forma decoration for the Orbiter.
A Role within the Community
When asked what he thought of the spreading abuse of Forma, Kthal was enigmatic. He’s confident that at some point in the future something with a Forma will go horribly wrong and Digital Extremes will be held accountable. Individuals like himself who had slowly built up a tolerance for Forma might not feel the effects of burnout as quickly as those who dive straight in to massive consumption, but the risk remains nonetheless.
The Sacred Church of the Holy Forma itself may have very well been a ploy to get around Forma taxes, but Kthal does do some charitable work such as distributing Ignis Wraith Blueprints to the community. However, when asked if the church was doing anything to help the addicted, Kthal sternly replied “Why would I want to stop people doing Forma?”
He also adamantly denied that the excessive use of Forma could be unhealthy or even dangerous, despite previously alluding to an unforeseen event where something with Forma would go horribly wrong and in spite of his own personal experiences. “I would argue that Forma addiction is a mechanism of staving off burnout. It’s finding something to do, to continue playing the game.” However, he conceded that there is a potential for those already burning out to “burn out hard” after Forma addiction.
In regards to how he speaks about Forma with the community: “I encourage people to do Forma under the assumption that not everyone will.” Kthal clarified that he does not openly speak about Forma often and generally stays neutral on the topic. He leads by example rather than by preaching. In spite of this, he has received harassment from players in regards to his Forma choices.
The Future of Forma(_Addict)
After the interview had concluded, we began talking about general gameplay balance and potential changes to Forma. Kthal has a few ideas of what he would like to see with the future of Forma, but at the same time doesn’t see a need to diverge from what we currently have. Though he’s become somewhat of a symbol of using Forma, he’s very much just another Tenno out in the system.
It remains to be seen what Digital Extremes will do to commemorate Kthal’s completion of the challenge issued for the Taxon, but it is expected that many more players will embark on a path of rampant Forma usage to possibly receive the same favor. The SDA estimates a surge of Forma consumption beginning mid-July this year in light of upcoming holidays and world events.
As for Kthal, the current plan is just to wrack up 100 Forma on his favorite equipment. There is a possibility of pursuing 1,000 Forma on a set of items in the future, but he’s expressed some concern over not having found anything he likes enough to justify that many. The constant escalation will eventually take him to that new high or low, depending on your perspective.
We reached out to Digital Extremes to hear their side, but their spokesperson declined to comment on the topic of Forma addiction.
Be safe. Use Forma responsibly. Until next time, this has been TGDM of TCN’s The Forma covering the use of Forma throughout the history with special guest Kthal (aka “Forma_Addict”).
In full disclosure, TCN’s TGDM has previously contributed to Kthal’s Forma addiction. Special thanks to Kthal for taking the time for the interview.