Despite Player Outcry, Elite: Dangerous Will Remain Always Online

Despite Player Outcry, Elite: Dangerous Will Remain Always Online

Elite: Dangerous is shaping up to be the best open galaxy/virtual reality space trucking game this side of the Milky Way (which it includes all of), but controversy recently blotted out its starry sky when Frontier yanked a long-promised offline mode right before release. Worse, not everybody was offered refunds.

In a recent interview with Elite mastermind David Braben at a preview event in San Francisco, I asked him what exactly happened — why a series with such strong offline single-player roots ended up with no offline mode whatsoever, despite an internet-connected solo mode in addition to online multiplayer — not to mention the promise of offline to slavering fans, some of whom had already paid quite a bit of money for the game.

“Offline was initially not a planned feature when we went to Kickstarter,” Braben confessed. “We said we were making an online game. But then there were some people on forums and on the Kickstarter saying it’d be really great to have offline. So then we looked at it and thought, ‘Actually, why can’t we just run [what we have offline]?’ We looked at the design and saw that it’d be quite empty. And I did say that. But I did say we’d be able to do a purely offline mode.”

Slowly but surely, however, Braben and co realised an offline mode might not be as easy as they originally thought. On top of that, concerns of cheating and hacking in multiplayer — something made much easier when players can tinker around offline, without watchful eyes on them — began to arise.

“During development, we looked at that and saw issues with it,” Braben explained. “We were moving more and more onto the servers. We were also looking at how people could cheat and those sorts of things. It’s a problem for a lot of games — for instance with exploration — the cheating spoils it for everybody. If someone does a blanket discovery of everything, that spoils things.”

“So we were looking into different ways of handling that and, to be honest, we pushed back development of the offline mode. We needed to replicate some of the work locally that was being done on the server. It was one of those things where we could do it, but the amount of work involved increased over time. The emptiness would be a real factor as well.”

Despite Player Outcry, Elite: Dangerous Will Remain Always Online

Ultimately, however, fans felt blindsided by the announcement that offline mode was being completely, 100 per cent called-off. Worse, many had already spent money on the game as Kickstarter backers or alpha/beta players. They felt like they’d been swindled. And while Braben confessed that he understood where they were coming from, he claimed he honestly didn’t decide to cancel the feature until the very last second.

“We still intended to do it right up to release,” he said. “That’s why we delayed the announcement for so long. But we finally decided to bite the bullet and say no.”

So Elite: Dangerous will require an Internet connection, in a similar fashion to games like Diablo III on PC and SimCity (for a while). The rationale behind the decision — to leverage server-side tech and avoid cheaters — appears to be fairly similar too, albeit in a game that was definitely originally built to be multiplayer first and foremost. If you don’t want to deal with that, you can ask for a refund. You just might not get it.

Back when Braben and co first announced that offline mode wasn’t gonna make the cut, they only offered refunds to people who hadn’t spent a significant amount of time playing Elite‘s alpha or beta. They were worried, Braben told me, that people might take advantage of the system if they offered refunds to everybody — get their money back and then buy the final version of the game for a lower price. More community outcry, however, caused them to reconsider that stance, electing instead to offer refunds on a case-by-case basis. Players would take up their beef with Frontier, and if it checked out they’d get their money back.

Still though, that’s a lot of fuss over a crowd of players possibly trying to game the system to get some money back, even if a small contingent of players did spend $US300 (during the Kickstarter) or $US150 for alpha/beta access. I was sceptical. It sounded like a moved designed more to avoid losing money than to apologise to dissatisfied customers. Braben, though, claimed it wasn’t just about locking down the Frontier orbital outer space piggy bank. He said that some players who’d dropped their $US150 or $US300 fair and square felt slighted at the prospect of other players taking the easier, cheaper way out, and he didn’t want to punish them for their loyalty.

Despite Player Outcry, Elite: Dangerous Will Remain Always Online

“We wanted to be fair to everyone,” Braben explained. “We wanted to be fair to people who’d been really supportive of us as well. Part of it was comments I’d been seeing on social media where people were saying, ‘Hey cool, I can get my money back and then re-buy the game for a little less.’ That’s why we ended up doing the case-by-case. There were some people who were genuinely upset by [others trying to exploit the system].”

Which brings us to now. Elite: Dangerous will be out for real — no more beta — on December 16. It is, by most accounts, a really neat video game! But if constant Internet connected-ness isn’t your thing, you might want to pass on it for now. What about in the future, though? Once Braben and co have a little more time and space (in multiple senses of the word), could they hack something together?

“We may still do something [offline],” Braben said. “We just don’t want to promise it at this point.”


  • I’m ultra pissed there was no refund, part of the signup was that it included the cost of the final game, I never would have ‘pre-ordered’ a game that was online only. Saying that it couldn’t be included is just BS, the older elite games didn’t need online to be fun.
    I was really looking forward to the final version on my rift too.
    Also, this isn’t coming from a AAA company, if they run out of money, and the servers are switched off, you don’t have a game anymore.
    If they just refunded the final cost of the game, then there would be no-one getting a refund just to rebuy the game later.

    • You can play in “offline/solo” mode, the online part, in part is the trading data, it is affected by the online world trading. That may have changed but that was one component.

      • I was emailed and told that there is a mode to play without other players. Essentially an offline mode, however you needed to be connected constantly just to play the game. Hence my request for a refund.

        • This, I do not have the ability to maintain a constant internet connection, and again, don’t want the game to disappear the moment the servers close down, I would have been happy with the retail cost of the game refunded.

          • Yes, I am worried that when the day comes to turn off the servers we loose Elite, but there was talk that the game source would be possibly made available to allow for private servers.

        • Unfortunately, this seems to be the model gaming companies are taking – an always online mode in some form or another, whether it be for achievement unlocks or anti exploit functions.

  • Elite: Dangerous is shaping up to be the best open galaxy/virtual reality space trucking game this side of the Milky Way (which it includes all of),
    That statement is wrong, while ED looks amazing, its no Star citizen.

    • Its probably based on how much of the respective games are completed. I own both and at the moment ED is miles ahead of SC.

      • while i agree in regards to current build/release, it has nowhere near the scope or power to match what SC will become

        • While I have a SC account, I’m keeping some perspective here. I have to see an actual *game* come out of it yet rather than just tech demo after tech demo. I played the combat alpha, it was nice but could’ve been far better. Granted that’s incredibly early. But again, still need to see something more solid, a sum of its parts actually working together rather than a bunch of seperate modules, rather than what they’ve just shown so far before I go throwing confident judgement in like that.

          • Me too, I’ll actually be surprised if Star Citizen is finished, they have broadened the scope way too far, and haven’t really got a working game of even the original core goals. I think they are going to die the death from the thousand cuts that is feature creep.

    • It wouldn’t be if my wife wasn’t constantly streaming TV/Movies or torrenting at the same time, resulting in my shitty, 700+ ping. :p

        • Yeah, I figure it’ll just mean logging in will take a little longer if there’s a lot of traffic going through our place. Bah, a mild inconvenience. I’d have preferred it if they hadn’t backflipped about the always online thing, but I think it will be, at worst, a mild annoyance and nothing like the Sim City disaster (release day notwithstanding).

        • Nuts to you, my wife is fucking amazing!

          …unless she’s in your L4D2 party. Anytime she spots the witch, she’s gotta go poke the bear. Then you have to save her from the shit storm that ensues. Then she’s demoted to just being rad.

  • The one thing that annoys me about this entire thing is that you are able to play as they have stated, with a connection like dial-up. So for people complaining they cant play solo offline, why dont you play solo online that can be platyed on a dial-up connection. Barely uses any internet and if you want dynamic events then yu aint going to get them in offline anyway since they will require certain things to happen.

    IF they had a solo offline, the download size would be much larger and release pushed further back because they have to incorporate all of the data and changing universe. This essentially says that you can download it for like 10 more gigabytes or simply use those gigabytes to play the game. Overall not using much data.
    Thats my opinion anyway, I honestly didnt see anything wrong with removing offline mode as it adds more dynamic enviroment rather than a alone person in a huge universe that they will never get passed 1000 stars.

  • Welp. Braben sounds like a lying cunt to me 🙂 It’s amazing what people will say and do to avoid losing money.

    • the events in space are server automated… the market data is server… the exploration and star system data is server… missions are generated by the server…. and there is a shift in system ownership that is driven by the devs. (i think even all the ships with there OK, AI, are spawned by the server making the system populated)

      seriously if you cant spare a few KBPS on a game for a dynamic universe then you need to sort your connection out because its really amazing and you are missing out totally, even if your wife hogs the line with movies… make a roster (aimed at a few of the above posts not you powerdbyme) =)

      • haha all good,

        And If that’s the case Bluxy I agree with the developer decisions. Don’t know why people are having a cry over this.

  • Don’t put up money for a game in development if you are expecting a finished product…

    Wait till the game is done if you are worried about design changes that may occur. Especially if you were part of kickstarter you are not buying a game you are investing in a company with 0 return guaranteed for that investment.

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