Elite: Dangerous and playing Offline

Posted by on Nov 17, 2014 in Progress Report

I wasn’t expecting to blog again so soon, but my previous blog went out a few hours ahead of Frontier Development’s Newsletter 49, which has, let’s just say, raised a few eyebrows. This is a serious topic, so no fancy graphics or pictures.

Let’s also be clear. I’m a fan of Elite since 1984, I have written a book for Elite: Dangerous, but I am not in Frontier’s employ, nor am I a shareholder in the company.

So, what has happened?

In short, Frontier have announced that the ability to play Elite: Dangerous ‘offline’ (i.e. without an active internet connection, excepting the need to download the game itself) will not be available.

First, let me be precisely clear about this, as I’ve already seen some misinformation in the online media. It does not mean that PvP and PvE are the only options. The single player ‘Solo’ mode remains (which I’ve indicated before will be my preference). This decision has no bearing on multiplayer versus singleplayer.

What has been lost is the ability to play the game in situations where you either do not have an internet connection (e.g. whilst travelling, or perhaps in areas where internet bandwidth is poor and unreliable) or do not want to be connected (personal preference or security concerns).

It also raises concerns over the longevity of the game, as playing it will now rely on the continued existence of ‘cloud-based’ services. These are, presumably, funded by Frontier themselves. Without knowing the future commercial success of the game, it’s impossible to know how long we may be able to play Elite: Dangerous.

**Update** – David Braben has stated on the Frontier forums that if the online servers ever need to be switched off, an archive of the Elite ‘universe’ will be made available. Direct quote is here.

This is also nothing to do with DRM. The internet connection is required for the gameplay mechanic, not for copy protection and anti-piracy.

**Update** Many people are citing the requirement for authentication as an indication that Elite: Dangerous has ‘DRM’. This is not the case. Authentication != DRM. Any online game requires authentication to identify the player for the purposes of playing the game. It is true that DRM requires authentication, but the reverse is not the case.

What has prompted this decision?

According to Frontier, the reason is that providing the offline variant of the game would significantly compromise the online version of the game. Frontier has a vision for Elite – to provide a “dynamic, ever unfolding experience”. They believe the offline variant would be “Unacceptably limited and static” in comparison.

Why has it caused so much upset?

Back in the 2012 Kickstarter for Elite: Dangerous, questions about the off-line mode were specifically asked in the comments. Many people initially withheld their funding at that time because they wanted an off-line mode for one of the reasons described above. It became a FAQ and the answer from Frontier remains on the KS page for the project.

“However it will be possible to have a single player game without connecting to the galaxy server. You won’t get the features of the evolving galaxy (although we will investigate minimising those differences) and you probably won’t be able to sync between server and non-server (again we’ll investigate).”

Many people pledged for the game based on this answer, and are now in states ranging from disappointment and grudging acceptance, all the way through to outrage and demanding a refund.

Many of these people will be long-standing fans of the Elite series (which has historically always been offline singleplayer) and were hoping for a continuation of that gameplay.

So much for what has happened. Now let’s dissect the issues.

This announcement only took place on Friday. Folks are still digesting the news and inevitably moving through the various stages of what psychologists call the ‘cycle of acceptance’. The backlash and anger is to be anticipated, it is a perfectly natural reaction to bad news. Combine that with the personal connection that people feel to this game and you have a lot of raw emotion to deal with.

Could Frontier have told us earlier?

The simple answer is that we don’t know. None of us are privy to the technical details of the implementation of the Elite: Dangerous architecture. None of us know the decisions that have been taken with respect to that architecture. The limitation that led to the offline version being untenable may have been visible months ago, it might have come as a recent and fundamental unexpected output of a previous technical decision, it might have been something they’ve been trying to resolve for ages and have cut for financial reasons. In short, speculation here is pretty pointless. Frontier have told us.

Could they have handled it better?

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. My own father had a wonderful phrase – “Experience is what you get just after you need it.”. In short, again, it depends. Michael Brookes has repeatedly mentioned on the forums that it was a tough and difficult decision. Clearly it was subjected to a serious amount of thought. It wasn’t a whim, and clearly Frontier knew that the fan and backer base had to be informed. That Frontier staff were clearly on hand during the weekend meant that they knew a backlash was possible. Numerous posts were made ‘outside working hours’ by members of the Frontier team. That puts to rest comments such as “They don’t care” and their ilk.

Are backers entitled a refund if they pledged against the KS Promise (incl. via Paypal)?

Let’s be clear. There is really no such thing as a Kickstarter promise. Kickstarter is very clear in its own FAQs about this.

When you back a project, you’re helping to create something new — not ordering something that already exists. There’s a chance something could happen that prevents the creator from being able to finish the project as promised.

So, I can’t see a refund route here. If you are a Kickstarter/Paypal backer this is the risk you took when you signed up. If you didn’t understand the risk, that is your concern.

**Update** Having reviewed the Elite: Dangerous KS page in more detail, it is clear that the offline mode was not mentioned in the main design goals of the game, whereas multi-player is the first feature mentioned (Ref: KS page and scroll down to ‘The Game’). The reference to the offline mode is only mentioned in the FAQs, but the answer there is a definitive acknowledgement that a server connection is not required.

What about people who pre-ordered the game from the FD website based on offline singleplayer expection?

This is a different category. I am no lawyer, and will not indulge in armchair legislation. I do not know in detail what the actual description of the pre-order game says or said. People in this category should check carefully what they have bought. If it is materially different from what is now going to be provided, UK and EU law will protect you and a refund may be appropriate.

Is there a moral obligation for KS/Paypal backers?

This is difficult. I know that many people were persuaded to back the game during the KS campaign by the vocal comments around this subject – comments by enthusiastic fans who had already become backers. When it was added to the ED KS FAQ, there was a surge of additional support and euphoria as a result Clearly this was a significant item for many fans of the Elite series. (I would estimate it as perhaps 10% of the total fan base, representing perhaps £120k of the original KS funding, if averaged). Kickstarter themselves are not part of this. Frontier clearly intended this offline facility to be available. As to whether a refund is appropriate is a decision that can only be made between individual backers and Frontier depending on how they evaluate what Frontier has said. My own view is that this is most unfortunate, but is not evidence of deliberate deceptive behaviour on the part of Frontier. It was a risk at the start and that risk has, unfortunately, materialised.

Really? A technical constraint? Surely they must have seen this coming.

Again, we are not privy to the details. My own experience with running highly complex multi-year IT projects (web-based multi-user online systems) indicates that many ‘requirements’ have to be renegotiated with key stakeholders throughout the project as technical and financial constraints come to light – sometimes you just don’t know what you don’t know – this is the nature of Software Development. I can see this exact situation happening at Frontier as the project evolves. In my work this sort of thing is handled by a project board decision – there’s a lot of arguing and emotion flung around at these too – but there’s usually only about 12 people to cram into a room. How could Frontier manage thousands of stakeholders and come to a unanimous decision? Well, let’s be realistic – they couldn’t. Somebody had to make a call, and somebody did.

And if Frontier goes bust, or shuts down the servers?

They certainly don’t intend to do that I’m sure. Frontier is a business at the end of the day. Elite: Dangerous is a flagship product and their aim is to make a profit for their shareholders. But yes, no cloud-based servers, no Elite: Dangerous. Is this possible? Of course it is. Is it likely? No, not at all. A steady stream of funding will allow the vision of Elite: Dangerous to continue to be realised. An estimated 90% of existing backers are ‘ok’ with not having an off-line mode. Future backers will clearly be 100% happy with the situation.

Might Frontier be able to open-source the Elite: Dangerous server-side environment? Possibly. But it would be risible for them to be thinking about that at the moment – what company plans to fail?

**Update** – David Braben has stated on the Frontier forums that if the online servers ever need to be switched off, an archive of the Elite ‘universe’ will be made available. Direct quote is here.

And my view?

I’ve already stated that I’ve always wanted a single player experience. Multiplayer means little to me. I have limited time and I want to forge my own path. I would also have liked to be able to play offline, thus I am in the ‘disappointed’ category here. But I’m a 40-something original player with 30 years of Elite ‘prejudice’.

But I do contrast my own gaming with that of my children. They are almost exclusively multiplayer. To them, anything less is dull and predictable, echoing David Braben’s comments of ‘limited and static’.

Elite always pushed the boundaries of what was technically possible. The original game squeezed 8 x 256 planets into 32k, the second, an entire galaxy on a floppy disk. The full potential of the machines of the day was realised.

But this isn’t the 1980s, or the 1990s. This is 2014.

Today, an internet connection is available to the vast majority of the game playing population. I have one at home, on the move and at work. Internet connectivity will continue to improve dramatically. Compare and contrast the 56k modems of the 1990s with the cable and ADSL of today. There is no comparison. 4G is already here for mobile, coverage will improve, new technologies will make the ‘fast’ links of today look positively pathetic in the coming years. We’re all IT literate, we know this.

The internet has become a commodity. To develop a game without pushing this capability to its limit is simply not in the spirit of Elite. On every other level high fidelity is being pushed in the realm of graphics, computation, audio and, yes, even multiplayer interaction.

To compromise Elite: Dangerous without internet connectivity is like constraining FE2 to 32k, or the original Elite to punched card loading.

I truly believe Frontier is correct when they say that the offline only variant of the game would compromise their vision for the future of Elite. We cannot look back to a golden age of offline gaming and find the future there. We’ve been there and done that. All previous Elites were great, we all know that as fans – but here’s an uncomfortable truth…

They were all ultimately boring – limited by the technology they were built on.

**Update** – To be clear here, my point is that the gameplay is static beyond a certain point. Once missions are complete and goals obtained the game is effectively ‘played out’. I appreciate that many people will still wish to fire up the older games and will still enjoy them, but they are in a tiny minority.

It was a tough decision, but it was the right one. Maybe it could have been handled better, but maybe not. It’s been called and we need to get our heads around it.

Developers, testers, analysts, support teams, managers and producers have poured their all into the production of this game, working for this vision. I’ve met many of them and I know they are fans too. They do care about this. For us fans to back away from that vision because of a major setback is disloyal to their hard work and would be… there’s no other word for it – egregious in the extreme.

Elite has to embrace the prevalent technologies now afforded and push them to the limits. Anything less is a betrayal of opportunity, imagination and forward thinking.

That’s Elite, that’s the Frontier and that’s the opportunity that Elite: Dangerous affords.

Stay right on, Commanders.

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A report from the Elite: Dangerous Premiere
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  1. An excellent analysis Drew. You’ve summarised my position far more eloquently than I could right now (I don’t have a lot of time for blogging right now).

    It’s great to see critical and objective analysis of the situation. You are an asset to the community.

    • Drew this is an excellent piece
      I share the exact same thoughts as you and have looked on at events with some bewilderment. Your blog has actually helped me to gain a better understanding of the situation, as it will others, so thank you commander o7

    • Well all know Drew is HEAVILY biased towards Frontier and wouldn’t ‘rock the boat’ with them no matter what he thought personally.

      The sneaky and arrogant way Frontier have handled this is quite despicable and I’m deeply disappointed after throwing hundreds of pounds into this shambles. (I’m guessing this won’t pass moderation.)

      • Well, you’re wrong on both counts. I’ve criticised Frontier on a number of occasions, most notably the insistence on multiplayer (I’d rather personally have had a dedicated single player game) and also the removal of the original Elite lore in favour of that of FE2 and FFE. It’s not my sandbox and I don’t set the rules. I do support people with a genuine vision, who are genuine good folks and who are doing their best to realise a something of significance however.

        • It would appear that certain people are claiming to sit on the fence whilst immune from splinters, i should know, i suffer from them all the time, but i do know how to mask the discomfort.

          To support and extol the exploitation of available technology to provide a truly enhanced Multi player experience and then confirm a previous negative on said multi player will have needed a fair bit of wriggle on the aforementioned fence.

          Commodities commodities, where do we start ?
          Time now that seems a good place to start, available to all although it seems to be in short supply when you really need it and where do obtain more ?
          Or maybe Gold, we all know where to obtain it although it maybe out of the reach of all but a minority,you decide what basis the term minority is used.

          All publicity is good publicity is actually a misnomer unless those receiving it are pro active and turn it into good publicity, sitting with me on the fence will not help.

          A vision is just that, a moment in time and or a moment in the future, it is always different, even if the vision is the same.

          Put all your eggs in the same basket and you drop it then the chance that some will not break is pretty good, unless of course you only have the one and then its a 50-50.

          I really wish i had written this, but alas not, it is far too well written and coherent than anything i could have had a vision of.

          If it does not post in full please feel free to check post #4168 on page 278 https://forums.frontier.co.uk/showthread.php?t=58789&page=278

          • Once removed is usually referred to in terms of relations but in this case time team will rediscover in the archives

          • Would appear post numbers have somehow moved please note the above link is now page 279 post # 4171.

            How that happens i have no idea 😉

  2. Well said Drew, I agree with every word. I can understand the anger and frustration felt by many in the community and I feel for those that wanted a single player offline game but Frontier need to stick to their vision for the game.

    • When I kickstarted it, a core part of their ‘vision’ included a single-player offline experience. I know, because I explicitly waited until it was addressed in their FAQ for the game before I put down my money.

      So they have already compromised their ‘vision’.

      What’s next on their ‘vision’ compromised? Well I guess now everyone’s forced online it’ll be micro-transactions; you have to pay for the servers somehow and after the negative publicity of this fiasco they seem to have lost a significant amount of good-will to keep people buying the game post-launch.

      And for reference, I consider the fiasco not necessarily that they removed the ‘offline’, but that they did it right before release without any sort of forewarning; that’s how you generate seriously bad publicity.

  3. That’s a real shame; good analysis, though. If I had been a Kickstarter investor, I think I would be pretty hacked off at this point. As it is, I won’t be signing up to an online-only game… but then, I’m even older than you ;^)

  4. Very well put and summarised. Personally I’m in the category where this doesn’t really make any difference to my gameplay whatsoever. However I can understand the want for an offline mode. I just know it wasn’t something that was taken lightly. I think once everything has settled and the game is released a few years down the line we will probably be wondering what all the hooha was about. I wanted a game with cause and effect, judging from what Frontier have posted an offline game would have been very limited in it’s scope so I can really understand the decision to concentrate on online play.

  5. Shamelessly apologetic article. There’s really no exuse for what they just did, and they should be held accountable for it. This “shit happens” attitude is disgraceful.

  6. 90% of people are happy now. But as later 100% will be unhappy should the servers shut down. One hopes that by then a local server code will be released.

  7. Nice selective quoting of that kickstarter quote. Mind if I quote the start of it? “When a project is successfully funded, the creator is responsible for completing the project and fulfilling each reward.”

    See that? They explicitly, upon request, said they were having a single-player, offline model; it’s mentioned in the FAQs at the bottom of the Elite kickstarter page.

    You also forgot to quote the “terms of use” page that kickstater-faq page referenced: https://www.kickstarter.com/terms-of-use#section4

    “The creator is solely responsible for fulfilling the promises made in their project. If they’re unable to satisfy the terms of this agreement, they may be subject to legal action by backers.”

    Is there enough annoyed Kickstarter backers in the UK to band together and do some form of class action suit if they don’t do refunds? I dunno; I’ll be an interesting few week or two I’m sure.

    • Please don’t jump the gun and wait for Frontier Developments to start issuing (or not issuing) refunds before breaking out the pitchforks.

      First read this forum thread that has collected all the FD developer responses regarding the offline single player debacle => https://forums.frontier.co.uk/showthread.php?t=59481

      • Not breaking out pitchforks, just minority annoyed at the continual reading of the Kickstarter T&Cs in favour of the kickstarters, rather then the backers, or heck even in a neutral sense!

        Every single time a kickstater ‘fails’, the first thing that comes out of peoples mouths is “you should have known! you’re not pre-ordering!”. It’s 100% classic victim blaming; yet they fail to mention there is actually legal ramifications of not coming through with the developer’s end of the bargain of delivering a product as described.

        As someone who’s been at the both the failure end and success end of backing games on kickstarter it’s just exasperating.

        • It could certainly do with clarifying! 🙂

        • Michael Brookes has pointed out that there is a procedure for requesting refunds (There’s an established process on the store for requesting a refund: https://store.zaonce.net/cancellations-returns/), so let’s wait and see what happens with people who do request a refund before we start throwing statements around like “Is there enough annoyed Kickstarter backers in the UK to band together and do some form of class action suit if they don’t do refunds? I dunno; I’ll be an interesting few week or two I’m sure.”

          Do I feel that FD has seriously dropped the ball by not clearly and timely communicating the fact that they will not be able to honor their pledge for an offline version? Sure. This could have been communicated in a much more clear way and at a much earlier date. It really doesn’t win the award for “Best customer service” and FD should really look into ways of improving their practices regarding customer communication.

          Do I feel like this breaks the entire Kickstarter campaign and ensures that the product described isn’t delivered? No.

          You might feel different about this and that is your right. It’s also within your rights to demand a refund.

          For me the game is still an interesting and viable game, which I will play until I feel it doesn’t interest me anymore.

    • That is a fair point. I guess it comes down to the definition of ‘promise’ and whether or not a FAQ answer qualifies as such. I’m not a lawyer.

      • “The above is the intended single player experience. However it will be possible to have a single player game without connecting to the galaxy server.”

        Note the ‘will’. To be frank, given it was explicitly requested, and explicitly said it would be supported; UK English would have to have diverted quite a bit from AU English since I gorged myself on British TV as a child for that to be anything but considered the definition of a ‘promise’.

      • Even ignoring the FAQ, both Braben and Brookes are on record, (written and recorded verbal) many time in the past two years, most recently only a few months ago, that “there will be an offline mode”. Not maybe, not ‘we hope’, but WILL. Further, until Friday morning, the Zaonce store was pre-selling orders, explicitly stating that offline play was one of the features.

        I don’t know about the UK, but under Australian law, that very clearly could now be seen as “misleading customers”. The ACCC in Australia is currently prosecuting Valve (Steam) for much the same thing. There is a strong possibility they’ll be taking Frontier to court over this.. all they need is one complaint.

        • As I’ve mentioned, I think people who have bought the game as a pre-order from the FD site are in a completely separate category to the KS backers. There is no ambiguity for the former. If they specifically bought the game with the offline mode stated in their receipt they are absolutely entitled to a refund. In the later case, it’s not so clear cut.

    • Offline mode is not reward, it’s a proposed feature. Game itself is a reward.

      As for legal action you can clearly pursue that even in case of EULA. It really won’t give you any satisfaction, as court won’t be able to force ED to give you what you want.

      • So if an expected component of the ‘reward’ is missing, the reward is “fit for purpose”? I would say not. I’m not in the UK, but I am in Australia, and I do know that if it was here I could take them to a small claims court without the need for a lawyer and would probably get my money back based on this; if only because it would cost the company more to pay for a company repressive or lawyer to turn up to represent them.

        And EULAs clauses are almost never enforceable, since you can’t remove things like “fit for purpose” anyway, so I’ve no idea why you brought that up.

        • I would say “fit for purpose” is more about functionality than expectations.

          I don’t think the case can be made that the game is objectively not fit for purpose because people can, quite obviously, play the game. Sure, some people might not be able to play the game because they have no Internet connection and they may be entitled to a refund.

          Personally I would not fund / buy a game which is predominantly being designed as an online game if I had no Internet. But that’s just the way my brain works.

          • I have internet, so sure, I can play the game.

            But I live in Australia, so I have an internet connection that is always high latency to the rest of the world; where gaming servers are.

            High latency gaming is a pain in the arse even if you aren’t playing twitch games.

            I also happen to have an internet connection that has… issues at the moment. I’m sorting them out with the ISP, but regular cut-outs are caused by the provider upstream and they’re hassling them. So my game play experience would be very intermittent.

            So, does an online-only game sound “fit for purpose” here? I say no; not in the slightest. I would be an absolute moron to buy an online-only game at this moment right? Did I pay for an online-only game? No I didn’t.

            I know the legal system can be a little dodgy at times… but it seems pretty logical that if the game was supposed to come “without needing to be online” if the requirement changed to “you need to be online” that would change fit for purpose even with supposedly a good internet connection.

    • The finished game is a reward, a T-shirt is a reward, a digital music download is a reward.

      A individual game feature is NOT a reward just like the specific music tracks or the exact design of the T-shirt aren’t a reward.

      • I think this is the essence of the Kickstarter ‘refund’ debate. Nicely put, Eric.

        • If I ordered an ‘extra large’ T-shirt as a reward, and instead I got the smallest child-size shirt making it totally useless to me since I have no children, with no possibility of a replacement, would you consider that as a reward being fulfilled?

          Because that’s what removing offline single player has done to my order; it’s made it essentially useless to me.

          • I dont think the t shirt analogy really fits due to the scale of the amount of people potentially affected. I mean how many of us are really fat?! But still there have been much worse cases of games not delivering everything they “promised.” Frontier definitely should have said something earlier or at least polled how many people expected this functionality, and how many people it was likely to affect. After all the excellent open communication from frontier, it does, if nothing else, really stand out like a sore thumb! That is , of course , assuming they were aware of the problem early on.

    • Since you’re quoting Kickstarter stuff – don’t forget this little nugget..

      “Risks and challenges

      Stating the obvious, all projects, whether building a bridge, making a film, studying for an exam or whatever, carry risk. Projects can run out of time or money, people can leave, assumptions that were made at the start may prove to be mistaken, or the results may simply not be as good as expected. Games development is no different.”

      • Correct. And I have no issue with that, and no reason to quote it because the pro-kickstater-creator bias was already in the article; I was quoting the ‘requirement’ part because the article selectively cut that part of the same paragraph out.

        As I said above, I’ve had it with the victim blaming mentality; both parties are responsible, I thought I did my research but I clearly placed my trust in the wrong company when they said they ‘will’ provide an offline experience in multiple places from the very beginning.

  8. Drew we can see why your such a wordsmith, once again cutting through with insight and incisive clarity, thanks for this.

  9. Another excellent blog and echoes my thoughts precisely. While I do have concerns over “Elite Dangerous 30 years from now” it should also be noted that it is highly probable that someone, somewhere, would create the “back end”.

    • But if they’ve got the ‘backend’ already developed, why aren’t they giving it to the players to run up a server offline? “Too hard to setup” isn’t really a good justification since I’m sure they have a checklist and a bunch of binaries, and someone in the community will hack something together to simplify it for people.

      (And I’m sure they’ve got a solid checklist of how they can rebuild the infrastructure in the event of a failure and recover of their hosting service, right? Because that would be bad if it went down and people lost all ability to play games for ages.)

      • All we know is that it is currently hosted on AWS (Amazon Webservices) cloud. That is quite possibly something that won’t scale to run on a single PC/Mac.

        • AWS is supposed to be openstack compatible so I could run up a small cluster on my home network since I’ve got enough hardware (yeah, I’m a geek) and see if it works, but they’ve decided not to release the binaries or instructions to see if someone can make it work. I don’t expect it will, but it would be fun to try.

          Honestly, at the end of the day, if this is because of AWS then having them announce it a month before release isn’t annoying, it’s deliberately lying by omission. This is something they would have known about being a problem for 6 months at least and they could have at least told us “this is the issue we may have” rather then hitting us with it just before release. It’s called competent project management, they should probably get some.

          But they didn’t, and they’ve made their bed so they get to lie in it; and lie they seem to be doing in both senses of the word.

        • Actually, it’s highly likely that only the front-end servers which talk directly to the clients are on the Amazon AWS cloud. These servers would then talk to the back-end database server which, for performance reasons, would be a real server machine with near-line disks.

          From what can be gathered from other hints given about the architecture, the economic engine and event engine systems would tie into this database and make changes.

          To replicate even the static galaxy would need the front-end server and the database server with the huge database containing the Stellar Forge data combined with the star catalogue and the tweaks Frontier have made.

          You could probably easily run all of this on a single Linux box but the database download would be enormous.

          Putting this as the back-end of the game executable could also be done but it would mean lots of stuff being stripped out, code replicated, database massaged and the whole lot ported to Windows. (Porting to Mac would hardly be required as that’s UNIX anyway.)

          This is feasible, with enough money and resources to manage a whole new database and back-end code base and to back-port changes from the server code, which would be the reference. A considerably expensive task.

          What I don’t understand is how frontier didn’t see this road block as soon as the stellar database came in when the sphere of stars became available.

          • Right. This whole mess has come about simply because they decided to implement it one way and not communicate it with a “hey guys, this might make offline client not possible”.

            It’s called managing customer expectations; something they seem to have failed miserably about.

          • That is, without debate, correct! 🙂

  10. Thanks for the post – a decent summary, but you did miss one aspect – it’s not just about having an internet connection. Requiring a mandatory online mode means that your game experience relies on the quality and stability of the internet connection of all the players in your instance, and Frontier’s servers too. With no offline mode, the quality of Frontier’s network code is now paramount, and up until beta 3.05 there have been serious network-related issues in open play. The danger is that at launch, no-one will be able to play the game because of server-related issues.

    • Yes, very true, Steve. My experience of ‘Solo’ has been very stable throughout, however.

      • Yes, I’m tending to play in ‘Solo’ or ‘Private group’ mode, because the performance in open play hasn’t really been acceptable so far. I wasn’t able to play at all between beta 3.00 and 3.03 due to the MTU sizing issue. Still, fingers crossed 🙂

    • If you play online solo, there is a lot less network data needed, and I don’t expect too much issues even with poor connection.

  11. Thanks for a well-balanced article. There are a couple of points I’d like to make:

    1. I think it does have something to do with DRM, presuming that we continue to have account validation when connecting to the servers. It might not be the main goal, but it will be implicit in the mechanism.

    2. Whether KS backers “deserve” a refund is not the same as whether they are legally entitled to one. As well as the bit about a pledge not being a purchase that you quoted, KS also has this to say: “If the problems are severe enough that the creator can’t fulfill their project, creators need to find a resolution. Steps should include offering refunds, detailing exactly how funds were used, and other actions to satisfy backers.” I don’t think Frontier has (yet) dealt with this in that spirit, but I hope they will.

    • Huw, there is certainly user authentication. This isn’t DRM in the strict sense. Of course, individuals can pursue whatever course they think is right. Unfortunately the ‘KS promise’ is rather vague within KS’s own FAQs.

      • It’s always on DRM, which conflicts with the DRM-free copy reward tier, that’s where the issue lies. So yes, there’s a problem, it also undermines your argument.

        • It is *NOT* DRM. Please stop spreading this mis-information. DRM is Digital Right Management, not client to server, webservice or authentication comms.

          • You ARE describing DRM, by any definition.

  12. I’m LIVID about this decision, why was it made so late.. 3 weeks from launch?

    I paid £100 at the kickstarter for the boxed collectors edition solely because I have no home internet and that way I could play it. (No, I’m not tight fisted, but broadband isn’t available near me. Not even mobile. btw I’m posting from work :P). Now I find I won’t be able to play the game I’ve been dreaming of for the last 30 years and not only that but because I paid as a kickstarter I won’t even get my money back!!!! This is an outrage and although I have huge respect for mr Braben I will not accept a £100 loss. I will pay a visit to the CAB over this.

  13. Well said, Drew, Bravo.

    I would have liked a truly offline mode to be available, but it wasn’t the reason I pledged or the reason I would go and buy Elite Dangerous. If I have to be connected, then so be it. It will be the same game. I’ll still play it in the same way I would have played it before. If I get fed up of multiplayer, there’s still the solo mode.

    My only concern is, as you mentioned, the possibility of Frontier ceasing to support the online play. It’s happened with a fair few online games, and if it happens with ED then it would be a sad day. Perhaps FD will put things in place before that point so that offline play is possible, or will allow a third party to keep the servers up on their behalf after ceasing support.

    That’s all in the hopefully far distant future, but I think there will come a day when Frontier may hand over ED to history and begin shutting down the online servers. Nothing lasts forever, after all, and it might be worth a few days or weeks of a developer’s time in Cambridge to think about futureproofing ED’s legacy and offering either an open server solution (server side installation package or the like) or an offline mode so that thirty years from now we could all still play ED.

    Food for thought, certainly.


  14. Stop being so reasonable 🙂

    Yes, I agree on all points. I am sad. Sad because FD had to do it (I fully understand their reasons), sad about whole reaction (also understandable).

    Still we have to move on. Shouldn’t underestimate what beautiful game we have. It’s not perfect yet…but there’s good chance for it to be.

    • No. What a beautiful game YOU have. Some people cannot play it due to no Internet connections, for whatever reasons they may be. Some people can’t even have the Internet in the drop off zones. So stop thinking about yourself and perhaps think about all of those people that paid for the KS only to be left in the dark.

      Do people here have any idea just how downright hope dashed one can be after having high hopes up until the final moments? Some would rather be hit by a truck.

      Oh, well. For some, it’s back to Freelancer. Yep, that same Freelancer that worked quite well, offline and static.

      FD should be ashamed of themselves and this is coming from a person with a great Internet connection and the Elite: Dangerous in hand. I was almost tempted to get a refund based entirely on the poor basta*ds that got ripped off.

  15. I wonder where those 90% number came from.
    Do you want to say the shitstorm running right now is fueled by…who? Trolls? Competitors?
    Sounds more like a conspiracy theory to me. Or just another way to insult the customers.

    And how do you think you can manage something like “steady stream of funding” when AAA titles backed by huge companies can’t manage to keep that up these days?

    The offline server point is huge. Winking it aside like you did here with a mix of wishful thinking and god knows where that number came from, is irresponsible. Again.

    • The number comes from a forum poll on the FD forums.

      • Could you provide us with a link please?

        What about the stead stream of funding? Any details on that?

        • Wow. Talk about how to run a poll to generate an answer that says absolutely nothing useful. 🙁

          • Well, that is the nature of polls. I don’t think there’s a way to definitively state a number at the moment. In my defence I did say it was a guess. It still is.

      • I kickstarted and was waiting for the full game to be released. I’ve never actually been on the forums since I registered, and don’t even bother to read the mailings they sent out, I was waiting for the full release. So the first I heard about this was from eurogamer by accident.

        I think they’ve very much discovering that “people who are interested in playing singleplayer offline” are also the people were were ignoring the game until they had a singleplayer offline mode.

        Forum polls are always skewed, and apparently this one was skewed very, very wrong.

    • “I wonder where those 90% number came from.
      Do you want to say the shitstorm running right now is fueled by…who? Trolls? Competitors?”

      It is easy to generate fake outrage which looks massive online without even trying too hard. That gigantic thread on FD forums are around 100 people just talking to each other in huge chat.

      This doesn’t mean I don’t feel for people. It’s sad. Doesn’t really mean they are majority (in fact we always knew they not).

      “And how do you think you can manage something like “steady stream of funding” when AAA titles backed by huge companies can’t manage to keep that up these days?”

      Not very strong argument, you will have to name some AAA titles. In same time online gaming is about 100 – 300M income a year for AAA major title. There’s lot of money online if it’s done right (ED is getting there).

      “The offline server point is huge. Winking it aside like you did here with a mix of wishful thinking and god knows where that number came from, is irresponsible. Again.”

      They shouldn’t have promised it in first place. Their focus has always been on online game. Always. That’s their money maker. They thought they could get easy route for offline game too. They were wrong.

      • I haven’t participated in the 5000+ posts thread and I don’t like it too. My girlfriend participated in the thread. By posting one post.

        You now insult both of us by stating that.

        Your statements that you feel for us look a little bit ridiculous on this background.

        ” Not very strong argument, you will have to name some AAA titles. In same time online gaming is about 100 – 300M income a year for AAA major title.”

        I guess you’ve somehow missed who for example the MMO world tries to desperately come up to WoW with those reasons on the meeting room table. And they fail. One after another. Server disappear together with the games. Nobody will ever talk about them. Ever.

        You need to see what they are doing here. E:D only got your funds for this title because all the people who loved the OFFLINE Elite kept up the marketing for them while they’ve not been here (I’m not talking only about the KS money…there are other space sims without a famous title out there. See what they have to do to survive). Some of them even playing the old games through the time.

        They took this experience and created a new product with it. Without one of the core apects of Frontier Gameplay: THE ABILITY TO HAVE THE GALAXY FOR OURSELVES.

        Even worse: when this game dies, a part of the original fanbase will die with it because they won’t be able to continue to play. Of course the new fanbase will just move on to the next spacesim that will probably reach completion by then.

        I just can’t understand how they can make such a huge marketing mistake. After SimCity, after all those failed MMOs after all the hate towards DRM and shady eula paragraphs (https://forums.frontier.co.uk/showthread.php?t=58789&page=277&p=1011889&viewfull=1#post1011889)….

        Yes they shouldn’t have promised that but they did. It was a different game they’ve promised and I’m sure a marketing guy fresh from school would realize that t wouldn’t be such a great advertisement effect if they had announced it online only because people would instantly suspect shady business models, offline servers, overloaded servers, advertisement, DRM and other “steady stream of funding” scam models that will come upon us when the server costs become a problem.

      • If, as you say, it’s 100 people causing a riot then they should have zero issue in awarding full and unconditional refunds to anyone who wants it, Kickstarter backer or not, legally required to or not. I do wonder why they’re not then, given the goodwill value of that gesture. Basically, I think you’re talking crap – the 100 I’m sure you just made up and didn’t bother to count. Not only that but whatever number it is is representative of a greater number who don’t even know about this yet.

      • If there’s so few people who are truly upset about this and want a refund, why hasn’t David Braben just said, yes, we will refund those 0.001% their kickstarter / early orders?
        David Braben IS Frontier Developments, he has no shareholders to answer to, and if the answer is that there is no money left, how will they maintain these servers for the forseeable future?
        I was a day one, gonna pick this game up, played the original, played the buggy ’90s versions, play MMORPGs now, but no, I’m not buying this game now – not because of the DRM alway online requirement (and you can shout it’s not DRM until the universe ends), I have a great (unlimited) internet connection – no, it’s when I see customers getting hosed like this I choose to not support that company.
        If they had said, ‘sorry, no offline, here’s a refund if wanted’ I doubt 0.001 % would have taken it, I would’ve bought the game day one and this storm in a teacup as you see it wouldn’t be taking place – but they haven’t, and it is…

        • Tony, you’re misrepresenting me. I think there are lot of people upset, if you read my blog I’ve estimated it as 10%, not 0.001%. That’s a lot of people, representing a lot of funding. David Braben is the major shareholder, but there are others – this is easy to see from company accounts. I’m afraid you are simply wrong on the DRM point. It is demonstrably not a ‘storm in a teacup’. It could have been handled better. But Kickstarter backers took an informed risk, they did not buy a finished product. It is regrettable and people are entitled to be upset. How they handle that is their decision.

  16. I still fail to see why you can’t have a (limited) local server running. Then you can use the same game executable without an internet connection. I can understand that something like that may take more time, and require a better computer (or a second one on a local net) but it is possible.

    • The technical details are, unfortunately, not available at this stage. We’ve been told it’s not possible.

      • To be clear on that Drew, Michael has not said it is not technically feasible (it is), it’s that they feel they would be creating a separate game for offline. In other words, pretty much exactly what was promised during the Kickstarter. They’ve made the decision not to do that.

        Technical details are available if you look. Michael has said that they’ve designed the game in such a way as to have everything that makes the game “a game” happen server-side.

        It’s a business decision. And one that I find utterly morally reprehensible.

        • It is difficult. But a business decision has to be made in the harsh light of reality. If supporting the offline version meant jeopardising the online version, we could, in the future, be in a position whereby there is no game at all.

          • Given the Kickstarter funding that came about as a direct result of their “offline” promise, there is an argument to say that we might also not have a game at all had they not promised this.

            It all depends on what importance you place upon it.

    • Technically possible obviously, but it seems Frontier Dev don’t have the resources to manage the development, the testing and QA of the offline server.

      • Financial constraints are, alas, reality.

      • If is true that FD haven’t got the financial resources to deliver offline mode, then something has gone very wrong with the management of the project. FD told Kickstarter backers that the £1.25 budgetted was sufficient to deliver the minimal game. Despite that game as so far consumed £8m, now we find it is not going to meet the minimum.

        • I do not believe it is directly a financial constraint, though it maybe indirectly.

          • So what is your better explanation, Drew?

            I have read the explanations from Frontier. They say that they couldn’t make the offline mode good enough. But they’ve given no explanation as to why.

            They’ve had years to do it and if they’ve got enough money, then what’s the problem?

  17. I’m a Mac user, and when I backed the project, the Mac version wasn’t even planned. I backed because I wanted this game exist, even if I would never be able to play it.
    Now, I have tested the beta and I feel confident that it will be a great game, and I’m happy for that.
    Maybe the Mac version will be canceled too, I hope not of course, but there is a new ELITE game launching in December dammit ! I won’t regret my money.

    • Mac version has been announced in works for some time now (3 – 4 months) and expect news about Mac beta soon. They have also now have ED for Mac product at store. So Mac version is safe.

      • I would say nothing is “safe” at this point sadly. Offline mode was advertised in the store up to a few days ago also. 🙁

        • It is quite safe. Facts matter.

          • Facts do indeed matter. Let’s go through this shall we?

            Fact: Offline mode was promised during the Kickstarter and people pledged a lot of money based on that.

            Fact: Offline mode was in the store up until a short time ago.

            Fact: The game has been advertised as DRM-free. It is not DRM-free if it requires an always-on connection to Frontier’s servers.

            Fact: A large number of DDF/DDA topics have not been addressed for release.

            Fact: 25 ships were promised for release (stretch goal) – we’re not getting that either.

            Should I go on?

            “Facts” are meaningless here. Believe a Mac version when (and if) it happens. Not before.

      • Yes, I know. I even purchased the beta to be able to access the Mac beta (as was stated in a previous newsletter) (and then sell my soul to the devil and install bootcamp to test the beta)
        But the pessimist would say that if offline mode was canceled, Mac version could be canceled too.

        • It’s very overgeneralization. Offline mode wasn’t produced due of factors predicted by many even during Kickstarter campaign.

          Mac version is just a client version of the game. They have already working internal alpha working.

          • How do you know this? Have you seen or played it?

  18. thank you for sharing an utterly convincing piece drew

  19. Good article, Drew.

    My view: as an early Kickstarter backer (planet naming level, plus extras) I am beyond angry about this. I don’t expect to get my money back, as I pledged predominantly through Kickstarter but it is a firm kick in the teeth from Frontier.

    I predict now that the launch will be a train wreck. They simply haven’t got a handle on the networking issues present since Alpha 3.0, and my only solace & hope for the game was to be single player offline.

    As a software developer for 20 odd years, I also call bullcrap on the reasons… as well as the timing. By making the decision to put all their code server-side they didn’t plan for offline, and that is disgraceful. They also must have known about this risk for some considerable time (you don’t just throw these things together last minute), and have sat on that information. It’s an architectural issue, and architecture is designed & decided upon at the start of development – not 3 weeks before release of a 2-year project.

    Very disappointed and angry.

    • Fair observation Bil. Without detailed knowledge of the architecture I couldn’t say.

      • I don’t either (although I can guess some of it based on what we do know), but I’m going by experience of developing large software projects.

        You have a core spec – and everything gets smoke tested against that core spec.

        The problem is that “offline” was never included in that core spec – despite the fact that it was an important part of the Kickstarter money, and arguably a chief reason why we have a game at all.

        • I think it was pretty clear that the online version was the main focus of the development from the start. But they were too optimistic on their ability too create an offline version.
          Was the “offline” version a key argument for kickstarter ? We can’t know. For some, it was, but I’m not sure the kickstart would have failed without this announced feature.

          • Agreed, we’re not in a position to say that for certain. I know for some high level backers, no offline mode was a deal breaker – which is why it was “clarified” by Frontier a few weeks into the Kickstarter. The funding *did* take a significant leap forward after that point, and it effectively was a shot in the arm for a campaign that was frankly languishing in the doldrums.

            Kickstarter would have to provide that info if it ever came to court, which is not entirely improbable at this stage.

    • …aaaaand that’s why Agile/Scrum development isn’t suitable for all software development projects. Some projects do need their architecture laid out at the start. They had a product backlog item (Scrum phrase for “requirement”) before the commencement of significant coding, that said “offline mode”. They then went and coded the game mechanic on cloud. They got, what, twenty sprints in before the development team realised they’d coded the system in such a manner that they had made the delivery of a backlog item impossible?

      There’s a very simple way out of this – Frontier need to promise to release the server software to the community in the event of the official servers closing. Amazon Cloud isn’t magic, Frontier aren’t the only people who can set up AWS/EC2; there will be hundreds of E:D players who are perfectly technically capable of replicating the server infrastructure.

      • I don’t know if they were using Agile or some other form of RAD. It would be interesting to know.

      • Actually, Agile is great for this. In a properly written agile TDD system, you write your tests *first* and then write code. Each build runs your tests, and if any fail, you analyse & fix it. It actively prevents issues like this happening… providing your unit tests are written properly.

  20. It breaks my heart, but it’s a problem that’s been faced by developers before and the solutions have never been pretty.

    I can only say that I have much less interest in a game that I can only play when connected to FD’s servers. And that’ll be reflected in the reduced amount of time I’ll want to spend playing.

  21. Well said!
    The Frontier team have all along said this was a game about their vision and that it was what they could do without publishers! For better (and certainly not for worse) that is what they have created – yes, some are disappointed, but truly great things are not built to please every single desire and requirement. Prioritisation is crucial and as a result we have a game being released so soon after the kickstarter campaign.
    Right On!

  22. Wow! Thanks for the post, Drew. I wasn’t aware of the development. I backed the Kickstarter and I’m mainly interested in playing solo (similar reasons to you – lack of time, etc.), but I have an internet connection so this will not adversely affect me, until the cloud goes down and we are all left waiting for a server to be fixed somewhere (I know that a cloud should be stable, but we all know shit happens).

    I can fully understand why people are so hacked off about this decision, in particular given the lateness of the disclosure. Poor show from Frontier and all news is not necessarily good news. I hope this does not negatively impact the success of the release.

  23. My understanding is that solo online does not require a connection that is good enough to play at “twitch” levels. The communications with the server are done via an API which is similar to web services I believe. That means that even rubbish connections in remote locations should be able to play. Because solo does not involve other players there should be no P2P communications.
    Does Frontier’s decision to drop this feature imply they are intentionally dishonest, lying or trying to implement DRM? I don’t see evidence for that.

    • From what I’ve seen of ‘Solo’ mode the latency and bandwidth requirements are very ‘low’ (as in not very demanding!)

      • You do realize that this speaks against the need of a server. If there is not that much data. Why not let it offline and have an option for an update.
        Timed updates. Whatever.

        Give as a chance to opt-out of the future ways for a “steady stream of funding”.

        Btw: where do you think the people who like to spend extra money will go to as soon as StarCitizen is out there? A game especially designed to please those clients.

        I guess this is the moment where we suddenly get a offline-expansion. For a totally reasonable ammount of funding I assume…

  24. Jesus, way to cherry pick the kickstarter rules and remove the bits that do not back up your personal opinion.

    When a project is successfully funded, the creator is responsible for completing the project and fulfilling each reward. Their fundamental obligation to backers is to finish all the work that was promised. Once a creator has done so, they’ve fulfilled their obligation to their backers. At the same time, backers must understand that Kickstarter is not a store. When you back a project, you’re helping to create something new — not ordering something that already exists. There’s a chance something could happen that prevents the creator from being able to finish the project as promised. If a creator is absolutely unable to complete the project and fulfill rewards, they must make every reasonable effort to find another way of bringing the project to a satisfying conclusion for their backers.

    So, in context, you see no recourse for refunds there? I shouldn’t be surprised, I guess you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds, after all.

    • Frontier doesn’t feed me in anyway shape or form, in fact rather the reverse. 😉 And as you’ll see from other comments ‘Offline mode’ was never a reward. I’ll agree the definitions of promise and reward are not especially clear however.

  25. Interesting.

    I backed this game, with a pledge large enough to get me all future expansions, solely for the online game.

    The way Frontier handled this up to now, and the rabid defense of some players for how what they are doing is not wrong, has nearly convinced me to ask for a refund and refuse to ever again purchase any game from Frontier. Or, if I can’t get a refund, to try to keep friends and family away from any product from them.

    For now I will wait and see. I’ll be making a decision in a few days based exclusively on how Frontier responds to the controversy.

    • I think Executive Producer Michael Brookes tried to answer all questions (he did it on Friday, Saturday and Today – over 100 posts) and also pointed out that people can apply for refunds. What I have heard today that refunds are issued rather quickly.

      I don’t think they will announce anything else, as it will just increase confusion, also all news sites have reported it. Refund is clearly right way to go if someone found they won’t be able to play the game. Even if that’s KS it’s better to address it with FD directly.

      • Agreed. Seek a refund if you believe it is appropriate.

  26. Although I agree with most of what you say I feel that the method of releasing the information could have been seen by anyone with at least a small amount of perspective as being inconsiderate.

    Announcing the cancellation of a part of the project which had specifically been used to gain extra Kickstarter backers and had been constantly promoted by David and Michael ever since using a throw-away line and trying to spin it as an advantage would have felt galling to those affected.

    It is this more than the news itself which has raised the ire of so many, even those not directly affected.

  27. “Maybe it could have been handled better, but maybe not.”

    Sorry Drew, but on this point, I have to say, it absolutely could have been handled better..

    Instead of going to their backers when they realised they had painted themselves into a corner, and saying, “Sorry everyone, but some of what we wanted to do looks like it won’t pan out”, it was only alluded to in a fashion that was a half-truth at best, delivered in a way that tried to paint it as a feature, and so buried in a whole bunch of “Look! More features!” marketing speak that a great many people didn’t even really recognise what it was that was being hinted at.

    Reading back over the entire “interview” with Braben in the light of the reality, the entire piece was clearly some marketing-droids idea of damage control.

    Then, instead of coming clean about things, Michael Brookes only released details in dribs and drabs, with more details slowly being revealed as the pressure on him was maintained, and looking over the entire series of his posts, his early justifications for the decision are contradicted by his later ones.

    To begin with he said it was done to protect the game’s “secrets”, and only later did he admit that so much code had been moved from the client to the server side, that offline mode was no longer possible. In other words, that what is on the player’s computer is not a game, but essentially just a rendering engine for a server-based database.

    Sorry, but half-truths, omissions and evasions when dealing with one’s backers and supporters is simply unacceptable, under any conditions.

    This could have been handled a LOT better, and I, for one, am disgusted with Frontier.

  28. Drew, have you thought for a second about the many people who don’t have stable internet readily available everywhere? Students who live in dorms that restrict internet access? People who to travel a lot and don’t have fast internet everywhere? People who live in rural areas with fragile internet (you probably would be surprised how many people even in the Western World don’t have stable internet)? People outside the so called First World?

    Your article (and David retweeting it) is an additional smack in the face of all those who have counted on the offline mode.

    • Yes. If you look I specifically mention this at the beginning of the blog post. I myself would take to play ED on the move. It would seem it’s not going to be possible.

    • “So-called First world” countries.. yep.. like Australia, where I am. A “first world” country, with “third world” internet.. my connection, while fast, drops out sometimes every 20-30 seconds.. it may take anywhere from 1 second to 3-4 minutes to reconnect.. even on a good day, it drops out every 20 minutes or so.

      I was counting on offline mode to play ED.. now I don’t even have that.

      • I completely understand and sympathise. There is no short term solution here. 🙁

  29. Well said, Drew. Totally agree.

  30. Yep you nailed it.
    I agree with your analysis, even on the fact that all the Elite i’ve played (since the 1s one on C64 in 1984) became boring after a, long, while.

    The online mode is the next frontier. Players interraction will make the difference… If the damn multiplayer mechanics are implemented in the Gamme & Release…

    Anyway. Cheers from France.

  31. From the Kickstarter FAQ –

    “If the problems are severe enough that the creator can’t fulfill their project, creators need to find a resolution. Steps should include offering refunds, detailing exactly how funds were used, and other actions to satisfy backers. For more information, see Section 4 of our Terms of Use.”

    The question remains if they do not fulfill all the goals in their project is the project as a WHOLE fulfilled?

  32. For me, the results of the poll (17/11/14) are a little worrying: over 18% report being unable to play reliably due to internet limitations – if representative, that’s a big chunk of the current user base. Where game-play is difficult or impossible, personally I don’t think a refund request is unreasonable.

  33. You’re a brave man for stepping into this one Drew – I tip my hat to you.

    Some good comments all round. I feel most concerned that before the game has been launched people are already talking about FD failing and the servers being switched off

    *IF* that happens then let’s deal with it then. I backed the KS so that this game could happen. It hasn’t happened in quite the way or time frame I expected but happened it has. Roll on release and let’s enjoy what we can for as long as we can.

  34. NO. As far as I’m concerned, ANYTHING that reserves itself the right to prevent me from playing a game on a piece of hardware and on OS that is capable of running it IS DRM. I don’t care that’s not why they put it there because that’s still what it does: it arbitrates my right to play that game, even if only by requiring me to connect to something else that may or may not even be there. Unacceptable. As far as I’m concerned, once I’ve paid you for a game and you handed over the bytes, you have NO BUSINESS WHATSOEVER with that copy of mine anymore, from now to perpetuity (or the heat death of the universe – whichever comes first) and I fully expect the damn thing to run as long too, on its own, until the CPU runs out of electrons. It’s what they promised, and now we know they lied. Frankly, I don’t know why I expected anything else given the chap’s history…

    • That is incorrect. DRM is Digital Rights Management, not merely a client to server, webservice based communication or authentication request. Please do not conflate the terms.

  35. My only gripe with your analysis is that you have declared the original Elite and it’s sequels ‘boring’ because they were limited by there technology.

    I would most strongly disagree on that one. I still love them even today. There fantastic games and remain so. Just because there graphics are not as cutting edge as today does not make them any less exciting. The whole back bone of Elite is as David Braben has declared the result of ‘procedural generation’ code and this is still the case with this new addition to the series. So I think ‘boring’ was a poor choice of words in this instance.

    I’d rather have an exciting game with crap graphics any day than a great graphics but crap game lemon so to speak.

    Personally I would have liked an offline experience free from the competitive nature that online games end up being, however there could also be a chance of collaborative gaming and people working together to forge a path in the dangerous universe. That has me excited and I’m sure if anything else, were there to be a server issue, I’m sure Frontier would look after it’s fan base and ensure there’s a way for Elite players to keep playing.

    • That comment was aimed to indicate that, for most players, the games have ‘played out’. This is inevitable with offline games.

      • Surely this is only true if the game lacks any true replayability? Replayability, in and of itself, always used to be a key purchasing point for games to the best of my recollection.

        By the logic that offline games always become ‘played out’, nobody should still be playing Dragon Age: Origins years after its release – yet it’s still (as of today) in Steam’s top 100 games by current player count. Also, GOG would be out of business, which doesn’t seem to be happening.

        I think your article’s excellent (even if I’m not sure I agree with all of your points), but this one stuck out to me. Offline doesn’t automatically mean dead-end, which felt like the message you were nudging towards. (Also, online doesn’t automatically mean endlessly playable – see City of Heroes, for example).

  36. Very level-headed analysis, Drew.

    I would take issue with one point though – the matter of how the cancellation of ‘offline mode’ was announced. It seemed to have been sneaked quietly into the middle of the newsletter, almost in embarrassment, buffered on either side by distracting shiny promises.

    However, unlike those who’ve been raising burning torches and wielding pitchforks about that, I think the manner of the announcement actually tells us something quite clear : it’s panic.

    And if panic is the watchword, then clearly FD were indeed trying their hardest to make offline SP a reality, otherwise they wouldn’t have been so panicked about having to announce the cancellation at such a late stage. The way dev posts at the forums since have been phrased also suggests to me a large degree of frustration on FD’s part that the feature couldn’t be included after all. It’s not frustration aimed at the community, but rather at FD themselves, which reinforces that the feature’s cancellation was not an easy decision to make.

    No company seeks out bad publicity of the magnitude this has spawned, especially not so close to a launch date. Again, this tells me that while the likelihood of SP offline not being available may have been a possibility for months, the actual certainty of it has to be a recent conclusion.

    So my issue is really with the PR aspect. Without doubt, the whole handling of this announcement has been disastrous. Not only for FD, but also possibly for the game’s future, and perhaps most hurtfully, a disaster for some of Elite’s most loyal fans. And it’s impossible to put a price on losing loyalty such as that. My only hope is that FD learn from this and upgrade their PR department appropriately.

    • I agree the timing and presentation of this news was not ideal. It’s still speculation as to the reasoning though.

  37. Though it won’t affect me much I can really understand the rage everyone has. As one person put it “this isn’t a feature that’s been removed, it’s a requirement that’s been added”. If you were a Mac user that backed because they specifically said there’d be a Mac version and they suddenly now announced they were dropping Mac support… you’d be furious! For those with dodgy connections this is precisely how this announcement affects them. The dream of playing a new Elite has been snatched from them a mere few weeks before release.

    Couple it with an atrocious way of announcing it and you have some very angry fans…

    A lot of the anti-Frontier hyperbole has been horrible, but there are a lot of serious grievances in there too. I hope Frontier learn from this in interacting with their fanbase.

  38. A variation of the longevity argument I haven’t seen here, but which was raised on the FD forums is the case where rather than going out of business and shutting the server down, what if the company gets bought out by another company with terrible ideas of where the game should go?

    If you have to be connected in this fashion, there would be no way of avoiding ‘updates’ and sticking with the last version of the game you thought was actually worth playing, because your always-online client would keep forcing the changes on you.

    • What if we all get hit by a meteorite tomorrow? No one can predict the future, you have to take a risk based approach to decision making. At this point in time shutting down the servers or a hostile take over is a vanishingly small risk and can be ignored until the situation changes.

    • This is an entirely different situation.

      • Indeed.. this time it’s not the producers rushing a product to market before it’s ready.. this time he’s doing it himself.

  39. “We’ve been there and done that. All previous Elites were great, we all know that as fans – but here’s an uncomfortable truth… They were all ultimately boring – limited by the technology they were built on.”

    And somehow, better/more technology guarantees the game won’t be boring? I’ve played PLENTY of modern games that I consider boring and I’m sure I’m not alone on that thought.

    I’d be very interested if you would elaborate on your comment because at best it’s simply indulgent and at worst it’s utter nonsense.

    • The point was that off-line games ‘play out’ for most of the players. An on-line game holds the promise of refreshed content and longer game play. On-line wasn’t possible in the previous generation of Elite games.

      • Why is that a bad thing? “Play out” is usually known as “I’ve finished the game”. Plot’s done, exploration has been finished or gotten a bit dull, no new shinies to collect or they’re too tedious, new games are out and you feel like playing them. Absolutely not a bad thing.

        Plus there would never have been an “Elite 2” if “Elite 1” was not being able to be ‘played out’.

  40. I’m sorry but I simply don’t agree that offering always-online (yes it is DRM by it’s very nature) is somehow pushing the limits of technology. If they really wanted to push the limits they should have offered both options, offline-play and online-play.

    Gaming from South Africa with a 200-250ms latency it’s simply impossible for me to know before hand whether a game will be playable or not due to the latency and bandwidth requirements. I am not privy to the beta so I can’t test the game there and see if it will work with my latency and with my bad connection. It might work, and if it does I will probably spend most of my time online. But I still wanted the ability to play offline should I not be able to. Now I won’t know and I might have no choice but to ask for a refund.

    All because of broken promises.

    Frontier needs to realize that this doesn’t just affect ED, it will affect their future games as well. If they ask for funding on another game people who need offline like myself will remember this incident and stay away, or they can take the time and do what Maxis did with Simcity. Swallow your pride and add offline-play even if it takes 6 months.

  41. I’ve been a bit disconnected from the Elite scene and despite being a backer only downloaded the beta last Friday. I like *a lot* what I see so far, the current beta does NOT disappoint.

    I backed the amount I did mainly because I’m very excited for the multiplayer version but I always wanted the option of the disconnected version that they said they would do, so I find their announcement disappointing (but not to the extent I would say “You will regret dealing with David Braben”, after all it’s the multiplalyer game I want primarily!) I do hope that when inevitably FD find it no longer economical to foot the bill for the servers they do make the server software available so the fan base can keep it going. FFE for instance had quite a long lifetime despite its bugs and limitations – much greater than the commercial life of the game – imagine if we could have played FFE from 1995 to 1998 then nothing, when in reality we were still mucking about with the game well into the 2000s.

    I know Blizzard keeps their older games online for a long time – Brood War for instance is still supported by Battle.net (that came out in 1998), but Blizzard is a giant backed by Activision and Stacraft/Starcraft 2 sells in enormous volume. (Perhaps this bodes well for Elite Dangerous? The Starcraft games are very hard to master, cannot be adequately ported to a console, yet have very long commercial lives and a very loyal fanbase – hopefully the same will be true of E:D). But I’m still a bit worried by the thought that in 18 months time, no more Elite Dangerous, not even single player, if sales tail off.

  42. In my impression, Frontier seems to be a bit torn between the pressure of the close release and having been lauded up into the clouds due to the fabulous impression of the alpha and beta phases so far.
    This makes their newsletter phrasing a bit difficult to process for me as an average reader. On one hand, they want to advertise and point out all the greatnesses of their game (which imo is not really necessary, the game really speaks for itself!), on the other hand they have to manage expectations, which indeed soar high, maybe too high (which, due to the former, they are not doing such a great job with).

    In this volatile situation, cutting a feature which obviously has been very important for some players (if you take the refund-poll in the ED forums as an indicator, probably about 10%) impacts like a bomb.

    Since I am not affected by the no-offline-issue, I prefer to stand politely at the side lines. I am rather worried about a host of other things which concern other “promised” features (look at the design archives in the forum!) and the game´s longeviety in general (refer e.g. to the endless “endgame” discussion). I am trying to not see this incident here as a foreboding of things to not-come.

  43. Nice article. However I must disagree STRONGLY with the ‘it has nothing to do with DRM’ point. Don’t you remember what happened with EA and Sim City, which yould never ever run without any server connection..?

    Of course it’s possible to cut the ties with the server. That it might not be desireable is a wholly different issue.

    • I do remember. At the moment, the known facts point to the server-side component of the game being too complex to easily port to a standalone PC (let alone a console). It is nothing to do with DRM.

  44. Why was possible move to a subsription model not mentioned in the blog. This leaves me dubious to statements such as no commercial interest etc. Experience with the creator leads me to think that this might be the real reason for moving away from an offline platform.

  45. I must say I find it more than a little disturbing that, almost 4 days after this whole thing erupted, David Braben has tweeted a link to Drew’s article, but apparently cannot even be bothered to make any kind of formal statement himself, let alone do the honourable thing and make an apology to those he’d disappointed.

    • Finally!

      The man himself has appeared on the forums to answer questions!

      Not 100% good news, but I have to say, I feel greatly reassured.. those with no internet are out of luck, but overall, many concerns have now been addressed, IMO.

      Thanks David.

  46. This is absolutely functionally equivalent to DRM if not flat out DRM. You cannot play without validating your ID with the central server and if you disconnect for more than several seconds the game boots you to login. This was confirmed in the various forum threads.

    The ‘solo online’ mode ensures that you only use official skins (approved and sold by) FD (that are on the front page of the store), that you don’t load anything ‘unauthorized’ and that those who are committed to exploration are the only ones who can explore. They want ‘mods’ to be done ‘in game’ instead of simply loading up some files onto your machine and that they can disable your access to the game if they decide you have violated the EULA. It is DRM by another name.

    It also ensures there is no pause – an essential feature for many adults and one of the main reasons I have stopped playing MMOs.

    • It is not DRM. Please read a definition of ‘Digital Rights Management.’

      • After reading through these comments the only one who still needs to read a definition of DRM is you..

        Your constant spewing of misinformation and accusing others of not understanding DRM is deplorable.

        • I am not going to argue the point any more. I disagree. DRM != Authentication.

  47. “There’s a chance something could happen that prevents the creator from being able to finish the project as promised.”

    Nothing is preventing Frontier from finishing the project as promised – they’re deciding not to for business reasons. It’s well within their financial capability to deliver on the promise.

    This is why it’s morally despicable for them to be denying refunds as they are now.

    • 1. We do not know whether it’s within their financial capabilities.
      2. They are not denying refunds.

        • To be clear, I’m not saying that they should risk financial failure just to fulfil the promise: it’s the combination of deciding not to take that risk and not to refund the people that funded them to take that exact risk that’s the moral issue.

      • They did deny my request for a refund, citing the standard mantra they have been giving to others too. As in hiding behind their twisted understanding of the Kickstarter terms and also stating that by downloading and playing the game one is not eligible for a refund.

        But as I had been backing far too many DRM-free Kickstarters before E:D, I never plegded enough to get any alpha or beta access. And once the offline mode was promised in the Kickstarter it became a fundamental feature that should have been always kept in mind when FD was offloading more and more tasks to the server.

        By not taking proper precautions to keep the offline mode viable while maintaining this long the illusion that the game is being developed as promised, FD can not claim to have done their best to reach a solution with the backers on which direction the game should be headed once the offline mode became a problem to implement while also offering unconditional refunds to anyone who disagreed on that outcome.

  48. Braben can go ********. (Edited for profanity. Please keep it clean, folks – Drew)

    He should go work for Ubi or EA, now that he’s shown what his word is worth. He would be happy in any of those.

  49. I think the one thing I was anticipating with this game was to see how far what I think the “true” Elite technology – the ability to function generate and model an utterly massive system in a relatively tiny space – could go. I wanted them to put a galaxy on my hard drive, and instead I feel I’m just getting a rendering engine, and all of the information is stored on some bloated machine.

    For the most part, the universe is static; in the time we play the game and the fixed clock, nothing cosmologically could happen that couldn’t be programmed in to a standalone system. Nova, planetary collisions, star formations; you really can’t just go and watch one of those happen in a matter of minutes or hours, unless you know the Stellar Forge model well enough to predict those events, but when it’s all done on your servers, you can take the lazy way and “make” it happen, which is what they have intimated they will do.

    The game looks amazing, and I’m sure it will always get better and hopefully be interesting as we all want, but I think the loss of offline really loses most of the core values that made its predecessors so compelling; without a model being run on your machine, this becomes “just another space Sim”. For that, above all else, I’m disheartened. For all we know, everything from the servers (astronomically and economically) will be hand-coded, tweaked, scripted, and delivered to us for rendering. We aren’t creating our own story in our own sandbox anymore; we are being forced to supervised play on the equipment at the public park.

    • The universe itself may be relatively static (though there are a few cosmic events that happen surprisingly quickly). However, my view on the ‘dynamic’ universe is the political events occurring between systems. We have three superpowers, independent planets and resources. There will be war, coups, scandals… That’s the promise of excitement.

  50. However, it’s cut a lot of backers feel they have been mislead and money has been accepted under false pretenses.

    I think this shows one of the significant weaknesses of KickStarter. Project creators are pressured to ‘promise’ the earth to get the funds they need. Post campaign reality then sets in.

    • It is definitely a weakness of Kickstarter, though I think it’s also a degree of naivety on behalf of backers.

  51. Thank you Drew, I second everything you said.

    It saddens me a lot to have waited for years for a sequel to E2:F, see it come to life, with an enthousiast community, just to see people insulting Frontier.

    Sometimes you want as hell to do things. And sometimes you realize you just can’t.
    You did the best you can, but in the end, it just cannot be done. Period.
    Does it makes you evil ?
    That’s what some people seem to think about David Braben and the hard working people at Frontier.

    I have a thought for them; it must be devastating to have work so hard, just to be insulted so much.

    • The vitriol is inexcusable. At the end of the day it is ‘just a game’.

  52. > This is also nothing to do with DRM. The internet connection is required for the gameplay mechanic, not for copy protection and anti-piracy.

    The DRM discussion is a side-issue to me, but this argument would be stronger if authentication was not required for the tutorials as well (which do not require an internet connection once you’ve reached the main menu).

    • At the moment that may be a function of the Alpha/Beta process. I don’t know whether authentication will be required for the released game in terms of the tutorials.

  53. There are alternatives however most backers live in countries with good connectivity. If they make a good enough online game they will succeed.

    However I’ve been turned off by the project ( as a developer ) from the beginning. There are many signs of old school minds in the team. Their use of the internet is a joke. Every product – even the smallest. Needs to make wide use of the internet and the community it sells too. This games website made me stop and pause for a moment when I was going through it’s store. That was due to the URL changing to another domain.

    I shouldn’t have to stop and pause to question security in that way. That is standard online marketing as of now. When your asking someone to part with their money – you don’t send them to another domain especially one they may never have ever visited.

    That is just one issue and someone not experienced may say it’s over-reacting. If that is you go to PayPal, eBay, Amazon…hell go to this games competitors like Star Citizen. Ask yourself why they don’t have such a splintered website despite the money that was pledged.

    Then start looking at all the other signs that the projects team is too deep in the game itself and lacks business minds.

  54. Thank you for a reasoned commentary and the efforts to dial down the rhetoric. I must admit that I don’t like and don’t play multiplayer games. My concern with the solo mode relates to the possibility that other players will have a major impact on MY universe. Even after reading the posts, it is not clear to me the extent to which the actions of other players might affect my game (availabilty of resources etc.). While I appreciate an evolving universe, I don’t want it to evolve while I am not participating and by the actions of other players. Otherwise I am being penalized for not playing. Time should stop when I am not in-game and pick up when I restart. Is this a misplaced concern?

    • I’m not sure either, Brian, but I’m taking the view it will be fun to find out. I already have an awesome singleplayer modable modern version of Elite in ‘Oolite’. I’m looking forward to something a little different.

  55. So much rage about offline mode in a computer game.

    We have wars around the world, Ebola, racism & sexism rife everywhere, Russia invading the Ukraine, the West invading the middle-east, suicide bombers and mass infanticide and *this* is what people are angry about. Good grief.

    • In perspective, you are absolutely correct, but don’t underestimate the passion folks feel for something that, in many cases, has been a key part of their life since childhood.

    • So people aren’t allowed to be upset a more then one thing in life? Or they aren’t allowed to be upset about the small things as well as the big?

      I’m guessing you’re never upset about when you kick your food on a hard object? You never regret paying more attention before experiencing that sharp pain, because you’re mind is filled with the death and destruction occurring in other parts of the world far away from your cushy existance?

      Please concern troll elsewhere; adults are having a discussion here.

  56. You’re an utterly dishonest, apologetic piece of ****, Drew. (Edited for profanity)

    • And you need to concentrate less on the vitriol and more on making a cogent point. 😉

  57. I’m one of the ones who’s affected by the lack of an offline mode, often away from any kind of internet connection.

    Now I backed just after the Kickstarter via the ‘backers app’ up to a pretty decent level. A pretty major factor in me shoving so much money at the game was the promised (and it WAS promised in various places, and has been confirmed as a commitment since by FD) ‘offline mode’.

    The rights and wrongs and the reasons for pulling the offline mode aren’t worth debating now (I don’t necessarily believe FD 100% on this though).

    What certainly *does* matter is FD’s stance on refunds: they are doing their level best to stall and refuse refunds no matter what. In some cases they are offering very small sums in comparison to the original amount spent. They are simply not doing the ‘right’ thing by their previously loyal backers.

    Without offline, I’ll be able to play maybe 10-20% of the time originally planned – all but useless really.

    After many WEEKS of waiting for a response from FD (despite much prompting and even PMs to various parties) they eventually offered me a 20% refund and no more game.

    Yes, I’ve tested during the beta a few times (how could I do otherwise) and found plenty of bugs for FD.

    As soon as offline was pulled, I stopped any downloading and have not participated in the rest of beta/gamma.

    FD’s behaviour has been appalling in this respect (I suspect the mods on the refund thread have also been unfairly leaned on), and unfortunately their attitude and tactics have been such that I’ll have to go through my payment issuer to seek redress.

    *All* of this could have been avoided.

    Sorry to see you’ve taken personal abuse here Drew.

    Fly safe, Senator!

  58. I enjoy your level-headed stance and lack of emotional/down-right abusive dialogue. There has been a lot of the latter in this discussion across the internet and not much of the former!

    However, I disagree with you totally.

    We are consumers, not a resource. What we want matters. What the company wants to give us does not. We have all the power and they have none at all. Critically we have the ultimate choice not to give Braben a single bent penny if the product he offers does not meet our expectations. Moreover the promise, or less emotionally the ‘feature’ of offline play was clearly stated. Everything else, all the mealy mouthed corporate BS terminology like ‘stakeholders’ and ‘product boards’ and ‘development cycles’… I truly do not give three tinker’s curses for any of that. That is Braben’s problem, not mine. It is meaningless outside the moral pit which is any management boardroom and worse, it is disingenuous; it attempts to package and sanitize the rightful displeasure of people who have given money after receiving false pretences. And there are a great many of us.

    Exactly how many feel cheated? Who can say. I do not run a public polling firm and even if I did the veracity of any such survey is entirely up for grabs. In my opinion 10% is a very low number. From my circle of friends I would say 80% feel aggrieved at this revelation. Perhaps my friends have an artificially high ratio of people who dislike online games. Who knows. Perhaps the population you base your own estimate on is the reverse. Whatever the case our feelings are justified in and of themselves. We do not need to justify them further. We wanted an offline game, we were assured we would get an offline game and yet at the end of the day we have not received one. Only a single number of us were ‘backers’, the rest paid for the game in advance and under the assurances mentioned in your post. We deserve a full and genuine apology that is not couched in meaningless PR nonsense and we also deserve the offer of a full refund. Yet here’s the shocker – few if any of us would actually take that money back, we want the game to do well that badly!

    I am trying very hard to be as level-headed and mature in my language as your excellent post. Therefore I will add a few of my own ‘elite bonafides’: You have been a long standing fan of the game, which is cool. So have I. From 1984? Yep, me too – on BBC, A5000, Amiga, NES, Atari 8Bit demo(!) and PC. Played on these various hardware and then welcomed the sequel at Christmas 1993 like the second coming? Yep again – to the extent I bought a PC copy of the game before I even had a PC to play it on. I would argue that shows some devotion! None of it however means my voice carries any more weight than yours or vice-versa – just that we are approaching the question from a similar point of the the Elite fandom. Also our combined, superannuated voices have no more importance than some ten year-old who tries to play the game on his smartphone; yet neither do his expectations require greater consideration either. The tendency of modern marketing to cater exclusively to a young audience is corrosive and should be stopped. We are all fans and fellow consumers. All our money spends exactly the same and we all deserve treating with equal respect. All our opinions should be considered with exactly the same weight.

    Finally – no, internet access is very far from ubiquitous – across Britain at least. This is perhaps the section of your commentary where I think you stray the furthest from an even-hand. I live four miles from a large Yorkshire town which still manages to possess at least a shred of its former heavy industry, beside one of the busiest A-Roads in the country. Yet I have no cable access, no fibre access, no SDSL/leased-line/LLU access. ADSL is my only connectivity option. Moreover this is not even the terrible con-job of ADSL2/2+ – just plain old G.DMT. At very best I get maybe, maybe 5mbits/second. Maybe. And for this I pay more each month than Virgin subscribers do a whole half-year, followed by £5.00 per gigabyte over my ‘usage allowance’… So, no access is not ubiquitous, it is not universally affordable and there are reasons why a great many people need to minimize their usage altogether – that is if they want to both surf the web and eat in the same day!


    Despite our opinions varying so totally I enjoyed your blog post and congratulate your presentation of such an emotive topic with such an even hand.


  1. Elite Dangerous by JackBootedThug - Page 16 - TribalWar Forums - […] piece by Drew Wagar (one of the Elite: Dangerous fiction authors and long time Oolite author). Elite Dangerous…

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