Tucked into the latest newsletter for Frontier Development’s space ship simulator, Elite: Dangerous, was a confirmation that the game would not be playable offline as previously promised.
Right now, there’s almost 400 pages of confusion and anger in the game’s forums over the announcement. Many people, including backers of the game’s 2013 Kickstarter, are wondering why Frontier would make this decision, especially when there’s only a month before the game launches.
Let’s look at Frontier’s messaging on single-player chronologically.
What the Kickstarter page said
Elite: Dangerous’ original stance a year ago involves two ways to play alone.
The primary single-player experience would involve connecting to the servers so that you can see the affect of other players on the universe and take part in new events that Frontier plans to add into the game. The other way would be completely offline without any updates to the universe.
What the newsletter said
Following a few paragraphs about Elite: Dangerous’ benefits of being online and how the developer will work on updating the game and adding ships after it releases, it said this:
“Galaxy, story, missions, have to match, and it does mean the single player has to connect to the server from time to time, but this has the added advantage that everyone can participate in the activities that can happen in the galaxy. A fully offline experience would be unacceptably limited and static compared to the dynamic, ever unfolding experience we are delivering.”
Frontier has said this is how they plan to keep a persistent world going that constantly shows the impact players have on it by staying connected to the servers.
What Frontier says
Executive producer Michael Brookes has been answering questions about the announcement in the popular forum thread.
Here’s a few notable things he said about why the developer chose to change the way single-player works. These were taken from a compilation by Elite: Dangerous forum moderator Andrew Sayers.
“As mentioned in the newsletter thread the game has changed a lot since the initial Kickstarter. One of the biggest changes is the importance of the the offline component to manage the galaxy and interactions. This isn’t something we can translate into an offline experience as we’d effectively have to make a new game world – we couldn’t share the same world and that throws out the intent for a shared universe.
“The core vision for Elite: Dangerous was multiplayer, we’ve said that all along. The galaxy exists as an online entity, extracting that into an offline version that still works as a game isn’t simple. Missions are a good example, they are created based on the state of the galaxy and they feed back into the state of the galaxy. There’s a big level of difference between what we’re doing now and what was in the previous games.
“Spending time on an offline mode is wasted if it doesn’t provide the game that we’ve set out to make – which is the case here. For us the game needs the richness that the online galaxy gives us. Without it there is no game.”
When asked if an offline mode will ever be put into the game, Brookes said, “Probably not.”
What the EULA says
The EULA has an interesting bit under Section 8 about in-game advertising that some players have brought up as a possible reason for the change.
Basically, there are billboards in the game that could be used for advertising and they would be updated through an Internet connection. Then it says, “This means that if you do not want to receive dynamic advertising, you should only play the game when you are not connected to the internet.”
Some players have taken this to mean that the offline single-player removal was made for advertising. We couldn’t find Brookes or any other Frontier member directly addressing this, but we contacted the developer and will update the post if they respond.
Later in the EULA, though, it mentions that the document isn’t required to show changes that are made to the game, like it not having a fully offline mode anymore.
What this decision means
Big changes like this happen in game development all the time. It’s not surprising to see an ambitious game like Elite: Dangerous cut a feature before launch, it’s just that now, through the transparency of crowdfunded development, we know about it a little earlier.
Does that make it okay? No. Especially if you had pre-ordered under the assumption that you could play by yourself without an Internet connection. Frontier said it will offer refunds on a case-by-case basis, but regardless of money, for many it’s still a disappointing decision.
It also makes us worry, because right now, Elite: Dangerous isn’t showing many reasons to play online with strangers and friends.
The game is going to be out on PC on Dec. 16, which is less than a month away.