June 19th, 2017

Elite: Dangerous drops offline mode, single player to be always-online

Elite Dangerous - 27
Oh Elite, it was all going so well for you.

Last week’s Elite: Dangerous newsletter contained strong implications that offline play would not be making it to the final release version; this is now confirmed.

David Braben’s development overview in that newsletter didn’t quite announce it directly, but did say “Galaxy, story, missions, have to match, and it does mean the single player has to connect to the server from time to time … A fully offline experience would be unacceptably limited and static compared to the dynamic, ever unfolding experience we are delivering.”

The original Elite: Dangerous Kickstarter, which raised £1.5 million GBP back in January 2013, stated in its FAQ that “it will be possible to have a single player game without connecting to the galaxy server.” This sentence was only added to the FAQ after potential backers enquired about a possible offline mode.

As a result, a thread on the Elite: Dangerous beta forums has exploded beyond 280 pages over the weekend (though a significant amount of the discussion appears to be driven by a smaller number with very high post counts,) and sent the Frontier Developments team into damage control mode. Certain members of the community (presumably those who backed on the understanding that the game would have an offline mode as stated,) are not at all happy.

The Frontier team have made several posts throughout the course of that thread, attempting to explain their change of policy on the offline mode. They’ve helpfully been collected in a single post, here.

According to Frontier, offline mode is no longer a viable option because “the galaxy mechanics all sit on the online servers. The data set and processes are huge and not something that would translate offline without considerable compromise to the [game’s] vision.” Unlike SimCity (which used the same excuse but was exposed as doing very little server-side) Elite does actually appear to be offloading a lot of data to online servers.

The initial plan seems to have been to “operate a dual mode with the offline version cut down,” but it’s now claimed that “As we’ve progressed more of the game has had to exist online, so much so that an offline version would be mostly a new and different game – which is something we can’t support.”

Solo play will still exist (so you can avoid PvP if you fancy,) but will require an always-on online connection. If the connection drops, the Elite: Dangerous client will have a problem as soon as “it needs to retrieve data from the server or moderate a transaction.” This isn’t an ideal state of affairs, as previous always-online games have demonstrated. Any problems on Frontier’s side will mean an interruption in single player, and anyone who either has a wonky net connection or is unable to access the internet for whatever reason won’t be able to play.

An unspoken consequence of forcing always-online through single player is that will also restrict any hacking, cheating and mod usage.

Naturally, many players are requesting refunds. Frontier hasn’t exactly gone out of their way to say they’ll be providing these, but the developer comments in the thread have been directing people to the store’s refund procedure and noted that “all refund requests are dealt with on a case by case basis.” That’s your best bet for the moment if you’re unimpressed by this decision.

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    • Paul Younger

      I have to say this is pretty bad form really. There are a lot of old-school Elite fans that will not have given a toss about an online mode. At such a late stage to “reveal” that it’s not going to be in there is poor communication because this must have been known a long time ago now.

      • Peter Parrish

        Yep. It’s also kind of sad to see (some of) the same people who fit the original Elite into about 16k of memory cite technical reasons for why this isn’t possible.

      • https://profiles.google.com/107621775155924669871 Carlos Eduardo

        I agree. Usually these kinds of big decisions are well thought over a long period of time. And then after you commit to something, you still give it a bit of time to sink in and see if you’re not screwing up. So they pissed off their early supporters in favor of, probably, their investors, and now come with this technical sub-bs (it’s got a bit of truth in there, but that ain’t the real reason). Same old EA routine / bob evil eyes. A sad day for the kickstarter crowd.

    • madeofparts

      I and many people bought this game based on the fact that solo-offline was not just a minor feature but a stand-out one:

      https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/15od2s/i_am_david_braben_cocreator_of_elite_creator_of/c7ocvoj

      I was simply hoping FD honors the requests for refunds, but now having seen the backlash I sincerely hope they reconsider this design decision.

      • Jeff

        Had a look at that link and have to wonder how many takers AMostOriginalUserNam had.

    • USMC03Vet

      It’s almost 2015.

      The charade of not having internet or for that matter stable internet is over with.

      • rpsgc

        Oh, it’s you… again. Defending DRM… again

        Look, I’ll “speak” slowly so you’ll understand…

        1. It’s the principle of the matter… preen-cee-pool… look it up sometime.
        2. There are millions of people (a lot) in the USA (your country) without fast (really quick), or stable (works well), Internet (that thing that allows you to see cat videos) because the ISPs (those who give you access to the Internet) are greedy little ***** (bad).

        Only in your twisted, deranged mind could that be a “charade”. I’m sure you think poor people are poor and homeless people are homeless just FOR THE LULZ.

        • USMC03Vet

          I love the computer illiterate Luddite pirates. Your guys are always good for a laugh. Keep up your sorry charade and ineffective parade of tears. I’ll be here enjoying games laughing like always. Merry Christmas you scumfuck pirates.

          • rpsgc

            My condolences to your parents.

            • Paolo Duzioni

              not to mention the wife, even if i strongly suspect that….. meheheheh

          • https://profiles.google.com/107621775155924669871 Carlos Eduardo

            I’ve a master’s degree in Distributed Systems and teach this stuff to graduate students. I can say with professional certainty that you’re the most illiterate here. Sadly, you’re not good for a laugh, as it would make you a more tolerable chap.

    • emPOWERED

      I don’t know enough to have a defense for either side. Why isn’t there a way to have DRM, to protect the developers, publishers, etc. but also make the game accessible offline?

      • https://profiles.google.com/107621775155924669871 Carlos Eduardo

        That’s because this is almost technically impossible with current technology (operating systems), as you must ship the entire single player game code for an offline experience, and that can be hacked and reverse engineered. The current best way (and still flawed to a point) to protect a game is online requirement. This way the game client (what is installed into the user’s computer) can be “slim” and contain only game assets like textures, sounds and such and most computations be offloaded to game servers, making it significantly more difficult to reverse engineer the game and very difficult to obtain the actual game code.

    • Paolo Duzioni

      lost customer, meheheheeh shove your DRM up… well you know where eh mr braben?