Long time Elite players still foolish enough to have hope for the game can take some comfort in the latest news out of the Capricorni sector. Last November, the Diamond Frogs private military organization expanded their faction into the nearby Xihe system, home to Zhen Dock and the rare Xihe Biomorphic Companion good. This move serves to unify the systems which the Diamond Frogs have always considered part of their space, the Goat-Xihe Cluster, a portion of what Diamond Frogs refer to as the “Goat Sector” in Capricorni, named, of course, for the astrological sign and nothing else.
Following the completion of the lackluster Christmas migration to Colonia by GalCop, supported by Diamond Frogs as founding members, the Diamond Frogs returned to put their house in order and began building their influence in the Xihe system. This activity was not unnoticed, however, by the two or three active players of Space Poultry, a small organization which, according to their founder, “exists solely for the purpose of controlling Xihe.” Space Poultry has expanded several times themselves, but this despite the efforts of their leadership to stop this expansion.
Powered by the boosted influence of the rare good and their control of Zhen Dock, Space Poultry has managed to succeed in spite of themselves in holding the system. Diamond Frogs pose a significant and legitimate challenge to this system control. For this reason, Space Poultry leadership recently took to the Frontier forums in order to publicly whine about how badly they were about to lose. The thread continued for many pages as pubbies and historical enemies of the Diamond Frogs rallied, swearing to defend Xihe at all costs. After three days, the resistance is really showing its colors: Diamond Frog influence has merely doubled, and a war to take an asset in the system is pending.
Though the thread on the Frontier forums has been closed due to violation of forum rules by pubbies and enemies of the Frogs, the sentiment continues, and Xihe has for the last few days been a hotbed of both PvE and PvP activity. Diamond Frog PvP flights are finding no lack of targets, and the kill count is rising precipitously. For now, Diamond Frogs security advisers have indicated that only authorized pilots are to fly through Xihe. Meanwhile, efforts to counter Diamond Frog manipulation of the background simulator have fallen flat.
But what is the real story here? Is it that the Diamond Frogs are an unstoppable juggernaut with regards to the BGS, limited only by the tedium of the grind it takes to manipulate it? No, not really. The real story here is that despite Frontier’s best efforts, players are still finding ways to enjoy the game that ignore everything Frontier tries to do. Frontier continually ignores player requests for things like joinable factions, or steerable expansions, or an in game inter-player economy, or any number of features one would expect for a game with the size and scope of Elite. Instead, Frontier has seemingly focused its efforts on an (admittedly very good) balance patch, an interactive cutscene in which a non-interactive alien ship intercepts the player in witchspace, repetitive and unceasing community goals to haul macguffins 22,000 light years, and the largely ignored Power Play.
Despite all of this, players have managed to steer their adopted NPC factions into conflict with one another, and now wage war against one another. This potential has always been here, but unfortunately it takes literal months, sometimes years, to arrange. Most Diamond Frogs remember the horrors of Novas, a multiple month campaign to unseat and destroy the “Emperor’s Grace” home system. Emperor’s Grace claimed to have thousands of members, but did not notice they had lost their home system until it was announced by the Diamond Frogs. Their humiliating defeat marked the first player group to lose its “triple elite” status – what should have been a wake up call to Frontier that forums activity does not necessarily correlate with player activity. These horrors come in the form of a tedious, horrific grind to manipulate a black box the operation of which was documented by early Diamond Frogs BGS Oracles in what we literally called the Lament Configuration.
Because Novas was so terrible and crushing – Diamond Frog statistics indicate they lost 40% of their active players to this grind – and because all other Elite organizations suffer the same problem, the game’s organizational diplomacy has degenerated into an uncomfortable detente. Neither side wants to mobilize their players to grind somewhere for months with an uncertain result. Acting directly against another player group is insane as nothing can be accomplished. You cannot stop your opponents through combat; they will simply play in Solo or Private game modes. You cannot oppose them directly through in game actions. The only way to beat another faction in Elite is to _out grind_ them. And this is a sad state of affairs for what the current Xihe war is showing us remains a game with a lot of potential.
Elite: Dangerous could very well be a social experiment in not giving players agency. Given a universe where one is told they can “do anything,” instead they find they can do nothing. An individual’s actions will only matter in the most remote areas of space. Everywhere else, it becomes lost in a sea of white noise of arbitrary trade performed by pubbies not yet jaded enough to simply play something else. The war in Xihe, not the community goals, not Power Play, not the glacially advancing plot, represents the best Elite has to offer.
Full Disclosure: CMDR Paramemetic is the Diamond Frogs Chief Logistics and Human Resources Officer. He can be found zipping around Xihe in a fully combat capable rocketized suicide sled. Catch him if you can!