Art by Redline XIII.
On September 18, Frontier Developments released an update to Elite Dangerous which introduced numerous bugs, and has led to community leaders and content creators getting riled up against the developer. This culminated in a suggestion document signed by representatives of ten player organisations and several content creators, including Obsidian Ant, one of the more visible Elite Dangerous YouTubers.
The September update brought a new, fully voiced tutorial to improve Elite Dangerous’ new player experience and an improved ship cosmetics system. Crucially, it also replaced the old Frontier cash shop with a currency called ARX, which functions similarly to EVE’s PLEX by allowing players to buy cosmetic items for their ships and potentially earn the currency in-game. While this change has had detractors, mainly for increasing the cost of cosmetics, the main problem was a slew of bugs introduced by the patch.
As the patch has introduced wide-ranging changes to Elite: Dangerous without sufficient QA, bug reports soon started coming in. A number of these bugs have been gamebreaking, such as mining drones (called ‘limpets’) crashing the game, and ship improvements (a part of the ‘Engineers’ update) failing to function. Naturally, there were glitches involving players earning unexpected amounts of the premium currency. To say the least, the impact of the update was felt by the community.
What happened next?
This update was not the first one to suffer from a lack of QA. Some bugs and exploits have persisted for years, each introduced by patches. The game’s peer-to-peer architecture game allows for outright and nearly undetectable cheating both in single and multiplayer, where the single-player-mode still impacts the game’s background simulation. The background sim, or BGS, is responsible for managing the galactic economy along with the ebb and flow of faction conflicts.
On the afternoon of September 30, a list of suggestions for Frontier Developments was published on the Elite: Dangerous subreddit, urging for the company to improve communication, fix old bugs, balance vastly imbalanced parts of the game, and allow for beta testing of updates in order for the community to assist in the game’s QA process. The players suggest that Frontier Development set up a permanent test server and improve bug reporting and communication. They also criticize that the community relations team are perceived to be mostly utilized as a marketing and PR instrument
Only about 20 minutes after the announcement on Reddit, Zac Antonaci, Frontier Developments’ Director of Publishing, responded to the parts of the original documents that pertained to communications. In direct contradiction to the community’s statements, he claimed that Frontier were, in fact, open and transparent with their road-map, but only wanted to go to a level of detail where they would be able to show the actual content for marketing reasons. He claims that due to the game being buy-to-play having the ability “to wow people with a new trailer when we’re ready to show the content, helps bring new players to the game.” While the response is educational in giving a glimpse to the developer’s strategy, it avoids the main grievances about lack of quality and its impact on the game. The reactions to this response show that is was received with mixed feelings by Elite Dangerous’ redditors.
Why is this important?
Currently, we are seeing a serious level of disenfranchisement with EVE among various groups, be it due to a lack of vision or Hilmar’s hurricane-like impact on the game. As with Elite: Dangerous, this level of concern has grown steadily since CCP Seagull left the company and was replaced by the invisible CCP Mannbjorn, who has yet to formulate a vision or road-map for EVE. Looking at other communities and their way of interacting with developers might be educational, should EVE continue down the slope it currently is on.
From the perspective of an outside observer, the discussion on the Elite: Dangerous subreddit seems to be fairly polite and professional, with many well-constructed and well-argued comments, which are not mired by sixteen years of history. It is too early to tell how this plays out and how Frontier Developments engages with the thread, but it is worth keeping an eye out.