I’ve recently gone back to playing Elite Dangerous and I’ve honestly had a lot of trouble describing it to people that haven’t heard of it. My two go-to options are A) It’s like if EuroTruck Simulator had space battles or B) It’s like Star Citizen but it is actually out and functional.
Cast your mind back to 2012 when the world wasn’t ending and my back didn’t hurt as much. I was ecstatic when the Kickstarter for Star Citizen was announced. The game sounded almost impossible to even by today’s video game standards. Fly around space in your own ship that you can get out of and run around planets shooting people? It’s pretty much been a lot of people’s fantasy since Star Wars Galaxy including mine. Move over Emma Stone! There’s a galaxy to conquer!
But even back then I was a little cynical of the promises laid before us. The game promised to make all of its goals by 2014. That’s two years for those not doing the maths. For reference, the game had entered pre-production in 2010. So that’s 4 years (at a push) of continued development to create probably the most ambitious game design ever. The reason I call this ambitious is because of two primary things. The first is because it is. The second is because they also wanted it to look graphically impressive. Games like SC have existed long before graphics were even a thing in the form of Ascii RPGs. Games that used letters and numbers to create basic pictures and the rest was done with your imagination and text descriptions.
I’m sure my editor will have sprinkled in a picture of SC at this point since I am a very lazy writer (editors note: have a trailer it’s lots of pictures that move). Imagine trying to make an entire game look like this that has such a vast spectrum of things for the player to do. The last time a game this ambitious was promised that I can remember is every single one of the Fable games by Lionhead Studios. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the Fable games but if you read the things that were promised by its Director Peter Molyneux. You would laugh. “Trees that grow in real-time.” “Have a family and watch them grow old.” Keep in mind this was a game to be released on the Xbox in 2004! Star Citizen is a game starting pre-production only six years later and is promising the Milky Way. Literally!
So anyway. This article isn’t just about ragging on SC and its ludicrous ambitions. This is about the fact that there is a game that is promising the same things as SC but is actually delivering on those promises and isn’t demanding ludicrous sums of money to purchase a single ship!
You might have guessed it by the title and first paragraph but for those of you also listening to J-Pop while reading this article that game is Elite: Dangerous! (Queue fireworks)
Elite Dangerous is, as I said, a game that promises basically everything SC has promised but is actually available for anyone to buy in and play as much as they want. The difference between these two games is one is made purely on ambition alone and the other is made with common sense in mind.
If you were to buy the basic edition of Elite Dangerous after only reading up to this point of the article you would immediately come back and comment “This is a lie, Elite Dangerous doesn’t even have half of the features Star Citizen will have” and you’d be right. But let me remind you of a single fact, Star Citizen, in its current and playable barely an alpha. You can visit four planets, nine moons a planetoid and look at a gas giant. In Elite Dangerous, just the basic version not the expansion you can visit 19,811 systems each with their own planets and space stations and work to be done within.
So it’s not just about numbers right? Of course not. Elite Dangerous on release had fully functional ship flight, multiple ships to earn, fly and get blown up by a surprise outlaw. There were ships for different jobs including exploration, trade and combat and each ship was fully customisable to your whims. The ship combat was fleshed out and balanced and there was a whole slew of weapons to use. On top of that, there was a fleshed-out and functioning economy that changed based on player actions even if you chose to play in solo-mode your actions had a direct (if minute) effect on the galaxy at large.
Now you must be wondering “How much must that cost though? Surely an arm and a leg right?” And I say nay! Right now. “Now?” Yes now! You can get all of that for £20. Just twenty of the queen’s good currency to play all of that and more. Furthermore, you must be asking “Surely there’s a subscription or microtransactions right?” Again I say nay! There is and never will be a subscription for Elite Dangerous and there is (currently) no way to buy ships with real money. Everything you fly is earned with your gameplay and bought with in-game currency. Right now in Star Citizen ships cost anything from $20 to $3000. That’s. Not. Morally. Acceptable. (Editors note: I swear we weren’t paid or affiliated with Elite Dangerous).
Some Star Citizen fans have taken to various forums to defend this practice saying that buying ships is a way for Cloud Imperium Games to fund the development of the game. Which isn’t all that unfair to say. If Elite Dangerous didn’t exist. In fact, even with it existing that is plain morally repugnant. You might say that these people are adults and know what they’re spending their money on but I’d like to introduce you to a concept called ‘the sunk cost fallacy’ which is a behavioural psychology term usually used in reference to gamblers. It basically means “I’ve already put £100 into this game so I might as well spend another £200.” It’s the reason people keep playing bad MOBAs instead of new and interesting ones because they’ve already spent hundreds on skins. (This has nothing to do with a previous article I wrote and I’m sure my editor would back me up on this. Editors note: yeah he’s right I played League years after I stopped enjoying it because of this very thing).
If you paid money to help Star Citizen reach its kickstarter goal then you have already put X amount of money into the pot. That money is gone. That money is a “sunk cost.” So if Star Citizen never comes out or turns out to be a big old hunk of buggy garbage then you’ve wasted money. So you’ve got to keep spending otherwise you’re an idiot. That’s the long and the short of the sunk cost fallacy in regards to Star Citizen. A large portion of these people spending ludicrous amounts of money on in game ships are suffering from the same problem gamblers suffer. They have to make their investment back or they ‘lose.’
Another thing I want to point out is that Star Citizen a video game that is NOT OUT YET has received $63.25 million as of March 2020. Now I’m not a conspiracy nut that’s going to say all of that money has gone into Chris Roberts’ pocket. That money has clearly gone into paying developers, office space, assets, sound design and more. What I will say is that money is, theoretically, being wasted.
Let’s use another example of two products competing that resulted in consumers wasting money. BetaMax vs VHS, now in business circles this is all pretty famous but I’ll explain it for those that don’t know. BetaMax and VHS were the first ways for people to watch movies at home and to also record TV shows with their own home recorders. Arguably BetaMax was the superior product. It had larger storage space and was smaller than the VHS. However, just out of sheer happenstance and better advertising VHS won the race and became the surviving product. It’s the same as how DVDs still make money even though BluRay is now roughly the same price and far superior.
In this analogy Star Citizen is BetaMax. If Star Citizen were to release, feature-complete, all the bells and whistles. It would be the superior product to Elite Dangerous and this article would be moot. However, here in the real world, Star Citizen isn’t even close to finished and it’s barely functional as it currently stands.
So why am I saying that the money spent on Star Citizen is being wasted? Because they’ve already lost the race. Their game has already been made and is being developed better and with more business sense. By the time SC finally comes out Elite Dangerous will have already delivered everything they promised and at a fraction of the time/cost. The people that spent thousands on in-game items are going to feel cheated and hurt when they realise they could have spent 1% of their investment on a product that is just as good if not better.
Early next year Elite Dangerous plan to release their next expansion “Odyssey” Which will allow players to finally take their first steps off their ship and into an FPS world of adventure on the surface of thousands of different worlds. Beyond a few smaller details this will mean that Elite Dangerous has all of the features of Star Citizen at a fraction of the development cost and is fully available to play to your heart’s content for less than £100.
About every year or so another story comes out about a user filing a small claims suit in order to get refunds varying from $4,000 to $16,700 because of the games endless delays (six years and counting) and reductions in scope and I am willing to put money down and say there are plenty more of these suits going on that don’t receive media attention.
Cloud Imperium Games are, in my eyes, in a no-win situation. Unless the game releases feature complete before Christmas, they will have lost the race against Elite Dangerous. If they don’t act now and abandon the project and work to refund the money wasted by thousands of people on the promise given by Chris Roberts and others. Then every single one of those staff members will have a permanent black mark on their CV for being part of, probably, the biggest broken promise in gaming history.