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Elite Dangerous 2020 cover

Elite Dangerous is the definitive massively multiplayer space epic[1] with a 1:1 scale simulation of the Milky Way galaxy. It is the fourth installment in the Elite series; the longest running space simulation series in history.[2] It was developed and published by Frontier Developments with David Braben as the director.

The Windows PC version launched on 16 December 2014. The Kickstarter campaign covered only a small slice of the development budget which grew a lot.[3] The Mac version was released on 12 May 2015,[4] but Mac OS support was dropped on 11 December 2018 due to technical barriers.[5] The Xbox One version launched on 6 October 2015,[6] followed by the PlayStation 4 version on 27 June 2017.[7] Development for old-gen consoles ended on 10 March 2022.[8]

Three seasons of post-launch content updates were released for Elite Dangerous: ED: Horizons (expansion), ED: Beyond (season of updates), and ED: Odyssey (expansion). Since 27 October 2020, all Horizons and Beyond content is included for free with Elite Dangerous.

Features

Elite-Dangerous-Vertical-Poster-by-atackart

Pre-launch poster for Elite Dangerous

Elite Dangerous builds upon the legacy and foundations of the classic Elite games while expanding it to a modern context with brand new and innovative features.

Elite Dangerous (ED) is the first game in the series to feature online multiplayer in a vast 1:1 scale simulation of the Milky Way based on real-life scientific principles, recent scientific data and theories. It has a groundbreaking galaxy based on hard science with star surveys that are fixed and merged to, for the first time in gaming history, compose a very consistent model of the Milky Way and it's accurate enough to plot the night sky.[9] It's also one of the first major space sim titles to offer virtual reality support with an exceptionally immersive experience in an all-encompassing universe.

  • The vast 1:1 scale Milky Way is based on real scientific principles, recent scientific data and theories. It is created using a mix of procedural generation and artist direction. There are around 400 billion star systems. More information in Realistic Astrophysics and Scale.
  • An immersive, evolving galaxy with dynamic society, economy and stories, allowing pilots to join each other and together change the story of the Milky Way.
  • Free-form play allows everyone to choose their own path, becoming an angry pirate, a spy, a peaceful trader, an explorer, a soldier, or a mix between these careers.
  • There are no classes or skill levels, strength is decided by ship equipment and player skill.
  • More than 30 different and customizable ships.
  • Surface vehicles such as the Scarab to explore planets and moons.
  • Flight Model of Elite Dangerous has Newtonian physics with a fly-by-wire layer applied over the top to make the combat feel visceral and seat-of-the-pants, rather than Frontier's jousting at huge distances. Newtonian space combat (ships will continue to move unless intervened but without orbital mechanics)
  • Freeform (manual yaw/pitch/roll) interplanetary flight allows to fly freely through star systems in realistic scale to get to a destination. Players can choose to travel wherever they want, including vista points to see Earth rise on the moon, the sun appearing behind Mars, or they could choose to explore the vast expanse of space and discover new points of interest in star systems.
  • Multicrew adds the ability to join a seat of another commander's or let others join your ship.
  • Holo-Me is the character customization suite for the player's commander.
  • Camera Suite is a fully functional third-person camera suite.
  • Players can choose between the following game modes: Solo (single player), Private Group (only with friends and invited people) or Open Play (multiplayer, play with everyone).
  • The Background Simulation is dynamic, complex and reflects the evolution of the known galaxy with ever changing power and system influence of factions in response to player behavior. Every station has its own demands and supply that change dynamically. Players on different platforms cannot directly play with each other. However, every player on every platform affects the same shared galaxy, star systems, factions and the dynamic background simulation.
  • Player actions can change the shared, overarching narrative and history of humankind. Such as battle pirates, advance a faction's influence via Powerplay or participate in community goals to leave a mark in the galaxy. The shared narrative is influenced by the players who can change the course of events in a star system, the Core Systems and galactic regions.

Game modes

Elite Dangerous Physical Gamepack Art

Elite Dangerous Physical Gamepack official art

All players are Commanders in the Pilots Federation. Players are distinguished by the prefix "CMDR" which is visible before their name. The ship's onboard radar displays a player as a hollow square or triangle (indicating stowed or deployed hardpoints). An NPC ship appears as a solid square or triangle.

Players can choose between the following game modes:

Game Mode Description
Solo Single player
Private Group Only with friends and invited people
Open Play Multiplayer, play with everyone

In Solo mode, all other players are separate from your game session. The ships and characters that you encounter are all AI-controlled (NPC). Private Groups are only for friends and players that you invite to join your group. Solo and Private Group are the preferred modes for players who only want to do PvE (Player vs Environment).

Open Play means you may encounter any other player who is also in open. Rendezvous with friends or encounter players by chance. The other players can be friendly, neutral or hostile towards you. This mode has higher risks which makes it more exciting for those who like PvP (Player vs Player).

Networking tech

Elite Dangerous has a seamless, lobby-less galaxy, with the ability to rendezvous with friends as the player chooses. The server transparently creates free roaming sessions (instances) when meeting other players and NPCs within those locations in the galaxy based on a perception bubble around the player, that is defined by your scanner/visual range. Those instances are not a fixed location in space as in other MMOs, but they dynamically move around. The effects of those instances are stored on the central galaxy server and shared by everybody. There can be many sessions within a star system and those sessions can dynamically move around. The sessions are typically spread out much further due to the size of the galaxy.

People can play with up to four players in a Team or join another ship via Multicrew. This uses a combination of peer-to-peer (to reduce lag) and server connections. Frontier spent a lot of time to develop a complex, custom built system for instancing and matching players. It is which is way more complicated than a central server.[10] The networking system has gradually improved since the pre-launch beta phase.

Massively Multiplayer

Player encounters are very rare due to the gigantic size of the full-scale Milky Way. Most players are active inside the Core Systems (aka the Bubble). This inhabited space has the highest concentration of players and NPCs. It has a 200 lightyear radius around Sol and encompasses circa 20,000 star systems. Furthermore, splitting the players between 3 modes (Solo, Private Group and Open) diminishes the chance to randomly meet other players.

Squadrons are associations of players similar to guilds. These can be joined or created by players. Squadron members can do custom activities and pursue common goals such as a Minor Faction or by supporting a Power.

What makes Elite Dangerous massively multiplayer is that it's always online and all players influence the same shared Milky Way galaxy with a shared, interactive, overarching narrative via the background simulation. This persistent galaxy records macro effects and events such as economy, society and war status.

Everyone can participate in community goals. The outcome can have a big impact on major events. For example the migration and construction of Jaques Station in Colonia, the Salomé community event and the Thargoid war. In Powerplay, Players can pledge allegiance to a Power and help spread their influence, conquer or defend star systems. When a star system is conquered its economy, government, security level and population changes as well.

The Thargoid War has been fought in real-time by the player base for over a year. This culminates in the destruction of 8 Thargoid Titans. The players have battled over hundreds of star systems to halt the Thargoid invasion, rescued civilians in damaged stations, and made discoveries such as the Thargoid Spires. These are very complex events with a player influenced narrative that unfolds in real-time. This has resulted in the pushback of the Thargoid invasion and the invention of the Frame Shift Drive (SCO).

Players on other platforms such as PlayStation 4 and Xbox One could not directly play with each other, but their actions affected the same galaxy in ED: Horizons. Console support for old-gen consoles ended when ED: Odyssey became PC only in 2022.[8]

On 3 June 2017, 127 commanders made a mass-hyperspace jump.[11] On 3 December 2023, for AXIN's 5th Birthday, over 350 CDMRs of the Anti-Xeno Initiative got together.[12] There were 150 players in a single instance.[12]

Evolving Universe

Aulin-Enterprise-Station

Aulin Enterprise Orbis Station

Elite Dangerous has a vast 1:1 scale simulation of the Milky Way which evolves in real-time. The galaxy is based on real scientific principles, scientific data and theories.

As players explore, different factions will spread to further star systems, colonize planets and build space stations. Players can participate in this process by completing missions for a particular minor faction to increase their influence in a particular system. This can eventually lead to wars. Players can continue to help their chosen faction by participating in them. In addition to war, players can also influence minor factions in star systems in other ways such as by causing an economic boom.

Elite Dangerous features a shared narrative which is influenced by players on all platforms. This occurs with community events like Salomé, community goals and Powerplay activities. All of the meta data for the galaxy is shared between players. It's not traditional storytelling, rather an interactive, overarching narrative. Players have influenced and changed the course of events. The story unfolds in real time, in which players decide the outcomes and can be the stars. Important local and galactic events are reported via newsfeeds by GalNet. See the Elite Dangerous Timeline for a chronological list of events.

New stations are slowly built in real time. These events create opportunities for players to do Community Goals. The resources and workers required for building must be transported to the location. It becomes a prime target for piracy and increases the demand for bounty hunting. Additionally, the alien Thargoids have returned and secrets of the ancient Guardians are being discovered.

Careers

Main article: Careers

In the tradition of the original Elite from 1984 and open-world games; there's no linear story. You can be a rich trader, a veteran bounty hunter, a feared pirate, a lonely miner, a notorious smuggler, all of them or something else entirely, based on your own actions.

Type 9 mining

Type-9 mining

Among the trillions of people in the galaxy - you start off as an insignificant new member of the Pilots Federation. You receive an indefinitely loaned and insured Sidewinder Mk I and a small sum of credits from a secret benefactor. You've got a ship and some spare credits to get started. One day, you might gain fame, wealth or glory. Unlike RPGs, players in Elite Dangerous do not choose their role by customizing the stats and skills of their character. Instead, the player is free to pursue any career akin to real-life. The careers can be categorized as combat, covert, exploration, mining, trading, transportation and utility. Blaze a trail to fame and fortune as a Trader, Miner, Explorer, Bounty Hunter, Smuggler, Courier, Mercenary, Assassin, Xeno Hunter or Pirate. Customizing your ship gears it towards specific careers. Hybrid careers are possible through emergent gameplay. For example defensive bounty hunting while trading in a multipurpose vessel, or taking long-range trade missions and exploring systems along the way.

Anemones-planetary-ring

Anemones and a planetary ring

The player can customize his or her character's physical characteristics with Holo-Me. It allows deep character customization which can be done at any time. For example, players can change their Remlok Suit, head, facial features, gender and other cosmetics. The fully functional Camera Suite enables third-person views, sophisticated screenshots, machinima and control a ship or SRV in third person.

Hundreds of ships can be owned by a player and customised for certain careers. Unused ships are stored in shipyard hangars. They can be retrieved by returning to a station or settlement at any time. Ships can also be delivered to a station near your location if it has a shipyard.

Codex

Elite-Dangerous-Codex-Commander-Stats

Commander stats in the Codex

The Codex shows your findings and progress in the galaxy. It has personal stats, session logs, discoveries in both a collaborative and individual way. It also provides encyclopedia-style information about lore topics, the latest news via GalNet and exploration data pertaining player-made discoveries of species and Points of Interest in the Galactic Regions.

Space Travel

Anaconda-Hyperspace-Jump

Anaconda hyperspace jump

The Classic Elite games obeyed the laws of physics to a certain extent. This meant conventional thrusters were limited by the laws of relativity i.e. players couldn't travel faster than light within a star system. Frontier: Elite II used the Stardreamer feature (perceived time dilation by slowing the pilot's bodily functions) as a realism/gameplay trade-off.

Frame Shift Drive

The aforementioned game mechanics are incompatible with an MMO that evolves in real time. Thus Elite Dangerous features Supercruise for faster-than-light travel within a star system. Each ship comes equipped with a Frame Shift Drive (FSD) for Supercruise and FTL Hyperspace jumps between star systems. The FSD is upgradable to increase its range, long-range exploration and faster travel around the galaxy. The Hyperspace range of a FSD decreases by the ship's mass. So if a ship is outfitted with heavier components (hardpoints, internal modules etc.) then your jump distance will be reduced. The mass of any carried cargo or fuel reduces the range too. This is called the laden and unladen jump range.

Supercruise Overcharge

Achilles Aerospace researched Thargoid Titan travel and invented the Frame Shift Drive (SCO) which was brought to market in 3310 (2024).[13] The FSD (SCO) enables supercruise overcharge acceleration of 100s of times the speed of light in seconds. The speed burst costs extra fuel, but it reduces travel time in half.

Galactic and personal

Horizons-reveal-cobra-landing

Planetary landing

Since ED launched on 16 December 2014, the player was limited to experience the galaxy from a ship's cockpit or an SRV seat. However, ED: Horizons update 2.0 added Planetary Landing on December 15, 2015. This made realistic, full-sized, airless planets and moons accessible.

Up until early 2021, the player was essentially the vehicle: a ship or SRV. Walking in person was a long awaited feature which the community dubbed "Space legs". In 2021, ED: Odyssey added On Foot features which extended the level of detail to a first person scale. The player could finally walk around as an individual person rather than a vehicle. Ships became extensions of the player. Atmospheric landing on planets with tenuous atmospheres became possible. Players can set foot on unexplored planets and receive an accolade that recognizes their First Footfall on a planet.[14] Visit settlements, outposts, starports etc. Drive around with an SRV or walk in person to explore the surface for materials, alien species etc.

Customization

Outfitting

Ship-Outfitting-Fer-de-Lance

Outfitting Fer-De-Lance

Ships are highly customisable via outfitting. This gives the player control over its strengths and weaknesses. Modules within each ship affect how it performs and functions. Thrusters, Sensors, Frame Shift Drives, Power Plants and more can all be swapped. Livery - paintjobs and decals - are customizable too. All ship customization occurs in the outfitting screen when docked at a station, outpost or starport. Anno 2024, there are 40 flyable ships, 6 Ship-Launched Fighters (SLF), and the Drake-Class Carrier. They are designed by 7 ship manufacturers and each ship has a distinct spec, purpose, handling, and capabilities.

Hardpoints

A wide variety of energy, projectile and missile-based weapons are available for ships. These are thermal, kinetic, thermal kinetic, explosive and defensive weapons. There are also mining lasers.

The hardpoints on a ship can be stowed or deployed. Other players in your vicinity who have their weapons stowed will show up on your scanner with a square symbol. This changes to a triangle when their weapons are deployed. NPC ships have solid squares/triangles. Real players (CMDRs) symbols are hollow.

Vehicles

SRV-Scarab-Driving-Planet

SRV Scarab drives on a planet

The first available vehicle is the SRV Scarab. It's primarily designed for exploration to allow pilots to drive and jump across planetary surfaces. It's also useful for mining materials. The Planetary Vehicle Hangar module provides a hangar space on-board a ship to carry and repair an SRV. It's equipped with a Wave Scanner which is an unidirectional long-range forward facing scanner that detects a variety of vehicles and points of interest. A 2 seater combat SRV called the Scorpion was added with ED: Odyssey in 2021.

Realistic Astrophysics and scale

Elite-Dangerous-Milky-Way-Galaxy

Milky Way in Elite Dangerous

Elite Dangerous features realistic astrophysics, with bodies in star systems at the correct distances, scale, and move along their orbital paths in real time. Planets orbit and rotate around stars in 1:1 scale and real-time. The universe is modeled based on authentic and recent galactic charts. New features will be added iteratively over time. David Braben confirmed the inclusion of new encounters with e.g. comets, black holes and quasars.

Elite Dangerous is set in a procedurally generated Milky Way with approximately 400 billion star systems.

Aliens

Thargoid-Scouts-and-Interceptors

Thargoid Scouts and Interceptors

Thargoid-Surface-Site

Thargoid Surface Site

There are several sapient species in the Milky Way. The most notable are Human, Thargoid and Guardian. There's speculation about additional species, but they are yet to be discovered.

The Thargoids are an intelligent, highly advanced insectoid species that have existed for millions of years. They are highly territorial and seemingly rebuff all diplomatic overtures with unmitigated hostility, but are also known to be extremely slow to adapt.

The Guardians were an alien humanoid species which became extinct 1 to 2 million years ago.[17] Their Ancient Ruins were first discovered in the Synuefe XR-H D11-102 system on October 27, 3302.[18] The decrypted data from the ruins, as well as from Structures discovered the following year, provided significant insights into the history and culture of the Guardians.

Story

Elite Dangerous, like the classic Elite games, takes place in the fictional Elite universe. It is set 50 years after the events of Frontier: First Encounters, starting in the year 3300 (which equals 2014). The alien Thargoid species, introduced in Elite (1984), also returned in ED.

Elite-Dangerous-Hero-Connected-Artwork

Elite Dangerous hero connected artwork

Elite Dangerous features a shared narrative which is influenced by players on all platforms. This occurs with community events like Salomé, community goals and Powerplay activities. All of the meta data for the galaxy is shared between players. It's not traditional storytelling, rather an interactive, overarching narrative. Players have influenced and changed the course of events. The story unfolds in real time, in which players decide the outcomes and can be the stars.[19] The latest news on in-game events and remarkable stories are reported on GalNet. See the Elite Dangerous Timeline for a chronological list of events.

GalNet is the official source with galactic news. Tourist Beacons and Listening Posts have official lore about a wide range of topics.

Braben explained: "We're bringing in a story that embraces all the players. People have said that Elite doesn't have a story. It does have a story, it just not a rescue the princess style single-player threaded story. What we have is the story of your life through the game, your progression. What we will have is things that happen to you as you reach certain stages of the game, you'll get invited to join things."[20]

"But those are stories that work for all the players. You know, if you get invited to join a secret organisation, that can happen to lots of people. And the great thing is, if it doesn't happen to you you'll go ‘oh, why have they not invited me?‘ But then that's exciting, you'll think ‘oh well, ok, I did kill that policeman the other day, maybe I need to get my reputation a bit higher."[20]

Summary

EDPRG has an official description of life in ED: cheap and faster than light travel has enabled humanity to expand across the stars. This led to the rise of the Federation, Empire and Alliance. These major factions attract powerful people who scheme to gain more power.[21]

The middle-classes of the galaxy can afford spaceships like cars in the 20th century. People who own spaceships gain tremendous freedom. They're encouraged to do all kinds of jobs such as delivering goods and supplies to stations. For people in the bottom of society, little has changed. Space trade is seldom hampered by politics. The planet-spanning mega corporations employ entire nations and rule unchecked over vast sections of the galaxy. There's a laissez faire attitude towards weapon ownership and people are inclined to shoot first. The general lawlessness of space, navigational hazards and fierce creatures on planets make it a dangerous place.[21]

Procedural Content

Elite Dangerous uses procedural generation. It is a technique where content is generated from rules. It abstracts repetitive or arbitrary elements of content creation in a very efficient way.

Imagine a medieval landscape. Laying out towns, roads, castles, farm land, forests etc. can be done by a system of rules – putting castles widely spaced out on vantage points, towns near rivers but under the protection of such a castle, roads between them, then farm land to support them all. An artist can still design the castle, the houses in the towns, but this approach greatly magnifies the content that can be created. Frontier: Elite II used this tech for star systems and planets. Frontier Developments goes much further with this technique in Elite Dangerous.

Flight Model

The flight model of Elite Dangerous has Newtonian physics with a fly-by-wire layer applied over the top to make the combat feel visceral and seat-of-the-pants, rather than Frontier's jousting at huge distances.[22]

The fly-by-wire system of Flight Assist is a ship computer which keeps the ship within flight parameters, constrains the angular and linear velocity and makes it easier to pilot. It can be turned off so you have to manually adjust the thruster forcers, but Flight Assist and fly-by-wire is always partially on to keep the ship movement in specified limits overlayed on a Newtonian mechanics model.

Virtual Reality

Elite Dangerous is a groundbreaking title for virtual reality gaming, because its one of the first major titles to offer full VR support with an exceptionally immersive experience in an all-encompassing universe. It was the go to game for many VR headset demos before the devices were commercially available. From a technical standpoint, Elite Dangerous is one of the PC’s most high-end VR titles, pushing even very powerful PCs to their limit. Elite Dangerous is designed from the ground up to support Virtual Reality and 4K Ultra HD display technology. It has Cutting-edge visual quality and performance enabled by Frontier's COBRA engine. It supports the latest displays at 4K resolution, and is built for the future with full 8K and 16K support. It's compatible with Oculus Rift, SteamVR and Vive headsets.[23]

In March 2015, David Braben said supporting the Oculus Rift right from the start was possible, because Elite Dangerous is self-published by Frontier Developments rather than a publisher. With a publisher they'd have to make a business case for it and it would end up being pushed out into the future.[24]

The ED: Odyssey expansion added on foot first person gameplay in 2021. However, this currently does not support virtual reality. There are issues with motion sickness and the user interface that require significant changes to make VR enjoyable.

Sound and Music

Elite Dangerous OST Cover

Elite Dangerous OST, released on April 1, 2015

The Elite Dangerous Music was made by composer Erasmus Talbot and Frontier Head of Audio, Jim Croft. The Elite Dangerous Original Soundtrack has over 2 hours of music content to immerse yourself in the Elite Dangerous universe.

Erasmus Talbot and Jim Croft developed the dynamic music system that allows the score to ‘breathe’ and reflect gameplay. Croft managed a team of talented individuals who also worked on audio such as ship engine sound and the ship's voice. Croft said it's been an absolute honor and privilege to be involved with Elite Dangerous.[25]

Whether Elite Dangerous is the most complex project he's worked on in his career, Jim Croft answered, "I would say so, yes. It’s a bit like Alice. It’s a small rabbit hole initially but once you’ve started down it, one thing tends to lead to another and before you know it you are lost in labyrinthine complexity."

Regarding the backer response to the audio, Jim Croft said, "The response to Alpha 1.0 has been overwhelmingly positive. We were really glad to hear that people were in general enjoying our approach, particularly with respect to ship engines. One of our biggest challenges is in attempting to make space flight feel enjoyable, dynamic and non-fatiguing, while adhering to a plausible physical flight model as much as we can. It’s very tough to keep all parties happy; some like a light touch or no sound at all, whereas others want the full ‘Hollywood’ treatment. We want to give players what they want. Our aim is making as much of the audio in the game as customisable as possible in the audio options. So players can pick and choose the elements they prefer to hear and which elements they do not."[25]

Senior Audio Designer Matthew Florianz held a presentation giving an in-depth look into the making of the audio for Elite Dangerous with in-game examples. Pertaining the science approach to the way Frontier creates the universe, a question they often get is, "Why didn't you go for no sound in space? The game has sound." Jim Croft answered that question: "In the vast and often empty blackness of space, audio fulfills the crucial role of communicating a compelling sense of speed, acceleration and mass to the player."[26]

Elite Dangerous Packaging

Elite-Dangerous-Limited-Edition-Box-Set

Elite Dangerous Limited Edition Box Set

Elite Dangerous was delivered to most people digitally. There was a special boxed edition and a Limited Edition Box Set for certain Kickstarter backers and the Frontier Store. Some backers received an official star map poster.

The Elite Dangerous Limited Edition Box Set was part of certain Kickstarter rewards which backers received. The Limited Edition Box Set contained an Elite branded polo shirt with the correct shirt size, a limited edition game pack (copy of the game), a paperback novel of Elite: Legacy, the original soundtrack, an Elite pin badge which worked as a fastener and a personalized letter written by David Braben OBE for each of the 7,000 recipients. It all fit into a bespoke shipping carton and was distributed to 7,000 individuals worldwide. It was designed so that owners felt like they received something special. This boxed set was nominated and ‘Highly Commended’ in the 2015 British Luxury Packaging Design Awards.[27]

Behind the Name

Elite-Dangerous-Official-Key-Art

Elite Dangerous official key art

David Braben explained the story behind the name: "This is Elite 4, but I wanted something that was a fresh start. We looked at the story behind the other names. So Frontier is because the key thing with Frontier versus Elite is the action takes place on the periphery, on the frontier. Because logically from a story perspective if you imagine sort of cowboy semi lawless worlds they will tend to be on the frontier of human space. The core systems will be a lot more secure. You wouldn't get unruly systems so close."[9]

"Elite: Dangerous is where you are part of the Federation of Pilots and you're offered to be admitted to it and you'll be able to do this within the game, but you're still at a lesser rank so it's a bit like the British Navy for example where you had the concept of a defaced ensign. Those who may not know British military ships can fly a different flag and people can also fly that privately, but it's defaced to say that this isn't the full military ship. So it's the same sort of principle as that. Anyway that is why this is the title of the game, because it's so key to all the way the multiplayer plugs together."[9]

Dangerous is the third best rank for members of the Pilots Federation and the galaxy is dangerous. Here's related lore: "Relentless, increasingly well organized piracy and the need to maintain their reputation and influence as the best of the best caused the Elite Pilots Federation to start opening its membership to candidates from the Deadly rank who were able to pass a rigorous test and then, as demand continued to soar, to those from the Dangerous rank."[28][29]

Buy to Play

Elite Dangerous has a fixed, one-time purchase price, and no subscription fees or free-to-play fees. After purchasing the game, it can be played at any time provided that the owner has an adequate internet connection and the servers are online. Only one player profile is permitted per account, however, and players who wish to have multiple profiles must purchase multiple accounts.

Expansions such as Elite Dangerous: Horizons and Elite Dangerous: Odyssey must be purchased separately in order to access their features, and also have fixed, one-time purchase prices. Some expansions may include multiple content seasons at no additional cost, such Horizons including Elite Dangerous: Beyond.

All microtransactions are cosmetic except Pre-Built Ships which give newbies a jump-start in a career. In order to purchase cosmetics, players must first purchase a denomination of the microtransaction currency ARX; players can also earn up to 400 ARX per week through normal gameplay.

Development

Planning

Edge-Magazine-Elite-Dangerous-Rebirth-of-a-Legend

Edge magazine, Elite Dangerous - The Rebirth of a Legend

At the 2011 Game Developers Conference, David Braben gave the presentation Classic Game Postmortem - ELITE. During the Q&A, an audience member asked, "Is Elite 4 still on the drawing board?" Braben answered, "Yes, it would be a tragedy for it not to be."[30]

In 2012, space sims were unpopular among publishers so it was difficult to attract funding for such a project. Due to the financial failure of Freelancer in the early 2000's publishers were skeptical of space games in general. Publishers would want to steer the game in a particular direction which was unacceptable for David Braben. In an interview, he said, "Working with publishers is great, but as part of the process, inevitably the publisher will want to steer the game in a particular direction. It happened with ‘Elite‘ – the game was rejected by Thorne-EMI because it was so different to what had gone before; to what they believed would be successful because those sort of games were successful before. They wanted three lives, a score and a ten minute play time. That was because that was the norm at the time. Today, we would be steered to make a game with cut-scenes that would appeal to an imagined audience. That is not the game I want to make."[31]

David Braben said, "When we first greenlit Elite: Dangerous, there were no other major space games since Freelancer. Now, there are dozens. So, I think we've succeeded. We've brought the genre back to life. And we've proven there's quite a lot of demand for this sort of game. Yes, it's niche, but it's quite a big niche."[10]

Frontier had been working on the game as a "skunk-works" background activity for some time prior to its Kickstarter launch. Other projects were prioritized. It “...has been worked upon by a small team as a ‘skunk-works’ activity in the background as availability permits”[32] Elite Dangerous uses Frontier's own state-of-the-art in-house COBRA Engine tools and technology. COBRA has been carefully planned, developed and evolved since 1988.[33]

Kickstarter

Elite Dangerous was first announced to the public on November 5, 2012.[34] Over a quarter of a century after the original, David Braben of Frontier Developments launched a successful Kickstarter campaign in November 2012. The purpose was to test-market the concept, verify whether there's broader interest in a fourth game and to raise funds to help make the game.

Braben wrote, "We’re using Kickstarter both as a means of test-marketing the concept to verify there is still interest in such a game that extends beyond the individuals who regularly contact me about the game, and raising the funds to do so. There is also the fact that as long as we hit the threshold, it commits us to making the game."[32] By April 2014, £1.7m had been raised.[35] This was a fraction of the total budget for developing the base-game, Elite Dangerous (1.0). At Gamescom 2014, Braben said, "The original budget, because we put a lot of our money towards it, was £8m, it's grown by quite a lot."[36]

Design Decision Forum

People who pledged £300 or more in the Elite Dangerous Kickstarter were invited to take part in the Design Decision Forum (DDF), a private section of the Frontier forums, giving them an unusually high level of access to and input in the development of the game. DDF members received no in-game privileges.

Discussion in the DDF was closely focused on proposal documents written by Frontier staff as part of the game development process, which were then posted for discussion. Frontier have stated that all posts in the DDF were read by the development team, and developers frequently engaged in discussions and dialogue on the forum, sometimes starting polls to gauge community feeling. However, the final decision on all aspects of development remained with Frontier.

Pre-release builds

Elite-Dangerous-Alpha-1

ED Alpha 1.0 December 2013

Those who pledged big during the Kickstarter got beta-access. People also bought beta access at £50 a pop. This included the full game. In mid-August 2014, more than 75,000 people were playing the Elite: Dangerous beta, providing "more and more money that moves ever closer to the game breaking even in a really good way."[36]

Frontier had also reacquired the rights to the Elite franchise. Frontier purchased the software and IT consultancy company Professional Practice Automation in a £5.09m deal on Tuesday April 15, 2014. This included the royalty rights to the Elite video game franchise which was held by PPA.[37]

In December 2013, a playable alpha version of the game was released to Kickstarter backers who pledged pledged £200.[38] In May 2014, the game entered the first phase of beta testing. The focus was primarily on testing the systems and servers with a greater number of players. A pre-release "gamma" build was released to backers three weeks before launch to give them a head start.

Iconic features of the classic Elite games were updated for ED such as the Coriolis station and the Cobra Mk III. The Coriolis was the first updated station for ED's modern visual character. Many ships are based on the classic, polygonal shapes of Elite (1984). Thus ED continues the rich heritage of the Elite series.[39]

Release

Elite Dangerous (1.0) was developed and published by Frontier Developments and the Windows PC version launched on December 16, 2014. Since then it has had many updates and launched on multiple platforms.

The Elite Dangerous Premiere was held in November 2014. There were interviews, videos, speeches, reveals, prize giveaways and a detailed 1:10 scale model of the Cobra MkIII.[40]

Consoles and Mac

Elite-Dangerous-Premiere-Cobra-Model

Elite Dangerous Premiere Cobra Model

The Xbox One version launched on October 6, 2015.[6] The PlayStation 4 version launched on June 27, 2017.[7] The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions can be played on the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 via backwards compatibility,[41][42] However, game ports optimized specifically for next-generation consoles are not currently planned.[43]

The Apple Mac version was released on May 12, 2015.[4] It doesn't have Elite Dangerous: Horizons due to the lack of high-performance Compute Shaders in the graphics API's supported by OS X.[44] Since 11 December 2018 and the Q4 update of ED: Beyond, the Mac OS version was no longer playable due to technical barriers.[45]

Post-launch

Post-launch it can be estimated that the development budget for Elite Dangerous is in the tens of millions of pounds or more when major updates and expansions are included such as ED: Horizons (2015), ED: Beyond (2018) and ED: Odyssey (2021).

Since 27 October 2020, all the content of the Horizons expansion and the Beyond season of updates is included for free with the base game of Elite Dangerous.

Development of the console versions of ED: Odyssey was officially cancelled on 10 March 2022.[8] This is partially due to the limited technical capabilities of old-gen consoles which have difficulty to run the higher graphical fidelity and system requirements of Odyssey. For example the PlayStation 4 only has 8 GB GDDR5 while the Xbox One has 8 GB DDR3 RAM. Secondly, ending old-gen console support streamlines development by focusing on a unified v4.0+ live version for PC. The Legacy version (v3.8 Game Client) is playable on old-gen consoles, but it does not receive updates nor new content. Frontier offers a free migration service to copy console player profiles to PC.[46]

ED anniversary

5th anniversary

Elite Dangerous 5th Anniversary infographic

To celebrate the 5th Anniversary of Elite Dangerous since it launched on 16 December 2014, Frontier Developments compiled an infographic illustrating various player milestones and accomplishments.[47]

  • The 3 most popular ships are the Cobra MKIII, Asp Explorer and Python.
  • 4,788,600 Thargoids eliminated for the safety of the galaxy
  • 0.042% of the galaxy explored
  • Over 200 million used limpets left in space in 1 year
  • Missions completed in 2019: 66,647,459
  • More than 4.9 trillion credits donated in charity missions
  • Minor factions with the most presence in the galaxy: Wolf 406 Transport & Co: 240 in-game assets. SSl Interstellar PLC: 4,304,906,581,993 Milky Way residents.
  • Longest distance traveled in a Sidewinder: CMDR Rincewindcymru 167,277 light years.
  • 20,919 squadrons created
  • 6.6 trillion total galaxy population.
  • Total rebuy cost for commanders: 6,979,089,133,261 credits

Development Team

On May 26, 2017, the producer for the Elite Dangerous PS4 version Lloyd Morgan-Moore said, “The Elite Dangerous team is over a hundred people strong, and while we have a dedicated PS4 team to handle things like PSN infrastructure, everyone is working on content which will appear simultaneously on all platforms. We don’t regard platforms separately when it comes to content."[48] The team size was confirmed by a few people who visited the Frontier offices during the week of June 9, 2017.[49]

Development Plans

Frontier uses an iterative approach with development. They gradually build upon features to expand and improve them. Expansions and major updates will bring various new features to Elite Dangerous. Some of these were available in classic Elite games and some are completely new to the Elite series. Horizons is the first expansion which consists of a season with major updates that add many new features, content and improvements to the Milky Way. Beyond is the third season of expansions which will add 2 major updates and 2 content updates through 2018.

Elite Dangerous has a truly huge scope and Frontier has ambitious development plans. On 1 March 2018, Frontier stated they have continued an unwavering commitment to making Elite Dangerous the most authentic, ambitious, and expansive evolving space game in the world.[50]

During an interview at Lavecon 2015, Frontier stated to have a clear intention of a 10 year development plan.[51] It's confirmed by David Braben during a charity livestream in December 2016.[52] In an interview with the Rolling Stone, Braben said, "It's down to fans engaging with it, to be honest. But I would very much like to see it still going in 10-plus years. We might change things but, we'd like to keep the same basic idea."[10]

This includes small free updates and paid major updates. Check the Development Plans page for an overview of planned updates and expansions.

For example, the roadmap is to add these features with major updates (in no particular order): [53] [54]

Reception

Check the Elite Dangerous Reception and Awards page for information about the reception by the press and awards.

Sales

Elite Dangerous sold around 1.7 million franchise units by the end of May 2016. The term "franchise units" combined all sales of the Elite Dangerous base game and the Elite Dangerous: Horizons expansion.[55]

  • By the end of December 2016, this rose to over 2.1 million franchise units.[56]
  • By December 31, 2017, cumulative sales of the game had exceeded 3.25 million franchise units.[57]
  • By January 15, 2019, cumulative sales of the game exceeded 4.3 million franchise units. Of these, the base game alone accounted for 3 million units.[58][59]
  • By May 31, 2020, the Elite Dangerous base game had sold over 3.5 million units.[60]
  • By January 13, 2021, the Elite Dangerous base game had sold over 4 million units.[61] A further 8 million base game units were claimed for free on the Epic Games Store during a giveaway week in November 2020.[61]
  • By September 2022, over 4.8 million base game units were sold.[62]

Revenue

In 2019, Elite Dangerous made more than £100 million ($133m) in revenue. This is a traders quote from the investment firm Liberum in 2019: "The company is working on a number of exciting updates for both franchises and our expectation is that we could see a big refresh release of ED in FY20."[63][64] By 2020, ED generated more than £100m ($131) of revenue which first released in December 2014[65]

Monthly players

In March 2021, Elite Dangerous had an estimated 500 thousand monthly active players according to stockbroker report by Liberium.[66] They log into the game on a regular basis and at least once per month, and only count players that are active instead of those who got the game from the Epic Games Store for free.[66]

Steam concurrent players

The table below lists the 10 highest records for concurrent Elite Dangerous players on the Steam platform according to Steam Database.[67]

Since the early access launch in December 2013 and full release in December 2014, Elite Dangerous has hit its highest player numbers in 2020 and 2021 due to the release of the Fleet Carriers Update, the reveal of Elite Dangerous: Odyssey,[60] the game being made available for free during its launch week on the Epic Games Store, the Odyssey alpha, and the PC launch of Odyssey.

Rank Date Players
#1 May 20, 2021 28,923
#2 May 22, 2021 26,875
#3 May 21, 2021 25,828
#4 May 23, 2021 25,726
#5 May 19, 2021 25,557
#6 May 24, 2021 23,672
#7 May 25, 2021 22,244
#8 June 14, 2020 21,734
#9 May 26, 2021 20,742
#10 March 29, 2021 20,186

Trivia

  • Elite Dangerous takes place in a 1:1 scale recreation of the Milky Way. The play space is so vast it will take players more than 30,000 years to chart the entire galaxy.[68]

See also

Videos

Gallery

References

  1. Elite Dangerous official website - June 2024
  2. Twitter: Guinness World Records, 18 Jun 2015
  3. PC Gamer: Elite: Dangerous creator says crowdfunding covered less than one-quarter of its total cost
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ars Technica: Elite: Dangerous now available for Macs, both direct and on Steam
  5. Frontier Forums: Important Mac announcement
  6. 6.0 6.1 GameSpot: Elite: Dangerous Xbox One Release Date Revealed
  7. 7.0 7.1 PlayStation.Blog: Elite: Dangerous Touches Down on PS4 June 27
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Frontier Forums: Console Update
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 YouTube: My other car's a Cobra MKIII - Nordic Game 2014
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Rolling Stone: 'Elite' Creator on Sci-Fi, Politics and His Studio's Next Big Thing, through archive.today
  11. Elite Dangerous SW2 WP0 Mass Jump 127 CMDRS - COPDMCRULEZ - 3 Jun 2017
  12. 12.0 12.1 Largest instance ever in Elite:Dangerous? - 3 Dec 2023 - CMDR Mechan - YouTube
  13. GalNet: New Supercruise Overcharge module enters the market, a “turning point for humanity”
  14. What is the First Footfall system in the Odyssey expansion? - 20 August 2021 - Frontier Developments
  15. Elite Dangerous Newsletter #36
  16. reddit: Quick Notes from Livestream - Discovery Scanner: w/ Piers Jackson & Dr Kay Ross. - 27 April, 2021.
  17. YouTube: PAX East 2017 - Interview with David Braben
  18. reddit: Cmdr xdeath found the monolith!
  19. Polygon: Elite: Dangerous actually has a story, here's how to find it
  20. 20.0 20.1 Gamereactor: Elite: Dangerous has a story that "embraces all the players"
  21. 21.0 21.1 Kickstarter: Elite Dangerous Role Playing Game
  22. PCGamesN: Elite: Dangerous will have 100 billion star systems, plus Thargoids — Braben reveals what's next
  23. Elite Dangerous: Made for VR, through archive.org
  24. YouTube: Elite: Dangerous - David Braben Interview
  25. 25.0 25.1 Frontier Forums: Meet the Team #12- Jim Croft (Head of Audio)
  26. YouTube: Elite: Dangerous - Sound In Space - Control Conference 2015 (5:06)
  27. Bridge Media Group: Elite Dangerous, through archive.org
  28. Elite Dangerous Newsletter #22
  29. Elite Dangerous - Digital Art Book
  30. GDC Vault: Classic Game Postmortem
  31. PC Invasion: Credits, Cobras and Crowd-Funding: David Braben tells us about Elite: Dangerous
  32. 32.0 32.1 The Register: Classic game 'Elite' returns … on Kickstarter
  33. Frontier: COBRA DEVELOPMENT TECHNOLOGY & TOOLS
  34. Facebook: Elite Dangerous, 5 Nov 2012
  35. The Sentinel: David Elks: Gaming industry is worth the investment, through archive.today
  36. 36.0 36.1 Eurogamer: Elite: Dangerous' original budget was £8m
  37. MCV/DEVELOP: Frontier acquires Elite rights as Braben readies share sale
  38. Eurogamer: Elite: Dangerous combat now playable if you're a £200 alpha backer
  39. Official The Art of Elite Dangerous art book, August 17 2016
  40. Daftworks: Elite Dangerous Launch Event, through archive.org
  41. reddit: PS5 and Xbox X support from Day1 according to Interview with Joss Herraez
  42. reddit: @EliteDangerous: "We can confirm that Elite Dangerous is backwards compatible with Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5."
  43. Twinfinite: Elite Dangerous Interview: Devs Detail Upcoming Odyssey Expansion
  44. Frontier Forums: Answer from the Devs 15/10/15
  45. Frontier Forums: Important Mac announcement
  46. Frontier Forums: Console Profile Transfers and 2022 Updates
  47. Frontier Forums: Celebrating 5 years of Elite Dangerous!
  48. Red Bull: The tech behind Elite Dangerous’s PS4 debut
  49. Frontier Forums: My visit to Frontier Developments and the Future of the Game
  50. Frontier Forums: Important Community Update (01/03)
  51. Frontier Forums: Lavecon News?
  52. YouTube: 24 Hour Charity Livestream! Part 1! 2016
  53. Elite Dangerous Newsletter #29
  54. PCGamesN: Elite: Dangerous standard beta begins next week; last chance to grab lifetime expansion pack
  55. London Stock Exchange: Frontier Developments plc Full year trading update, through archive.org
  56. ADVFN: Frontier Developments PLC Trading Update
  57. Investegate: Frontier Developments plc Interim Results
  58. London Stock Exchange: Frontier Developments plc Notice of Results and Trading update, through archive.org
  59. Elite Dangerous has sold 3m copies, Horizons 1.3m (43% of basegame owners) - Jan 15, 2019
  60. 60.0 60.1 London Stock Exchange: Frontier Developments plc FY20 Financial Results, through archive.org
  61. 61.0 61.1 London Stock Exchange: Frontier Developments plc Trading statement, through archive.org
  62. "Annual Reports and Accounts 2022" (PDF). Frontier Developments. 14 October 2022. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 September 2023.
  63. reddit: Liberum: "our expectation is that we could see a big refresh release of ED in FY20, five years after launch"
  64. YouTube: Frontier's Financial Position and the Future of Elite Dangerous
  65. Financial Director: Frontier Developments CFO on strength of video games market
  66. 66.0 66.1 Massivelly Overpowered: Elite Dangerous has an estimated 500K monthly active players according to stockbroker report
  67. Frontier Forums: Elite Dangerous (Steam) just set a new All Time record for concurrent CMDRs, beating previous highest in Nov 2015
  68. https://elite-dangerous.fandom.com/wiki/File:Elite-Dangerous-Trivia.png
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