Stick and Rudder: So let’s talk about those Elite Dangerous pre-built ships


Over the past couple of days, I’ve been watching and writing about the fun little tire fire that Elite: Dangerous ignited when it announced that it would be selling pre-built ships — cash shop bundles that granted buyers a specific spacecraft outfitted for a distinct activity, with the given examples of laser mining and fighting Thargoids offered up so far as I write this.

After taking some time to look at the way things are unfolding so far and looking over the fittings for these cash ships, I’ve come to a pretty firm opinion about them: about what they could represent to the game, about their impact to the game and its players, and about what it all says about where things stand now.

I’ll first open up by stating that I’m not really here to argue what is and isn’t pay-to-win about these bundles because someone smarter, more prolific, and significantly better at hugging than me has already written about that twice already. I’ll also note that I’m by no means some fount of shipbuilding knowledge — recall that I dreamed up ship builds that are intentionally stupid. That all said, I’ve got more than enough emotional and mental attachment to this topic to feel like my two cents are worth sharing.

And that first penny is that these ships really aren’t even close to pay-to-win.

The modules that are fitted on the two given examples aren’t what I’d call challenging to find, though perhaps they’re a bit pricey depending on where you are, and both of them have only one engineered set of weapons aboard, making them likely feel much more impactful than, for example, clapping on a very basic mining laser and shooting a rock. They don’t really hand out the highest grade of items and they really appear to be built to allow for personal upgrades later. Ideally they’ll be a great way to teach new pilots the depths of this game’s buildcraft.

Moreover, the ships chosen for their individual tasks themselves are excellent starter craft as near as I’m familiar with, and I know for a fact they’re much more interesting to fly than the wedge of cheese you start off with (I have a very deep level of affection for the Chieftan in particular). And frankly, for a gaming experience as dry as a spaceship sandbox, making a big impact from the jump is vital.

That’s really what these bundles appear to be about: giving freshly arrived players a better, more meaningful, and much more memorable introduction to what’s possible out in E:D. Sure, much of my own personal self-discovery was what enriched my own learning experience when I first started out, but I also wasn’t really able to get to that level of confidence without my own helping hand in the form of someone who took me under her wing practically every step of the way. And even if I learned on my own, that doesn’t give me carte blanche to deny other people a strong and helpful start.

Really, that’s the bigger reason most people are mad; they want folks to “earn their way” and “work for it” because they weren’t given the option of avoiding E:D’s admittedly awful opening beats. Or they forgot that they relied on others at some point or another. Who knows.

But don’t think that I’m eager to attack the entire playerbase and rushing to the defense of some poor company’s hurt feelings. FDev is not above reproach in these decisions. First of all, the studio really should have led with the post that detailed what these bundles offered for their asking price. Not doing so was just bad communication and led players to think the worst. Second, selling the new Python variant for cash, three months before it’s earnable in-game, and locking that earnable access to the Odyssey expansion, is just scummy in a word. Super scummy in two words. Ultra mega scummy in three.

I will also contend that these new bundles could possibly signal the top of a slippery slope. I feel like that’s a reasonable concern to harbor, but ideally the studio is going to make sure it toes the line between easing into neat stuff and opening the wallet for the best of the best, and right now it’s just too soon to know which way that pendulum will swing if it does.

Above those obvious points, though, these bundles also shine a harsh light across some deep-seated problems with E:D’s immense levels of grind – that “wide as an ocean, shallow as a puddle” kind of sandbox gameplay approach to things. With that in mind, I think making engineering and some of the other grinds a lot easier before selling starter ship bundles would have been the better move. But then I also recognize that’s replacing the foundation of an already built skyscraper, so selling ship bundles is a faster solution to some of those problems.

Despite those tiny little red flags, these bundles are $13 freakin’ dollars, y’all. The lowest cash price for a spaceship that’s usable in an incomplete title is over double that. That’s not a really big ask in my personal opinion, especially for a studio that, as far as I’m aware, isn’t exactly flush with cash — even if that’s a doom of its own design.

And I would rather see FDev lift itself out of that doom than not. Yes, that’s right. I’m biased. I want this game to continue on. I want this game to grow and improve. I want to be encouraged enough to hop back in again, maybe find some other people to fly around with. E:D is the only spaceship sandbox that I can stand to play right now, and I would very much like it to stick around for a long time.

If it takes selling some little step stools to make it easier for folks to reach that sweet jar of content peanut butter – and in so doing make sure that this game can keep running on – then so be it.

It’s a big wide universe out there, and the MMO industry is busy filling up the space between the stars – with sci-fi MMORPGs! Join the MOP team here in Stick and Rudder for intermittent voyages into all the big space-trucking, dog-fighting, star-flighting MMOs of the moment.
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