[Update: This issue is perhaps less imminent that I'd thought - Frontier dropped us a line to stress that it may be a fair bit longer than six months, though Braben did say "the change will need to come at some point" so it seems this will happen eventually.]
Like in real life, obsolescence in PC gaming is usually a slow process. An achy knee after running becomes an achy knee after hiking then all too soon you're waking up achy, and your framerates dip lower and lower starting to stutter before you realise you simply can't play shiny new games. But sometimes there are hard cut-offs, and two are coming soon to Elite Dangerous [official site]. Developers Frontier today announced that they plan to stop supporting 32-bit systems and DirectX 10 graphics hardware. They say it'll help them make the game look prettier and run better.
Frontier say it'll be "at least six months" before they drop support for 32-bit and DirectX. In the meantime, you'd hope they might announce some sort of compensation for those few folks who'll be left unable to play Elite?
Basically, Elite needing to support this older hardware and software means Frontier need to make more allowances for different systems, which takes more time and ultimately limits what they can do with the game. Chief Frontiersman David Braben today explained in a forum post:
"As you know we spend a good deal of time planning for the future, and one issue (and opportunity) we are considering is the effect of supporting Win32 and DX10, and the benefits we would get if we were to drop them. As you know, we support leading edge technology like 4K, 8K, VR, and with things like compute shaders in Horizons we really push the boundaries overall, but there are restrictions with Win32 – particularly the amount of memory we can address at one time – and with DX10 in terms of requiring an alternative rendering solution in our code. Dropping these two would help us support high end effects with a better result – to make the game better.
"About 0.5% of players that have installed Elite Dangerous have used their game on Win32 at some time. Some of these machines are capable of running Win64 (ie the hardware would support it). With DX10 (fewer than 2% of players) it is more tricky as you may need to upgrade the graphics card on such machines."
This isn't new hardware and software they're dropping support for. 64-bit hardware and versions of Windows arrived to replace 32-bit a decade ago, and DirectX 10 was superseded by DirectX 11 with the launch of Windows 7. It's a far cry from, say, Microsoft only releasing games on Windows 10.
Asked what this switch means for players already on Win64, Braben replied "Principally better performance and prettier effects, but it should also help with dev time."