When Frontier Developments announced a week ago that they'd scrapped Elite: Dangerous's promised offline singleplayer mode, they were a little hazy on what would happen for folks who wanted a refund. It was a feature Frontier had listed on the Kickstarter that raised over £1.5 million, after all, and one they still teased as Elite went through its expensive paid alpha and beta stretches. Well, Frontier now have some vague policy on refunds, and it's questionable: if you're played at all, you can't have one.
Creator David Braben explained in this week's Elite newsletter that they've started going through refund requests and chiefly follow two simple rules. If you simply pre-ordered the game from Frontier, you can have a refund. If you've played in the alpha or beta phases, regardless of whether you backed the Kickstarter or bought access later, can't get a refund. If you don't fit into either category - perhaps you're just a plain old regular backer who wants a refund - Frontier are still working on that. Braben says:
We want to make sure we treat each person's situation with the thoroughness it deserves, and have contacted each of them to ask that they bear with us over the next few working days if their circumstances do not fit either criteria above as we look into individual requests.
Honestly, I think they should be a lot more forthcoming with refunds and set out a very clear refund policy. Yes, folks may have played the alpha or beta for a while but those were perks - expensive perks. In the end, the finished game isn't what they were sold. This might not be a dealbreaker for everyone, but it is for some. Even folks who intended to play primarily offline might still have gone online to check out progress on the game they'd paid a lot for, as that was the only option. And Kickstarter backers who haven't played it should definitely have the option of a refund.
Braben concedes that they were wrong to not mention their uncertainty about offline support earlier. "In retrospect we should have shared the fact that we were struggling with this aspect with the community, but we were still trying to find a solution," he says. He reiterates that they focused on an online connected world all along, designing the game and building their tech around the online multiplayer and online singleplayer modes. Hacking bits out for an offline singleplayer version would be both a game they don't want to make and a huge amount of work. He also said that should they shut the servers down, they'd release code for people to run their own.
But, ultimately, they sold a game saying it'd do something, and it doesn't. Yes, Kickstarting is technically about financially funding a project that could go in any direction, not pre-ordering a product, but the 'rewards' are not as advertised either. If Frontier think cutting offline singleplayer isn't such a big deal for players, they should be more lenient with refunds.
I'm increasingly hesitant to put up money for anything that isn't a game I'd be happy with in its current state. If it's an interesting project or a developer whose work I like, I'll put a few pounds towards seeing something interesting happen with no particular expectations or demands. But I think I'm about done with forking out loads of cash for a spec of a game, the promise of a feature list.