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Online-only Elite: Dangerous offers refunds, but not to beta players

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Spacefaring MMO Elite: Dangerous last week announced it would abandon an offline mode that had been promised when the game was originally crowdfunded, drawing sharp criticism and complaints. Frontier Developments said it would honor refund requests, but how that is being handled has raised hackles as well.

On Thursday, Frontier said that those who have been playing Elite: Dangerous online, either in the alpha or beta tests that have been held, would not be eligible for a refund — even if they backed the project through Kickstarter. Those who pre-ordered the release version of the game from Frontier's online store — and have therefore not played it — are eligible for a refund.

Frontier didn't give a specific rational for why online alpha or beta players wouldn't get back any money they spent. Broadly, the developer said "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."

The explanation was part of a Q&A with Frontier Developments CEO David Braben about offline support, who reminded that making the game fully online didn't end single-player play within it. "The single-player game is already there, but it requires a low bandwidth online connection," he said. Earlier, he mentioned that Elite: Dangerous does "a great deal of processing in the cloud, and this benefits everyone playing.

"We had considered that an online connection is a reasonable pre-requisite for a game delivered online," he said. "I am really sorry this has upset people, but we have a strong, consistent vision that we do not want to compromise."

That said, an offline mode was promised back when Elite: Dangerous opened its Kickstarter in December 2012. Answering why Frontier waited this long to reveal it had gone back on that plan, Braben acknowledged that "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.

"As features were implemented, for the best results we chose to prioritise delivery of the online single and multiplayer experiences," he added, "with a view to providing the offline version later in development. We had to make a decision for the good of the game, and that is what we did."

Elsewhere, Braben said the solo-play mode has only "a minimal network requirement," of about 10 kbps, and that he'd been able to play the game while tethering a mobile device to his laptop.

Last week, Braben announced the end of offline support, saying "a fully offline experience would be unacceptably limited and static compared to the dynamic, ever unfolding experience we are delivering." This week, he followed that up by saying offline play is possible, but would be "fundamentally empty.

"Any offline experience would be fundamentally empty," he said. "We could write a separate mission system to allow a limited series of fixed missions, but that would still not be a compelling game."

Elite: Dangerous is scheduled to launch on Dec. 16. For more on the game, see Polygon's overview video below.