Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Elite Dangerous - Breaking the Fourth Wall

So in this post I'm going to be breaking the fourth wall and talking about the game from the outside a little. I usually like staying in the realms of the game - The great service I've had for Zorgon Peterson or the great love I have for my trusty Sixer, or Alliance-vs-Imperial politics.

But today I'm going to talk about the game from the outside because sometimes the connection with the real world matters.  I'm a "normal" guy.  I'm a gamer and I enjoy flying space planes.  Elite is a chance to capture the imagination that got me into games in a big way thirty years ago, and its great to see new and old players collide in this modern re-imagining of a game-changing classic.

We want to reach out and influence other players games, and feel part of a shared galaxy where your  actions will ring out across the cosmos.  Which brings me to the heart of the matter.

Elite as a Multiplayer game has to - at its core - contain interactions between players and eventually you are going to want to transfer credits between players. And this is where the fourth wall starts to crack.
It makes perfect sense in game to eject and scoop cargo but this is the only mechanism to transfer wealth - possibly to avoid the black market in Credits to US$ that would quite easily arise.  Credit transfer starts a ballache of transaction servers, authentication, scammers and griefers  - and I don't wish that pain on the development team or the players.

But it [Credit transfer] is so integral to a game bound up in its in-game economy.  Don't you want to employ a fighter escort or be a gun-for-hire? Has a notorious pirate has killed you... ? I want to donate x-hundred credits of my cash to the bounty. Heck, I want to put a bounty on his head so large he won't be able to get near a civilised system again.

There are a lot of gameplay options afforded by the ability to transfer credits, but the cost in creating a US$-Credits exchange rate is too damn high.  Imagine, after all the hours you put into building your ships, new players can have a day-one Anaconda for $2.50... Its not a good feeling and something the development team have done well to avoid.

That's not to say I'm against micro-payments and transactions. I spent a couple of real world monies on spray-jobs for my ships because I want to support the devs and there is no better way to say "add more paints" than to buy the ones that are available. Bottom line, if we don't buy the paint jobs we've given concrete feedback we don't want them and the chance of seeing more any time soon diminishes.
However these cosmetics have no bearing on my ability to turn a profit or to fly my Ship. They look cool, and I want to look cool.
Do I think there should be approved paints available for in game Credits? ... Maybe. Yeah.  At least having some variation, even if it was just a fixed "Federal, Imperial, Alliance" colour scheme based on where you bought the ship would be a nice touch.

But I don't want to get distracted by nice touches.  As long as its a multiplayer experience, it'll remain limited by the in-game currency. And as I'm sure any convoy viper-jock will tell you, collecting your gun-for-hire payment in Gold is a boring-ass side quest to scoop, scoop, scoop that leaves a bad taste after the actual gameplay has finished.

Do I see an answer to the economics conundrum? Well, not really. It continues to be a fourth-wall breaking artificial restriction that ~ while it probably improves gameplay ~ also detracts from it by limiting so many cool possibilities.

Anyway, that's the end of my ramblings on currency and economics. Without the ability to transfer credits, the cool fleet gameplay that would put the Multi into Player is kept beyond our grasp, as the cost to protect us from scammers, griefers, and two-dollar Anacondas.

Fly Casual Everybody. The rest of my posts will be about the actual game, honest.