Elite: Dangerous’s real-money ship sales spark “pay-to-win” outrage


Players will be able to throw down a few bucks to get the Python Mk 2 starting next month.
Enlarge / Players will be able to throw down a few bucks to get the Python Mk 2 starting next month.

Frontier Developments

Elite: Dangerous players will soon be able to pay real money for access to in-game ships for the first time, a major change that already has some long-time players raging about a “pay-to-win” shift for the long-running game.

Since Elite Dangerous launched over nine years ago, the game has sold ships in exchange for in-game credits earned through gameplay. The separate ARX currency, which can be purchased with real money, has been reserved for cosmetic upgrades such as paint jobs.

That’s all set to change next month, though, when owners of the Odyssey expansion will be able to purchase early access to the Python Mk II variant ship for 16,250 ARX (the equivalent of about $11 to $13, depending on how much ARX is purchased in bulk). Non-Odyssey owners won’t be able to purchase the Python Mk II with regular credits until three months later, on August 7. At that point, the ship will also be available as an ARX-denominated “pre-built ship package” that “allow[s] you to kickstart your career in the latest ship, including a brand-new paintjob and ship kit.”

Players can technically earn ARX through gameplay in addition to real-world spending, offering a potential release valve for those who don’t want to pay extra for the Python Mk II. But those in-game earnings are capped at 400 ARX per week, meaning a player would have to save up for at least 40 weeks to get “free” access to this new premium ship (However, some activities related to the current Thargoid Titan attacks can earn considerably more than 400 ARX and aren’t subject to the weekly cap).

More money, more problems

The move to sell ships for real money is a major departure from 2019, when the ARX currency was introduced to streamline Elite‘s hybrid economy (which used direct real-money purchases on PC and a “Frontier Points” currency on consoles). In a forum post announcing that change, Elite maker Frontier Developments promised that “ARX can only be used to buy cosmetic Game Extras and will not be used to introduce and acquire pay-to-win purchases.” But Elite: Dangerous is five years older now and is seemingly looking at new ways to extract continuing revenue from a respectable but slowly shrinking player base (according to Steam Charts concurrent player counts, at least).

Shares in Frontier Developments stock have fallen sharply in recent months following a November business update in which the company admitted that sales of real-time strategy title Warhammer Age of Sigmar: Realms of Ruin were “lower than expected.” Earlier this month, the developer sold the publishing rights to the classic theme park title Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 to Atari for a $7 million cash infusion.

Online reaction to the news has been overwhelmingly negative, with many accusing Frontier of going down the dreaded “pay-to-win” route that has tainted many games in the past. For some players, the move is especially galling for the release of the game’s first new ship since late 2018.

“This is just not a stunt you pull when you haven’t released a ship in 5 years,” Reddit user aPachimari wrote.

“After years of essentially nothing, you announce new ships… and with a single article about literal [pay-to-win] ships you have now officially lost all trust,” Reddit user Xay_DE added.

Still, a few players saw some benefit in the ability to pay to skip the in-game grind for a better ship. “I want to try out anti-xeno combat but have been put off by the time it would take to kit a ship out,” Reddit user hevvy_metel wrote. “I played this game a TON a few years ago when I was unemployed and did the grind for credits and engineering. Now that I work again I don’t have the time or energy to manage doing another grind just so I can engage with the end-game combat.”

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