I wish I could share your optimism.If he were still involved, by that I mean actively communicating with the playerbase, it might defray some of the criticism from current "problems" with the game. NB: I use the parenthesis around problems as some of the gripes mooted in here are about stuff that is working as intended by the developer, but not to the liking of the players. However in my mind I think the long delay for the big launch of the much vaunted revolutionary 2020 update, can only indicate one of three things, "Space legs", "Atmospheres", or both. Only the last option will get unanimous support from the community. By this I mean that if 2020 is "legs", without atmospheric planets, then a large section of the community will tap into the vitriolic brine hydrants and dowse this place with salt. "I dont want any more stupid pewpew - if you want that go play COD" being the sort of sentiment I seen far too often in threads about "legs". Equally so, I myself, and others have asked the question of what would be the point of adding proper atmospheric planets if we are still riveted to out pilots seats of Ship/SLF/SRV? "Oh look more stuff to scan/shoot/scoop", proponents of legs could argue that the current ecosystems within la grange clouds offer nearly all the gameplay, granted without some of the awesome vistas, that we could expect from atmospheric planets without the ability to leave a vehicle.
Personally, I hope its legs, let us get out of the pilot seats and walk around the areas we can currently fly/drive. Visual sset work for interiors of ships and stations would be needed, then new mechanics to utilise those assets. Then we players can be kept busy with this for a couple of years while technologies being put into cobra engine for zoo planet and jurassic world are adapted into procedural ecosystem generation algorithm code. Procedural cities and populaced planets could then be worked on, with a select few hand crafted cities / planets being accessible through permits. Once there is a sufficient pool of urban assets, these could be plugged into a procedural generation algorithm to make a bubble's worth of cities.
Then we have created the full on galaxy that David mentions in that video.
The thing is, that contemporary space games with aspirational scope tend to end in huge disappointments for a good reason. I don't think it is reasonable to expect any developer to fill a procedural galaxy with so much detail, content and gameplay that fills this aspiration. Walk around and do business in a city-sized space station, climb into your spaceship, fly to planet, watch a volcano erupt, land and hunt animals, etc... This just won't happen, at least not in the near future.
Instead of us getting a decent game with all its limitations, Elite could become just another mess in the crowded area of failed/unfinished space games.
*As about atmospheric gameplay: this is a spaceship game, flying in different atmospheric density and weather patterns would provide just enough gameplay element even without adding anything else, not to mention all the fantastic vistas that make Elite a special game today.