#support3rdparty - Why we temporarily shut down our sites.

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I very much appreciate the effort of all those giving of their free time to make the game more enjoyable for me and fully approve of this method to draw attention to the issue.
My +1 rep to the OP should be interpreted as +1000 rep to all the tool developers.

ED has many years of development ahead of it, the sooner the rough edges are knocked off the communication the better.
 
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Flying blind now...

Sad, sad, sad...
All those 3rd Party tools make Elite the game it is today.
I build my ships with their great sites, I plan my routes and post my pics.
Today ED lost about 50% of fun.
FDEV, do something!!!
Not happy,

Marc
 
3rd party sites are needed for this game and its a shame the guys have had to do this to get some attention. I for one would love more integration between the 3rd party sites and Fdev. I have about 800 hrs and many paint packs and other extras invested in this game and i know with out Eddb.io and the other sites I would never have made 100 hrs before giving up, Please get this sorted guys.
 
Let's have a quick response on this, please FD. Something better than "we'll look into it" would be appreciated.

Nip the thread in the bud, so that this issue doesn't have to run and run ;)
 
Dear Frontier,
Please support these folks! They do an extraordinary job enhancing your efforts to bring people into this world you created. Please SUPPORT their efforts to SUPPORT you.
 
Dear Elite: Dangerous Community,

We are the developers of third-party tools for Elite: Dangerous, and we are taking them offline to call attention to a request for more formal support of our efforts from Frontier. We will remain offline from Thursday the 27th of April 12:00 UTC until Sunday the 30th of April 12:00 UTC.

Our third-party websites and tools are used on a daily basis by many tens of thousands of players, and they generate millions of pageviews every month. We believe that our tools greatly enhance the game playing experience, and yet we often feel that Frontier does not actively encourage the effort that goes into supporting their game with these tools. We believe they can and should improve on this situation by maintaining clear and open communication with the third-party developer community.

There is currently no easy way for us to request features and support that will benefit the community as a whole, and there is often no warning from Frontier when a game update will alter or break existing APIs that we rely on. This places a significant extra burden on third-party tool makers to work around these issues and to fix our tools. Repeated requests for support and bug fixes are made, but there is frustration caused by an apparent lack of progress on those.

We apologise for the inconvenience to you, the user of our third-party tools, but we feel that this action is the only way to make Frontier clearly understand the huge disconnect between the high level of support that the players (their customers) have for third-party tools, and the lack of consistency from Frontier in effectively fostering third-party development. Modern games thrive on an active and vibrant third-party ecosystem, because no game developer can do everything by themselves. As much as we would love to see the features of various third party tools incorporated into Elite: Dangerous itself, we realize that Frontier’s developer time and resources are limited, and we are happy to provide our tools freely to the community. In turn, however, we need Frontier to acknowledge that third-party tools are an important part of your playing experience and act accordingly. The alternative is that tools such as these may disappear entirely as third-party developers give up on donating their time and effort to make Elite: Dangerous better.

If the lack of this tool has reduced your ability to play or your enjoyment of Elite: Dangerous then please let Frontier know in this thread or the Reddit post. The more players who share their stories, the more Frontier will be able to see the value of supporting the third-party development community which has brought you this tool and so many others.

Thank you for your support!


Sites offline

The following sites are offline for the duration of this event:


In addition, the authors of the following apps support this event:


Suggestions

Here are some suggestions to Frontier that we feel would be reasonable steps toward improving our working relationship:

  • An appointed liaison for the third-party developer community could help to keep communication flowing freely. This should ideally be a specific role for someone with a technical background; community relations representatives have tried to fill this role in the past, but seemed to have too many other responsibilities to be effective.
  • A commitment to fully supporting an external API -- whether this is the existing Companion API or a proper replacement that provides the same data -- would ensure the survival of the dozens of tools and websites that have come to rely on it. Including the API in beta testing cycles would also allow us to help you identify issues early rather than suffering days or weeks of downtime after game patches.
  • Different bug and feature tracking procedures may be needed for things like the Journal and Companion API (or its replacement). The simple acknowledgement of “I’ll pass this on” does not always suffice for these kinds of issues; third-party developers need follow-up feedback and communication about future API changes and bugfixes, and Frontier developers could benefit from a better avenue to request additional technical details about reported issues.

A brief history of Frontier and Community Developers

December 2014 - Elite: Dangerous launch

During the beta before Elite: Dangerous was even released, the community had already begun to build tools to map the galaxy and optimize commodity trading. Some tools that date back to this period are Thrudd’s website, Slopey’s Market Tool and the TradeDangerous console helper from Maddavo and kfsone. This is also when the Elite: Dangerous Data Network (EDDN) was established, which allows tools to send, receive and share market price data.

January 2015 - EDDN and API

A couple of weeks after release, EDDB launched with full EDDN support. At that point, the only way to automatically collect price data from the game was seeebek’s EliteOCR. This used optical character recognition (OCR) to process screenshots of the market prices which were then sent via EDDN to EDDB. The data quality was very poor since OCR produces a lot of errors, so we had to spend a lot of time fixing and cleaning the price stream.

In mid January Michael Brookes posted the External API Requirements Thread on the forums, and a month later it was closed stating that Frontier would need “a few weeks” to put together a proposal and invite community developers to a working group. This was a very promising early indication that Frontier was serious about supporting third-party development, but it would be another 18 months before we saw any concrete follow-through on this idea.

June 2015 - Frontier’s Companion App API

Frontier released an iOS Companion App in November of 2014 (and later discontinued it). The app used an undocumented API to pull information from within the game, and although it was almost immediately reverse-engineered, it would be several more months before it saw widespread use by the community. In April of 2015 Andargor released the Elite Dangerous Companion Emulator (EDCE) to demonstrate how to tap into that API, and by June this capability had been incorporated into tools such as TradeDangerous and OtisB’s Elite: Dangerous Market Connector (EDMC) in order to retrieve market data and share it with other tools via EDDN.

This was a giant leap forward for the community, because we suddenly had access to accurate market data without the need for error-prone OCR; it’s fair to say that this breakthrough is largely responsible for the wide selection of wonderful trading tools that exist today. Unfortunately Frontier did not seem to share our excitement, and responded by deleting any forum thread related to usage of the API; a moderator explained in a private message that “our standing orders are to remove posts about, and links to, any software that accesses the game client or the servers. This includes the companion API” . But the API kept on working, and it was extremely useful, so we kept on using it. We didn’t know where we stood in a legal context and tried to get an official statement from Frontier, but it was another eight months before they would comment on it one way or the other.

October 2015 - Powerplay data

To their credit, Frontier tried to publish weekly Powerplay data for use by the community. Unfortunately this data has not been as useful as it could have been because it is a snapshot of the powerplay state taken several hours before the actual in-game cycle changes. This means the data is always slightly off, showing a large number of systems in the wrong state with no way of knowing which ones are affected. We asked for a fix for this many times and were told it would be passed along, but nothing has changed.

December 2015 - Release 2.0 and the Open Letter

Despite Frontier’s continuing silence on the issue, usage of the Companion API by EDMC and other tools continued to grow until the whole market ecosystem came to depend on it. But with the release of Elite: Dangerous 2.0 on the 15th of December the API suddenly stopped working, and the whole trading-related third-party scene came to a grinding halt since nothing got updated any more. It took Frontier almost a week to correct the problem, and it likely could have been avoided entirely if Frontier included the Companion API in their beta testing, but they never have. Instead, API changes and breakages simply appear without warning when the final game patch is released, leaving the community in the lurch until Frontier can get around to fixing it after the fact.

This situation caused a lot of frustration among us developers, not so much because of the outage (many of us work as career software developers, we know that bugs and downtime happen sometimes), but because Frontier still didn’t talk to us about it and didn’t seem to consider our projects or our users to be a priority. As a result we wrote an Open Letter to Frontier which was signed by many of the active third-party developers at the time and asked for better communication from Frontier. It received a lot of attention among the whole community, and Frontier finally allowed us to use the existing API officially and offered some indications that they would look into improving their API support in the future.

February 2016 - A Private Letter

Unfortunately, that was the end of the conversation. There was no follow up discussion of any specific API development plans, and there was little response to reports of continuing problems with the existing API. Because of that lack of communication, the community had no idea what to expect; was Frontier hard at work developing a new and improved API? Were they working on the bugs with the existing system? Were they going to just shut it down completely at any moment? We didn’t know, and they wouldn’t say.

In the face of this uncertainty we organized ourselves and founded the Elite: Dangerous Community Developers (EDCD). We wrote a private letter to Zac Antonaci (Frontier’s Head of Community Management) to explain our continuing frustration and to request fixes for the outstanding API bugs, as well as a timeline of Frontier’s API development plans. Above all, we once again requested more regular communication between Frontier and EDCD, but to partially quote Zac’s reply: “the situation is the same as the last response we gave over there isn't really any additional ongoing communication we can give at this time.” So once again, that was the end of the conversation.

July 2016 - The Journal

In July of 2016 we were informed that update 2.2 would introduce a local data logging feature called the Journal. This was fantastic news; the prospect of gaining access to such a wide array of in-game data promised to be just as big a breakthrough for third-party tool development as the Companion API had been one year prior. More importantly, the Journal represented Frontier’s best effort so far to put real action and developer resources behind the idea of supporting third-party tools.

The three months following the Journal announcement up until the 2.2 release still remain the all-time high point in terms of productive communication between third-party developers and Frontier. After soliciting our input and feedback, Howard Chalkley (Frontier Senior Programmer) did a great job of responding to and actually implementing many of our suggestions and requests, although we were baffled by his odd comment that the Journal “was not designed as a mechanism to export data into other databases.” Given that it’s formatted in machine-readable JSON which would be unintelligible to the average player, one has to wonder where Frontier thought that data would go if not into “other databases.”

Still, we were greatly encouraged by Frontier’s apparently renewed interest in supporting third-party development and we hoped to continue the kind of collaboration we saw with the Journal. Having recently launched our EDCD Discord server, we decided to take the initiative and created a private channel for discussion between Frontier and some core EDCD members. We hoped that a dedicated communications channel insulated from the clamor of the public forums could be a useful tool to foster ongoing collaboration and prevent public outrage over minor issues by giving Frontier the opportunity and the venue to solicit focused feedback in advance.

October 2016 - Release 2.2

The development of the Journal during the 2.2 beta was a hopeful time for the community of third-party tool makers, but those hopes quickly faded after the 2.2 release.

The private Discord channel that we provided for Frontier went completely unused. Brett C (Frontier Community Manager) said hello once, but no one ever responded to our questions there, and our private messages still went unanswered for weeks and usually produced no resolution for the issues we raised.

Communication on the forums also began to break down again. We were told that the Journal thread was no longer monitored and we should submit ordinary bug reports, but the usual QA bug triage process is not well suited for this purpose because after the initial “we’ll pass this on” response, the report is forgotten and there is no follow-up communication about when or if we should expect a fix. As a result, Frontier’s fixes for Journal and other API bugs have often ended up inadvertently breaking third-party tools all over again because we had no advance notice to prepare for them.

The 2.2 release notes also mentioned that “Many starsystems were controlled by planet settlements. These have all been upgraded to dockable bases.” While this may seem like an innocuous change, it presented a problem for us because at this point we had already collectively spent hundreds of hours cataloging almost every dockable station in the game; converting some unknown number of settlements into bases meant that some unknown portion of our database was now incorrect. This left us with two options: we could spend many more hundreds of hours tediously re-verifying every single settled star system, or Frontier could simply provide the list of upgraded settlements for us to easily update our records. We sent Zac Antonaci and Edward Lewis multiple private messages asking for such a list and were given hope to get access to it, but it never materialized.

March 2017 - Apologies

On March 24th Zac Antonaci sent the same message to several EDCD members, saying he was “really sorry for the lack of comms.” But that was all; comms didn’t noticeably improve after this, and nothing else happened.

April 2017 - Release 2.3

Patch 2.3 was a mixed bag. On the one hand there were some great changes and additions to the Journal, and Howard Chalkley reappeared in the forum thread to announce and discuss many of them throughout the 2.3 beta.

On the other hand, all engineering information disappeared from the Companion API. This meant for example that players could no longer import their engineered ship builds into tools such as E:D Shipyard and Coriolis, which was a feature that had been often requested and took countless hours of work to develop. Two weeks after the patch it is still not clear if this change was a bug or an intentional removal of the feature.

The Past and the Future

Overall the past two years have been challenging, from both a technical and a motivational standpoint. At times Frontier has seemed genuinely interested in supporting our work, but at other times they have almost seemed to forget that we exist or that we might be impacted by a change they’re about to make. Various people at Frontier have expressed their appreciation for the things we create, but it can be hard to remember that when our inquiries and bug reports so often go unanswered.

Given the massive amount of time and energy that we have collectively invested into our various projects, it should go without saying that we are huge fans of Elite: Dangerous and huge supporters of Frontier Developments. We would like nothing more than to continue to create tools and fan sites until the Thargoids reduce the last human settlement to ash, but we can’t do it alone. We need Frontier to meet us half way by communicating with us and fully supporting the interfaces that we rely on.

We hope that this event will start a conversation that can lead to a bright future of collaboration and communication between Frontier and the community of third-party developers who have rallied around Elite: Dangerous.


That's why I always preferred in-game solutions to 3d party solutions.
Inara and EDDB are nice, so is Coriolis, but we really need well presented engineer information, trade information and ship build info in the game itself.
I really do not like to have to leave the game to search for necessary information on the internet.
 
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Total support.

I don't use many 3rd party tools, but without INARA and Coriolis I would find some of the most basic things to be way more annoying, time consuming and ultimately frustrating.
 
I find 3rd party tools to be essential to my overall enjoyment of the game. I hope you guys and gals get the support you need from Frontier.
 
Come on, Fdev. Half of my playtime happens in these 3rd party software. Planning things, taking care of the faction, engineering ships. These just can't be done inside the game. Either help the 3rd party developers or do it yourself, without restricting everything like you usually do.
 
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