The object of the game is to reach the exalted height of "Elite" status by any means necessary. It provides a virtual universe to explore, with over 5000 planets to visit. The player, Commander Jameson, starts with 100 Credits and a lightly armed trading ship, the Cobra Mark III, to his name. Most of the ships that the player encounters are similarly named after snakes. Wealth can be accumulated through a number of means. These include piracy, trade, military missions, bounty hunting and mining asteroids. With the credits generated by these enterprises, the player is able to upgrade the ship with such enhancements as better weapons, shields, increased cargo capacity and a docking pilot.
Elite's open ended game model, advanced game engine and revolutionary 3D graphics ensured that it was ported to virtually every home computer system of the day, and earned it a place as a classic and a genre maker in gaming history.
As well as the numerous imitations developed, such as Wing Commander: Privateer, two official sequels were created. The sequels, Frontier: Elite 2 and Frontier: First Encounters were considered to be rushed due to numerous issues regarding publication. They were, none the less, widely regarded as advanced, albeit buggy, games.
The sequels included new features such as the ability to land on and mine planets and the ability to purchase any from a fleet of space vessels, which has been expanded from the original game.
They also included a realistic, Newtonian physics model rather than the original arcade style engine.
In 1999/2000, a dispute occurred between Ian Bell and David Braben regarding the former's decision to make available all versions of the original Elite on his personal web site. The dispute has now ended; the various versions are available on Bell's site.
A new sequel by Frontier Developments, Elite 4, is currently under development. Many fans of the series are sceptical that it will ever be released, or believe that it will be greatly delayed. (See: Vaporware)