The 400 billion star systems of the Milky Way are the stage for Elite Dangerous' open-ended gameplay. The real stars, planets, moons, asteroid fields and black holes of our own galaxy are built to their true epic proportions in the largest designed playspace in videogame history. It's a vast, epic space to explore.
Some explorers may want to see what unseen spectacles the galaxy offers; others may want to leave their mark on the galaxy's map as the first visitor to a previously uncharted system.
But everyone needs credits, and exploration data is a valuable commodity.
A visit to a system does not count as exploring it. True system exploration involves scanning to determine what number and sizes of planets are present. Thorough explorers will delve deeper, traveling to each body to investigate, scan, and then return the data safely home.
Pirates may even await intrepid explorers returning from afar, threatening them with destruction if they don't hand over their data.
There are different levels of scanning, both passive and active, that can be done from orbit, to determine basic planet types, their chemical composition, mineral deposits, surface liquids, interesting anomalies, and even indications of the presence of indigenous life.
Active scanning is needed for detail of value, but active scanning consumes large amounts of power and is easily tracked.
Wise explorers will buy the latest data before leaving, to be certain not to duplicate the efforts of others.
Explorers began as a civilized and cooperative bunch, with many new friends made out in the galactic vastness. But there have been cases of explorers racing each other back to log their data, or even engaging in combat when they realise both have just scanned the same systems.
Exploration offers a direct progression to the rank of Elite.