The Soapbox: The sorry state of ARK Survival Evolved

    
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When ARK: Survival Evolved came on the scene in June 2015, it was met with enthusiasm (dinosaurs!) as well as some skepticism (Early Access). But Studio WildCard quickly won over many fans with the game’s delivery, which included frequent updates (and dinos of course). And we do mean frequent! The studio was cranking out meaty content and bug fixes at a rate never seen before in any other EA title —  sometimes updates were multiple times a day! Stuff came so quickly it was hard for server admins to keep up with at times. Many of us started holding ARK up as an example of early access done right. Why couldn’t other studios do early access more like WildCard?

But over time, that sentiment changed. A year and a half later, folks who have championed long for ARK — including me — have taken a few steps back. Enjoyment is giving way to frustration. Fans are giving up and leaving. Why is that? Bugs? Devs? Shifted priorities from finishing to milking money? Different eyes might see different causes, but the one thing stands out: The development process has changed. What was once so great is now not so great. And you have to wonder if this spells trouble for the studio.

Updating the update schedule

Perhaps the first signal of trouble appeared in the update schedule. In the beginning, updates were so plentiful you’d almost wish they would slow down. You’d have content and bug fixes just pouring forth. Being incomplete and in Early Access, we all knew there would be bugs. Heck, we get a fair share of bugs in live games! Early on Studio WildCard was vigilant in squashing bugs. Sometimes fixing a bug caused other bugs, but the team still stayed on top of things, and players felt that great effort was being put into building a great game.

Unfortunately, over time, that enthusiasm to fix things appeared to wane. Updates became fewer and farther between in 2016, slowing down dramatically. We knew devs couldn’t keep up a break-neck schedule, but surely there was a happier middle ground than where we are right now. A slower update schedule would certainly be understandable if the product had been nearing completion and launch — but it wasn’t. In fact, launch has been pushed back multiple times. Add to that the fact that updates no longer happen when we’re told they’re happening, and people lose confidence. Remember the cool werewolves and vampire bats of Fear Evolved 2? Neither do we: It was canceled. And about building with bridges — denied. Even though they were slated to get in the game eons ago, they still haven’t arrived.

Crazy with content

Speaking of content, it feels like the team is still basically gung ho to add new content, which you’d think is a good thing, right? Except it’s not. Over time, the influx of content almost seems like a way to try to distract people from the quality-of-life-ruining bugs. Adding new dino and after dino and new feature after feature without fixing the current bugs just seems to be making everything worse. The bugs have bugs.

On top of that, new dinosaurs were making older dinos obsolete. And really, the island is only so big! Couldn’t new dinos be added as content releases after launch when things are running more smoothly? We hear that things will be balanced and fixed, but it keeps not happening. Instead, we get more dinos. We also have bizarre things like hair that grows (and can be made into fur clothing). Now, as someone who really loves the dinosaurs, I hate to say this, but the addition of more “stuff” really needs to stop until stuff that is there gets fixed! I don’t need new things now; I need the things that I have now to work properly with regularity. I need my dinos to not randomly poof without cause. I need items to not disappear, appliances to stop randomly quit working, and loot bags to stop falling through the world! Losing hours upon hours and even days upon days of progress in a survival game is one thing. But losing it all to the same bugs over and over and over? It’s insanity.

Losing hope after the lawsuit

I’d be lying if I said the lawsuit that first came to light last April hasn’t affected how I see WildCard. Initially, I was in the crowd that wondered whether Trendy was just trying to make a fast buck since ARK turned out to be so popular. I questioned whether the accusations had merit and maintained my innocent-until-proven-guilty position. After the companies settled the court case, some fans protested that this settlement was totally unfair and WildCard should have fought back harder.

But it turns out that fighting back most likely would have cost the company even more as Jeremy Stieglitz outed himself as guilty of breaking his contract. He changed his name on Steam, revealing that he was the lead developer Drake who had been posting on the ARK page since the beginning. He even blatantly began signing his posts “ARK Lead Designer, Lead Programmer, Development Director, Co-Creative Director, Co-Founder.” By his own admission, there’s no question that he was a part of the project from the beginning when the contract he signed with Trendy stated he couldn’t be. In a recent discussion, Stieglitz defended doing so on Reddit, saying:

“For me, the thing about video games is this: when you’re a game designer and you have a fun idea, then you feel you have a creative obligation — almost a moral obligation — to give that idea virtual form: to make it happen, to will it into a reality. All other considerations fall by the wayside. In order to make ARK into a reality, I and the other brave folks at Wildcard had to walk through some kinda hellfire. But for ARK to exist, we could do no less.”

These two things combined cast a bit of a pallor over the company. No one can blame fans for being wary of any promises or commitments when history has shown that these aren’t honored. The studio obviously has given up some of our trust.

And speaking of trust, are curious about why the connection with Snail Games is being kept so hush hush? Players already knew about the Snail Games partnership that’s bringing the game to China and into VR format with Ark Park, and then comments made around the time of the lawsuit spawned speculation about WildCard’s acquisition by a Chinese company with deep pockets. Fans digging around through the internet and lawsuit court records determined that in fact, Snail Games USA bought WildCard back in December 2015. That certainly would explain the reason/excuse WildCard gave about the Fear Evolved 2 patch not getting done because the studio’s founders had to unexpectedly leave the country.  But honestly, why so secretive? What is there to hide?

Early Access expansion: Another nail in the coffin

As much as dishonesty may turn fans away, perhaps the biggest nail in the coffin of ARK confidence was not the lawsuit but the introduction of a paid expansion before the game even launched. The announcement of Scorched Earth caused quite the brouhaha. Not only were there a plethora of bugs that still needed fixing and a game that desperately needed optimizing, but fans got to learn that focus was on creating a new product for them to purchase. This time, the content update wasn’t even something players were getting as a part of joining early access; they’d have pay for it. Let me reiterate: Fork out more for an expansion to an unlaunched game!

I certainly don’t blame folks for getting riled up about this. Even though we were told that a separate team worked on the expansion, thereby not drawing anything away from the base game, doesn’t it stand to reason that those resources could have been put to use on ARK itself? Perhaps many of those problematic bugs could have been squashed. Perhaps ARK could have been cleaned up and launched. We can’t know for sure, but it just doesn’t look good for WildCard here.

And then there is the added problems that came with the launch of Scorched Earth. From the moment that patch hit (and you had to download it whether or not you bought into that expansion) there have been serious problems with ARK. These problems seriously downgraded the quality of that game, even keeping some folks from being able to log in and play. Worse, these problems were ignored for months; to this day they still haven’t been adequately addressed. It honestly seems as if the majority of development attention went to this expansion. For a while, the updates were majorly centered on Scorched Earth and fixing its bugs. Understandable because it was a new product? Well, that product didn’t even need to exist yet!

Between the expansion, the two console versions, and Ark Park, the company definitely seems to have many tongs in the fire alongside the original PC game. Is there enough attention to go around? Despite everything, we may yet see ARK actually launch this spring. Perhaps development has reached that point and ARK will finally finish (as much as online games finish). Stieglitz recently said,

“Certainly all is well over here, and we’ll have a lot more official news about our plans upcoming at GDC — completing ARK: SE and making it a satisfying start-to-end adventure.”

Now, I just sincerely hope he means ARK: Survival Evolved and not ARK: Scorched Earth. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt here and look ahead with a twinkling of hope that the optimization will finally come. One would have to question though, how many fans have stuck it out this long, or how many will be willing to come back after having already lost interest/hope?

Is WildCard worried?

WildCard used to be king of the hill. It had a wildly successful survival game. However, it seems to have lost its perch. Through the various happenings of the past year, many players have lost faith in ARK and the company. But is WildCard itself worried?

Consider that the much-hyped Tek Tier was delayed yet again. Now the fact of it being delayed repeatedly is not unusual (as noted above). It’s the date it was delayed to. You see, the Tek Tier launch coincided with the launch of the much-anticipated Conan Exiles. It feels even less coincidental because for once, WildCard announced the delay well in advance of its most recently scheduled release. See, usually the studio just lets the release time pass before saying anything, so this was definitely unusual.

And finally, WildCard announced a pretty hefty ARK sale to also coincide with the competition’s launch. Sure, it can be good business to have a sale (except it annoys those who just recently bought it on the recent Steam winter sale as this discount is much steeper). Maybe the studio just wants to ride the wave of folks who are hyped for a survival game. Maybe. Still, the timing feels more like “look over here at me instead!” And that just doesn’t exude confidence.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!

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Smashed Potatoes

Guess what? ARK has done something very bad (and dumb): they have raised the price of ARK Survival Evolved from $30 to $60, because it’s no longer considered “Early Access”! I have already bought the game a long time ago, but still! Think about the other people who want to buy it! I find this completely unnecessary. Luckily, for this Scorched Earth problem, there is now a map called Ragnarok. It is still in development, but it has Scorched Earth content, as well as its own! It’s free to download, as the ARK development team did not make it, but only featured it. I guess you could say that Ragnarok is fan-made.

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Armsbend

Someone should post all of the retorts we got for the wife cupcake baker who really could be the lead developer for a software startup.

A few of us here are rarely wrong about this stuff. I want my Star Citizen pre-apologies on my desk by next week.

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Tanek

Except I don’t think the claim was ever that she was lead developer. She was supposedly just on the business side. Which could make perfect sense since she had business experience. Does not have to necessarily be working directly with the code to be part of it.

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Stropp

I looked up Ark just yesterday on Steam with a view to buying it. Budget had been tight for a long time and I was interested what with all the commentary on it at the time.

But when I say they had released an expansion while it was still in early access. Well, that’s pretty ordinary. There’s only two reasons why they’d do that.

First is that they were running out of money and needed an injection of funds and an expansion seemed to be the easiest way to do that. That’s not a good sign for the future of the game.

Second reason is that they are simply greedy little gougers and are trying to ring every cent out of their customers. That’s not a good sign for the future of the game.

So I decided against it.

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Age dna

or the third option, the DLC was finished up while the vanilla game had gotten delayed and they decided to release it anyways. Glad you decided against it. We don’t need more people complaining about the obvious things(like this article) about how bugs need to be fixed instead of actually finishing the game(adding the remaining content).
So thank you for staying away.

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Budukahn

Something that always bothered me about ARK – the damn thing was always on sale. And always at a hefty discount like 50% off. It even headlined a humble monthly bundle a while back. Frankly, I think by now anyone with an interest in survival games probably has it.

That’s fine for a released game, but for one yet to come back isn’t it potentially dangerous if all your players are basically only paying half of what your game is supposed to be worth ? And that’s at early access prices too never mind what release retail would be.

DeadlyAccurate
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DeadlyAccurate

My biggest disappointment was when they added dino painting but didn’t fix the UVs on the dinos so the painting could be done correctly. If you ever tried to paint one part of the dino only to find paint going onto another part, that’s the reason. I downloaded the modding tools and looked at the UVs of a few of their dinos. They’re a mess.

Re-UVing the meshes would have required repainting them (I know of only one tool that can transfer paint strokes to a changed mesh, and even it’s not perfect about it), so I get why they didn’t do so, but why even put the painting tool in the game if you’re not going to do it right?

I have over 500 hours in ARK, so I got my money’s worth, but I don’t think I’ll end up playing it again. There are too many problems they don’t seem interested in fixing.

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Roger Melly

I’d been mulling over trying one of these survival games for a while . I tried Arc when it had a play for free offer on steam but it just didn’t grab me . I ended up buying the Forest in the the steam sale instead and I have been enjoying that a lot more than Arc .

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StonerMk2

Honestly i think if Wildcard would stop releasing new shit and just optimize the game even a little bit right now players would react favorably.

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Asterei Starcaller

I think this is pretty unfair. Is wildcard and Ark perfect? Of course not, but compared to other games and companies it’s doing pretty great in my opinion. The game could be announced as released right now and it’d still be in a better state than what most new releases are these days. The balance pass for all the dinos has been stated to come once they’re all implemented, which makes perfect sense. It doesnt make sense to do it now, then add more later, then have to stop and rebalance things again.

You make it sound as if there are no bugs at all getting fixed, except I see them getting fixed regularly. There are definitely still bugs in the game, but again, its early access and it makes more sense to do it all together towards the end when everything’s implemented. I’ve been playing Ark since 2015 and Ive never seen most of the bugs people complain about. I’ve never had dinos randomly disappear, or appliances stop working, and I’ve rarely had my bag disappear (I usually find it more likely I just cant find my bag, since when Im dying Im trying to survive rather than pinpointing my position on a map to find it later). Every time a new patch comes out, Im getting updates to the game every day fixing any bugs that came up with it.

Then there’s the DLC. It wasnt the smartest idea to release that during early access. However, if you look at past reveals and interviews, the ‘mysterious mysteries’ dossiers had been getting teased a long time before it was out, and the first DLC was always planned to release a few months after Ark’s official launch. If you were to go by the date that Ark was planned to launch, Scorched Earth would have been right on schedule. The reason you had to download the patch is because you were only paying for the map (again, something that was always stated about DLCs). You were still allowed to spawn in the SE dinos and items with the console, you were able to have them in mods, you were able to have them in player made maps. The Island was finished, and Im pretty sure that the people that work on the maps are not the same people fixing bugs and programming. They werent focusing on the DLC more than the base game to milk money, they were putting their employees to work on a new project after one was already finished. Perhaps if the lawsuit with Trendy didnt occur, they wouldnt have released SE when they did, who knows.

I don’t know why people complain about the game so much. Its got far more content to do than most others out there these days, the devs regularly add in what people ask for (such as hairstyles), they allow and encourage modding and the game is really very cheap compared to most. I dont see why people care about ‘leaving’ or ‘quitting’, its not like its a subscription based MMO. I’ve got 600 hours out of the game I spent $30 on, as opposed to the $100, 10-20 hours I’d spend on other major releases I will complete once then have no real reason to play again.

ceder
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ceder

Launching an expansion to a game that is complete and not in alpha(per their own words then and still now they’re in alpha) and charging for it by your own words would be justifiable.

But Ark was, and still is in alpha. Lets also be clear they released 2 other “DLC” that they didnt charge for just a couple of months staggered prior to Scorched Earth. Difference is that Primitive Plus and The Center map were made buy modders that they paid for the rights there of.

Scorched Earth, coming on the heels of delaying launch(which now we’re heading into the 4th or 5th delay and I guarantee the April deadline will be delayed as well) was a big PR and marketing mistake and it has hammered rightfully their reputation.

There are features that they use as a marketing and keep the faith with us ploy that they’ve been touting for literally over a year now. Water dinos breeding being a good example.

Bugs fixed? Yes and no. They don’t fumigate the entire building. They hit a small area then the bugs just fill the space again when they add more to the game or “fix” something else. This also is due to how they outsource work with dif “depts.” of Snail games and others.

They’ve employed deception from the get go with this project: Drake-Jeremy shenanigans, Snail Games owning them, feature carrot dangling, etc. I think this is only the tip of the iceburg and suspect that other things are being employed. What if their being in the top 10-50 games on steam for the last 1.5 years is because they used snail or similar to employ some sort of buy and refund scheme to inflate its popularity? What if this game never leaves early access(evidence is extremely compelling given how so much more is not done and they keep announcing new things to work on) so that they can continue to use EA’s mitigation of issues(“cut them slack its EA” etc)?

Sure you or I or others have gotten plenty of hours of game play out of it. That doesn’t waylay what has and is still going on.

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Arktouros

Dinos disappear predominately because if they are sitting on a resource and the resource respawns then the dino will get deleted when the resource spawns. We’ve actually tested this and can replicate it repeatedly.

The same goes for water deaths and flying deaths. It has nothing to do with inability to pinpoint your position as much as it is your body actually, physical ragdolls through the world when it hits a slope. This is another long tested issue when flying and you drop to your death. We know this because there are actually mods that let you do things like place a giant flare on your corpse and your corpse is actually gone entirely.

While some of these things can be circumvented once you’re aware of them (IE: Always park dinos on foundations or not chop/destroy rocks where you have dinos) other ones you simply have zero control over and wiping a week’s worth of work on rare beacon drops and otherwise is, simply put, maddening when they’ve gone ignored for so long.

Steely Bob
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Steely Bob

Have now had two very long sessions in Conan and in many ways it feels like what ARK should have been at least a year ago in terms of being a solid experience. I can rarely play ARK for longer than an hour before it just hangs and spits and keeps reminding me why I should just uninstall it, as I did a month ago, for the 3rd time since launch.

Conan lacks the depth of gameplay but once they’ve settled on their principle game dynamics adding that depth will be relatively quick and given all the assets they have from on hand from Age of Conan (eg music & art they’re already using) should go even faster.

Even with the relatively simpler universe now (than what ARK has with dinos) I’m really enjoying long sessions in CE and absolutely chuffed with the building & crafting systems.

I agree, ARK is in trouble if it doesn’t do what your article is talking about largely: the time for anything other than stabilizing and finishing the original game is right now or ARK is in deep trouble. They might already be.

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Brother Maynard

It will be interesting to watch the 2 games over the next couple of weeks. Conan is a mighty challenger according to Steam charts.

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ceder
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ceder

Just like Ark servers that like to wipe every week and change mods inanely, “new” always sees a surge. Then over time things can dwindle. I agree it will be interesting to see where things go in the next weeks(more months really). My prediction is that Conan Exiles will see a steep drop in the coming months due to the limited features content and issues. Either then it will spike a bit when they get more content and/or when they start their staggered sales on steam(like Ark does).