The Survivalist: ARK’s big bird nerf


I know I said part two of the survival guide, containing a host of single-player survival games, would be the next entry in this new column (and it’s still coming, I promise you!), but what happened this past week is just too big a thing to pass up. The big bird nerf. No, Sesame Street wasn’t attacked: ARK: Survival Evolved’s fliers were. Swatted down hard, in fact. And folks are not happy. I’m not happy. A major portion of the known game took a major hit, nullifying tons of gameplay.

When the feathers hit the fan last Friday night, I was all set to rant to high heaven in this edition of The Survivalist; I’d already set up this topic in full preparation of grousing about what some folks hoped was simply a really bad April Fools’ Day joke, and I expressed my displeasure on OPTV the morning after the nerf. It’s no secret that I’ve been losing faith in Studio WildCard, and this latest change felt like the ultimate example of screwing over your veteran players in favor of grabbing new ones. Then it occurred to me: This is the real ugliness of Early Access rearing its head. What is actually best for the game overall may very well not be best for current testers. Because we aren’t launch players — we are EA testers, and we really did sign up for this.

Swatting down the birds

So what was the damage done by the infamous nerf bat? All of ARK’s flying birds took a massive hit to speed and stamina, the two stats essential for a flying mount. On top of that, the ability to raise the speed of your flying mount was removed, and the ability for specific birds like the quetzal to regain stamina in the air if the rider dismounted is gone. All points spent in speed were removed, and survivors logged in to seriously de-leveled birdies. Oh sure, the levels that people spent points on to increase speed were refunded, but the numbers of lost levels and stats didn’t add up; if your bonus tame levels automatically went into speed, you were just out those levels.

No one likes to log in and see stuff they’ve worked long and hard for become worthless overnight. I know people who bred speed animals specifically. That was ruined. Having a fast bird to race to the rescue new players? Not a possibility anymore. Want a speedy flier as admin to zip around to spots to take care of any issues or set up server events? No can do now. It really was a disheartening blow that chips away further at the ARK enthusiasm.

Just the beginning

Now there’s a scary thought! But in reality it is better than you think. In WildCard’s defense, devs have come out saying that this nerf was purposefully done to the extreme and fixes based on feedback would be forthcoming. The devs went for the rip-the-bandaid-off-fast method of change instead of a little at a time. So what you saw as of last Friday is not what you will ultimately get. A first version of this rebalancing flier fix hit on Tuesday in fact. Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to do much actual balancing yet. It did, however, define the roles of the different birds as well as provide a googledoc on the birds’ proposed stat values and what they were changing from. And the next patch on Thursday upped the stats some (like the Quetxals’ idle stamina consumption was reduced by 50%) as well as gave birds the ability to attack when landed, a very good feature I must say. SO things are definitely looking up.

Was the bird nerf necessary? Some say yes, and some say no. I’ll readily admit that fliers make a chunk of the ground game feel trivial, but that’s kind of the point to advancing to a certain part of the game. And you could start arguing that Tek gear trivializes the ground game, but that’s another topic. Many wanting the change are saying that fliers are too overpowered in PvP. But what about folks on PvE servers who have no such issues? It feels like that’s doesn’t matter — they have to deal with changes that help PvP.

The point is, the game is evolving, and there could very well be more drastic changes incoming that will upset blocks of players who have been supporting this game for nearly two years. But, you could ague that is exactly what we should expect, because that is what we signed up for.

Early Access does not a launch make

Now if I’m honest, I admit that there are times I momentarily forget that ARK is still an Early Access game. I’ve been playing since the beginning — nearly two years now — and more than one promised launch window has come and gone over the past year, so it is understandable to feel the game is “out” for real. But alas, it is not. As an EA game, I should be prepared for there to be changes made. It makes that fact quite clear before your scrolling takes you to the purchase button, saying:

“Early Access Game

Get instant access and start playing; get involved with this game as it develops.

Note: This Early Access game is not complete and may or may not change further. If you are not excited to play this game in its current state, then you should wait to see if the game progresses further in development.”

So yes, every single one of us that bought the game bought into it knowing that it was still developing, and that changes could, and likely would, happen. Heck, there are changes we still hope will happen (optimization anyone?). In all fairness, I have to say that it has been years since I read that before my purchase! Since ARK is still in EA, we have to expect these changes. We don’t have to like them, but they shouldn’t come as a surprise. If you don’t want to play an in-development game, don’t buy ARK.

But here’s a thought: Some did buy the game because they did want to play it in its current state. What about those folks who are very excited to play the game in its current state and buy it? What happens when there are massive changes away from what they bought and then they aren’t happy?  Yes, it said that the game might change, but that is still an interesting way to think about the end of that disclaimer, no?

That also brings us to the question regarding those folks who bought into the game with the announced launch dates. Yes, we understand that things happen. But that doesn’t negate that there are people who invested in a product that they were told would be done during a certain time frame, and it is well beyond that time. Nearly a year late, in fact. Now let’s add the fact that WildCard had announced there would be no more wipes; doesn’t a lack of wipes pretty much signify a launch then? That position held for a long time, but has since been softened to “We haven’t made a decision [if we will wipe or not]”. Is EA being used a shield to deflect criticism and avoid the whole responsibility that comes with launching? Is ARK ever going to launch? Can WildCard even possibly optimize the game after the extent of feature creep that’s happened? I definitely have my doubts.

ARK is still a good game for newbs

Assuming that the game actually does intend to launch (and along with others, I do have some doubts), I believe it can still be a great game to play… for new players. Those who buy the game now or when launched will have a great experience playing  — up through to a point at least. However, those who have already purchased and played may not have a good experience. Drastic changes can be deal breakers. Yes, in all fairness before launch is exactly the time that drastic changes should happen; can you imagine the outrage of a massive overhaul after the game is live? Unfortunately, for those of us in EA, many have watched aspects of the game they enjoy disappear in the name of making a better launch game. True, we knew there would be changes, but that doesn’t make losing the game you love much easier.

With so many other options out there, its hard not to have a wondering survival eye. As much as I loved it, ARK is losing my interest. It had a good premise, it had good fun, but at this point it doesn’t seem to have much for folks who have already played it. And I am not exactly sure how much WildCard really cares about about current players. After all, our money is already spent, and it is the launch experience of all those new survivors that the studio is gunning for. I can’t blame them for working toward a new revenue stream, or for continuing to develop their game to be what they feel is the best experience come launch. What I can blame them for is the endless feature creep and the lack of launching. WildCard does say it listens to feedback, so we’ll see how well the fliers nerf ultimately plays out when all the feathers finally settle.

In the survival genre, there are at least 1001 ways to die, and MJ Guthrie is bound to experience them all — in the interests of sharing them with you! The Survivalist chronicles life and death struggles against all forms of apocalypse, outbreak, mutation, weather, and prehistoric wildlife. And let’s not forget the two-legged enemies! Tune in here and on OPTV to see who feeds better: MJ or the Death Counter.

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Brandon Dickenson

Ark shows how unrealistic we’ve all become, imo. I don’t think there’s a game in history that has ever been better bang for buck than Ark, yet it has more moaning and groaning than any game I’ve seen. Tons of crybaby gamers for sure.


Who cares if the game has the EA tag, I’ve played way more buggy games that claimed to be released.

Melissa McDonald

I sent Justin a share for an ANSEL image I took from ARK the other day. It’s the smallest “high resolution” image ANSEL generates – 12k x 7k pixels, 65MB in size. It goes up to a bloody HUGE image, like 65K x 65K pixels or something even bigger, a multi-gigabyte picture file. The detail is amazing. You can zoom in for days. I asked if they could post it on One Shots next time.

Jeremy Barnes

Ark is not early access. It is as much early access as Super Mario Bros. for the NES.

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First of all, this article is the #1 reason I instantly look negatively upon any title with the Early Access tag. Early Access is not some multi-use label that can be used to explain or apologize any issue a game might be having magically away. You can still make bad decisions in Early Access or ignore critical issues in Early Access and you can and will also get the criticism you deserve for it. ARK is the poster child for abusing the early access tag going so far as to sell an expansion while under it’s status and, in my opinion at least, has lost valid claim to being able to use it as a legitimate explanation.

Second of all, it’s a good change. Flyers simply invalidate 90% of the game content. Oh no, super dangerous Red Woods biome? Fly over and bypass it. Difficult tame? No problem, fly it to a pen, drop it off, and tranq it and tame it while 100% safe.


I think it is important to point out:

1. Flying wilds to tame in a pen still exists after the nerf.
2. Flying over dangers still can be done.

All the primary issue is the change just means it takes much much longer and creates a much grind-ier sense to the game.

For Scorched earth maps or mod maps with scorched earth features etc, it has created other challenges making for example gathering milk from wyverns via bred and trained flyers much more difficult or grabbing eggs for hatching and out running wyverns. However this really only is an issue for official servers and the very small numbers of unofficial servers who do not use mods. Classic Flyers mod alleviates these issues.

But I will also say that they have also stated that this change is not going to be to just flyers in the long run, and there are already changes being seen to other dinos(beavers lost 25% of their weight bonus while mammoths got a 75% increase) and there is more coming.

However I disagree that this is a good change. Flying is an integral part of the game and this change is more pvp centric in its intentions versus considerations for pve(the majority of the game populaces’ play choice).

Additionally all signs point to this change being done because of other future intended asset/feature releases to steer(herd more or less) players into those. One could conclude this then may be preparation for their herding others to buy yet another erroneous DLC(which Im gonna say now that if that does indeed happen it will be a complete and utter disaster.). Again its indeed speculation but with the increased focus on WC paying modders of certain mods and mod types(there are 3 themes/patterns with the mods they are stipend sponsoring that I can see), then it seems compelling this may occur.


The argument you get into there is what defines the core ARK experience. For example with fliers taking advantage of the metal crater is, more or less, a total joke of an experience. Tame X Pteranadons, fly on down. However if you have to approach that sucker from the ground that becomes a hugely different experience with that mountain largely being surrounded by mid tier difficulty creatures.

Flying presents an innumerable ways to invalidate content beyond simply flying in tames or flying over dangers. I can not count the number of Alpha Dinos I have simply hover killed with a Quetzal then reached down and pecked them to death. I used to have memory issues there for a while because a flyer can be so fast that you can load the game faster than intended lol….I mean the list goes on. They are simply too good and simply invalidate much of the game content. I get everyone is used to it, but the change is actually good so long as they work out any issues associated with it.


You justified your points originally with the tame and flying over dangers and I addressed those.

But lets go to your new ones:

1. Memory issues. This can be blamed on your comp, the quality of the server you’re playing on, etc. Play on a decent comp and or hosted server on even boosted ones where you could pump 500% or higher speed to ridiculous points and you would not have issues. Using this then to justify things is a bit silly if not counter intuitive.

2. For almost 2 years flyers being able to kill dinos from the air, even more challenging ones was common. But doing so unless on a boosted server took a while. Then we had some reduction that previously occurred in lesser degrees with the flyers (like I believe barrel roll stamina consumption last fall)but had not made it impossible to do. Again Alphas though killed in that manner on official servers aren’t necessarily a fast endeavor. Dismissing that they shouldn’t be used at all is silly. But that logic, sitting on a rock completely out of the reach of an alpha and just pelting it with either dino ranged attacks or your own (while you afk no less) could be looked at as just as trivializing(if not more), yet they still can be (and still are being) done.

3. Resource gathering/transporting on flyers has always been an integral part to the game play. As an example with your quetz volcano mining point, you just don’t grab a quetzal at level 1. You have to typically level and work up to it in skill/tame progression. And after the taming technique changes that occurred in the late summer/early fall last year (ie the scorp argent method for example) quetz were a bit more challenging. This was to give the tape more viable spot in the flying use/functions for one plus the grappling hook method that they seemed to favor as a preferred taming method too. However those are still viable to use but a bit harder.

But again this was a progression and one can view it as having been(and still now to a much lesser degree) a reward for your progression.

4. By your reckoning, people who build teleporters from the tek teir then are trivializing all of this too since you can instantly port to the volcano on theisland map if pad is set up in the vicinity. It too is part of the progress but allows for fast harvesting to be sure if not faster than quetz considerations.

5. But remember there are also some locations designed into some of the maps that are virtually impossible to access without flyers. Center map features this more readily: top of the skull/bat island, the floating island and others. Again as well procuring wyvern eggs on scorched earth. This all counters your claim of flying trivializing content because in those cases flyers virtually necessary and validates the content.

What this really I think will through time show is that they have other flyers or features they intend to be higher in their progression and gives more incentives to be procured that replace the exact same efficiency and speed and “safety” that the fliers now had given. You could argue that’s part of the teleporter’s niche already to a degree.

However, creatively they could’ve come up with ways to alter things without diminishing current flyers to the point that they have.

Something else to consider: best hope though that it along with more land dino nerfs incoming wont be all for said newer features being found on another paid dlc and all of this having been to herd players to pay for it.

For many players, almost all of these inane changes are moot because they play on modded servers that are using mods that revert the change like the Classic Flyers mod(which is averaging 10k subs to that mod a day since the update), which again devs have actually recommended and encourages players to use as a stopgap for the decisions by the devs that they understand players dislike.

And lastly, no, there is no “core” ark experience as you seem to want to define. Even the ark devs do not have a set definition there of. Watch the gdc talk I linked in the other post. The game essentially mod centric, and meanders and changes in how it is “defined”. Good side of that is we get various additions, some not readily planned. Bad side to it is an epistemic bubble of decisions for changes that then cause the issues we’re seeing currently.


The night of the stream I went and checked the official forums. This nerf was actually requested by many players claiming Flight and flyers were too op. I think WildCard will most likely look into balancing it.

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This is not just an MMO hiding behind the “beta” term. Games like this actively undermine the integrity of Early Access and all other games that are in EA status suffer. Same goes for all the scam and vaporware games in Kickstarters.


Except that they have stated the game is actually still in alpha. Alpha= still adding core features to the game assets and architecture. Beta= polishing and optimizing being the primary focus. Not necessarily disputing the EA point though. This is one of the reasons Early Access is going away to be replaced with a system that will cost developers making games, fake games(term valve uses for such), those that previously have exploited their system. It also will essentially shadow ban (meaning they’ll still take their money but not allow them to be featured and just buried deep in the available games listings) the worst offenders.

2Ton Gamer

This might have really made me mad if I still played it but unfortunately it lost its steam…


Early Access is a marketing term for steam.

Alpha is a development term.

There are many distinctions between the two.

Ark is in steam’s early access program AND its in alpha.

That said:

MJ failed to mention the mod Classic Flyers that went up fast to revert the inane changes. It literally is gaining 10k subs to the mod every day and stands at 54k at the time of this writing. Active numbers of players per day of ark compared to that growing subbing to the mod means that its certainly a metric to a growing number of folks dissatisfied with all this. While this doesn’t help official server players in the least(though given there are over 19000 unofficial server to the hundreds of official ones because most learned early on how bad officials are) it at least gives a current and quick option for others. MJ’s unofficial server could employ the mod but by all accounts MJ is mod reticent.

In that vein of mod discussion though, its also important to remember that this game for all intents and purposes, is a mod centric game. 2 DLC are formerly mods. 4k a month is being paid to 15 modders by WC with intent of bring many of them on board with the official game etc. Keep that in mind with what this game is and the direction it is going.

But this whole mess with flyers is rather consistent with the pattern of how WC implements these inane changes. Its certainly not the first time we’ve seen a dino nerf(for any who remember one that happened around jan of 2016) but it certainly I would argue has been met with the most complaint of it.

This is compounded then by the realization of how meandering and loosely structured their actual development and plans of development are. Watch their GDC talk and they freely admit this:

However they claim they acknowledge they have made mistakes but actually continue to repeat them -and- ignore their own metrics they lauded in the talk.

Then lets add to it that Jen, their community manager just after the initial responses by players over the flyer changes on twitter condescendingly stated(but she soon deleted it) how players were “just salty”. This too isn’t the first time a wc rep did similar(happened back when the paid dlc dropped).

Now lets add to it that devs have more than a few times since the flyer change encouraged players to use that mod and “play the way they want to”. This is increasingly becoming a trend to how they address these changes that they make: just go use a mod and play on an unofficial server. I agree that’s the best option in this climate but it glosses over the issue that what WC is doing is not what an ever growing number of their player base wants.

All in all this means WC is continuing to groom a very adversarial nature with their player base and community via multiple avenues of their decisions. Worse they are rather apathetic to that: either because they believe they know best with what they have(or more aptly -loosely- have per what they said in the gdc talk) or that out of condescension towards those who play their game.

Once would be, as they say, a mistake; but 2 3 4 times means it is WC choice/philosophy.