The Survivalist: Why I love survival games but refuse to touch Atlas

    
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I love survival sandboxes. They give me that virtual world experience I’m missing from most MMOs. And I can build! So, why won’t I touch Atlas, the recent pirate-filled addition to genre? It’s not because I am afraid I would like the game; with only one exception, I have found something positive in every game I’ve been in. And having already extensively played ARK: Survival Evolved, whose systems were shanghaied for Atlas, I know there is plenty I could have enjoyed. But I won’t. I just can’t. It’s a personal decision.

I am so frustrated with Studio WildCard/Grapeshot that I physically won’t support them financially. I can’t do it anymore. I wouldn’t even keep streaming or playing ARK any longer except that I have a crew of great people that I enjoy being with on the server I host, and I stay for them, to give them a place they want to play. They are worth it. Make no mistake though, if I could talk them all into finding a better survival home with me, I totally would go for it (and I have started the wheels turning on that already)!

What makes me so burned out on a studio that even though I love survival games I’ve sworn off of it and won’t touch a single future thing its devs ever produce? It’s not one thing. It is the culmination.

A vote of no confidence

Back in early 2017 I wrote about the sorry state of ARK: how the game that was the darling and king of early access was squandering its reputation and its fans through seemingly unsavory decisions and practices. What you might not know is that was actually my second attempt at that article, a tamer one. The first was much more, shall we say, blunt. Basically, the problem as I saw it was how Studio Wildcard appeared to be throwing every bit of decency, integrity, and goodwill out the window and morphing into something seamy. Not just morphing, either, but actively embracing that disreputable nature. And that impression has only solidified over the years.

Since then, I’ve followed — and written about — the continued slide into what now just feels like sleaze. Taken individually, each instance of WildCard’s behavior could almost seem justifiable. Almost. However, when you add the months and years of them atop each other, how can you come away with anything other than the studio has no regard for its players and is only trying to wring them dry, toss them aside, then yank in new ones to hose down as well?

If you’ve not followed the studio’s antics over the years, here’s a small summary. You’ve got numerous instances of Studio WildCard disrespecting its players, from creating and releasing a paid expansion before the base game was even launched to outright insults and public name-calling of players. (I was even told during an interview that anyone with optimization troubles just had garbage computers!) Promised upgrades for ARK itself would not materialize for years, if at all (just look at the S+ integration mess), but work on a paid expansions and even sequels — that of course you had to pay for — did.

Wait, there’s more. The studio also seems to have absolutely no problem bending or even disregarding truth, starting with the now well-litigated lie that co-founder Jeremy Stieglitz was not working on ARK when in fact he was a key dev (thereby breaking his legal contract with another company), and moving all the way to the apparent dishonesty in the claim that the studio was working on ARK rather than ARK’s sequel (which we were assured was the case right until the announcement of Atlas proved otherwise). And remember when Stieglitz said he felt a “moral obligation” to break his contract to make ARK? In my opinion we can also toss in the strange silence about being bought by Snail Games and the attempt to deflect WildCard’s well-earned bad reputation away from Atlas by renaming to Grapeshot here, too.

In so many different ways the studio has told veteran players it just doesn’t care about them. Two examples: not wiping when major exploits were discovered and leaving the exploiters with ill-gotten goods, and not wiping when a massive bug destroyed entire bases and days of work for huge numbers of players because it would disrupt the hours of progress made by those who likely profited from it. Speaking of bugs, the studio has still not fixed years-old exploits that ruin play, but was quick to ban someone who pointed some out. And even when possibly necessary changes were made, they were delivered with snark and/or an adversarial tone. Why would anyone have faith or trust in this company?

Show me the money or GTFO

Has anyone else gotten the feeling that Studio WildCard is basically telling fans to show it the money or get lost? Because that’s how I feel. From devs saying players are cheapskates to ditching obligations to provide promised product in order to present new purchasable content, everything this studio does feels like a “money first!” slap in the face.

A very recent and blatant example of this to me is the whole S+ Integration thing. We were told we couldn’t have S+ until after Extinction (when devs got more money). Wait, no, we couldn’t have at all until after Atlas happens. Wait, if we really want to experience S+, we need to actually move over to Atlas where it’s been integrated better. Oh, and all those improvements WildCard learned and developed? Those are in Atlas and not ARK, so come buy the new game to experience them. They won’t ever be in ARK. In fact, it looks and feels like poor ARK, despite still having many bugs and unfinished business, has been effectively tossed aside for the new shiny that brings in more cash from folks who just don’t know better.

Haven’t learned their lesson

A bit of irony about the move to Atlas. Wasn’t the whole point of Atlas that devs learned from mistakes and such with ARK and were creating a better game? Because frankly, I haven’t seen anything resembling that learning. Unless you count learning how to bilk customers more. The bugs, the exploits, the cavalier dev attitude — it’s all still there, just with a pirate theme. It boggles me that all those ARK players who bought into the Atlas hype proclaiming that surely it would be better this time are shocked that it isn’t.

Do you think they have learned yet? That answer is, no. The latest facepalm the studio has initiated is courtesy of this week’s Mega-Update 1.5 that just went live Thursday. Just hours ahead of this launch on Wednesday night Grapeshot put out the announcement of all the things that will be in the mega update. The full wipe is just to be expected in an early access game that is undergoing major development changes, so that isn’t as eyebrow-raising, even if it is annoying. What has current players irked is the following little tidbit:

“For this relaunch, we’ll be spooling up the following networks, completely fresh with no pre-existing data:

Colonies: EU and NA Networks
PVE: EU Network
Empires: NA Network”

See anything amiss there? There is no European network for the full-on PvP Empires network, nor a North American PvE network launching with the others. Oh, but don’t worry, we’re told the PvE one will show up in a “few weeks” or so.

“We’re currently in the midst of setting up hardware and expect that we’ll be able to deploy an additional NA PvE network in a couple of weeks time.”

So, basically the studio did not prepare hardware for a major mode for two entire regions. Why? Did the idea of people wanting to PvE in NA just barely occur to devs? Why was this infrastructure not in place at the same time as the others? Now you have NA players ticked that they have no option for weeks other than bad pings on EU and the possibility of having to start over yet again, and EU folks ticked that their server will be flooded by NA people who may or may not remain. Both sides have every right to be upset: If the NA folks don’t stay, everything they have built in that time will be abandoned and they will need to start over, but the EU properties won’t become eligible to be reclaimed by EU folks for quite some time. And If NA folks do stay, the NA server may be underpopulated.

And then look at the PvPers. There are no plans to offer the EU an Empires network. If players are from the EU and want to be on the big no-limits network, they are forced to deal with the ping and lag issues of playing in a network across the pond. Because that’s really helpful in a free-for-all PvP scenario.

No Atlas for me

So no, I will not be buying Atlas or playing it in any way. I have a good friend who plans to buy it again (he already refunded it once) if/when private servers become available. However, I’ve told him I cannot join him. For me, it’s a matter of principle. Back in November 2017, I ended an entry of The Survivalist by saying,

Am I done with ARK? I can tell you I will not be buying any sequel. Will I still play those versions I’ve bought, even those that aren’t out yet? I am not sure at this moment. I can still play offline and on my servers with friends, and I can’t ignore that streaming is a part of my job. But I am considering not giving that kind of support either.

I already knew I wouldn’t buy or play the sequel, years before the studio further tainted itself. I won’t even play Atlas for work. I’ve played many a game I didn’t particularly want to for the job, but I did have to draw the line at this one for principle’s sake. I just can’t do it. At this point, my playing of ARK has dwindled to next to nothing, and I get to nix the majority of any streams as well. It’s a shame, too, because ARK is a neat game. And I am sure Atlas could be fun. Too bad the idea wasn’t born to a more worthy studio.

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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Melissa McDonald

I enjoy ARK still but I have never played the game “correctly”. I am still in my rags, still haven’t progressed, still haven’t done any building, crafting, or surviving. My interest in the game is creeping around the islands like Jane Goodall, observing the dinos as they interact with each other. Seen titanic battles like a carnotaurus getting gored to death by a pair of triceratops. A gastornis take a chunk out of a stegosaurus‘ leg, and long battle ending with the giant bird lying dead at the blood-spattered stego’s feet. A 5-minute battle between phobosuchus (a prehistoric crocodile) and a massive diplodocus, who grew enraged and stomped and head-butted the crock until it knocked it off a cliff in the lagoon below. Stuff that amazed me then and still amazes me now, but I’ve a soft spot for dinosaurs.

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socontrariwise

What do you mean with “he plans to buy Atlas again once there are private servers”? There are lots of private Atlas servers?

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Tom Romdal

Atlas is a fun and fluffy sandbox MMO, amazing amount of content for an early access game, danger and adventure for everyone. I have played it quite a bit with some friends. I hated it for various gameplay reasons, but I have very peculiar gameplay demands.

People should stop being so dramatic about games and just enjoy what is out there. That is what I want to read about, not so much their vendetta on a game they have not even played.

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Tanek

Well, she does say in the column that ATLAS could probably be fun. It is mostly the practices of the studio that are the issue.

And there are so many games out there now, choosing to not play one because of the actions of the developer just leaves room to enjoy more of what is out there. :)

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Kevin Smith

It isn’t a vendetta against the game. It is a vendetta against developers that have proven over an over again that their customers are just piggy banks to them. It isn’t about making a great game for them at all, it is about what is the best approach to get more money without ever truly finishing the first project or adding the things they promised. People shouldn’t support devs like this no matter how good a game may be or may not be. I agree with the writer 100%.

butterpanda888
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butterpanda888

You didn’t read the article, did you?

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kalech

Basically why I dropped ARK. I played Atlas for a few minutes after my brother gifted it to me, then uninstalled it. It ran like shit and was a massive waste of space, clocking in at about 80 – 90 gb at the time. Not to mention that it took days before the game was even working so you could log in.

Covynant001
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Covynant001

The common denominator here is Snail Games, they’ve never met a MMO they couldn’t weaponize.

ARK, AOW, DnL, Atlas, Outlaws of the Old West, Fear the Night the list goes on and on.

Half baked efforts used to fleece their customers, rinse and repeat with another new theme, a space game is probably next.

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Der Hug

dunno i personally really enjoy atlas to be honest…i always liked survival games but i never really played any of them for long including ark. but well i love mmo’s since daoc and now it’s finally survival meets mmo which for me is perfect…i just need more than like 80 others to play with including alliance drama and the like….well than it has ships too, so i am totally sold :)

Mewmew
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Mewmew

I do have to say that people go a bit overboard in negative reporting once they don’t like a studio. For instance – you write “I was even told during an interview that anyone with optimization troubles just had garbage computers!” which in looking up the linked article is not really what happened. They said they had done a 25%-60% optimization of the engine and that people who aren’t seeing an improvement after that optimization pass *might* have their rig to blame, but that they’d continue to do more optimization. That’s quite a different statement than what you’re making out that they said…

If you over exaggerate on one point that makes me feel suspect for the rest of the article!

*Edit* Side note – I made my reply before I saw who wrote this, and I do respect MJ and know she is normally straight shooting, so I will take that the article is mostly true. I don’t want to change much about what I wrote because of seeing who wrote it, but it does make me feel that it’s probably mostly true after seeing the author. Still I’ve got to make this edit quick to get it in here so I’ll leave the message as it was before I noticed who the author was. I would have taken a different tone if I had saw before I wrote it because I’m familiar with MJ and respect what she says and does. Sorry MJ! *End edit*

I haven’t followed a lot of what you are talking about that happened with the studio. My Early Access price for Ark was more than worth it and I wouldn’t expect them to give me any more for my money.

I actually do buy most of the excuses given for a paid DLC. Sure, they shouldn’t have been working on it yet, but it was fine that it was paid for what it was. The snarky comment that the Dev made at the end, that really should have been left out. I definitely want these companies to remain professional. That bugs me.

Maybe if I had seen all the stuff the Devs said and did, I wouldn’t buy anything from them either (though I still feel exaggeration of the facts isn’t the way to go). Some of what you are saying, if true, sounds a bit like stuff Derek Smart would do (only he was much worse). Being very familiar with Derek Smart I won’t buy anything from him and don’t care to listen to anything he has to say, so I semi-understand if much of this is factual. He was so bad at trolling and insulting the players about his piece of garbage game, so bad…

I want Atlas and would have it if I had the HD room right now, but I don’t. I’ve got too many big installs I did recently and would need to clean up some space. Lots of the complaints seem to have to do with stuff being too close to something in Ark or about things on the PvP servers and wanting private servers, stuff that doesn’t matter to me.

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Arktouros

I’m certainly no fan of Wildcard but I can’t fault them from a financial standpoint.

The base ARK game was on sale for vast majority of it’s early access life, bottoming out in the $5-$15 range for a very long time where I bought in. Even paying $30 for Scorched Earth and another $30 for the rest of the season pass that’s not a terrible lot over the course of 4 years. If they continue with this same model over the next 3-4 years I’ll still buy in.

For that $75 I have gotten over 2600 hours in across 4 official maps and 3 unofficial maps (2 of which became official) that’s pretty impressive. In an age where every developer is trying to wring every last possible cent they can from you with subscriptions and microtransactions criticizing Wildcard regarding their monetization strategy just isn’t there for me.

The state of Atlas is unsurprising, but again it’s not the financial model why I don’t jump in.

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Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

Nice to see someone holding a Developing studio accountable for a change.

SO often we see a wave of apologists who make excuses for every inexcusable way a company mistreats or abuses its customers simply because they “like” the game. So good for you MJ!

As someone else who also has zero tolerence for developer BS it is nice to see I am not alone in that view. We PAY them to provide us entertainment in the form of a product, they are not doing “us” a favour by providing it. It is a service transaction, nothing more.
And the fact these games involve our money demands they treat them and us with some respect we are customers not thier pals, and definitely not just a skein to squeeze the juice from until empty when it suits them while they do the barest minimum IF that to do so.

As for ARK it sits amongst a handful of games over the years I have requested a steam refund for. It is a nice idea but utterly imbalanced to the point of being unfun. I have friends who love it but for me it was utter garbage.. Funcoms Conan Exiles is frankly a far far superior experience in every regard.

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Arktouros

I guess I’m confused how anyone could form a fact based, experienced opinion on whether or not a game is balanced or imbalanced while also falling under the criteria for a refund time period.

Like I hated Conan Exiles and would have refunded it if I could but I had played it far too much past the point of being able to get a refund for it in order to determine that the game was in fact worth such distaste.

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Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

Well for me personally I would say it is two fold reasons.

First I had watched dozens of hours of it on Twitch so I had a fairly good idea what its limitations were ahead of time but I was still willing to try it personally to see anyway, and I got it dirt cheap.. but frankly it still felt like a waste of money as the imbalance in that game is egregious. From what I have seen and from amongst my own freidns they only means I have witnessed to make that game even remotely playable is via private servers (and their rulesets) and player made mods to fix its shortcomings…and if i am relying on other paying customers to fix the game I paid a company money for then what the heck am I paying them money for to begin with?

And second because that refund time has been judged to be long enough time to determine whether you like something or not and for me it always has been. Noone is a better judge of what we like personally than US personally it shouldn’t take anyone weeks to know if they like something or not, nor should they “need” to convince themselves a broken product is okay by sticking with it until it is… broke is broke…
Most folks do not need weeks to determine if they like something days or heck even hours is more than sufficient.

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Arktouros

While I agree that the refund period is enough time to determine whether or not you like it or think the game would be fun for you or not I don’t necessarily see how that would be enough time to determine if the game is actually imbalanced or not. I’m not at all implying or saying you can’t have disliked the game.

However there’s a big difference between being able to say you didn’t like a game and being able to factually and objectively critique a game at a mechanical level.

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Rheem Octuris

I kinda wish the refund period scaled with the cost of the product. If I pay $60 for something I should get a 6 hour refund time. If I payed $5 for it I should get at most an hour.

But thats just my personal gripe.

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Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

I wish we had access to our previous comments on MOP Arktouros, because if we did I would link you back to one of the articles MOP posted about the game some time back whereby I described my time with ARK in detail.

But to sum up the experience it was most of 2 days whereby I was unable to even get off the beach. Because every time I did I was attacked by dinosaurs whose levels where not one or two greater than mine but three digit levels.. and these were not high level areas, these were just wandering around within a few feet of the beach you spawn on and amongst the low levels dodos etc..

Any game that throws high levels beasts in amongst noob starting areas is without a shadow of a doubt utterly unbalanced. And that is how ARK is.
There are no levelled zones per se, no means to gradually build up to things at a sensible pace, nope the highs are mixed in with the lows etc.. its a mess.

That isn’t even touching on all the bugs and issues I had from glitching through terrain, to getting irretrievably stuck, to being constantly unable to find my corpse which even when I could was inevitably right next to the utterly overlevelled dino that ganked me making it utterly impossible to retrieve your stuff even when you could find your body..

Its an utter shambles, it is also one of the few survival games that is very UN solo friendly. And like I say it has fallen to private servers and player made mods to fix most of this nonsense. Its just bad, lazy game design.

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GiantsBane

Well it would seem like you had a bad experience NeoWolf, but it is meant to be a survival game after all, which means adversity to overcome (which many people have managed to overcome your insurmountable beach start obstacle to grow and thrive, but it just seems like these games aren’t your cup of tea, especially since the island is a super tame map, almost a joke in terms of difficultly for basic survival.).

As for the level complaint, sounds like either bad luck or your server / settings were cranked up in the “dino difficulty” rating to increase the average level and frequency if higher lvl dinos. So, not liking the game is your decision, that’s fine, but you sure did jump to alot of conclusions based of what seems like mostly tertiary experience rather than actual first hand stuff.

Tbh I agree with your assessment that the game is made much better through the use of mods though, mainly because of the intrinsic design flaws that come with making a game intended specifically for pvp and large scale group cooperation, which kind of makes things super crappy for small groups and solo players, hence the mods.

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Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

Actually Giantsbane like MJ I love survival games, I play many of them..just good ones, which sadly ARK isn’t (without help as previously noted).
No conclusions were jumped too, as I said previosuly I had done my homework, I had watched MANY hours of ARK streaming prior, did my google diligence to find out what I should be doing when I started etc..

But no matter how diligent a person of level 1 is it wont stop a three digit level t-rex from outrunning and eating them and then camping the beach, or a level 70+ peteradactyl from swooping down and killing you for sh**s and giggles, or a pair of triple digit cats of some sort from killing you the next and on and on… in the end the only direction left to go was back into the ocean and i now know there are nasties in that too.. so pretty much wasn’t much I could do the other survival elements like food, water and temperature etc..never even got the chance to be an issue it was farsical.

I am not new to the genre, and I am a very competent player, but no amount of competence can overcome inbalance and poor design. And when the fixes for that and the many other issues I experienced are only fixed by “other players” mods then what the heck am I throwing money at the developers for? thats just craziness.. lol.

I don’t know why this is an issue for some people at any rate “I” do not like the game, I think the company is poor, the game design is poorer..some may like it (and them) thats thier choice. I’m not one of them and there are FAR suprerior survival games to be found on the market from FAR better companies.

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Arktouros

As with any survival game, and actually specifically baked into ARK’s lore/story, is that you are supposed to learn from what happened and improve. For example, my first experience was nearly identical having started not only in an area with 100+ Dilos/Raptors stalking me but even when I did make it away from them it was a cold snap at night and I was constantly freezing had never played the game before with no idea of what I could possibly do differently.

Fast forward to a few years later and I haven’t died when starting a new character in forever even on incredibly hard starts like Aberration or Scorched Earth. I almost always exclusively play solo and can easily navigate my way through any scenario. I can play with mods, without mods, with high settings, with base settings and it’s all very easy for me. That’s not a brag, anyone can do it, if they put their mind to it.

What I have found, in fact, that many of those mods/settings actually invalidate base game mechanics once you understand them. Like I used to always think melee damage was useless, my dinos would gather for me, why is that stat even in the game? However it was playing on the MOP server with base settings that I learned melee damage dramatically increases the consistency in which you personally gather resources. I’ve watched vids from seasoned ARK players complaining about harvest rates and why they “have” to play on times whatever or ARK just feels bad and it’s cause they never bothered to put points into melee damage and just want to keep pumping weight/speed.

And this is what I mean when I say you can’t have played the game enough to really make a value based judgment on if the game is balanced or imbalanced. You certainly can judge you weren’t having a good time and glad you were able to get a refund but like…you didn’t even get out of the tutorial…

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Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

And yet it was their game design that prevented me from getting further into the game in order to learn the deeper intricacies of progression not my inability to play the game. Their design made it unfun..and it cost them a customer.

There is literally no justification for having level 100+ creatures in the area you start the game.. its poor design, through and through.

There is a HUGE difference between survival challenge and imbalance.

In survival games you expect there to be risk, you expect there to be obstacles to overcome with some factor of time urgency until your established THATS survival.
But not insurmountable ones that you cannot fight, outrun, or hide from and that are placed in an area of the map where you literally not only start the game but also cannot avoid them, thats just silly.

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Arktouros

Yes, but that’s more of a mismatch of you and the game than the game being unbalanced.

When you get experienced with the game mechanics you learn that the vast majority of dinos are under leveled and only roughly 2% of the dinos on the default game maps are over 120 (cave multipliers not withstanding). People like me have to actually mod that in to make sure there’s an even spread because otherwise you spend literally hundreds of hours mass clearing whole spawn biomes trying to get that 2% to spawn in.

More over the method you would deal with a level 6 Dilo is the same as you would deal with a 120 Dilo. They aren’t an end game dino no matter what level they are. First you learn about their spit which blinds and slows. Then you learn it’s very slow and easily dodged by moving left and right (even with base speed). Dilos themselves are also very slow meaning you can easily outrun them. In doing so you might even learn how the AI works and watch it switch over to another target instead that you ran past. This means you position yourself near other herbivores to lure carnivores onto. Or even if you turn to fight them they have a tremendous head multiplier and a spear will not only push them back but also out range their melee.

But you didn’t even try to learn any of that. You saw a level 100, applied what you knew from other games that level = strength, threw your hands up and boldly claimed the game was unbalanced. However the game wasn’t unbalanced, the game challenged you in a particular way (as it does everyone) and you had no interest in playing the game and overcoming that challenge. That’s fine. That’s fair. There’s no expectation that you or anyone has to like everything but just as equally there shouldn’t be an expectation that every game changes itself to try to cater to those tastes and failure to do so means it’s imbalanced.

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Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

You know what I tried do you? interesting as I don’t recall you being there lol.
I spent almost two days trying to get off a beach, you think i just ran at the dinos head on every time? I can tell you the T Rex, Pteradactly, and big cats etc.. paid no notice to anything other than me, and they never left the area. The server itself was setup to be solo friendly server rule wise (x3 health, x3 damage, recuced food and drink rates, reduced dino damage, no need to feed pet dinos etc..) and I LITERALLY could not get off the fecking beach. That wasn’t me.. it was the way the game is made.

As I said in my original post where I complimented MJ on her stance I am SO sick of people not holding companies accountable for bad and lazy design simply because “they” like the game.

You think its okay level 100+ dinos would be camping a starting area… you think the issue was I didn’t understand the dino.. not that having a level 100+ dino (multiple as it turned out as they were every direction i went) is good design? and all because “you” didn’t have the issue. Consider my mind blown at the wonky logic of that my friend.

Can you imagine WoW having seen the success it has if it had seeded level 50 monstewrs in the starting zones? yeah ME EITHER..

You think it was a mismatch between me and game? YET I have already made it abundantly clear I am no noob to the survival genre I have played more survival games than you have likely had hot dinners.. so trust me when I tell you the issue was not me, my expectations, my ability to problem solve, my lack of resolve etc.. it was a shi**y game design by a lazy a** offensive company that is more concerned with cash grabbing and blaimng their customers for their issues (much like you are now) than making something work or fixing the crap they have put out..so they leave it to the community to fix themselves with mods while they the developers get paid.

I mean, I get it, you like it.. awesome for you. But don’t make excuses for them and don’t dismiss other peoples issues with a game simply because you didn’t have them…its lame and more than a little patronising.

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Jeremy Barnes

I applaud your decision. I couldn’t believe how many people bought atlas given the history of the studio. Terrible companies keep getting gamer’s money which is how we get things like atlas and epic game store.

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Armsbend

Whatever the number was – it is a small fraction of what ARK sold. So the arrow is decidedly pointing downward.