Since its Early Access release on Steam in 2015, Ark: Survival Evolved has continued to gain immense popularity among gamers, to the extent that by August 2016 the action-adventure survival open-world video game had over 5.5 million sales across both Windows and XBox One platforms. Now with the dinosaurs-themed game finally leaving Early Access at the end of August, and with a boxed release due out on 29 August 2017, I sat down with Navin Supphapholsiri (Producer at Studio Wildcard) to discuss as to how Ark survived its Early Access phase, and how the game has evolved since. Enjoy!
Starting out in your basement, the gestation period for the Early Access initial launch demo took seven to eight months. And in terms of continuous development, it’s taken two years plus… nearly three years for the game to be fully released on consoles. What would you say have been the biggest changes over the last 2.5 – 3 years, and how has the team coped accordingly?
What have been the biggest changes for us for the past two and a half years? I would say it’s probably just the style of development that we’ve done. Since we released in July of 2015, we’ve constantly been updating the game. We’ve been in constant communication with the community, getting feedback for what we need. And we just iterate with them to make the game better. We’ll be releasing a few dinos every month, with a couple of items, maps here and there, the DLC. We’ve done all sorts of different stuff together with the community just to create what it is today, to create the ultimate dinosaur survival experience. And I think we’ve managed that. And the team is great. I think they coped with it pretty well. We’ve worked with each other on previous projects before, so they kind of get what we’re trying to do. It’s a different style of development, I would say, because not many games are: 1) iterating with community as much as we are, and 2) are releasing it on a monthly cadence. Hope that answers your question.
You started with nine people originally. How many people are part of the development team now?
Right now we have about 40 people that are internally to Wildcard. And we have a couple of external guys. But the entire Ark project has about 60 or 70 people working on it.
What sort of challenges have you had to encounter, not only in terms of ramping up from nine to forty people, but also bearing in mind that you started out as an independent developer with nine people… going from being an independent to essentially working with Deep Silver who are in the grand scheme of things, a AAA publisher. What constraints have you had to experience, not in terms of the added bureaucracy, but also maybe them trying to “Produce” you as a Producer?
Oh. So here’s the thing. One of the good things about working with Wildcard is that we actually get to choose what we want to put on the game, which is great. So we’re in charge of what content goes out. That’s why we’re able to release stuff in a monthly cadence, which is great. But for them, it’s been great. We work with Microsoft. We work with Sony to get the game out, to make sure. And we’re just in constant communication with them to make sure that the proper information is being relayed across from both parties. For example, when we were trying to get the game up on the XBox Games Preview program, we have our office up in Seattle now. So they’re literally right next door. And we just chat with them and figure out what we need.
But it’s been pretty great. We started off pretty small. All of our focus was mainly on development and creating the game. But as we grew larger and were trying to get the game out on PS4 and on XBox, we just had to grow the team. And that comes with growing pains and all sorts of other stuff like that. But I think with what we have, we have a pretty strong team. And we have been able to do what we have today, probably all because of the team.
Do you have any plans for the Pro or the X?
Yeah. The game is already released on PS4 Pro. But as far as the XBox One X goes, we’re a confirmed title in November. I can’t really talk about it as much, but I have seen it played on the XBox One X.
Will you be taking advantage of the 6 Teraflops of power?
So it would be better than the Pro version?
Yes, it is 100 percent better than the Pro version, for sure. It looks pretty good.
Will there be differences in terms of content between the X version and the Pro content?
No, there isn’t. But as far as content updates go…
Will they be universal across the board?
Yes, they’ll be universal across the board, except the console versions will be a couple of weeks behind the PC. And that’s because we have to get it through cert. It’s not like Steam where they just let you upload it with a single button. And whether it’s broken or not, they don’t really care. But for XBox and PS4, you’ve got to go through the cert process to make sure all the checks are in. And it’s understandable. It’s good.
You’ve got one DLC pack already confirmed… Scorched Earth. And then you’ve got two more incoming…
What other plans are there for Studio Wildcard after that? And what other plans are there to support Ark: Survival Evolved afterwards?
Okay, so yeah. Like you said, we did release Scorched Earth DLC. We released that last year in September at PAX Prime. It’s been pretty good. We got good feedback from it. They really liked the new maps and the creatures that come with it. We’re releasing the next DLC fall of 2017 this year. It’s coming up pretty soon, which is really cool. And then we’ll release one after that. But that’s kind of our plan for our post-launch. We’ll be working on these DLCs and we’re be working to balance and update the game. And we’ll always be improving on the performance and the servers and the optimizations… try to get the game as highly polished as it can be. But yeah, that’s kind of our plans for the future.
There’s been a renaissance as far as dinosaur games are concerned. Capcom are looking to westernize the Monster Hunter franchise, with some people arguing that the company is looking to dumb it down a bit. But there’s also the new Jurassic World Evolution game that’s coming up, which is ultimately a strategy game… With there being increasing interest and competition within the “dino sphere”, how do you think that’s going to affect Ark as a game?
It’s always great to have other dino games on the market as well. I feel like Ark itself is probably one of the few ones that have been out for the past two or three years. But as far as competitors go, it’s fine. There’s not really other dinosaur survival open world game out there. You mentioned the Jurassic World game, which is like a theme park strategy game. So I don’t think we’ll be competing too much on that note. And Monster Hunter… I mean that’s a four-player RPG game. I wouldn’t say it’s survival but it’s like strictly third-person too. So it’s kind of like a different genre. It’s not like this. I mean I would say our game is mainly open-world survival with a few added RPG elements to it. So I would say there’s not really much competition until you start seeing some games in that category.
Most Early Access games are almost almost bona-fide failures in today’s present climate. What do you think differentiates, and why do you think Ark: Survival Evolved has been so successful in terms of being able to get its product out as a boxed release on consoles when so many other projects have faltered so badly?
I mean I think there are a lot of elements that lead to the success of Ark, specifically on Early Access too. I mean I think when we released during that Summer 2015 period, it was a really good timing window for us. There weren’t a lot of games during that time. And we were the only dinosaur game and the only survival game that got released during that time period. So it kind of caught fire really easily.
In addition to that, we’ve updated the game all the time. And we used Early Access kind of like as a testing bed for us to improve and make the game as good as it can be. I would say in addition to that, I think some of the feedback that we’ve received from the community and from everyone from the XBox Games Preview Program… It’s mainly on the content side of things because we’ve released 80% of the core game already from day one launch. And I think that’s probably the reason why we’re so successful, is that when the majority of the game is already out and all you’re doing is just adding content to the game and just fixing bugs, it makes that process a lot easier, rather than releasing a game that’s not finished. It’s like 30-40% done and you’ve got to be working on it for many, many years to get it complete. I think the way that we did it is probably the correct way to do Early Access, which is release the majority of the game and then add content to that. It doesn’t really change the core functionality of it. And then improve and iterate on it over the time.
Cross-platform play… Microsoft gamers being able to play with Sony and PC gamers? Is that a viability?
Oh, we have full support on it, honestly. It’s not up to us. We’ve done all that we can to have it available on cross-platform. That’s all up to the first parties. It’s up to them. We have all the servers able to speak to each other. They just need to allow it.
The only minor hiccup that we have, I would say, is that the console versions are about one month behind the PC when it comes to updates. But if we were to get them all up on cross-platform, we’d just roll them all out at the same time. So it’s not an issue on our end, for sure.