Survival of the fittest

Alex Calvin
Survival of the fittest

Ark: Survival Evolved isn't even finished yet, but by any measure it appears the game has already been a success for developer Studio Wildcard.

It hit Steam Early Access in June of this year, and within a week of launch, it made $10m in revenue. In just over a month, it had sold 1m copies. And now, it's fast approaching its next big milestone.

We're very close to 2m units,” studio co-founder and co-creative director Jesse Rapczak says.

I don't know exactly when we'll cross that line, but it's probably going to be in the next month or so. We're very happy with the performance. It's sold much faster than we expected and that's down to it coming out at the right time and being the right game.

Our expectations were that we'd start on Early Access, probably make a pretty good splash in the market and generate enough revenue to finish the game itself.”

Early Access has become integral to the game's development, and has allowed Studio Wildcard to take risks with the game's direction it might not have pursued otherwise.

It allowed us to build a game that players wanted to play,” Rapczak says.

Early Access allows us to add the more risky bits to the game that we want to make sure are good. We're not quite sure how the balancing might work because it might require tens of thousands of players to be playing the game in order to clearly understand what kind of impact it might be having. With Early Access we are able to know we are shipping the best game that we can.”

Now it's making big money from Early Access, Studio Wildcard has some pretty ambitious plans for its survival title. In fact, it wants to make Ark the next big eSport.

Of course, this space is dominated by more obvious competitive titles like MOBAs (League of Legends and DOTA 2), shooters (Counter Strike), card (Hearthstone) and fighting games (Street Fighter).

So the survival genre isn't exactly an obvious candidate for the pro-gaming scene. But Rapczak says Ark's different positioning is exactly why it works.

When we designed Ark we thought there was a void in the market for a good dinosaur game, and a good survival title that blended story elements with the classic survival mechanic. We hit a real sweet spot that was missing in the market,” Rapczak says.

We also feel that way about survival as an eSport. So many eSports that are very popular right now have a play style that's really hard to understand unless you're really into that game. If you watch League of Legends or CS: GO, you have to learn a lot about the game before you know what's going on.

We wanted to design an eSport that's naturally approachable. We felt that the survival genre was ripe for that and that Ark was a good vehicle to do it.

It's much like The Hunger Games films and books, which are very approachable: it's just a competition where you have to survive however you can. In pop culture there are so many TV shows like Survivor, and people have a natural understanding and connection to what surviving means. There's this opportunity
to make a great sandbox experience that can be an eSport and can be very competitive, like a no-holds-barred experience where there's no guaranteed winning strategy. Those are all as fun to the players as they are for the viewers to watch.”

"We want to design an eSport that's
naturally approachable. We felt the
survival genre was ripe to do that."

Jesse Rapczak, Studio Wildcard

eSports isn't just a pipe dream for Studio Wildcard. It is investing in this space.

We're breaking off a separate team that's really going to focus on Ark as an eSport to really attack the viewer experience, to make sure it's entertaining to watch for just the casual viewer. There's an inherent drama that will happen as a match closes down and people are scrambling around, popping from player to player, team to team, seeing how they are managing the match over the hours of the match, how they've built their army of dinosaurs, how they've managed to survive. All those things are really interesting to us. And we don't see that anyone is doing it right now.”

Wildcard isn't messing around either – it wants Ark to be as big
as a television series that regularly draws in over 10m viewers a week in America alone.

We'd just love Ark to be as big as the Survivor TV show. Anybody can tune into a match, understand what's going on and follow a story over multiple matches.

Our grand goal would be to run tournaments like that and for us, displaying this other side of the eSports genre. It's like surviving on a larger scale, it's not just surviving in the game, it's like surviving over the course of the tournament.”

Ark is the latest in a long line of survival games to hit stores recently, following in the lineage of Minecraft, Facepunch's Rust and Bohemia's DayZ.

The genre is maturing – it's not just about surviving anymore,” he says. The games that are going to stand out from the crowd are really going to have to do something with those survival mechanics and give players something extra.

There are a lot of games that are planning to do this. People are going to start mixing other types of genres and themes with survival to really help their game get above the coming tide of all these similar games. For example, No Man's Sky is taking a space angle.

It's going to be much more challenging now as more people try and latch onto this genre and then stand out.”

SHARING'S CARING

So far, Studio Wildcard has been open about how much revenue it has generated from Ark and how many times the Early Access hit has been downloaded.

And the title's co-creative director Jesse Rapczak says it is essential for others to share their digital sales data, too.

It is important to share digital sales because it's the only way to understand the transition to more digital sales,” he says.

It can be advantageous to share or not share that information. But generally if a game is doing really well, they're going to want to share that information, and if it's not, then they probably not going to, at least not on the consumer side. It's probably going to be hard to get everyone to agree that they should all share their sales. There might even be business-related reasons why they don't want to share their information. That's something that's important for the industry to figure out the standard behind reporting that type of thing.

Digital sales are very much direct-to-customer, so there's not a whole paper trail of suppliers and retailers. That's up to the reporting of the individual publishers and studios as to how their performance has gone.

PHYSICAL SURVIVAL

Ark: Survival Evolved is currently available a

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