I recently spoke with Studio Wildcard co-founder Jesse Rapczak about how his studio and its debut game ARK: Survival Evolved, appeared to pop up overnight and attract one of the highest active communities on Steam. Among the principal reasons for ARK's success, explains Rapczak, is the practice of applying the same tired game design principles over and over.
"I think ARK is a different type of game than people have been playing lately," Rapczak tells me. "It’s something new and fresh in a lot of ways."
"I think maybe there’s a little bit of game design fatigue in the industry. Not that the games are bad, but they’re very similar."
Rapczak is too gracious to name-check particular titles guilty of this, but having worked in the land of traditional triple-A development as part of Microsoft Game Studios he's well-positioned to comment.
ARK's far-reaching combination of gameplay styles, Rapczak continues, sets it apart from the crowd. He likens the tremendously popular Early Access title to a cross-breed of "adventure gaming, mixed with Minecraft mixed with The Sims," a description that can't readily be applied to many - if any - other games on the current landscape. Certainly none that also let you paint dinosaurs and then ride them about.
Rapczak talks about letting people play ARK in the way that they want to; letting the community take the project in new directions and have some degree of authourship. "We just keep adding in new types of gameplay elements that some players really like to grab onto. We have added all sorts of customisation options recently, like our per-pixel painting system we have on all our skins, to the new ways you can import things from the net and apply them as stickers."
"People are finding all sorts of creative ways to not just play in ARK, but also build things. We’ve always said, it’s kind of like an environment where players can come in and not just play the game but also live it. I think that all these things have contributed to its stickiness and its success."
The modding community for ARK is incredibly prolific, as Rapczak alludes to. In fact, curated a collection of the very best ARK mods from that burgeoning scene with which to expand your experience.
As I write this, there are currently just under 25,000 people playing ARK, making it the fourth most played game on Steam behind Dota 2, CS:GO, and Team Fortess 2. Rapczak's argument holds considerable weight when you take that into account, doesn't it?