Ark: Survival Evolved is by no means a bad game, but ask around and you will have little trouble finding players who feel disappointed by its retail release. The game has had a number of problems since its launch from Early Access back in August, with server numbers and poor performance among them. This has led to a lack of trust between Studio Wildcard and some members of the Ark Community, who have been very vocal about their dissatisfaction.
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We thought it would be a good idea to reach out to some of these players to hear their opinions, before seeing what Studio Wildcard are doing in order to improve the game to try to win them back.
By far the biggest complaint levelled at Ark has been its lack of servers. At its release, the game had an insufficient number to meet demand, meaning players were left having to refresh the official server list over and over in hopes of actually getting into the game. This was further complicated by Wildcard’s decision to take down several low-population legacy servers, without replacing them.
“Honestly, I feel totally let down by Studio Wildcard,” one user tells me while in-game. “We had to wait over ten days for the first paid content EU server for Scorched Earth to be launched. They took away several hundred servers and gave us less than five for two weeks.”
Another user contributes, “I like their idea on the whole, but the server capability is lacking hardware wise and in the server count... They’re really letting the PC market down. It feels like we’ve been stripped for cash and now consoles are the only way to make money. So, we’re forgotten and left to fight over 700 or so spots for the entire EU community.”
Jat Karunakaran, the lead community manager at Studio Wildcard, denies that the team are showing a preference to any one platform. “Game content parity between platforms is something that’s important to us,” he explains. “Due to how the patching process works sometimes that parity can’t happen all at the same time, but we do our best to update all platforms to the same level as soon as we can.”
He also acknowledges the server issues and claims that Studio Wildcard are always trying to improve on this front. You can see evidence of this over the last few months. The situation is much better, with a combination of the post-launch drop off in player interest and the introduction of new servers playing a huge part in the game becoming more accessible.
It does feel like there is still some way to go, however, before all players are accommodated comfortably. Logging into a server, it is still common to find most landmarks have been pillaged and that competition is fierce over the available resources.
According to Karunakaran, the problem with introducing these new servers is they first have to weigh up the demand versus the expected player population. This takes time to get right, which can be frustrating for fans waiting on news. Regardless, he believes Studio Wildcard have already made some great strides to achieving that tricky balance.
“Since launch we’ve substantially increased the number of official servers, as well as continued to support a fair number of our legacy servers,” Karunakaran says. “We do our best to estimate the appropriate amount of in-demand servers, but players seem to continuously surprise us with their enthusiasm for Ark! Hopefully what we have now is a better balance that matches the player base interested in playing online on official servers, but we’ll continue to monitor our numbers and player feedback to see if we need to introduce more servers.”
It seems Studio Wildcard are making an effort to listen and improve. They have an active forum that they monitor for feedback. They are also working on new content in the form of updates and their next paid expansion, Aberration.
“In order to keep Ark interesting, new content is pivotal. Regardless of how many hours someone has, at some point it is expected that a person will complete everything they set out to do within a game and at that point they will move on to a new game,” Karunakaran says. “Ark sets itself apart by being able to add new creatures, tools, weapons, mechanics, and maps which essentially make Ark an entirely new experience over and over again.”
That said, there is still some scepticism towards forthcoming updates from the community. When Studio Wildcard announced Aberration would be delayed by a couple of weeks, players went straight to the official subreddit to voice their frustrations with the company.
“People paid for a DLC that should be released in October and now they just said ‘delayed’ but not how much,” one commentator writes, disappointed by the brevity of the announcement. Other players, meanwhile, were quick to express a lack of surprise at the news, pointing to Studio Wildcard’s history of moving release dates back and failing to hit deadlines.
Studio Wildcard have teased that more information is coming in regards to Aberration, and have given a reason for the delays, but it seems there is a vocal portion of their fanbase who need more reassurance. “Criticism comes with the territory. Gamers are passionate people, for better or for worse,” Karunakaran says. “We’ve come to learn that most of the player criticism comes from a good place. They love Ark and are very passionate about it, but sometimes that passion comes out as anger when Ark doesn’t function the way they want or believe it should.
“We are grateful that our community does give us great constructive feedback, opening our eyes to the game in ways that we may not even see or realise ourselves. When you work on a game every hour of your day for years at a time you can become blind to the ways that other people view your game, and hearing the thousands of unique player experiences can paint a picture that we didn’t know existed.”
It is clear Studio Wildcard are aware of the disillusionment within their community and are actively trying to make Ark: Survival Evolved a more welcoming place for players. Though they are not always the most efficient at communicating with their fan base, and players are quickly running out of patience.
If Ark: Survival Evolved is to become a better community, Studio Wildcard needs to be more transparent with its audience and let them know they are listening to their concerns. They also need to get ahead of bad news and reassure the more vocal and pessimistic among their fanbase. If they cannot make these amends then they risk alienating them further, potentially causing Ark’s current popularity to die out - an unfortunate irony for a game that cheerily discounts the mass extinction of the dinosaurs.