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Tips for surviving Early Access from Ark: Survival Evolved's lead designer

Now that Ark: Survival Evolved has left Early Access, we talked with Studio Wildcard co-founder Jeremy Stieglitz about what he's learned about this new field of game development.

Earlier today on the Gamasutra Twitch channel, we were lucky enough to talk with Ark: Survival Evolved lead designer Jeremy Stieglitz, where we got to discuss the status of the game now that it’s left Early Access and the Xbox Game Preview program. 

Though our conversation covered many topics (including the Scientology-driven origin of the ‘engrams,’ which are crafting recipes in Ark), we were most interested to hear some of Stieglitz’s reflections on Ark’s Early Access development, which involved shipping features and patches in such a way that there are now “vestigial” mechanics in the game itself. 

It was a fun conversation (with a great chat room), that you can see in its entirety up above. If you’re too busy hunting dinosaurs right now (or…whatever it is that happens in Ark’s endgame) here’s a few quick takeaways to help you out. 

Ark’s biggest design problem: How real should it get?

During our conversation with Stieglitz, one user from the chat asked him what the hardest feature to design in Ark actually was. Stieglitz gave a broader answer that may be useful to other survival game developers. According to him, the most difficult choices made in creating new features for Ark revolve around making mechanics “realistic,” which is to say, in a survival game where you tame dinosaurs, how much should mechanics resemble real life? 

This is especially confounded by what Stieglitz called an unexpected growth vector for Ark, which is that it’s now a game about creativity as much as it’s about survival. 

Early Access development can lead to ‘vestigial’ features 

If you’re working on an Early Access game, you should be aware that some of the features your fans ask for during development may turn out to be not worth supporting in the long run. Stieglitz said that there are now “vestigial” features in Ark (ironic given the dinosaurs) that were something players were really excited for earlier in Early Access…that now are under supported due to their lack of popularity. 

Ark has a not-fantastic Steam review (and that’s okay)

Since Steam Reviews (and the abuse of them) have been in the news this week, we asked Stieglitz about how he felt about Ark’s reviews, which aren’t exactly fantastic. Stieglitz was exceptionally even-handed about them, and discussed some of the nuanced reasons why even veteran players might leave a low review. Though he did admit Ark has reached a critical mass that low Steam reviews may not hurt sales, he said they’re still a great opportunity to gather feedback from players that can help improve Early Access games and drive sales down the line. 

For more developer interviews, editor roundtables and gameplay commentary, be sure to follow the Gamasutra Twitch channel.

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