Should an Early Access Title Release Paid Expansions?
Last week Studio Wildcard announced the biggest update to rock ARK: Survival Evolved’s 14-months and counting, development cycle. ARK: Scorched Earth takes players away from the lush comforts of the Island and unceremoniously drops them naked, dehydrated, and starving in a fiery, drought-ridden desert world.
In addition to the usual trials of survival, players will also have to contend with new weather events. This includes dangerous electrical storms, sand storms, and lethal heat waves. The new biomes are home to new dinos, as well as a few over the top boss encounters. To help players endure their harsh new environment over 50 new craftable items have been added, including adobe building structures and silk desert clothes.
On the surface the new expansion looks great and could be just the thing to bring lapsed players (such as myself) back to the game. Unfortunately, with ARK still technically being in Early Access and requiring frequent patches and fixes, some fans were quick to cry foul at being asked to pay for additional content for an unfinished game.
Over on the official blog players quickly expressed their dissatisfaction in the comment section. “I’m not happy. How about finishing and officially releasing the product people already paid for before you try to reach back into our wallets for more.” JoeVandal49 wrote.
The studio was met with similar hostilities when they released their competitive elimination spin-off project, Survival of the Fittest as a standalone game. SOTF was later rolled back into the main game as a separate mode, but Studio Wildcard has been on shaky ground since. It didn’t help when ARK’s expected release date came and went. Rather than a final version of the game, Studio Wildcard introduced an XboxOne port.
Players argue that all these ‘extra’ projects are taking away time and resources that should be going towards completing the base game. A recent update and “message to the community” from Wildcard’s community manager, Jat said that this is not the case. “Everyone at Wildcard wakes up every day thinking about how we can make ARK into a better game today than it was the day before. It’s not always easy, but our intent is ever-forward progress towards a retail release that will be far more ambitious in scope and features than our original vision when we launched ARK into Steam Early Access in June 2015.” To that end, Jat claimed that the original vision for ARK always included Expansion ARKs with the ability to transfer data between them.
“We determined that it is more sound to iterate on these systems during Early Access than after retail launch, given the significant risks involved if we didn’t “get it right”. While that meant unveiling the first Expansion early, it also means an easier time integrating further post-launch Expansions into the ARK network.”
During PAX West, Studio Wildcard co-founder, Jesse Rapczak joined in during a Twitch broadcast and talked about how it’s difficult to make such large changes to the base game because the servers are live and you risk everyone’s progress if something goes wrong.
“About two months into Scorched Earth we totally scrapped the level and that’s not something we can do on The Island,” Rapczak said.
He went on to say that in normal development The Island would have been remade before anyone got a chance to play it as the team learned what did or did not work. The Early Access nature of the game means that all the lessons learned from the expansion will be integrated into the base game instead of the other way around.
It’s difficult, because I can absolutely see where players are coming from. It’s frustrating to be asked to pay for additional content when core features are still being implemented in the alpha version of the game. On the other hand I already bought the expansion because after hundreds of hours in the base game I wanted a new challenge and for me Scorched Earth felt substantial enough to warrant an extra $19.99. In the end it will just come down to if enough players feel the same way. If they don’t Wildcard could have another massive misstep on the road to release. If the sudden shift in Steam reviews from “Mostly Positive” to “Mostly Negative” is any indication, this could be one that ends ARK’s reign as an Early Access champion.