I'll Bet $27 On ARK: A Commentary On Early Access

So today I caved and I got myself an early access copy of ARK: Survival Evolved (Studio Wildcard, 2015). It’s Steam profile looked great, and I wanted to ride me a dinosaur!!!

I purchased, installed, ran… long story short: it took me 1 hour to adjust the graphics settings to something where I could actually play the game. Now, even on low-medium settings, I’m playing between 10 and 15 frames-per-second (with moments of 2 or 8 here and there). Now, I’m not a FPS junky. My monitor only has a 60 MHz refresh rate, and my computer boasts a modest Nvidia GeForce GT 740 graphics card backed up by an older quad core 2.90GHz AMD processor and 4GB RAM. It’s clear that I’m not looking for a 120 FPS experience; I’m happy with 25 to 30 FPS – the cinematic experience if you will. But anything below 24 FPS seams jagged and bad and on low settings I had hoped to get better performance.

ARK Trike
ARK: Survival Evolved — I ate a triceratops

But remember, this isn’t ARK‘s final release; I bought the early access version. This means that as a consumer/player I took a gamble and the question remains: was it a good gamble?

Well, that is yet to be determined. For the consumer/player the gamble is twofold: is the game enjoyable as it stands, and will the game be enjoyable in the future? Since the inception of Steam Refunds the risk for me is low; if I don’t like the game I can get a refund within two weeks of purchase. But this is Early Access and my purchase is going to change as it is developed. If I play the long game (pardon the pun) I might get a good return on my investment; ARK might turn into the best game I’ve ever played for all I know. Or I might not… It might turn into something awful. This is the gamble that we all play when we buy early access, but we’re not the only ones taking a gamble.

ARK Poop
ARK: Survival Evolved — There’s poop in this picture…

Developers and publishers are also taking a risk by releasing their unfinished work to the public. Just like meeting a person for the first time, a game’s first impression is the most important. If the player has a bad experience right off the bat the developer risks having to give customers a refund and also risks getting a bad reputation for having a broken product that may or may not get better. Studios are placing all their eggs in the “we’re gonna wait it out” basket. And in the long run, the game might not get better! There’s a level of uncertainty pertaining to whether or not the game will become what we envisioned it to be. But if we have a little faith, the payoff for the studios (and for us) can be immense. Not only are they getting cash up front to help further development, they receive free user testing, and often a dedicated user community providing their game with feedback, reviews, videos, and general evangelism. Kerbal Space Program (Squad, 2015) is a perfect example of the gamble paying off for both sides. Players formed tight knit and dedicated communities, feedback, and even user generated content.

So, what of ARK: Survival Evolved? For me, the jury is still out on whether my gamble has payed off; it’s honestly too early to tell. i will tell you I’ve been playing it all day. In regards to ARK as a game itself Studio Wildcard has done a great job in creating well rounded and robust health and crafting systems. Conceptually this game is awesome, and from what I can tell from my currently janky settings, the scenery and artwork is phenomenal. And dude, dinosaurs. If I get an optimization patch in the near future my gamble will have paid off.

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