Sunday, September 25, 2016

ARK: Survival Evolved Scorched Earth Controversy

For those of you unfamiliar, ARK: Survival Evolved is an early-access survival game, and it’s very probably the best of the genre. Because unfortunately ‘early-access’ is very probably a genre in its own right at this point. But ARK seems to defy this stain, mostly due to the fact that it’s so damned good. It was released in June 2015 by Studio Wildcard, and garnered almost universal praise because of the world they had created in which you could tame and ride dinosaurs.

And not just from one era of history. There are giant insects, giant mammals, and more familiar creatures like pteranodons and velociraptors that you can interact with and tame to ride or bear heavy burdens for you. This also impressed me enough to buy it. I was a huge dinosaur nerd as a kid, watched shows like Dino-Riders (yes, I’m an old man) and knew almost everything there was to know about dinosaurs. So, despite this being early access and my misgivings about that...genre...of games, I bought it close to when it came out and have enjoyed the living hell out of it personally. You’re telling me I can ride a fucking dinosaur? Sign me the fuck up!

And I truly have enjoyed it. I’ve clocked just over 200 hours in the game, and it’s my most-played game on Steam, with the original Dark Souls coming in at a near second. I even looked up how to create my own server, because I love the game but playing an MMO just isn’t my cup of tea. And I’m just telling you all this so you can understand that I might not be the most objective, unbiased person when it comes to this subject. I love ARK, and I highly recommend it to anyone who might enjoy a good survival game, or just likes dinosaurs and doesn’t mind dying a lot because this game is pretty unforgiving. But I’ve done my best to set my biases aside, I declined to comment on this while it was happening other than a few “Imagine fucking up this bad” comments on twitter and tumblr, and really let the issue roll around in the back of my mind for a couple of weeks before writing this up. So with that said, let’s get into this.

So a year and a half ago this game came out, and it updates regularly. I mean like fucking clockwork. The dev team is very devoted to this game, and if you’ve got a computer that can handle the graphics, it really does show. “Lovingly crafted” is a phrase that leaps to mind. “Holy fuck this game is really pretty” is another. They’re continuously adding new dinosaurs, new features, patching bugs, creating others, and generally hammering out the details. Now when this game came out it was pretty damn impressive, and as someone who’s gone through just about every console generation from the NES onwards, I was incredibly satisfied with the amount of things to do in the game and knew I was going to get my money’s worth. Which is a good thing because this puppy is $30 USD.

And it seems that not a week goes by without them fixing bugs or adding minor features or tweaking something, and they add new dinosaurs and other creatures to the game fairly regularly as well. This game has been in early access for over a year now, and as far as I’m concerned it’s been basically playable (if not perfect) that entire time. I’ve seen far worse on store shelves in gamestop. Far, far worse. So for all intents and purposes they’ve got a finished game here. They could release it today, as is, and never update again and it would still be well worth the $30 price tag.

But recently, Studio Wildcard decided to do something that some people considered to be a bit out of turn. They released DLC for the game. Paid DLC.

For an extra $20 you get the Scorched Earth pack, which features new areas, new creatures, new rules for survival, and god only knows how much other shit. Now, I haven’t played it yet, but from what I hear it’s basically it’s own new game.

Now this means that, instead of having their dev teams working on getting the main game ready to go, they’ve had a portion of their teams working on this DLC. This happened before in miniature around Christmas, when they essentially changed most of the rules of the game to make it more wintry, added Raptor Clause who would drop gifts, snow, freezing temperatures, the whole 9 yards. People in-game were pretty upset that they had changed the game around like this instead of, you know, actually finishing the fucking game and optimizing it so you don’t have to have a tank of a pc to run this thing. But for the most part players, myself included, enjoyed the change up and got on with our business. They’d even added new dinosaurs for the event, so there was even more to do with your time in the game.

This is essentially the same thing. We all know they did this to make money. That’s a given, they’re a game dev company trying to make it in a very competitive market that pulls down more annually than film and music combined. But I think that the upset over this new paid DLC is blown a bit out of proportion. Making games is expensive. There’s a lot of people you have to pay to create something as amazing as ARK. And ARK is amazing. As someone who works in an industry (audiobook production) that most people think is really simple and not labor-intensive at all, I understand when people look at a complex process like video game development and say, “It’s not that hard, just finish the damn game and move on!”

Maybe I’m giving them too much rope, and if that’s so they’ll hang themselves with it without any help from me. But they do have people to pay, and as I said, making games is expensive and time consuming. Especially a game as large, involved, and pretty as ARK.

Perhaps; and this is just rampant speculation at this point but; the game is never going out of early-access. Early access does offer them the ability to fine tune the game and add things without releasing massive patches that change everything all at once. It’s already on the XBOX online network and PSN, so they basically have released the game. But keeping it in early-access gives them time and space to do what they need to do to make the playing experience more enjoyable for everyone. Through this process they did give license to many other developers who put out a survival game on Steam in early-access and just let it die on the vine, never updating again. If you look through the reviews and comments and discussion pages on Steam you’ll find many people who are complaining about the glut of early-access survival games that not only never get finished, but are never updated again. These games that are barely playable or only offer a few hours worth of content are still up for their full price, and continue to rook less discerning gamers into giving them money for a product that not only isn’t finished, but will never be touched by the dev team again.

Maybe Studio Wildcard needs more money to continue the ongoing development process on ARK. Maybe they have no plans to ‘finally release’ the game. It may never be finished as they continue to update and add features and creatures. As I said, I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of the game several times over. My metric is $1=1 hour of game time. If I pay $60 for your game, then by actual features in the game or fuckery on my part I should be able to get 60 hours out of your game. I paid $30 for ARK, and got 206 hours out of it. I think that speaks for itself. And if the dev team needs more money to continue updating what has been an incredibly enjoyable game in my opinion, alongside giving me what amounts to an entire new game to dick around with, then I’m not going to jump down their throats about it. Whether I’ll have the money or time to invest in the Scorched Earth DLC remains to be seen, I don’t get much time for vidya nowadays despite how much I love playing games, but after some consideration I really do think everyone’s getting upset over what is essentially a non-issue.

Wildcard has already given us an amazing gaming experience. It’s not for everyone, but what game is? The statements from one developer, while said in anger, do have merit to them in my opinion. The main game itself is worth $60 as it stands now. The paid DLC, from what I’ve been able to gather, is worth $20. As I said, game development does cost money. These people do need to earn a living. And what with the lawsuit that the company recently settled, I can perfectly understand the need to draw in a little (or a lot) of currency to keep their teams paid and make sure everyone is able to put food on the table. They could’ve bumped up the price on the main game, but instead they released a full expansion ARK and charged a price for it that most AAA games that came out years ago won’t sink to, even on sale. I’ll be able to say more on whether or not it’s worth the price tag once I actually go full cuck for Wildcard and buy it myself, which I do intend to do, but from what I can tell now, acting as if they razed our crops and salted our fields seems to be a bit of an overreaction.

If you don’t want to buy the expansion, then don’t. It really is as simple as that. But companies need money to continue, and they’ve definitely given you and I more than enough bang for our buck with the main game. Once again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m giving them too much rope. But the only thing to do is sit back and wait to see if they hang themselves with it.

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