The online survival sim Rust broke one million copies sold in early 2014, just two months after it hit Steam Early Access. That's an impressive feat by any sure, but Ark: Survival Evolved, the vaguely Rust-like game with rideable dinosaurs that became something of a Twitch sensation, has managed to match that number in half the time.
Jesse Rapczak, the co-founder of Studio Wildcard and co-creative director of Ark, credits a number of factors for the game's success, and it's no surprise that the dinos are top of the list. "[With] the timing of Jurassic World, dinosaurs are really big right now, so that [release timing] was kind of intentional. We wanted to be out and be the biggest dinosaur game around summertime," he said. The proximity to the Steam Summer Sale was a big help too, even though the game was only featured for a single day.
But the real secret of its success, he said, is simple word of mouth. "A lot of people have been streaming the game during this time, it seems like it's a very streamable game. People have a lot of fun, they're doing all sorts of stuff in the game, and I think that's kept it at the top of people's playlists. They see a lot of their friends doing fun stuff in the game when they're playing together," he continued. "That's really one of the things we designed the game for, with our tribe system, and I think a lot of people sharing the news of the game and sharing all the fun they're having has helped the world spread."
Doug Kennedy, Studio Wildcard's vice president of business development, said the developers make a point of engaging with the Ark community as often, and as extensively, as possible. "This is probably the cheesiest comment you're going to hear, but it kind of is the community's game, because we do have so many people in the forums listening to what the community is saying, and hearing what people are requesting," he explained. "That's taken to heart, and I think the development team really hears what's being said. If somebody likes something, we're going to try to make sure we get it in the game, and if they don't like things, we're going to try to find a way to fix that."
Interestingly, the ugly failure of The Stomping Lands, which raised $114,000 on Kickstarter and then fell apart, also proved to be a boon of sorts. Rapczak said Studio Wildcard initially worried that people would be wary of another "Early Access dinosaur game," but that concern passed fairly quickly as disappointed Stomping Lands supporters began to embrace Ark.
He also made the point that while Ark appears at first blush to be similar to Rust, there are actually quite a number of elements that differentiate it. "We're very careful to call Ark an 'open world adventure game,' because it's not just about survival. And I don't think it's a very deep comparison [with Rust], to be honest. Ark has a lot of solo play that's available and that will become more available over Early Access. There's a lot of adventure and discovery in the game, attaining creatures and creating pets and having that AI that's in the game with you. I think it's a little bit of a deeper experience than a lot of the survival games that are out there right now."
"One of the reasons that this game is different from other survival games is that it really encourages cooperation and exploration," Kennedy added. "A lot of the other survival games out there aren't really aimed at cooperating. They're really aimed at solo survival skills, where with this game, you can do a lot of things with a village or a tribe or a group that you just can't do alone."
Studio Wildcard said big things are coming to Ark over the next couple of months, including a new Swamp biome planned for July, and then a Snow biome that will turn roughly a quarter of the map into a wintry snowscape. More dinosaurs are coming too, and in fact two new aquatic creatures, the Plesiosaurus and the Ichthysaurus, joined the Ark menagerie yesterday. More immediately, however, the developers are joining us (in the form of digital dino-wrangler Tom Marks) for an hour or two of streaming later today. You can watch that right here (opens in new tab) starting at 10:30am PDT.