ARK: Survival Evolved (opens in new tab) has spun off its Hunger-Gamesy Survival of the Fittest (opens in new tab) mod into a free standalone murderfest on Steam (opens in new tab). And that's free in the old fashioned sense of the word—the announcement claims that there will be "no monetisation" but with the benefits of a fully supported game and cash prizes for the top 10 players in each of its four Survivor Leagues (opens in new tab). From this we can assume that ARK is doing very well for itself indeed.
For an Early Access game, Survival of the Fittest is making an astonishingly aggressive push into the world of esports. The trailer is patched together from casters' commentary and the free-for-all, two-player, four-player and six-player leagues will compete over a prize pool of $50,000. And fair play to it—lots of developers are toying with the Hunger Games formula but few are polished enough to have a shot at the big time. Survival of the Fittest invites anyone to have a go if they think they're hard enough.
Survival of the Fittest (and ARK at large) isn't flawless by a long way—it's notoriously taxing on your rig—but combatants will be pleased to hear that the standalone comes with "massively boosted performance", along with the obvious additions of a ranking system, matchmaking and cosmetic rewards that carry over to ARK proper.
ARK would like us to refer to its new sibling as a 'Multiplayer Online Survival Arena'. I'm not going to do that, because there are enough meaningless acronyms (opens in new tab) in the world. How about we dub the genre 'battle royale' instead? I mean, obviously there are copyright issues, but I won't tell anyone if you won't.
The full announcement is here (opens in new tab).