Ark: Survival of the Fittest is 'an experiment that didn't catch on but we do think there's a fun game there'

"Ark: Survival of the Fittest was for us an experiment," says Studio Wildcard's co-founder Jeremy Stieglitz. "It started as a mod and it was pretty cool and pretty fun. I lot of these games that are very successful—like PUBG, like, you know, Counter-Strike or DotA—originate as mods and can switch over to standalone titles."

Having begun life as a mod, Ark: Survival of the Fittest became a free-to-play standalone game in early 2016. As a promising battle royale-type venture—in a world prior to the likes of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds—it failed to take off and was later "reintegrated" into the main Survival Evolved game.  

According to Steam Spy's data, less than 300 people played Ark: Survival of the Fittest concurrently yesterday—whereas over 350,000 took to the wargrounds of PUBG simultaneously. Given the unexpected, astronomical success of Brendan Greene's similarly styled battle royale game, I asked Stieglitz where he thinks SotF went wrong, and whether or not Studio Wildcard will revisit it down the line.   

"We thought Survival of the Fittest would have that potential based on the fact that it was a pretty fun mod and there were a decent number of players. It never quite caught on as a standalone, even as a free-to-play which of course means it should larger numbers of players," Stieglitz explains. "We didn't want to charge something like that anyway—it's not our intent to charge for that kind of game and also, frankly, our primary priority was and is developing Ark: Survival Evolved. 

"It was an experiment that didn't catch on but we do think there's a fun game there. We've debated many times why it didn't quite hit the sweet spot when similar games—you might call them arena survival games, of some sort—have really taken off. Especially recently with PlayerUnknown's game and also [H1Z1] King of the Kill."

Stieglitz says he's unsure of where Survival of the Fittest fits into today's landscape, but that a lack of resources have prevented he and his team from reinvigorating the game as it stands. Stieglitz suggests the fact SotF's slow-paced, complex and hour-long battles mean its hard for players to drop in and out in the same way they can in PUBG—but the fact Ark includes dinosaurs is nevertheless appealing to the battle royale genre. 

He continues: "I don't know it'd be as big as PlayerUnknown's title, but I think dinosaurs are very agreeable to a general audience and they're cool in a PvP environment. Everybody understands how powerful a T-Rex is compared to, say, a rapture. That's a very intuitive thing—it's a good spectator game in fact. However, it really comes down to focus right now. We're a very small team relative to what we try to do - we've got about 30-some people in our core team—and it's difficult for us to develop Ark: Survival Evolved and Survival of the Fittest at the same time. 

"Honestly, I guess we'll have to see. Once Ark: Survival Evolved's core game is out the door in August, even then we're going to want to see what we can do with the mechanics. We plan many core gameplay updates for the foreseeable future. If somewhere in there we can find a group of people, however, who would want to take SotF forward, we probably would be interested in working something out."

Stieglitz notes that the team originally working on Survival of the Fittest were better versed in the technical side of the game as opposed to design. He admits Studio Wildcards has "toyed" with the idea of revisiting it, but that it's most likely to be kickstarted if they find the right developer externally, or if that developer finds them.  

"If we were to revisit it, we have to do so and ask: do we rebuilt it entirely or do we find a team that can take it forward," Stieglitz adds. "That's what it really comes down to: it's not that I don't think there's a good idea there, I do, but someone's got to actually make it. And we're a little too small to make it at the same time as Ark: Survival Evolved. 

"I certainly like Survival of the Fittest and I would hate to see nothing else come of it. My ability to predict the future is obviously pretty bad. Anything could happen I guess I could say."