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Ark: Survival of the Fittest, esports-focused spinoff, debuts free in Steam Early Access

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It's a Hunger Games-style multiplayer arena of death

Ark: Survival Evolved maker Studio Wildcard has spun out one of the game's most popular mods into its own game, Ark: Survival of the Fittest, and launched the free-to-play spinoff in Steam's Early Access program earlier this week.

Survival of the Fittest originated as a total conversion mod developed by Studio Wildcard itself; the company publicly released the mod in August 2015 along with a development kit that allows players to make their own mods. Survival Evolved debuted in Steam Early Access in June 2015.

Survival Evolved is a multiplayer game in which human characters must survive on an island by growing crops and hunting and taming animals (including dinosaurs). Survival of the Fittest is an arena-based multiplayer title that takes place in an ever-shrinking "ring of death" that forces players toward each other. People can play solo or team up in groups of as many as six players, and can tame and ride more than 30 creatures at launch.

Studio Wildcard describes Survival of the Fittest as a "multiplayer online survival arena (M.O.S.A.) game," which is a silly spin on the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre of titles like League of Legends. The studio compares the game's arena-based survival gameplay to the Hunger Games.

New features in the stand-alone Survival of the Fittest game include matchmaking, leaderboards and ELO rankings. In an effort to push the game as an esport, Studio Wildcard will offer monthly cash prizes for the top 10 players in each game mode's "Survivor League."

Ark: Survival of the Fittest is developed by Studio Wildcard along with Instinct Games, Efecto Studios and Virtual Basement. The game is currently available on Steam as a free-to-play title on Windows PC with an expected release window "around Q4 of 2017," according to Studio Wildcard. Console versions are also in development.