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Why does Ark: Survival Evolved suddenly cost twice as much?

The move from early access to retail can be challenging

A recent screenshot from Ark: Survival Evolved from E3, 2017.
Studio Wildcard
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Ark: Survival Evolved launched onto Steam’s Early Access in June 2015 and quickly became one of PC’s hottest titles. Now, as the team at Studio Wildcard prepares for a full commercial release, the game has suddenly jumped up in price from $29.99 to $59.99. Polygon reached out to the team to find out why.

On the eve of this year’s E3 in Los Angeles, Studio Wildcard announced that Ark: Survival Evolved would end its journey through early access after more than two years of live development. The game will get a worldwide retail and digital release on August 8 and come out simultaneously for Linux, Mac, PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.

The studio told us that the plan was always to raise Ark’s price after the early access period, and it’s something that has been communicated to fans since the beginning. But the sudden price increase while still technically in early access caught many by surprise.

Studio Wildcard told Polygon that the increase was necessary given the realities of a retail sales model dependent on pre-orders.

“As we head towards finishing up Ark and launching it at retail, the retailers wouldn't allow a price discrepancy between digital sellers and physical sellers,” community manager and associate producer Jatheish Karunakaran said in an email. “Given Ark has over three times as much content now as our initial Early Access launch, we agreed with their requirement to match the digital price to the disc price when pre-orders started. Otherwise, it would be out of the question to see Ark on shop shelves with a simultaneous release.

“As soon as it was made clear to us by the retailers that a digital price adjustment was necessary for the launch, we let the community know through our various communication channels to provide a final opportunity to get the game at the original Early Access price. As relatively few large games have transitioned from Early Access into a full retail launch, we wish there was a smoother process for how to do it, but I think everyone — us and the industry itself — is still figuring some of this stuff out.”

Ark went to early access with an impressive feature set. It had a massive, 25-square kilometer map, a robust crafting system, persistent player housing and a host of prehistoric creatures to hunt and tame. It was even compatible with VR systems such as the Oculus Rift. User reviews on Steam remain mixed. Many are related to performance issues, a stigma that has hung like a cloud over the Unreal Engine 4-powered game for years.

Since 2015, Ark has continued to roll out free features on a regular basis. It also made the controversial decision to offer a paid DLC bundle called Scorched Earth, a concept which ruffled feathers among its early access player base. The team discussed the fallout from that decision candidly during their presentation at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, which you can watch at the 27-minute mark in the video below.

“We don’t really recommend that anybody does this,” said studio co-founder Jesse Rapczak. “But for us it was a success.”

The Scorched Earth DLC resulted in a “review bomb,” as Rapczak called it, of dissatisfied owners lashing out at the company. Regardless, the add-on sold well and was reviewed higher on Steam than the base game itself. It also increased the number of concurrent players and, ultimately, owners. Studio Wildcard said at GDC that it had sold over 7 million copies of the base game.