PAX East 2016 Interview with Co-Founder of Studio Wildcard, Jesse Rapczak

Last week, in the shadow of the great Pax Rex (seriously, that thing was awesome), I was afforded the pleasure of speaking with co-founder of Wildcard Studios and co-creator of Ark: Survival Evolved, Jesse Rapczak. As fans took photos atop the Giganotosaurus and slaughtered each other in the hourly Ark: Survival of the Fittest tournaments, Jesse and I discussed console servers, eSports, cross-platform compatibility, VR and lawsuits.

BagoGames – What was the initial inspiration for Ark: Survival Evolved?

Jesse Rapczak – We knew that the survival genre was booming and we knew that dinosaurs were going to be big after Jurassic World. We were just shocked that people were trying to make survival games and not doing a very good job at it. We were like “Man, we could do that so much better!” We wanted to make the game we’ve always wanted to play since we were kids. We were a little nervous that some AAA studio was going to swoop in before us and make a dinosaur survival game or some other type of first-person, RPG survival game with dinos; that’s why we moved so fast. When we first started working on it, we released it on Early Access because we kind of wanted to be first on the market.

BG – How long has Ark: SE been in Early Access?

JR – We’ve been in Early Access for almost a year, which is not really all that long, compared to some games. We do still plan to “release,” which feels weird to say because we’re almost at 5 million players right now. But, when we do “release,” I think that we will bring in a lot of people who don’t want to play an Early Access game. We’re now looking at Holiday 2016 on all platforms, simultaneously with the launch of Ark: Survival Evolved. As for Survival of the Fittest, we’re just starting it so we don’t have a timetable for that, but it will be in Early Access in Beta for PS4 on June 19th, and we’ll figure out our roadmap as we go.


BG – What made you guys decide to make Survival of the Fittest a stand-alone game?

JR – Well it started that way, as a mod, but it just got really popular. We ran some tournament ladders and people really enjoyed it. There was a lot of stuff we wanted to do with the game, like improve the spectator mode, add eSport features like skins and awards, and supporting all kinds of stat tracking like a lot of games have now. All of this stuff we couldn’t of as a mod because it required too many core changes. Once we realized that, we decide to peel it off and make it it’s own thing and that really freed us up to do those things without interrupting the main game’s development.

BG – So will SOTF be coming to the Xbox One?

JR – Not until it’s out of early access on Steam and PS4. But, the flip side is true with Survival Evolved as it won’t be on PS4 until it’s finished. So we’ve got one game on Xbox and one game on PlayStation. You can play them both on PC, but eventually you will be able to play them all on every platform.


(ARK: Survival of the Fittest, Studio Wildcard)

BG – Survival of the Fittest is currently free on PC. Will it be free on PS4 as well?

JR – We’ll have a different monetization model as opposed to when we do our final launch. We’re still working that out with Sony. By then, we’ll have a new model on PC as well. It will always be free to play in some fashion, but when it’s in its Beta period on PS4, we’ll be charging some amount.

BG – So how will that work? Will there be micro-transactions?

JR – You’ll never have to pay for play time or gameplay stuff. It would be more like awards and cosmetics, optionally if you want to. There will also be unlockables. We’re working on how that economy will work. We want it to be something the community sees as adding value to the game, not something that can prevent them from enjoying it. Another thing we are doing is anything you earn or buy in SOTF, you can also use back in Survival Evolved, even though you can’t get it in Survival Evolved, like cool dinosaur skins or play costumes.


(ARK: Survival of the Fittest, Studio Wildcard)

BG – Would that only work on one platform, like would I be able to use something in my Survival Evolved game on Xbox One that I earned in SOTF on PS4?

JR – Maybe! We’re thinking about that stuff. We’re not sure exactly what we’re going to do, but with the whole cross-platform thing being okay now, there are a lot of interesting opportunities that open up, so I’m not going to say that’s off the table. At, you can link your Steam or Xbox account to your forum account, so we’re already playing with the idea that our community site can tie your accounts together. So in the background, we’re kind of slowly building up that infrastructure so that your identity in the game can exist outside of the game.

BG – When will new PvP servers roll out on Xbox One?

JR – It’s hard because once we make a server, we never turn it off and all servers have a significant cost. We’ll probably be adding more servers slowly as we go, but we don’t want to outright wipe people and we don’t want to just keep adding a bunch of servers forever. Everyone’s going to keep asking for more, so we’re working on a solution that’s not just “more servers.” One thing that we’re trying to do is enable self-hosted Xbox servers for Windows 10. So, like if you want to have a custom hosted server on Xbox, you could host it on a Windows 10 machine or rent a server from a server company. It’s not something we currently support, but we’re looking into it.


(ARK: Survival of the Fittest, Studio Wildcard)

BG – How do you feel about SOTF’s future as an eSport?

JR – We feel like we’re a little bit different than a lot of eSports because we’ve got this arena that’s full of AI and random events. We’re going against the grain of eSports a little bit with all these factors outside of your skill level that affect the game. But we really think there’s something unique about that because it’s not just about knowing the map and having a certain skill. In SOTF, you never know whats going to happen. So now you don’t just have to grow your understanding of strategies and how to counter them, but you have to grow your understanding of the world and how it works, like events that occur, where creatures around the map spawn and how they behave. We’re pretty confident about it. It’s pretty entertaining to watch. I think that the only thing we have to do now is focus on eSports players and what’s the right answer for them for things like tournaments and regular competitions. Right now we have this monthly survivor league where we reward the top players with a cash payment, but that’s just a start. Once we have more feedback, we’ll want to start more structured tournaments.

BG – How long are average games in SOTF?

JR – Right now, there are 4 modes. Free-for-all, which has like 30 – 35 minute games. It is a very popular mode. It’s the shortest and has the most instant action. Then you go to 2 player tribes and the time increases. Then there’s 4 player tribes and 6 player tribes as our big game modes. Those matches can last a couple hours.


(ARK: Survival of the Fittest, Studio Wildcard)

BG – Do matches take place on certain areas of the map?

JR – No. The map shrinks down over time, pushing players towards the center, like Battle Royale. So initially, everyone can spread out and go wherever they want. But, as the match goes on, they have to kind of figure out how to get back to the center. When the timer runs out, it’s just that top platform and then it’s just a battle to the finish with no where to hide.

BG – How do engrams and leveling up work in SOTF?

JR – In FFA mode, all engrams are unlocked at the beginning and it’s just about finding the resources you may need to grab something. Also with taming, you don’t have to craft a saddle. The second you tame something, you can ride it, which is also true for all modes. But once you get to two tribe mode, you need to unlock and level up your character. With six players, it’s important to develop individual character strengths and split responsibilities throughout the tribe.


(ARK: Survival of the Fittest, Studio Wildcard)

BG – Are there any plans to elaborate on the narrative of Survival Evolved?

JR – Yes. That’ll be rolling out over the next two months. We’ve got ruins that we’re putting in, explorer nodes that you can find, written by different characters in their different native languages. Through those nodes, you’ll be able to fill in the back story. Beyond that, we’re putting in boss arenas. We just launched the first one for the Broodmother and we’ll be doing one each for the Gorilla and the Dragon bosses. Then we’ll have a final, end game boss that sort of ties together everything that’s happening. It doesn’t tell you exactly what’s happening, but it will give you more of an idea of what’s going on with the island and everything that’s happening there. It will also set up future stories for Ark and potentially give players new areas to go to and continue the story.

BG – So there will be a way to “win?”

JR – What we don’t want to do is create a linear story that people have to do. So, the endgame is totally optional. Winning is all about summoning the bosses and defeating them. We have a whole other technology tier called the “tech tier.” In order to reach the endgame, you need to defeat the bosses to earn those engrams and unlock the highest tech so you can then confront the final, mysterious boss. But, those items can also be useful in the regular game as well. We’ve got cool things like tech-grenades and transporters and things like that.


(ARK: Survival Evolved, Studio Wildcard)

BG – So would “winning” the game have a server-wide effect?

JR – No, but let’s just say that the rest of the server will know that someone did finish the game. We do have some stuff planned, but we feel like it’s not going to be super common that people complete the endgame, so we want to make it a big deal when it happens. It won’t impact other people’s games at all, but it will definitely be like a status symbol for bragging rights.

BG – What about PlayStation VR?

JR – So we are planning to look at that stuff, but not until after Survival Evolved and SOTF are out. We actually have something we’re working on that we wanted to bring to PAX, but it wasn’t quite ready. We want to be really careful with the VR thing because just taking the game and putting it in VR really isn’t the answer. So, probably what you’ll see is VR experiences relating to Ark, but not with the entire game. The real magic of VR is being able to use motion controllers and feel like you’re really in the game, without a regular controller. So, we’d want to capitalize on that. SOTF actually has Oculus support, but the controls are still the same. You’re essentially just playing the game while wearing an Oculus. So down the road, you might see some actual VR as DLC or a stand alone project. Ark as it is now won’t be in VR. What’ll probably happen is an Ark experience that was made for VR, that can maybe tie into your character or regular game in some way.

BG – Did the lawsuit with Trendy Entertainment impact the development of either game?

JR – No, it was just kind of annoying stuff that was happening in the background. It didn’t really impact our plans, as you can see with our presence here at PAX East. It just kind of made us really annoyed that we had to deal with it. But you know, they say you haven’t made it in life until somebody sues you! All the headlines about pulling the games from sale was just sensationalist stuff. It would have never happened. The whole reason we wanted to settle it was to put it behind us.

Ark: Survival Evolved is currently available (in early access) on both Steam and Xbox One, and slated for release on PS4 once the game is complete later this year. An early access version of Ark: Survival of the Fittest is available now, for free on Steam and will be arriving on PS4 June 19th.

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