Studio Wildcard have doubled the price of their dino-infested survival game Ark: Survival Evolved [official site] on Steam. The developers say that the price hike is "to ensure retail parity for the upcoming launch" which is on 8 August.
The game was being sold at a lower price through the early access period ($29.99/£22.99/€27.99 with some sales taking it far lower) and the early access blurb acknowledges that the price would increase when the game reached its release form:
"the game will be lower priced through Early Access, relative to its final full-version retail price."
Thing is, the game is still actually in early access at this point despite now sporting what would seem to be a full release version price tag of $59.99/£54.99/€69.99. I assume that's because the pre-ordering for the game is now live so they're trying to funnel people towards that instead of everyone just saying "no thanks, I'll pick it up cheaper on Steam".
So. A few thoughts:
1. We should take a moment to appreciate just how eye-watering that euro number is and that it has actually more than doubled the cost of the game in that currency.
2. $59.99/£54.99/€69.99 is a lot of money and I flat out won't pay that much for any game (unless it tricks me over a long period of time with microtransactions and an underwater-themed map).
3. I did actually try Ark at a few points during the last couple of years and the performance was wretched. I was hoping to get some nice screenshots of dinosaurs and habitats but the tradeoffs I needed to make so it would run with anything approaching playability make the game so fugly. This point is more of a question to you readers because I've seen comments that still point to the game's optimisation as being terrible right now and some people saying the game has improved on that front. Has it? Does it still chug like a kid at Nando's trying to make the most of the bottomless drink deal?
4a. I'm curious as to the thought process here from Studio Wildcard. Sure, there's a warning that the price will increase on the Early Access blurb but that's not the same as a specific warning that this will happen on a specific date and before early access actually ends. I feel like if I'd been pondering a purchase I'd have felt safe in assuming the early access price wouldn't double before the 1.0 release. I just checked the most recent info post on the forum about upcoming bits and pieces and there's nothing about a price change there either.
4b. Studio Wildcard seem to have a really strangely discordant relationship with the idea of early access as it exists right now. In September 2016 the game got its first bit of paid DLC (the somewhat aptly named Scorched Earth expansion) at $19.99 which rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.
The prevailing impression of early access (which is supported by Steam's own Early Access guidelines) is that it's a phase where devs are actively working on a game and it'll be in a bit of a janky state so you pay less money to buy it and often you get to shape the final project a bit by submitting feedback and being part of that initial community. On the dev side you get a source of cash you wouldn't otherwise get and some help with bug reports and testing bits and pieces.
Different games remix or approach that basic concept in different ways but I'd say the above is the generally accepted idea of an Early Access project.
Studio Wildcard seemed to be particularly bad at communicating divergences from the common understanding of early access and came off as money-grubbing with the DLC. Given the release date had slipped a bit already, there were spin-off projects and other resource-sappers, AND some other survival games seem keen to stay in early access forever, I think it was perfectly reasonable that a player might see a paid expansion for an early access game and worry the devs were trying to wring as much cash from the project as possible without even needing to finish it.
The blog post after the fact suggested some reasonable dev-side thinking on why trying an expansion earlier was better than later, but pricing it at two-thirds of the cost of the game at the time felt grim. Essentially, $19.99 doesn't feel like it adheres to the understanding of early access and offering players a good deal in exchange for their help in testing and shaping these things.
The devs have also made some positive moves in terms of money and content as I remember being pleased to hear about their decision to pay modders to work on their own additions and weird fun projects for the game. But to me this new price hike might undo a lot of that good will. Studio Wildcard's approach to pricing (and messaging that pricing to players) seems opaque and tone-deaf at best.
5. The pricing seems kind of a mess anyway. Like, I'm looking at Game because that's one of the links via the official site and you could pre-order the final PC release in physical form for £39.99 or buy the early access version for £54.99 on Steam. I'm not surprised that the physical copy is less than the digital but given the latter gives you access immediately it's hard to shake the feeling that you're playing £15 for access to 32 days of extra development time. I wonder if there's a German word for that specific early access-related emotion?
The Explorer's Edition is maybe a bit more palatable I think. I say "I think" because it's £69.99 but that includes a season pass for 3 expansions including Scorched Earth. In theory that would mean you're maybe paying £69.99 instead of £99.96 IF AND ONLY IF the other expansions are priced the same as the Scorched Earth one and you bought them separately. But you can actually pick up Ark plus Scorched Earth on Steam as a bundle for £59.48 so it's entirely possible that another bundle on Steam later down the line will actually be the better deal? I mean, I couldn't see anything about how much a season pass would cost by itself and to see the value you have to predict future prices based on current ones rather than any actual pricing info that I can find.
I'll bold this one because it might help someone who missed their affordability window:
You can also buy a physical card with a Steam code for the game for £22.99 still because I'm guessing there's still stock of those early access cards with the price printed on the corner at the moment.
Oh, and you can also buy a collector's edition for a whopping £149.99 but only for console.
God, this is nonsense.