If you have bought ARK in the last few years, you will surely have wondered why you got a second game with it. Because when you buy it, you not only get ARK, but also ARK Survival of the Fittest. But what exactly is the difference? I’ll explain it to you!
The birth of SOTF or Survival of the Fittest
The year was 2015, August 2015 to be exact. The game had just launched into Early Access on Steam and a new patch introduced the game option “Total Conversion”. Even though Total Conversions are hardly used nowadays because of the hassle of keeping them updated, this was one of the many experiments in ARK to introduce new player experiences apart from the normal game. Wildcard also wanted to give modders the chance to completely change ARK. With the Total Conversion option, a new game mode was then introduced, Survival of the Fittest. This was an ARK battle royal in which you competed alone or in a team against enemy players. Taming, farming and crafting were made easier. At that time, bosses could also be tamed and taken into battle.
SOTF became a Standalone Game
Fast forward to March 2016 – In the attempt to make Survival of the Fittest suitable for e-sports, the total conversion became a stand-alone game that was available for free on Steam. The plan was to boost player numbers and also simplify development by removing the link between Survival of the Fittest and the main ARK game.
Wildcard created a separate league, which showed the individual players sorted by team size and Elo. At the end of the month, they held a big tournament in which the best players could compete against each other for high cash prizes.
With the money came the problems
But with that the problems started to appear. The appeal of winning money in a game that was not yet finished or optimized was the cause of many small scandals within the Survivor League. The Elo system also turned out to be not suitable, as losses were punished too harshly. It was easier to stream-snipe a streamer with a high Elo and therefore be ranked above him than to win honestly. So many monthly tournaments were then played by cheaters against cheaters for money. There was no matching system because the player base was simply too small for that. So beginners were thrown into a game with pros and quickly lost interest if the pros killed them too quickly. The waiting times until a new lobby would start could take up to 30 minutes.
The player base dropped very quickly from almost 4000 active players to less than 1000. Because the game was free, it was difficult to take action against cheaters and hackers. Some cheaters at that time had 30-40 Smurf accounts. Servers were also regularly DDOSsed.
End of support and development
Only 6 months later, Studio Wildcard stopped all development. Officially, because they wanted to focus on the main game. However, unofficially SOTF only cost money, and they had hardly any staff to manage another game that would have needed so much support and moderation. Devs developed the last few patches in their spare time and a game simply cannot be maintained on such a foundation.
Failed tries to bring it back
Since 2016, there have been several attempts to bring SOTF back to life under the hands of modders, and you could almost set an alarm for a new project to pop up every 3-4 months, but none of them really succeeded. The last SOTF project failed in mid-August 2021 when the organizers did not pay the development studio that had been working on the mod. Based on the echo that came out of that, I can’t envision anything coming out of that ever again.
SOTF today still has a few official servers running at present and around 20-30 active players who sometimes manage to meet in a lobby at the same time. The only reasonable way to play SOTF today is to set up your own server for your community. This is tricky though, because you have a year 2015 or 2016 old ARK still with the old UI and the old security vulnerabilities. Most server hosts no longer support that.
Never more than a showcase
As you can see, this is a Battle Royale game that was presented as a showcase to present the new Total Conversion feature. It was the proof that anyone could make ARK into what they wanted it to be by providing a Total Conversion. However, since WildCard has for the most part abandoned the concept, there is no reason to continue running SOTF as a loss-making business.
But what happened to the former SOTF players? Some players who played SOTF were not particularly interested in ARK as a survival game. They happily turned to other Battle Royales. For example Scoom, Molnman, Hayz and ollywood were signed together as a PuBG team by Team Liquid. Other players switched to ARK PvP and now stream on Twitch.
However, many have moved on to completely different games and careers after that.
The competition is too good for SOTF to ever be popular again
After Survival of the Fittest many Battle Royale games came along that did it better. Balancing, moderation, bans. Game mechanics were catchy so even inexperienced players could gain an understanding of the game. Together with matchmaking and a ranking system, these were successful concepts. This may also be the reason many attempts to revive SOTF did not work. People romanticized the time when the biggest competition was H1Z1 or Arma Battle Royale. The latter was also not very accessible but still more popular.
The Core Dev team never hugely supported SOTF . It was rather a side project of a few who were willing to put more time into the game. Judging at how full the devs’ hands are with ARK 1 and 2 now, it is probably unlikely that this mode will ever be taken up again. Other projects such as Primitive Plus would deserve it more.
Whether or not SOTF is worth trying is of course up to you. However, today it is a bit of a ghost town without laws, and you have to bring your own opponents.
It’s dead Jim
Although many see it as a shame, I think players idealized SOTF despite its flaws and problems. In today’s landscape with all the Battle Royals that exist, it would really struggle to keep up.
The developers are giving ARK Survival Evolved and ARK 2 the full attention at the moment. On top we expect the ARK 2 release to be next year. It is questionable whether the topic of battle royale will be on the agenda again by then, but the team would then have to expand immensely in order to do justice to a moderation-intensive game like a battle royale.
Now you know what the extra game in your library is all about. It’s probably not really worth getting into this mode any more, unless you make your own server and have a large circle of friends or a community with which you can fill a lobby.