How ARK: Survival Ascended is Empowering Modders to Create for Every Platform
Studio Wildcard, Grove Street Games, and Overwolf have collaborated to give players on PC and console the ultimate ARK experience.
Since its initial launch in 2015, user engagement with the dino-infused world of ARK: Survival Evolved has been consistently spirited. As both casual and experienced players will attest, this has much to do with the game’s success as one of the foremost platforms for user-generated content. Mod developers have contributed thousands of creative mods to the game, encompassing custom maps, structures, weapons, and much more. These mods have created and maintained a vibrant, community-driven content ecosystem.
It should perhaps come as no surprise, then, that ARK: Survival Ascended — an ambitious Unreal Engine 5 remaster of the game — brings with it the exciting promise of hugely enhanced modding capabilities. First and foremost, the game will introduce seamless cross-platform compatibility to ARK modding. This means that for the first time ever, ARK mods created on PC will be able to run on consoles, significantly extending the reach of modders, and expanding the breadth and diversity of the experience for players across platforms. In addition to this cross-platform modding, players can also create cross-play servers with their mods, welcoming players from all platforms onto the same modded ARK server for the first time.
Since the announcement in October, 17 million ARK: Survival Ascended mods have been downloaded via CurseForge, with over 550 mods currently available on PC created by 300 contributors. At ARK: Survival Ascended’s launch on Xbox, there are select mods immediately available, with the publish option to be available to all creators shortly after.
The project is an ambitious one with a lot of moving parts, tackled by a collaboration between three studios: Studio Wildcard, Grove Street Games, and Overwolf. “For the longest time, I didn’t actually believe that modding would find a viable foothold on console platforms, at least not anytime soon,” says Studio Wildcard mod program technical director Joshua Hines. “It represents such a monumental collaborative effort in terms of both infrastructure, but also in crafting the overall creator experience for publishing mods on console.” The team at Overwolf gained insights from their experience working with other technical boundary-pushing titles, but also had to get creative in how they handled getting modded game content across the different platforms.
“We wanted to take the ease of use that the best games in the space bring to PC, and do the same simultaneously for consoles and PC,” explains Thomas Williamson, CEO and technical director at Grove Street Games. From a technical perspective, this meant integrated and secure cloud services for constructing the console assets based on the PC data. Those assets also needed to be hardy and compatible with future versions of the game, ensuring that mods will continue working as ARK evolves across all platforms. Finally, the team needed to make sure there was a test flow available to mod authors, so they could run limited tests of their mod content on consoles before making their creations available publicly.
Especially for mod developers out there already familiar with the existing ARK modding tools, getting accustomed to the new toolset should be rather seamless. “Many of the same concepts from Survival Evolved are still valid, but just more friendly to work with in some cases,” Hines says. He expects users will feel a dramatic difference in terms of the editor's overall performance and stability, as well as some of the new features that UE5 offers. For one thing, this includes “cloud cooking” tools: mod authors previously had to cook their mods on their own PCs — a notably hardware-intensive process — and building in the cloud effectively removes this hardware requirement to bring a mod to final. The effect? More creators will ultimately be able to take part in ARK worldbuilding.
Using the UE5 devkit, creators craft source code that’s platform-agnostic. This source code is then uploaded to CurseForge, where the “cloud cooking” begins, automatically preparing and making the mod accessible on PC, Xbox, and PS5. Notably, Hines points out that this is the fundamental way mods are able to be prepared for this new cross-platform environment, given that the tools rely on proprietary software that the developer can’t distribute externally.
With UE5, mod makers will now also have access to all kinds of convenient data types and structures in Blueprints, that haven’t been available for Survival Evolved. Of course, map development will see huge visual improvements and possibilities as well, thanks to the game’s impressive new look and powerful UE5 graphics features like Lumen and Nanite.
While most mods will remain free, Overwolf’s CurseForge enables professional developers and game studios to create premium, DLC-level mods and content that can be monetized in-game. Studio Wildcard and the CurseForge team will support and review these additions to the ARK universe; they can be sold through the in-game mod store, creating an additional monetization stream for devs. Overwolf CPO Alon Rabinovitz explains that the evaluation process will focus on four main criteria: “a creation's quality, the creator's established reputation to ensure [its] sustainability, whether the quality of the creation aligns with a predetermined price point, and its potential to significantly enrich the gameplay experience.”
ARK’s popular Discord server will remain an essential communications hub, allowing mod authors to exchange ideas and feedback with the game’s developers, while support and success teams will cater to their various needs and requests. Finally, a dedicated product team will continually enhance the infrastructure and tools available to creators; currently, this team is working on (among other things) an “author's console” designed to provide valuable statistics and analytics, to help authors manage mods more efficiently.
It all points to big things ahead for the game’s already robust UGC ecosystem. To officially kick things off, CurseForge will be launching a modding contest on December 5th with two tracks: one for premium, DLC-level mods created by game studios, and another for individual hobbyist modders. A total of $350,000 USD in prizes will be awarded for the most creative cross-platform mods that enhance the ARK: Survival Ascended experience.
If you’re interested in submitting or would like to learn more about this next era of cross-platform modding, please visit the official ARK x CurseForge website.