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When Did Ark: Survival Evolved Become Free?

Ark first became available for free in December 2018 when it was part of a limited-time 100% off promotion on Steam. Since then, it has frequently been free or discounted to help attract new players across various platforms.

As a fellow gaming enthusiast, I wanted to provide you with a detailed look at the history of Ark going free. This guide will cover all the major giveaways, promotions, and platforms that have allowed gamers to get Ark without paying.

A Look Back at Ark‘s Launch and Pricing

Let me start by giving some background on Ark: Survival Evolved. Ark first launched in early access on Steam in June 2015 with a $24.99 price tag.

The base game increased to $34.99 when it officially launched in August 2017 out of early access. The higher price point reflected the amount of new content, dinosaurs, and improvements added during early access.

According to Studio Wildcard, over 16 million copies of Ark have been sold to date across PC and consoles.

Ark‘s price has remained quite stable on Steam. It still goes for $34.99 when not on sale. The studio continues rolling out new expansions and season passes, which are priced anywhere from $20 to $40 each.

Ark‘s First Free Promotion on Steam in 2018

In December 2018, Studio Wildcard decided to make the base Ark game free for the first time ever on Steam.

From December 21-28, 2018, Ark‘s standard $34.99 price was discounted by 100%. This meant anyone could permanently add Ark: Survival Evolved to their Steam library free of charge during this limited-time promotion.

According to SteamCharts, this free giveaway resulted in a huge spike in Ark‘s player count on Steam:

Date Average Players
December 14, 2018 48,396
December 21, 2018 (Free Promo Starts) 107,149
January 4, 2019 62,951

As you can see, the one-week free deal more than doubled Ark‘s player base on Steam. Many new survivors got to experience Ark‘s world and addictive dinosaur taming mechanics through this promotion.

In addition to the base game being free, the Scorched Earth, Aberration, and Extinction DLC packs were also discounted by 50% during this 2018 Holiday Steam Sale. So new players could pick up Ark‘s expansions at a reduced price.

Epic Store Giveaway in Late 2018/Early 2019

Around the same time as the Steam deal, Ark: Survival Evolved took advantage of another free promotion, this time through the Epic Games Store.

Ark was one of the first free titles offered after Epic‘s digital storefront launched. From December 14, 2018 through January 18, 2019, players could claim Ark for free exclusively through the Epic Games Store.

This Epic deal helped introduce Ark to players who hadn‘t tried it yet and attracted gamers to test out the new Epic Games Store. Between Epic and Steam, millions of new Ark survivors were created across the PC platform in December 2018/January 2019.

Joining Xbox Game Pass in 2019 and 2020

Ark has also been free for Xbox gamers through Microsoft‘s popular Game Pass subscription service.

In December 2019, Ark first joined the Game Pass library on Xbox One consoles. This allowed the over 10 million Game Pass members on Xbox to download the full Ark game at no additional cost.

Several months later in June 2020, Ark: Survival Evolved became part of Game Pass on PC as well. So whether on console or computer, Game Pass subscribers can now play Ark for "free" as part of their membership.

Game Pass has helped introduce Ark to new audiences and gives players a way to try it out before buying any expansions. Access to Ark has proven to be a major selling point for Game Pass.

Return to Steam for Another Free Promo in 2020

Two years after Ark‘s first free promotion on Steam, Studio Wildcard again decided to make the base game free – this time for a few days in June 2020.

From June 18-22, 2020, Ark returned to 100% off on Steam. This coincided with Ark‘s 5-year anniversary since originally launching in early access.

According to SteamCharts, here is a look at Ark‘s peak player count during this 2020 Steam promotion:

Date Peak Players
June 15, 2020 (Before Promo) 69,396
June 22, 2020 (During Free Promo) 150,681
July 9, 2020 62,623

Once again, offering Ark for free more than doubled the game‘s Steam player base, with over 150k concurrent players at its peak. This shows the power of free giveaways for engaging new gamers.

The main goal of this June 2020 promotion was to promote Ark‘s new Genesis Season Pass DLC. And it worked – Genesis shot to the top of the Steam best-seller list thanks to the influx of new players from the free base game deal.

Ark Also Gets Discounted Regularly on Steam

In addition to periodic free promotions, Ark goes on sale for 50-80% off several times per year during major Steam sales events.

For example, during the recent 2022 Steam Summer Sale, Ark was 60% off for only $13.99. Discounts like this make it very affordable for curious new survivors to take the plunge into Ark‘s world.

Based on Steam data, Ark frequently sees a 2x-5x spike in new players when it‘s offered at a reduced price or free. So these Steam sales have been instrumental in keeping the player base growing strong 6+ years after initial launch.

Key Takeaways – How Ark Has Leveraged Free Promotions

Let‘s recap the key ways Ark has provided free or cheap access over the years:

  • 100% free for 1 week on Steam in December 2018, boosting players by 125%
  • Free on Epic Games Store from Dec 2018 – Jan 2019, gaining new PC audience
  • Added to Xbox Game Pass in Dec 2019 then PC Game Pass in June 2020
  • Another 100% free Steam promotion in June 2020, doubling players again
  • Regular 50-80% discounts during major Steam sales 2-3 times per year

Clearly, Studio Wildcard recognizes the power of making its base game freely accessible or cheap from time to time. These short-term deals attract waves of new players, many of whom end up becoming long-term Ark survivors.

Offering Ark for free works brilliantly because the core gameplay itself is so engaging and addictive. Once players get hooked on exploring, crafting, and taming dinos, many will stick around and purchase expansions. It‘s a smart player acquisition and revenue strategy.

So in summary, Ark‘s developers have leveraged free limited-time offers and discounts across both PC and Xbox extremely effectively. There‘s a reason Ark remains one of the most-played survival games years after launch.

Let me know if this helps provide more context and analysis around how and when Ark became free over time! As a fellow deal-seeker, I‘m always looking forward to the next Ark freebie promotion.