ARK: Survival Evolved got another map today, a Tolkien-inspired landscape that doubles the game's size. But the game's developer, Studio Wildcard, didn't make it. It was a mod from the community that became popular, prompting Studio Wildcard to offer a bunch of money for it and hiring the guy. This map, called The Center, is the second mod plucked from the community. Only two mods have become official so far. The next one, a mod called Primitive+ that forces players to use ancient toolsets to advance, arrives in July.
The way it works, according to ARK lead designer Jeremy Stieglitz, is that Studio Wildcard identifies a mod they're interested in and offers "a considerable amount of money", which varies on the time they have been working on it. With both of these mods, that came out to "multiple months' salary for a creative".
"There's no ARK Mod EULA that gives us any inherent rights to use their work," said Stieglitz, "so it's entirely up to these authors whatever they want to do when we contact them. But of course, for a mod author this program becomes a chance to have their work featured in front of a huge audience (6 million strong) as well as be paid for it, and continue to develop it for that eager audience."
Studio Wildcard was impressed by The Center and Primitive+ enough to offer both of them jobs, which they have since accepted. That part won't be the norm.
"Going forward," said Stieglitz, "we intend to continue to regularly select what we consider to be the most and most polished Mods from among the many thousands available on Steam Workshop — often identified through open-entry cash-prize Mod Contests, such as the one we're currently running, which we use to gauge community enthusiasm. And then when we determine what we think are the standout exemplars, we'll make more offers."