The game is played from either a third-person or first-person perspective and its open world is navigated on foot or by riding a prehistoric animal. Players can use firearms and improvised weapons to defend against hostile humans and creatures, with the ability to build bases as defense on the ground and on some creatures. The game has both single-player and multiplayer options. Multiplayer allows the option to form tribes of members in a server. The max number of tribe mates varies from each server. In this mode all tamed dinosaurs and building structures are usually shared between the members. There is a PvE mode where players cannot fight each other.
Development began in October 2014, where it was first released on PC as an early access title in the middle of 2015. The development team conducted research into the physical appearance of the animals, but took creative license for gameplay purposes. Egypt-based developer Instinct Games was hired to facilitate the game's development. A taming calculator and companion guide app, titled A-Calc was released for mobile devices and Windows 10 in October 2015. A companion app, titled Dododex, was released for mobile devices in August 2017. One of the game modes, Survival of the Fittest, was also released as a standalone game on PC the same month. Several expansions to the game have also been released as downloadable content: The Center, Primitive Plus, Scorched Earth, Ragnarok, Aberration, Extinction, and Valguero. Two spin-off games developed by Snail Games were released in March 2018: ARK Park, a virtual reality game, and PixArk, a sandbox survival game. Ark: Survival Evolved received generally mixed reviews, with criticism for its "punishing" difficulty and reliance on grinding.