Recent reports by VPEsports hinted at what many hoped for and in fact expected. Valve is paying close attention to mod phenomenon Dota 2 Auto Chess. The Seattle company is in talks with Auto Chess’ developer Drodo Games to potentially bring the mod in-house and move towards its commercialization.
The move makes sense for Valve, whether a partnership between them and Drodo Games will come to fruition. What’s more, Auto Chess will be a way better fit to Valve’s family and portfolio of games than their own recent game, Artifact, ever was or could be.
In its core, Auto Chess carries the true Valve spirit in more than one way.
1. Auto Chess comes from the community, and Valve is all about that
Auto Chess was birthed from a brilliantly innovative idea that sounds absurd enough to work. While trying to describe the game is not easy, its fundamentals are simple and clear. But more importantly, Auto Chess is a new spin on a working formula, something that Dota 2 fans can relate to and enjoy.
Although it’s been a while since Valve has released a new game, Artifact notwithstanding, you don’t have to be an old gamer to remember that adopting existing mods and making them bigger and better was Valve’s modus operandi. Dota 2 was once a Warcraft 3 custom map, which also sounded ridiculous at the time, but which was just as alluring to Warcraft 3 players as Auto Chess is to Dota 2 players. In 2009, Valve hired original DotA designer IceFrog and began production on Dota 2.
The whole history of Valve has set the stage for Dota Auto Chess’ arrival.
Counter-Strike spawned as a mod for Half-Life in 1999. A year later, CS creators Minh Le and Jess Cliffe were also hired by Valve and CS launched as a standalone in 2000.
Team Fortress had a similar fate. It originally spawned as mod for Quake in ’96. Some years later, dev team TF Software Pty transferred to Valve and Team Fortress Classic officially launched in 1999 as a Half-Life mod.
The pattern goes on with indie developers Turtle Rock’s Left 4 Dead (hired by Valve in 2008) and Alien Swarm’s developers (hired by Valve in 2010). Even Portal, the brilliant puzzle game in the Half-Life universe, is a spiritual successor of an indie game created by a bunch of students who — you guessed it — later went on to work for Valve and develop Portal.
As evident, the whole history of Valve has set the stage for Dota Auto Chess’ arrival.
In the opposite corner, Artifact is Valve’s first attempt to create a game themselves, from the ground up. The game’s macabre state proves, however, that the company has maybe lost touch with what the community wants.
From the get-go, Artifact distanced itself from the community as much as possible and never cared about what it might want. It stayed in closed beta for a year, playable by a small set of pro players and personalities. It alienated even card game fans and somehow convinced its few apologists to vouch for its overwhelming complexity as a positive.
Every big Valve game was successful because it valued the community factor. Even notoriously difficult, even-at-times-alienating titles like Dota 2 gave its fans incentives to play, to feel part of something bigger.
Instead, Artifact chose to embrace solitude, and in solitude, it now festers.
2. Auto Chess’ fundamentals make it appealing to multiple audiences — like all Valve games
While it’s Blizzard who originally got famous for the “easy to learn, hard to master” recipe for video games, Valve’s titles have also followed this closely. It’s easy to get into a Valve game. Only once you start playing do you realize there is so much more to learn.
Artifact hit that last part quite well but failed at getting the players to want to learn it in the first place. As a result, it only really spoke to card game aficionados, the hardcore community who doesn’t mind picking up math homework and calling it a “game”.
Artifact chose to embrace solitude, and in solitude, it now festers.
But Auto Chess landed in the golden middle ground and from there appealed to multiple communities at once: from card game fans who appreciated the sort of deckbuilding element; to Dota 2 players who recognized their favorite heroes and their abilities; to general strategy fans who liked outsmarting others in a game that puts wits before speed.
Although Dota 2 can be a very closed community nowadays, these same principles were in effect when DotA was just a Warcraft 3 mod, for example. Like strategy games but aren’t fast enough for Warcraft? Play DotA. Love RPGs but want a different character every time? Play DotA. Love playing with your friends and not against them? DotA.
The other Valve titles also attracted varying audiences, following much of the same bullet points. Counter-Strike took down Quake’s tempo just the right amount, while also introducing tactics and team-play. Team Fortress 2 ended up the prototype for the light-hearted (appealing to casual shooter fans), class-based (appealing to MOBA fans) squad shooters, on whose fundamentals now lie Overwatch and its copycat cousins.
Artifact was never going to do that, and as a result, was always going to feel less like a Valve game. If Garfield and co. had found a way to attract those who needed a combination of:
— something more serious than Hearthstone but just as easily accessible
— something other card games don’t offer
— something that feels like a Dota 2 game
…then perhaps it would see a brighter future. At the very least, it would feel more like a Valve game than it does now.
3. Auto Chess is much more a Dota 2 game than Artifact
In conclusion, consider this quote by caster and analyst Robert “RobAJG” Gonzales from a recent interview with me:
“There’s this huge community in Auto Chess because it directly appeals to Dota players. And Artifact doesn’t do that, not even a little bit. […] It becomes way more apparent after playing and doing this research for Dota that Artifact is just not a Dota game. It’s a game with Dota graphics.”
How can a Dota 2 card game fail to understand what makes Dota 2 great? How can it miss everything Dota 2 players would look for in the game? And if it didn’t want to go for these players, who the hell was its targets?
In every conceivable way, Artifact feels out of place among the other Valve titles and is far, far removed from its Dota 2 source material. Strip the developers’ names from the titles, give them to an unsuspecting gamer and ask them which one is more a Valve game.
Yeah, that’s what I thought.