Valve’s card game Artifact was one of the defining game failures of 2018. Its initial reveal during The International 2017 was not accepted warmly by the community and neither was the game’s full release a year later. Artifact launched with an off-putting prize model: the game cost $20 — the only one of the major card games on the market to not be free to play — and then continuously taxed the player every step of the way. Players had to pay tickets for constructed or draft tournaments, which gave little pay-off.
On top of it all, Artifact’s game play was criticized for being way too complicated, catering almost exclusively to hardcore card game fans and doing little to attract a casual audience. It had an unintuitive win condition, the complex initiative mechanic that was at the same time convoluted and essential to getting good at the game, and boring battle phases, which streamer Andrey “Reynad” Yanyuk once described as math equations. For being a card game in Dota’s universe, Artifact failed to connect to the Dota fanbase too and it ended up appealing to a very narrow set of players.
Just weeks after the release, that narrow set almost evaporated. Between November’s launch and end of January, Artifact had lost over 97% of its player base. By February, it cost less than $70 to purchase every single Artifact card on the Steam market. In comparison, a single deck in Magic: The Gathering often costs three times that, at least.
Many other factors contributed to the demise of Artifact. According to players who took part in the exclusive closed beta tests, Valve were given a lot of feedback but implemented little to none of that. The game also felt empty, with very few things to do, and those that were available cost money. By the time Valve introduced a progression system to the game to give players something to achieve, it was already too late — everyone had given up on Artifact already.
In April 2019, one of the last opinions about Artifact came from Dota 2 personality Jake “SirActionSlacks” Kanner, who stated that he doesn’t believe Valve will ever relaunch Artifact. “I think it’s done,” said Kanner, but it seems he’s been wrong.
This week, Valve released a new blog post titled “Under construction”, which promised the return of Artifact in a completely new look, promising some updates after next week.
“You might notice some changes soon – we are starting tests on our systems and infrastructure. This shouldn’t impact live Artifact but we wanted to give you a heads up. Expect more news after the launch of Half-Life: Alyx!”
While word that Artifact’s revamp is being worked on is a nice change of the silent pace, it doesn’t really carry much promise. When it arrives, Artifact 2 will find itself in a card game market, where its leader Hearthstone just announced a new hero for the game and a comprehensive plan content plan for the entire year. At the same time, Riot’s Legends of Runeterra, while in a viewership decline at the moment, has received a lot of praise for finding a golden middle ground between intuitiveness and complexity, something Artifact failed to do, and there’s still MTG: Arena which has been the main online platform for MTG esports.
Whatever Artifact 2 is, it has to be a complete 180 turn from its predecessor, or this will be another failure for Valve.