Artifact was without much doubt one of the biggest and most anticipated releases of 2018. It came right at the height of the CCG mania. It was produced by Valve, one of the biggest and most successful studios out there. It was firmly settled within the hyper successful DOTA universe. It was made by nobody else than the creator of Magic the Gathering, Richard Garfield. During its long Beta there were countless posts and, after the NDA had been lifted, videos explaining in detail just how awesome the game would be going to be. In short, nothing could go wrong. When it finally launched, its numbers went through the roof immediately. And then, it died. Quick, hard. It's failure is unprecedented in the history of Valve and up to this day, I've never seen a game that was hyped so hard fail that miserably. But what had happened?
All images taken from Steam
When Artifact was released, it seemed to be the perfect game at first. It was just so polished! Sound effects, music, art, it was all matching perfectly. I've never started a trading card game before that had such a pleasant vibe to it. While the first games felt a bit overwhelming, I still enjoyed myself a lot, truly believing I would be spending hundreds of hours with my new favorite toy. It took me a few days to realize something was wrong. Some realized it faster, other took a bit longer, but in the end, one of the biggest and fastest decline in player numbers ever came to be. People quit the game in droves and Valve was seemingly unable to do anything about it.
At it's core, Artifact was your classic trading card game. You built a deck and went to a 1vs1 battle with a randomly selected opponent. In an effort to build something unique, the match was spread out across three lanes, just as you might know from DOTA or League of Legends. The player to first win two of the three lanes would win the match. In between rounds, new units would randomly spawn into the different lanes and you could buy additional items from your shop. Gold was earned from killing opposing units and thus a back and forth in all lanes would evolve. In theory, this might sound like a pretty cool and fresh concept. In reality, it was an awful mess.
First of all, keeping track of what was going on in three different lanes proved to be just too stressful for most players. To make things worse, there was a very strict clock that was always ticking when it was your turn. Once that clock reached zero, you lost the game immediately, creating even more stress. This alone would have been bearable, after all, the game was advertised as being somewhat of a hardcore game, so it was to be expected that casual players would have a hard time. The issue was, though, that the game was way too random to cater to the hardcore crowd. Each turn, 2 additional units would randomly spawn into the three lanes. If possible, they'd spawn across an enemy unit. If not, they would spawn randomly to the left or the right of your troops. Then there was the attack arrow. If your units had no opposing unit, there was a 50% chance they'd attack the opposing player's health and a 50% chance they would attack the opposing unit to the left or the right.
The game offered a lot of cards that could interact with all that randomness, allowing you to change what direction units where attacking towards or even move your troops between lanes. Sadly, it simply wasn't enough to alleviate the sheer amount of randomness. More often than not, you'd start a game just to find that your troops had been randomly placed in positions that would get them killed immediately and without any option to really prevent it. That's not to say that there was no strategy and skill involved, quite the opposite actually, but the game utterly failed to showcase that. In the end, if felt like both your wins and your losses were more dictated by a flip of the coin than by anything else.
Balance was an issue as well, with some (hero) units being ridiculously overpowered while others were arguably almost unplayable. Valve failed to address the issues for way too long. Many people questioned how the game could have ever been released in that state and indeed, it felt like the whole Beta test was missing key issues despite of going on for more than 6 months. Many blamed the way Valve picked their testers, claiming they created an echo chamber filled with only people that would try and hype the game no matter what.
Gameplay wasn't the only shortcoming Artifact suffered from, though. The whole economy was a mess as well. Being a trading card game, you had the option to buy and sell cards from other players using Steam credits. What sounded cool in theory was made mood by a hefty 15% market fee for every trade. On top of that, there was almost no way of going infinite in the game. What that means is that no matter how good you were at the game, you had to spend more money eventually because it simply was next to impossible to earn back more than you'd have to spend for your next tournament. On top of that, there were zero rewards for just playing. Unless you spent real money on tournament tickets, there was nothing for you to win simply from playing the game.
According to people involved with development, Richard Garfield was the one to blame for that whole mess. It seemed like he was the one advocating for that kind of economy, claiming that people still had to pay less than they do in Hearthstone and that they also were able to trade their cards after all. Incidentally, he wasn't wrong with that. In theory, playing Artifact and building a full collection was indeed a lot cheaper than it was in Hearthstone. The issue simply was that it didn't feel that way. With basically no way to continuously grow your collection without spending money, it made people feel like they were always loosing money, no matter what they did. Indeed, both Vavle and Richard Garfield completely missed the fact that a pure Pay2Play model would not be accepted by players in 2018 any more.
Eventually, the game was only played by a handful of players when Valve decided to shut it down. In the same vein, they announced that they would make a complete remake of Artifact, called Artifact Foundry, complete with Single Player, a more streamlined gameplay, and, most importantly, without Richard Garfield. After more than a year of development and running a closed beta once more, they announced that development of this new version has been stopped as well. Valve claimed that this was due to a lack of interest by players. Something rather odd to say considering it was still in a closed Beta. Many claim that the game was just too broken to ever be redeemed. In the end, Artifact went down in history as the worst game Valve has ever made and while I've had some fun with it initially, I never looked back either. If you haven't played Artifact, you really didn't miss much!
And that's all from me for today, thank you all for reading and see you next time!