Not even six months after release, Valve’s foray into a DotA card game has almost completely died out. However, the reason for Artifact’s tanking is much deeper than what appears at first. It doesn’t by any means play badly, which means we need to have a deeper look at the culprits of its mediocre popularity.
Valve first teased artifact during The International 7, DotA’s largest official tournament…and nobody liked it. As of this article’s writing, the teaser’s YouTube announcement has over twelve dislikes for each like. During that time, crowds received Artifact as a cop out for a “real game”. There was a longing for sequels to Valve’s greatest hits—Left 4 Dead and Portal, to name a few. Or, you know, anything related to Half Life—while a collectible card game was nothing like what crowds expected from Mr. Newell’s studio.
Even more worryingly, this unexpected product launched into a fierce market. While Hearthstone was already making waves, Wizards of the Coast had released Magic’s newest set on Arena just a month before. CCG’s fight for a picky consumer base, and space for success is very tight. This is one of the cases in which Artifact’s actual quality as a game isn’t the discriminant: if players have invested significant resources into a competitor, they aren’t likely to switch. Especially if there was little hype.
Does the fact that reviews by outlets average around 8/10 help? Yes and no. Despite Artifact’s intriguing depth and innovative mechanics, it can’t survive without engaged players. Valve’s project enjoyed 60,000 of them at launch, and they’re almost all gone.
Present Day Troubles
Saying that Artifact is tanking is not an exaggeration. While anyone can expect an initial drop in player count, this fall hasn’t stopped since November’s peak. Despite Valve’s great efforts, the community hasn’t been merciful to them.
Many complaints came from the monetisation system. Artifact has a barrier-to-entry of $19.99, while it’s somewhat common practice for CCG’s to be initially free. Moreover, not all players think well of the way Marketplace integration was handled. Gamers may find themselves buying cards that cost just as much as the title itself, which adds to an already large entry barrier.
As of early March, we have also learned that Vale laid off several employees and contractors. The former don’t directly impact Artifact—since they were strictly involved only with hardware development—but the latter include the Three Donkeys studio. Richard Garfield, the man whose mind created Magic: The Gathering, is part of it.
It doesn’t appear that Valve has any intention of giving up on Artifact, but one wonders how they will manage to re-popularize it. Again, the problem doesn’t lie within any of the game’s core mechanics: it has no trouble entertaining. While a good thing, this also means that there is less room for maneuver. The Bellevue studio can’t work on gaining popularity by, say, repackaging a faulty concept. Instead, they are faced with the challenge of actually getting people to play their product.
If anything, Artifact’s tanking has reached the point where it really can’t get any worse. Many things have so far gone wrong, including post-launch issues such as scarce communication from developers. There’s no news about significant updates or the anticipated Million Dollar Tournament—which we have absolutely no details about.
Let’s hope we’ll hear some great announcements soon, Artifact needs them!