Artifact was supposed to be so many things: Valve’s first proper video game in years. A marketplace that drew on the trading card traditions of yore and Valve’s cutting-edge community tech. A game with a player base of more than a 100 people at any given moment. Months after release, however, hardly anybody’s playing it, and Valve has said it’s taking the game back to the drawing board. Artifact designer Richard Garfield, who previously created Magic: The Gathering, has weighed in on what he thinks went wrong.
Speaking with Win.gg, Garfield and design partner Skaff Elias dissected their ill-fated collaboration with Valve, which they are no longer working on after having parted ways with the company earlier this year.
“My perspective was that there were three problems—the revenue model was poorly received, there weren’t enough community tools and short-term goals in place online like achievements or missions, and, perhaps because of these things, there was a rating bombing that made it hard to get the message out about what the game offered to the player who it was built for,” said Garfield.
Artifact’s controversial business model—which allowed players to obtain new cards only by purchasing or trading—was a big sticking point for many players. When pressed, Garfield refused to classify the system as pay-to-win. He explained that, in his opinion, there are two key parts of pay-to-win: 1) a big advantage conferred by purchasing something, and 2) the pure cost factor. Artifact, in his opinion, was free of both those burdens.
“I am an OK player and a mediocre deck constructor in Artifact, and access to all of the cards won’t change that,” he said. “I might be able to overcome the mediocre deck construction by copying someone else’s deck, but it won’t make me an excellent player. Likewise, I can spend thousands on golf clubs, but it won’t make me a golf champion.”
He went on to say that top-tier decks in Artifact “generally” cost less than equivalent decks in Magic and Hearthstone—which is, if nothing else, definitely true now, given that Artifact’s Steam marketplace has turned into a ghost town. Garfield acknowledged that Artifact might not be the best value proposition for people who are used to playing digital card games instead of traditional card games. He said that the business model “appeared generous to Magic players, but stingy to players who expected free-to-play with grinding for cards.”
More and more Artifact players expressing their dissatisfaction started to affect the development team. But Garfield, Elias, and their former co-workers at Valve pressed on.
“I think it goes without saying that people were upset on the team,” said Elias. “As the situation got worse, we all felt worse. You can’t be a dedicated professional and not have this stuff stress you. But everyone kept trying because the game has a lot of potential. People worked really hard at pushing out updates, and I expect they still are.”
Despite how poorly (and, on Twitch, porn-y) things have gone, Garfield still thinks there’s a solid foundation underlying Artifact. That, he believes, could end up being the game’s saving grace in the long run.
“I believe it’s a high quality game that offers something very different than what’s already out there,” he said. “It has more kinship with an RTS than any other TCG, for example... I think the team has an excellent story, if they can figure out how to share it with the right audience.”