Artifact (video game)
|Genre(s)||Digital collectible card game|
Artifact is a digital collectible card game developed and published by Valve Corporation. The game focuses on online player versus player battles across three boards, called lanes, and is based upon the universe of Dota 2, a multiplayer online battle arena game also from Valve. Artifact was designed by Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield, and allows for the buying and selling of cards on the Steam Marketplace. The game was released for Microsoft Windows, macOS, and Linux in November 2018.
While Artifact's gameplay and drafting mechanics received praise, it was criticized for its high learning curve and monetization model, which some likened to being pay-to-win, and saw a 95% decline in players within two months of its release.
As a digital collectible card game, the gameplay of Artifact is to build a deck of collectable cards, obtained via purchasing either individual cards or packs of them on the Steam Marketplace, in order to defeat an opponent in a one-on-one situation. Artifact is heavily based upon and features many elements from the multiplayer online battle arena game Dota 2, which Valve also developed. As such, the game differs from most other traditional collectible card games, as it features three "lanes" guarded by a tower at the end, with each lane existing as its own independent board. The victor is the first person to either destroy a structure called the "Ancient", which appears after a tower has been destroyed, or the first to destroy two towers in total. As with Dota 2, the game focuses on online player versus player matchmaking and does not have a single-player component, although a tutorial against an AI-controlled bot is used for teaching new players how to play.
Each deck contains at least 40 cards, with nearly 300 cards in total being available at the game's launch. Cards are grouped into three rarity tiers, common, uncommon, and rare, and are further grouped into four color themes, red, green, black, and blue, that each have their own unique effects on the board. Each lane also has its own independent mana pool, which is used for casting hero abilities and grows by one point after each round while also fully replenishing. In addition to hero abilities, item cards can also be freely placed and used in any lane. Each time a card is played, the initiative passes to the opposing player. After all cards have been played in a lane, heroes and "creeps", which are weak, but numerous mobs that can not be directly controlled and respawn every round, begin attacking whatever is opposite them, including the opposing tower if there are no units left. This repeats until all three lanes have been played, after which it goes to the "Shopping Phase", where gold accumulated during battles is spent on buying items and upgrading hero equipment in three different slots for weapons, armor, and accessories.
Development of Artifact began in late 2014, with lead designer Richard Garfield being brought in to help make a digital card game due to his experience with creating the popular Magic: The Gathering franchise. The game was then announced via a teaser trailer played at The International 2017, a large Dota 2-specific esports tournament organized by Valve Corporation, although no specific details were revealed. More details regarding its concept and gameplay were revealed by Valve co-founder Gabe Newell during a meeting with gaming press at Valve's headquarters in March 2018. There, Newell stated that it was not originally intended to be based on Dota 2, but it was decided to do so later in development as it was "useful". Newell also stated that it would not be free-to-play like Dota 2 and other similar card game competitors, also stating that he and the team wished for it to avoid becoming "pay-to-win". He further stated that he hoped Artifact would be for card games what Half-Life 2 was for single-player action games.
Artifact was created using Valve's in-house Source 2 game engine, and features direct integration with the Steam Marketplace for buying and selling cards. While acknowledging that card games and Steam Marketplace transactions can both get expensive, such as with gun cosmetics in Valve's own Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Garfield notes that printing restrictions do not exist with digital cards, and that Valve would directly control the production of them to limit extreme rarity. In addition, purchased card packs always include a rare card in them, which Valve hopes that would control the price of single cards being sold for high prices as it would be more valuable to purchase multiple card packs. Artifact also allows for decks to be assembled outside of the game by using third-party tools, which can then be imported back into the game. Wanting to build upon what they have learned from Dota 2, Global Offensive, and Team Fortress 2, Valve plan for the game to have a professional esports scene, with revenue made from card pack purchasing feeding into tournament prize pools, similar to Dota 2's "Compendium" crowdfunding system. Valve planned for a million dollar tournament of the game to take place sometime in early 2019.
Artifact is developed alongside updates for Dota 2, where it is planned to introduce new heroes and other content for both games. Writer Steve Jaros wrote character lore for Dota 2 and continued that role with Artifact by having each individual card provide more of it, all fully voiced, which he hopes would keep both games narratively connected. Programmer Jeep Barnett said they plan to have card set expansions progress over time, so that heroes in one set may have an aged version in a future set, or may die in one, and events of previous expansions can influence future ones. Its soundtrack was written by Tim Larkin, who also composed for Dota 2.
Artifact entered closed beta in early 2018, with numerous gaming industry members and professional card game players invited to test it. It was publicly playable for the first time at PAX West 2018, with a tournament for it being hosted and all attendees receiving signed artwork prints and product keys for two free copies of the game. A beta for the PC version was released a week before the official launch, with attendees of The International 2018 Dota 2 tournament and its showing at PAX West being given access to it. It was released for Microsoft Windows, macOS and Linux on November 28, 2018, and is planned for Android and iOS devices in 2019.
To help promote the game, a 128-man tournament featuring a US$10,000 prize pool was held from November 10–11, 2018. In addition, two webcomics made by Valve were released to coincide with the game's launch. All owners of the game are given a redeemable token worth a free month of "Dota Plus", Dota 2's battle pass feature.
Artifact saw mixed reception following its announcement at The International 2017, with the crowd attending the tournament largely voicing their disapproval. The trailer, uploaded to the video sharing platform YouTube, soon featured a high dislike-to-like ratio with commenters expressing their disappointment with Valve assumingly abandoning their other franchises, such as Half-Life, in favor of recent gaming trends. As Artifact is not free-to-play like many of its competitors, criticism was also directed at the game's monetization model, with some players and critics calling it "pay-to-win" as new cards can only be purchased and not traded from the Steam Marketplace, or gained as rewards in specific drafting game modes that require the purchase of a ticket to participate in.
However, its gameplay and mechanical depth were praised, with Ali Jones of PCGamesN stating in a preview that the game was a "cut above" other card games he had played before. He also added that it successfully captured elements from two different genres, creating something that he was "hugely excited to return to". The game has also been compared with Blizzard Entertainment's Hearthstone, with Mike Minotti of Venture Beat considering Artifact as the more complex, in-depth option that has a chance of become the leading digital card game on the market. While also noting the game's complexity, Julian Benson of PCGamesN compared it more to Magic: The Gathering as its creator, Richard Garfield, served as the lead designer on the game. Tim Clark of PC Gamer praised the game's art style and presentation, noting that all of the game's assets were new and not directly copied over from Dota 2. Clark also stated that he could not wait to play more of the game, saying that he did not see it as a "cash grab" that others said it would be. James Davenport of the same publication thought that the gameplay was akin to Magic: The Gathering meeting three simultaneous games of Uno, and stated that while the game at first looked "extremely complex", it did not take him long to understand and begin playing. Eric Van Allen of Polygon added that while the game demands investment to learn, it was "intensely rewarding" for those who stuck with it and did not mind its monetization model.
Following its release, Artifact saw its active player count drop from 60,000 at launch to just over 1,500 within two months of its release, a 95% decline. By March 2019, neither Garfield nor co-designer Skaff Elias remained working on the game, as they had been laid off by Valve. Despite that, Garfield said that he and Elias still felt optimism towards the game and its future, adding that they would continue to offer feedback and advice to Valve as they would like to see the game improve. By May 2019, the interest in Artifact saw such a low point, that Twitch.tv channels for the game began to be used for inappropriate content, prompting Twitch to changes its policies to prevent such behavior.
Garfield stated that he felt the game was not successful because it was review bombed early on with players upset over the apparent pay to win mechanics, driving away potential newcomers and not allowing the game and player economy to come to a more stable state where the cost of building winning decks would have been on par with other digital card games such as Hearthstone. Programmer Jeep Barnett stated that Artifact represented the largest discrepancy between Valve's expectations for how one of their games would be received and the actual outcome, adding that rather than make incremental updates to try to address the issues, they believed that the best course of action would be to take larger steps to re-examine the decisions they had made along the way regarding the game's design and economy.
The game was nominated for "Game, Strategy" at the National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers Awards; and for "Best Interactive Score" and "Best Original Choral Composition" at the 2019 G.A.N.G. Awards.
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