Artifact (video game)
|Release||November 28, 2018|
|Genre(s)||Digital collectible card game|
Artifact is a digital collectible card game developed and published by Valve. It 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. It was released for Microsoft Windows, macOS, and Linux in November 2018, with versions planned for Android and iOS.
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. It saw a 95% decline in players within two months of its release, only having around a hundred concurrent players by mid-2019. A reworked version of the game was announced in 2020, with multiple features being altered or removed such as the ability to buy or trade cards.
Artifact is a digital collectible card game in which players build a deck of collectable cards purchased on the Steam Marketplace to defeat an opponent in one-on-one battles. It features many elements from the multiplayer online battle arena game Dota 2, also developed by Valve. Unlike most collectible card games, it features three "lanes" guarded by a tower at the end, with each lane existing as an independent board. The victor is the first player 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, Artifact focuses on online player versus player matchmaking; it has no single-player mode beyond a tutorial mode against an AI opponent.
Each deck contains at least 40 cards, with a total of nearly 300 cards 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, 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 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 in 2019.
Artifact was planned to be developed alongside Dota 2, where both games would share new heroes and other content. 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 was planned for Android and iOS devices in 2019. To help promote the game, a 128-player tournament featuring a US$10,000 prize pool was held on November 10–11, 2018. In addition, two webcomics 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.
The game was considered a "great disappointment" by Valve, with both Garfield and Skaff Elias being laid off from the company by March 2019. Garfield said that he and Elias were still optimistic about the game's future and would offer feedback and advice to Valve. Following the mixed reception and declining player count, rather than make incremental updates, Valve said they would take larger steps to re-examine their decisions regarding the game's design and economy.
In March 2020, Newell considered the game to have been an experiment that came back with a negative result, but added that the company was not giving up on the project and were working on a reboot of it, internally calling it Artifact 2. The primary change made in the reboot was to eliminate card purchases, as well as making all three lanes visible at the same time. The reboot will also include a single-player campaign. A closed beta started in March 2020.
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 seemingly 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.
Artifact saw its concurrent player count drop from 60,000 at launch to just over 1,500 within two months of its release, a 95% decline. By May 2019, the interest in Artifact was so low that Twitch's category for the game began to be used for streaming pornography and other content that violated the website's terms of service. This prompted Twitch to temporarily suspend new creators from streaming. By July 2019, the game had dropped to around 100 concurrent players.
Garfield stated that he felt Artifact 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.
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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