Valve's Card Game Artifact Is Running Out Of Players

Screenshot: Kotaku, Artifact

The collectible card game Artifact released on November 28, and had 60,740 concurrent players that day. A good start — but it was all downhill from there. Last night, its total concurrent players dipped just below 1,500 for the first time ever — a 97.5 per cent drop from launch.

Yes, many online games struggle to find an audience on Steam, but not usually the ones made by Valve itself.

Today, Artifact game is currently ranked 145 on Steam Charts out of all games being played on Steam. That wedges it in-between Dark Souls II and Assassin’s Creed Origins, two single-player games that have been out for over a year. Even Portal 2, Valve’s much-praised puzzler from 2011, currently has more players online than Artifact.

The Dota 2-inspired card game caught some negative press early on when it came out that there was no way to get new cards without paying money.

Contrary to the free-to-play model established by the most successful digital card game of the last few years, Blizzard’s Hearthstone, Valve decided to charge $28 for Artifact and also for tickets to compete in its “gauntlet” mode where prizes could be earned. Artifact cards can also be resold between players, creating a secondary market where players can pay money directly for better decks.

Screenshot: Kotaku, Steam Charts

I wrote at the time that this alternative model didn’t feel unusually onerous, and I still think that. But it’s become clear in the weeks since that the model is not attracting players to the game.

An early round of review bombing by people angry with the game’s monetisation scheme has only given way to more negative reviews, despite Valve’s initial attempts to make Artifact more balanced and add a way to earn new packs simply by playing.

A December 11 update added two sorely-needed features: leaderboards for certain modes and a chat wheel that let players communicate with one another during matches. On December 20, Valve released another big update, this time rebalancing some of the more overpowered cards and, more importantly, adding skill ratings for players and a leveling system that allowed players to earn free card packs after reaching certain milestones.

Players apparently remained unimpressed, since they continued to steadily leave the game in the subsequent weeks. Some of them have complaints about the game’s reliance on RNG mechanics, while others say they’re tired of having to continually pay for tickets to compete in the game’s prize modes.

Image: Valve, Artifact

The marketplace tells a similar story. Back when Artifact was released, the total cost to buy a full set of cards was around $408. By mid-December it was down to $278. Today it dipped just below $139 . That’s not a bad thing in and of itself. As more players open up more card packs, the overall price should slowly trend downward. But the quick decline over the first month and a half is also an indicator that Artifact isn’t winning any new players who might drive fresh demand.

Artifact received two minor updates last week. The first, on January 10, tinkered with some of the chat options, adding bindable keys for custom messages and decreasing the amount of time on player clocks during matches in an attempt to make them shorter overall.

The second, on January 11, changed even less, fixing two minor bugs and removing the surrender notification. The Artifact Twitter account hasn’t been updated since December 21.

Valve has said that it’s in it for the long haul when it comes to Artifact. But it’s not clear what shape that investment will take in the short- and medium-term.

In March 2018, Valve CEO Gabe Newell announced that Artifact would have its first major competitive tournament, featuring a prize pool of $1 million, earlier this year. It’s possible that that could be when the company makes a big push to try and revive the game, although there hasn’t been any real news since on the details surrounding that event.

(Valve did not respond to a request for comment.)


    Some of them have complaints about the game’s reliance on RNG mechanics, while others say they’re tired of having to continually pay for tickets to compete in the game’s prize modes.

    So, every play session that someone wanted to actually progress in power/card library, they had to get their wallet out? Gee... I wonder why that wasn't popular.

    There's so much grating about the entire philosophy behind how they've approached this game that it's exhausting to even think about, let alone list.

    Frankly, my compassion for developers of always-online, PVP-only games is utterly depleted from the fatigue of watching a seemingly infinite supply of losers dive head-first into the same mass grave as their predecessors.

      Exactly this.

      Artifact is yet another attempt to cash-in on live-service microtransactions.

      I’m straight up sick of it.
      It’s been so good to see the pushback against live-services since mid 2018.

      Imagine if Valve took the Sony or Nintendo approach and developed must-play games for their platform again.

      As it is, my loyalty to Valve is pretty much gone. I'll support GoG whenever it's an option.

    "Yes, many online games struggle to find an audience on Steam, but not usually the ones made by Valve itself."

    You mean the ones by Valve that are actually good and don't have absolutely crazy monetization schemes?

      And weren't just basically bought? (Lookin' at you, DOTA.)

        So... Half-Life? And That's it?

        Counter Strike was a mod.
        Team Fortress was a mod.
        Portal was a different game by a different company until Valve bought it.
        Left 4 Dead was also made by a different company until Valve bought it.

    Unfortunately I pre-ordered this game. I have a lot of regret about that decision.

    I don't know why I thought I needed a more complicated card game than Hearthstone or why the dark, ominous look of the game originally appealed to me. But those are the things I hate most now.

      Because a bunch of HS players always complain that it's too simple, but it turns out that not over complicating a card game can be a good thing.

      Personally, I think Artifact was DoA due to its business model. If it had the same monetization, dailies etc as HS, but maybe more of an arena/draft mode focus more people may have checked it out.

      The price of entry was prohibitive.

    This is a sore spot for me, I love this game. The core game play is amazing in my opinion. I've played a lot of other digital card games and this one is by far the most fun.

    Personally I don't have a problem with way the chose to monetize the game, I love the fact that I can buy the cards I want and sell excess cards on the marketplace to buy other cards. This is a much better way than something like heathstone where you need to spend a lot of money on booster packs and hope to get the card you want.

    I also love the "Prize" game modes, paying an entry fee for the opportunity to win more tickets/booster packs is really rewarding to me. Its a kind of "end-game" mode where you really shouldn't play unless you are confident that you can at least go 3/5 to get your ticket back. Through this mode I managed to win enough extra tickets to keep playing for packs, then selling the dupes to buy missing cards from my collection. I've ended up with almost all the cards with only spending about 100 dollars on the game, which after 100 plus hours is more than worth it to me.

    I also love the fact that the game dosn't have "daily's" which I hate about other games like heathstone or MTGA. They force you to play the game so you don't "miss out" rather than play because you want to.

    All this praise aside, its clear that the game has so far been a big fail, this much is clear as much as it pains me to say. I honestly think that in a years time Valve will turn this around and it'll be a much bigger game.

      The economics of the game aren't bad once you have bought in but the fact you have to buy in to buy in was a huge gamble that backfired. If you want to make Artifact your digital card game of choice it's a lot cheaper than Hearthstone but if you only once you make that choice. For those just wanting to try out the game at a base level Hearthstone's model is better and hooks you in with (albeit miniscule) f2p rewards. These daily quests are a little manipulative and perhaps Valve thought of this when not including a way to earn cards for free at first but there is some value to it in that it allows people to trial the game.

      I have a feeling they thought of the success of Dota when they made this game. They thought they'd make the dota of card games. The problem is it's a completely different market. It's a lot smaller and the esports component of it is even smaller which is what Valve are pushing for like Dota.

      It has 2 big players in it already in HS and MTG (even though the MTG Arena is quite new the physical user base has carried over somewhat). You can't use the Dota philosophy of building the most competitively rewarding game in the digital card genre and hoping people will turn up without any marketing investment at all.

      I can see Valve sticking with this and turning it around somewhat if they tweak their model and start to gain traction with big events. I'm sure it's already been profitable so they can continue to support it. Whether it's a success or not will depend on their goals (they are after all a pretty lassez faire organisation). Dota is clearly #2 to LoL in the moba space but Valve still don't advertise the game apart from putting money into The International tournament and major tournaments. I'm not so sure they can get away with that kind of marketing strategy with Artifact.

    Could everyone put in the effort to "go 3/5 to get your ticket back"? Or only good players could do that? (Can you tell I haven't played Artifact? )

    If the answer is only the good players could do so, then I imagine that the bad players are leaving in droves over feeling like they wasted their money.

    To be that person frankly this is a good thing. It's a product nobody wanted in the first place, they've got enough money they can actually make something people want.

    Valve learns that not everything they make is a license to print money. This is very different from the absurd TF2 market of crates, keys, and buying items. People don't like it and won't pay for it if it's not worth it.

    Surely Valve making Half-Life 3 would solve all of their problems.

    What I have yet to see discussed is how closely related Artifact is to Valve's other card monetisation scheme, Steam cards and badges.

    It seems to me that Valve looked at the rivers of gold flowing from transaction fees on completely useless 'cards' and associated 'badges', and figured that putting an actual game on top of that system would step things up to the nines. Clearly speding 15c on a useless card is quite different, however, from signing up to $300 of essential to play purchases.

    I don't have any overall theory here, I just find the relationship worth noting.

    On a largely unrelated note, it seems to me that the only way that Valve has of saving Artifact from the complete disaster it already is, would be to credit players every single cent they've spent on Artifact back onto the player's Steam credit balance and moving to an entirely free to play model similar to Hearthstone's.

    Almost bought this but I just went back to Hearthstone instead.

    Pull up a chair!

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