Artifact Designer Says It Failed Due To Cards-For-Money System, Review Bombs

Image: Artifact

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, 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.”


    Haha, wow... followed the interview link, and the selected quotes are pretty charitable. The direct quotes re: Artifact as P2W are pretty raw.

    Richard Garfield: Pay-to-win is a sloppy term leveled at any game where you can buy components. You will see it leveled at any game in which a player, for whatever reason, doesn't want to engage. And there are a lot of reasons not to want to engage with a new massively modular game like Artifact, not the least of which is that the player is already probably invested in one or more other games.

    To paraphrase: P2W is a lazy insult only used by haters who 'don't get it'. Nice.

      i'm confused do you agree or disagree with him?

      i mean i think it's kind of a half truth because there certainly is people who use the term as a kind of pejorative for any F2P that has MT, but at the same time there are a lot of predatory F2P games out there with very bad MT systems. I never played artifact but from what i understand it was more pay to avoid an absolute assload of farming, but as long as you could farm for shit and there isn't some kind of blockade like "uh oh u only get 5 rewards per day sorry tehe" then whether or not it's too expensive is more an individual perspective some people would think it's overpriced no matter how low you go, they clearly didn't keep it low enough to interest a good number to make a player base. and i think i will stop rambling now

        No. Until quite late in the piece Artifact offered no farming at all, not even 5 micro bits of nothing. The only way to get every single card was either by paying real money for virtual loot boxes or buying duplicates from the Steam market.

          well then i completely retract my statement, perhaps i confused this with a different digital TCG.

          given what your saying... how the hell did they think this wouldn't crash and burn, i'm surprised it lasted as long as it did.

            They based it on real life TCGs, basically. You buy your basic deck, buy booster packs, or buy singles that originally came from the booster packs. They blatantly ignored the online TCG environment which has been around for years, which meant their efforts were doomed from the start.

              They also blatantly ignored the Trading aspect of real life TCGs.

        Disagree, mostly. See... I'd turn it around on him. Outright dismissing P2W as a mindless insult used only by haters who were never really the audience anyway is a lazy way of avoiding self-examination, or allowing for the possibility that they might be wrong.

        You mentioned some angles, but what he was getting at (and elaborated on further in the linked article) was arguing about the semantics.

        His personal belief is that the 'W' part of P2W SHOULD only apply when there's no cap, when you can scale up either indefinitely to an absurd degree, conferring increasing levels of advantage, whereas once you've bought all the cards, there's no more 'W' that you can get, you're on equal footing with everyone else who got all the cards and it's back to skill only again. He also asserts that it's not particularly fair because the cost is lower than other games' costs to get a top-tier deck.

        ...Which is kind of where it all falls down.

        His golf club analogy works against him in this - $10,000 worth of clubs won't make you a better player than if you've got a $1,000 set of clubs, but that's not what's being compared... what's being compared is not even having a putter. Not just crap tools... missing tools.

        And my understanding is that the possibility you allowed for was, in fact, the case: that there were no cards you could gain through free grinding. You got an initial deck, then you had to PAY to compete in rounds that would allow you to get a card. No free grinding for cards.

        So yeah, definitely gated and not just by time, but by money.

        Now this was supposed to be mitigated through the second option of getting cards: trading. Paying someone else who paid to get into card-dropping rounds and won some. And he notes that Artifact decks are cheaper than other games, this way... but this was only AFTER the player-count cratered and the ass fell out of the market. Before? No. There were numerous pages dedicated to showing how this NOT-F2P game (it has a box price) was charging more than F2P games.

        This assertion also relies on ignoring that you can usually grind those other games' cards up for free, but you can't do the same in Artifact - the cost they compared against was the instant-gratification cost. Not 100% apples to apples.

        So yeah... I don't think much of what this guy has to say on the matter. He clearly thinks his creative brilliance has been unfairly shadowed by an ungrateful and ignorant audience he has no respect for.

          You use the word "trading', which implies that you can get Artifact cards by swapping dupes with your mates, just like regular Steam cards. In actual fact, Artifact cards are expressly not tradeable. The only way to pass on your dupes to other players is via the Steam market for real money, via a transation where Valve got a cut of the proceeds.

            Right. They CALL it trading, but yeah... that's another insidious minimization of what is another example of a hand in your pocket.

          Thanks for the response but i literally meant i wasn't sure if you were being sarcastic that's all.

          I know that it's obvious given other stuff in the comments but i didn't refresh before i replied to you so there was only 1 comment up at the time which was yours. :S

    Clearly it wasn't just those things, since tens of thousands of people bought directly in with cash up front and then essentially pissed away that investment by moving onto something else.

    More the point, there are few if any viable online card games that force a player to invest in 45 minute games. The sweet spot, instead, seems to be something closer to 5-10 minutes.

    Add to this that what f2p games offer paying users is lots of opponents, particularly lots of opponents to show off their newly purchased golden foil dragon card with their sexy pirate hero skin.

    Seriously, what people continuously miss is that the main service f2p games offer paying players is other players to play against.

      Nah, didn't you see what he said? If you didn't like it, you weren't the audience! Simple! Nothing wrong with what they did, just how people with false expectations stopped them from being able to reach the people who were the target audience for the totally awesome, flawless thing they were doing! They're just victims of haters, in all this. That audience is totally out there, though... somewhere. Probably.


    Man. This dude created Magic? How can you be responsible for that and then this?

      He's been trading on that reputation, and developing failed games, for many years now. He's kinda like the CCG equivalent of Peter Molyneux.

        i don't get it how does the Canadian Coast Guard fit in to this story

          You misunderstand, I was clearly referring to the PC game Command & Conquer: Generals.

      It doesn't follow that because he designed the game, he also decided on the monetisation strategy. That could have come from Valve.

        And yet he's self evidentally invested quite a lot of energy defending the monetisation strategy.

    I roll my eyes any time ANYONE attempts to argue that ANY CCG is not "pay to win". Pay to win is literally baked into the entire format of the collectible card game. Skill matters, but a smart player with bad cards will still almost always lose to a noob with better cards (RNG permitting of course). Even if you CAN get every card in the game for free, whales who dump huge amounts of money into the game will get there much, MUCH quicker than you and you'll spend a lot of time getting your ass kicked by them until you unlock the cards to match them. Simple fact.

    The important factor is judging HOW P2W each CCG is. I worked out a 5-point scale (note that non-collectible card games, like Faeria after its rework where you buy entire expansions as a complete set, don't count on this scale):
    0: Absolutely no P2W at all; you literally CANNOT buy cards or any other advantages with money AT ALL. CCGs like this simply do not exist, so this tier is only hypothetical.
    1: Very generous. You really have no reason to buy cards unless you're absolutely impatient to have everything now. You can get tons of free stuff just by playing and crafting specific cards is painless; any money spent will usually be on cosmetics. The game is balanced so you don't HAVE to have a deck full of super-rares to be competitive. Example: Spellweaver.
    2: Generous. You can get by without spending money with enough work and everything can be acquired for free, but buying a big stack of boosters will be noticeably helpful. You need the super-rares to be seriously competitive, but enough play makes them available without too much drama. Example: Hearthstone (yes, shocking isn't it?).
    3: Stingy. You can still acquire everything for free, but it's starting to take a LOT of work. The game starts trying to manipulate you into spending money, such as by giving you free loot boxes that you have to spend money to open. You MUST have the super rares to competitive, usually multiple copies, and they take a lot of trouble to get. Example: Duelyst (after it sold out to Bandai Namco).
    4: Dangerous. The game is starting to sell power directly by making certain powerful cards EXTREMELY hard to get if you don't want to spend money, if not making them exclusive altogether (as soon as a game includes even a single card that can only be acquired with real money, it CANNOT be rated below this level). It regularly employs psychological manipulation to try to extort money out of you, such as selling certain cards through a cash shop that requires a subscription to use (but not to browse, so you can see what you're not getting). Example: Horus Heresy: Legions (does not allow you to craft cards, only to use the excess card resource to buy them from a randomly rotating shop, half of which does require a weekly subscription to access- what, you thought I was making that up from nothing?)
    5: Shameless P2W. These games suck. The game is incredibly stingy with non-paying players, usually incredibly grindy, the best cards are ONLY able to be bought with real money, and the balance usually means that whoever has the best cards wins. You don't see these games around much because they inevitably die quickly once everyone realises what a quick rip-off cash-in they are. Example: Nightbanes (don't be surprised if you haven't heard of it, it died).

      Holy hell, I actually had Horus Heresy on my 'I should look at that sometime' list.

      As far as free players catching up with whales, there are lots of strategies used to prevent that happening in various games too. For example:

      1. Limited window of availability. While the game might offer you a trickle of free resources to buy cards with, if a particular card is only available for a limited time you will need the resources now. Add in random draw mechanics, and there is no upper limit on the resources you need to acquire the card.

      2. Regular expansion packs. To prevent the trickle of free resources eventually amassing to enough to buy all cards, make sure there are always new cards to buy to keep players on the treadmill.

      All commercial games are "P2W". Some games you pay $85AUD up front to win (don't pay up front, you certainly can't win), others you pay in dribs and dabs. Occasionally you pay by watching ads. Ultimately, except for a few niche hobby projects, developers have got to be paid.

      It annoys me when I see people logging in to f2p games and then almost immediately bitching about "p2w" the minute they hit some kind of soft wall, as if the devs should just be volunteering their time for your gaming pleasure, that every single thing should be available from level one, and that it's some kind of ethical lapse on the part of the developers that they're charging for something other than hats, and even that's borderline questionable.

      I get that some people prefer to pay up front. Other quite like the grind of f2p, that's part of the attraction.

      F2p games have a lot in common with loot-based shooters or Diablo-likes. The micro drops, gradually winning more and moving up the leader boards, the incremental leaps in your options and abilities, the 'loot', that's what keeps people coming back.

      Does anyone really think that anyone would be playing Hearthstone today if everyone just paid for the full set of cards up front and got their enjoyment entirely from the games themselves? Hardly. Grinding for card drops is the point.

      If anything, this is the main thing that Artifact missed so badly, and why the game subsequently bombed. When you can buy everything with enough cash, just like using an infinite cash cheat code, games can get very stale very quickly.

      If a few people want to blow their cash on having the entire game experience of a game in one but sugar hit, and thereby pay the devs to give me an experience that I'm happily enjoying without spending a red cent, who am I to complain? It certainly wouldn't be available in the same way if the whales weren't there.

    Players giving your game a bad review because the game is bad is not "Review bombing"

    They aren't "Review bombing" your game. Your game is bombing.

    Valve’s first proper video game in yearsAnd it's shit, the end.

    As much as I love Valve, their biggest hits outside of Half Life have originated from buying up other teams and giving them great writers and artists. Portal 2 was the end of Valve being a good game development outfit. Now they're all about loot boxes/monetising items and Steam - and to be fair, Steam is pretty good and basically means they never have to make another game again.

    Even Half Life is a product of its time - the prototypical scripted shooter experience. It's honestly not surprising that they've tried to make a new game and it's fallen flat on its face. It's also probably why we're never going to see Half Life 3 - because they can't possibly make anything that people would actually like.

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