Valve had high hopes when they released Artifact in 2018. It was a spin-off from their popular MOBA, Dota 2, and would be part of the successful digital card game genre. However, just over two years later and they have confirmed that they will stop any further development of the game. This will sting for anyone who has sunk money into buying booster packs for their decks. The reason Valve cited for this action is dwindling player numbers. With Artifact development stopped, they did at least confirm that the game will become free to play. All content will also be made available to everyone at the same time. However, the question remains, why did player numbers drop so low. Is Artifact just a bad game or is it in a genre that is already saturated with headline titles?
Is the digital card game market saturated?
The first possibility is that there are just too many games in this space. When Artifact launched, there were already several huge hits. These included Hearthstone launched in 2014, Gwent launched in 2017 and Pokemon TCG Online launched in 2011. Often these established games already had huge loyal fanbases. For example, Hearthstone had over 23 million active players in 2020 and has a buzzing esports scene which regularly pays prizes of $200,000. Players also spend large sums of money on these games to buy the ever-expanding roster of cards. Hearthstone even has a Leeroy Jenkins card, named after that legendary World of Warcraft video.
Faced with older digital card game titles, Artifact clearly then faced an uphill battle. It would be a hard sell to bring players away from games they have already invested so much into. In addition, there are also several other newer digital card games trying to do the same thing, such as Legends of Runterra. The market is therefore clearly saturated. In such an environment, Valve would have to create a far superior game to their competitors. Only achieving this would enable them to overcome such a market environment.
Is the game any good?
Just take a quick look at Twitter and it’s easy to see that there are clearly many fans of the game. However, head over to Steam and things look a lot more mixed. Reviews are far from overwhelmingly positive. On recent reviews it is ranked as “Mostly Negative”. This is never a good sign on Steam. Clearly then it is not a good game. Or at least not good enough to attract people away from already popular titles.
Artifact development stopped, what next?
With the market saturated and the game not good enough, it seems that Artifact never stood a chance. However, there are clearly some people that still want to play this title. Luckily for them, Valve is not completely shutting Artifact down. Instead, all cards will now be available to everyone for free. Players who have already paid for cards will receive special Collector’s Edition versions of the cards. Free players will be able to earn all the cards just by playing the game. Who knows, maybe going completely free will actually bring the game a much needed boost to numbers. Unofotunately, the early player data does not look good. Let us know if you have ever played Artifact and what you thought of it. Is anyone tempted to play it now that it is completely free or is it best consigned to history.
Need some inspiration for your next game, check out all the nominations for this years Bafta Games.