Y’all remember Artifact? It was Valve’s foray into the world of computer-based collectible card games, designed by Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield and loosely based on the characters and concepts of DOTA 2. It came out on November 28, 2018 for PC, macOS, and Linux, and unfortunately for Valve it was an almost instantaneous failure. Artifact lost nearly 75 percent of its players by January of 2019 according to Steam Charts, and by March Valve had shifted from a regular update schedule to a “heads-down” approach of experimentation and tinkering.
Players had experienced total radio silence since last March, until earlier this month when Valve said hey, check back after Half-Life: Alyx comes out. Since then Half-Life: Alyx has indeed come out, and true to its word Valve has today given what remains of the Artifact community its first brief look into the state of the game.
“This week we wanted to talk about the Artifact Beta 2.0, what it will include, and when it will happen,” the update reads. “The biggest change is zooming out to allow players access to all three lanes at once. The majority of effects still work on individual lanes so they still maintain their identity, but it’s less likely that a player will get shut out in the same way they used to. We’ve also focused on making the game easier to pick up. We aren’t selling cards, so you won’t face an opponent with a stacked deck. We’ve also added a new draft mode, Hero Draft, that gives you a taste of constructing decks without all the pressure.”
That last bit about not selling cards is the juiciest morsel here, since Artifact‘s original monetization model played a huge role in the game’s extremely early demise. Unlike every other major virtual collectible card game on the market — your Hearthstone, your Magic: The Gathering Arena, and what have you — Artifact was/is not free to play. It cost $20 to get in the door, and for the price of entry you received a set selection of starter cards, with no free way of obtaining additional cards. More cards could be purchased from Valve in booster packs for real money, or received as rewards from a special drafting mode that cost real money to play. This format makes logical sense on some level, since it works exactly like real physical card games do, but online CCG players had (and continue to have) a different set of expectations.
Most of the cards worth having were predictably omitted from the included starter cards, which made Artifact a game about whose pockets were deepest, rather than whose decks were best. Valve eventually implemented some slight changes to the way that cards were sold and obtained, but it was too little too late.
As for when the Artifact 2.0 beta might happen, Valve gives no real information. The beta will, at some point in the future, follow the traditional closed-to-open model that so many games have used in the last five years, where players of the original game are gradually given access to a closed beta before the whole thing opens up. Valve does say that purchasing the game now does not save you a spot in the closed beta, so you can’t buy your way in. “We will prioritize people who purchased before today’s date,” the update reads.
This all sounds great, but all that’s really being said here is that Valve remembers that Artifact exists, and that it has plans for the game that will eventually be experienced by the public, which is basically what we knew a year ago. And yet somehow, today’s update is still more than I ever expected to receive; when Valve put out that missive about going heads-down last March, I figured we’d never see hide nor hair of Artifact ever again. Given that an honest-to-God Half-Life game just came out, I guess anything is possible.