The cake is a lie 🍰
June 4, 2019 9:46 AM   Subscribe

Artifact was supposed to be a slam dunk. [win.gg] Instead, Artifact has thus far shaken out to be a shocking commercial flop.
“To me there are two important parts of pay-to-win. The first is whether buying something will make you a champion. This is not true for Hearthstone, Magic, or for that matter, golf. It also isn’t true for Artifact. The second part of pay-to-win is what the bottom line expenditure is. Top level decks in Magic or Hearthstone generally cost more than top level decks in Artifact. And since there is a market, you can shift around your collection with relative ease. It is easy to construct games where buying the components is a better deal than all players being forced to buy everything - though some measure of faith has to be put in the publisher.” ~ Ex-Artifact dev Richard Garfield on what went wrong.

• Valve put Artifact updates on hold for a major retooling [Rock Paper Shotgun]
“It feels strange – wrong, even – to call any Valve game ‘failed’, but collectable card game Artifact has been on a sharp downward spiral since launch. Today, Valve spoke up about their struggling CCG and what they’ve got planned for it in an official blog post here. While there’s some of Valve’s usual vagueness, it’s hard not to read some sadness into “Artifact represents the largest discrepancy between our expectations for how one of our games would be received and the actual outcome”. Their plan? Put small, incremental updates on hold and go back to the drawing board. While there’s a lot you could interpret from their statement, it sounds to me like they’re going to be tearing up the floorboards and reworking the game on a deep level. They plan to “re-examine the decisions we’ve made along the way regarding game design, the economy, the social experience of playing, and more”.”
• How capitalism killed one of the best video game studios [The Week]
“Fifteen years ago, the game studio Valve released Half Life 2, a first-person shooter about a physicist fighting an alien occupation of Earth. The game was a smash hit, selling over 10 million copies and winning dozens of "game of the year" awards. Naturally, Valve planned a sequel, only this time broken into three parts. Episode 1 and Episode 2 duly followed in 2006 and 2007 respectively, which were both enormous successes as well. But, to the bitter disappointment of eager fans, the third installment never came. Indeed, Valve — once one of the most artistically creative game studios in the world — has all but stopped producing games altogether. What happened? In a word: capitalism. Valve has mutated from a game developer into a ruthless financial middleman through its platform Steam, which has become the largest platform for digital game distribution — allowing them to make huge amounts of money while creating virtually nothing original themselves.”
• Twitch's Artifact Category Is Porn-Filled Anarchy [Kotaku]
“There are, as you are probably already aware, not many people playing Artifact, the digital card game that developer Valve recently decided to take back to the drawing board. Just a hundred or so people are playing it at any given moment, as of this writing. There are, however, over 10,000 people watching streamers play Artifact on Twitch right now. Why? Because for the most part, these Artifact “players” aren’t playing Artifact at all, but watching other games, anime, memes, and porn. The section has devolved into chaos, with people streaming everything from other games to straight-up porn. Over the weekend, someone got away with streaming a recording of the Christchurch massacre, reportedly for over 30 minutes before their channel was banned from Twitch. The sheer overwhelming unpredictability of what people are doing with the Artifact section, it seems, served as a smokescreen for truly heinous (and, obviously, rule-breaking) content.”
• Twitch suspends streaming for new users as it fights off Artifact trolls [Polygon]
“Over the weekend we became aware of a number of accounts targeting the ‘Artifact’ game directory to share content that grossly violates our terms of service,” Twitch said in a statement. “Our investigations uncovered that the majority of accounts that shared and viewed the content were automated accounts. We are working with urgency to remove the offending content and suspend all accounts engaged in this behavior. “In addition, we have temporarily suspended the ability for new creators to stream. We take these violations very seriously and are taking measures to prevent this kind of coordinated activity on our service in the future.”
posted by Fizz (43 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
“Artifact represents the largest discrepancy between our expectations for how one of our games would be received and the actual outcome”

Artifact also represents my most recent large discrepancy to how excited I was when I first heard about it to my interest level when it was released. Richard Garfield with a new game? From Valve? That sounds awesome, it looked, and is, unique and complicated. But man the monetization model was so borked. And there wasn't even a way to try it out first before sinking cash into it. But sinking that cash into it didn't give you a guarantee of the full game experience! It was a real shipwreck of all the bad trends that are swirling around out there, or at least that was the perception and looking into it never cleared up those conceptions for me.
posted by Carillon at 9:54 AM on June 4 [5 favorites]


>“Artifact represents the largest discrepancy between our expectations for how one of our games would be received and the actual outcome”

Artifact also represents my most recent large discrepancy to how excited I was when I first heard about it to my interest level when it was released.


I love this translation of "We were wrong," and "the game suuuuucked."
posted by rhizome at 10:05 AM on June 4 [5 favorites]


I miss Valve, I’m not really entirely sure when they stopped being a thing and just became post-EA PopCap. The hats were certainly the start of that.
posted by Artw at 10:05 AM on June 4 [3 favorites]


Regarding the Twitch abuse-- just wondering, why would that be unique to the Artifact channel? Is there anything stopping a Twitch use from streaming whatever they want, aside from algorithms trying to detect porn or copyrighted material?
posted by gwint at 10:08 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


why would that be unique to the Artifact channel?

It's not, but I shared it because it demonstrates a related problem when it comes to addressing the state of gaming: review bombing, gamergate culture, doxing, abuse, entitlement, rage, etc. I'm sure this kind of breach of terms of services/content happens quite regularly on other twitch channels/feeds. But with Artifact, it was so concentrated and targeted that it felt worth sharing here.
posted by Fizz at 10:12 AM on June 4 [3 favorites]


I feel like gaming as a whole is broken on both fronts. Game developers, publishers, an entire industry that is focused on greedy micro-transactions and subscriptions. Gaming companies that exploit their workers with poor work conditions, employees who are underpaid and overworked. And then we have entitled angry gamergate bros on the flip side who feel like they deserve everything and want to gatekeep disenfranchised minorities/groups from playing games that they feel is their space. It's a shit sandwich all the way around.

*sighs*
posted by Fizz at 10:28 AM on June 4 [22 favorites]


I loved Artifact.

The only problem I had with the game is that I couldn't challenge a friend 1v1 in the draft mode. For that, you would need to make a minimum 4 man tournament, but I only had one other friend who liked draft, my other friends preferred constructed deck mode.

And I'm not good enough to enjoy getting my butt handed to me by randos. I still have Overwatch for that.
posted by Groundhog Week at 10:31 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


The progression of Valve over the last 10 years or so is such a bummer. Even if Half-Life 3 came out now, who would even care? The IP isn't that interesting by itself and virtually everyone who worked on the original games is gone now. The combination of innovation and polish that actually made Half-Life and Portal good wouldn't be present in anything new they make. If I just want a vaguely sci-fi first-person-shooter, well, that's basically half of them now. There's basically no way it wouldn't be a huge disappointment.

It would be great to live in a world that didn't slowly ruin absolutely everything that even a moderate number of people enjoy.
posted by Copronymus at 10:47 AM on June 4 [9 favorites]


I thought the very end of the article, where the designer sounds so proud of broken-design cheese play, speaks volumes about MTG specifically and the whole CCG sector in general.
posted by rikschell at 10:54 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I wanted to play Artifact but the fact that I couldn't even try a demo with a free pack was a huge part of the problem and what kept me away. It felt really stupid to me that they went this route. I'm not a huge fan of Hearthstone's free to pay model of cards/packs. Because let's be honest if you really want to compete you need to be buying packs for the latest expansion so that you can build the strongest deck, but at least you can try out the game and play against AI to get a sense of whether or not this is something you really want to get more into.
posted by Fizz at 10:55 AM on June 4 [2 favorites]


You can't ignore that at the same time Magic: the Gathering (also Garfield designed!) released an actually amazing online client that has gone stratospheric in success. And it is really good! Plus I sunk $100 into it and have almost all the cards and still tons of currency so it's affordable*.

*y'know relatively
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:34 AM on June 4 [5 favorites]


I'll be a bit contrarian and say that Valve is (was) a good studio, but not so superlatively awesome as to justify the hype for yet another digital CCG with dozens of competitors. Blizzard succeeded because they have a big fanbase, great art department, and aggressively fine tune their derivative mechanics. Just about everyone who's not WotC or Blizzard has had to settle for a pack one lap behind, or getting into the highly competitive but even more lucrative Asian mobile market.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 12:38 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


You can't ignore that at the same time Magic: the Gathering (also Garfield designed!) released an actually amazing online client that has gone stratospheric in success. And it is really good!

The best move Arena ever made was introducing a practice mode that doesn't drop you in the deep end against randos who can afford to buy everything
posted by dialMforMara at 12:46 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]


On that spectrum, the best thing they did was weight casual games on deck strength then. If you're playing a starter deck, you'll play vs. a starter deck or something like it most of the time.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 12:58 PM on June 4


On the one hand, I'm sad about Valve releasing a game that flops.

On the other hand, their voluntary transition from creating to being rentier class and doing a terrible job of keeping up their properties makes that sadness measure about 1 milli-tiny violin.
posted by sgranade at 1:13 PM on June 4 [5 favorites]


I will stick with Shahrazad. Back when it was made, there were no limitations as to how many of a card you could put in a deck, and it was observed there was an excellent Shahrazad deck.

It involved all Shahrazad and plains, or Mox Pearls for much more reliability. As long as your deck was bigger than your opponent’s, you would start subgames until they got decked in, generally, the fifth or sixth subgame. Then they would lose life in the parent game, and you would play Shahrazad again and force a new game, which they would be decked in. You wouldn't win the parent game unless you decked them five times.

At that point you would win the parent game, and now you make progress in the grandparent game, etc. It takes thousands of subgames to win.

To my knowledge no one has played the deck to completion.


This has me cackling at work.
posted by weewooweewoo at 1:22 PM on June 4 [6 favorites]


Even if Half-Life 3 came out now

Confirmed
posted by overeducated_alligator at 1:37 PM on June 4


I've spent about $80 on Hearthstone over about 3 years, and I've been able to build (copy) decks that were top-tier in the meta several times (5-6). I'm comparing this with friends' experiences spending ~$500 for a single top-tier MTG deck.

Hearthstone's model feels different from the others because
a) there is no external market, so prices don't fluctuate.
b) they give you a bunch of grindy, free stuff, so it's possible to get a decent number of free packs in a given period of time
c) and therefore if you're mainly interested in standard (playing cards from only the last two years), it means that every two years you can totally dismantle all of your old cards to make the best ones that you need.

It's slow, and a little grindy, but Hearthstone doesn't feel "pay to play" the way that mtg does unless someone is trying to instantly get a great deck after playing. And personally, I was ok spending a while building up my initial collection for free while getting comfortable with mechanics. With a little more patience, I could have gotten top-tier Hearthstone decks without paying anything. It sounds like this last bit is what's missing from Artifact.

(Mind you, there are LOADS of other issues with Heartstone)
posted by taltalim at 1:42 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]


Magic is weird, because it's almost more of a game system than a single game.

When someone talks about spending money for a deck, what do they mean? MTG Arena is free to play, and people can and do bootstrap themselves into top decks through daily rewards, just as you can through Hearthstone.

MTG Online is a more faithful representation of Magic, but also is designed like a 90s computer program. One can get decks pretty cheaply there.

Paper Magic has tons of formats, ranging from pauper (commons only, top decks cost roughly $20) to Vintage (play with the oldest, most broken cards, top decks cost more than a car).

Artifact tried to jump straight to prestige pricing without having any of the history or flexibility that Magic has.
posted by explosion at 1:53 PM on June 4 [10 favorites]


Artifact reminds me of all the MMORPGs that sprouted up and withered during World of Warcraft's heyday. So many of them showed up and didn't have anything to say except "Hey, you give lots of money to WoW... maybe give it to us instead?"
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 2:27 PM on June 4 [3 favorites]


That people still talk about Valve as a game company is a misreading of their corporate history.

They are a company that facilitates the discovery and sales of digital products through their proprietary platform. They have some legacy connection to game development, but have not been in any primary sense a game development company for many years.

That's my read.
posted by chromecow at 2:31 PM on June 4 [7 favorites]


Their last major non-Artifact game was 2013, right? (Dota 2 and CS2)
I guess there have been updates to existing games/etc in that time, but 6 years with only one failed release (Artifact) and any other company would probably be gone.

Of course, this is because they are a game store now and not a publisher/developer, as chromecow said.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:55 PM on June 4


damn Fizz, that title got me all excited that they're making portal 3. sigh. there will never be portal 3
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 3:15 PM on June 4


In fairness, Riot Games has actually been Riot Game with exactly League of Legends since 2011.

One good game with patches, expansions, and other revenue streams can sustain a company.

I'm sure Valve has a game development division and a Steam division; they just don't publicly draw the distinction.
posted by explosion at 3:15 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


Ah, thats true. I still forget about the whole "ongoing revenue stream" games since I mostly play games that make all their money on initial sales.

Still, I wouldn't call Valve a relevant game developer these days. In the storefront/distribution space they are obviously super relevant (like it or not).

Does Valve have any significant ongoing revenue from games? Although like explosion says, it might be hard to even know if they don't break it out. (I'm not clear on the monetization of their older games).
posted by thefoxgod at 3:18 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


Does Valve have any significant ongoing revenue from games?

Valve makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year from cosmetic microtransactions (and a cut of of the trades on its marketplace) for its three ongoing games (DOTA, TF2, and CS:GO).
posted by riotnrrd at 3:37 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


So a small but not trivial percentage of overall revenue, seems like. (2017 Steam revenue was estimated over $4B, so a few hundred million would be ~10% maybe).
posted by thefoxgod at 3:39 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]


The last I heard (I used to work there and still have friends there) is that the number was closer to ~$750 million a year for all three games. But yes, Steam makes significantly more (25% of every game sale) than Valve makes from cosmetic microtransactions.
posted by riotnrrd at 4:48 PM on June 4


damn Fizz, that title got me all excited that they're making portal 3. sigh. there will never be portal 3

If watching Valve has taught me anything it's that they have a deep suspicion for anything with the number 3 in it.

Half-Life -> Half-Life 2 -> Half-Life 2 Episode 1 -> Half-Life 2 Episode 2
Portal -> Portal 2
Left 4 Dead -> Left 4 Dead 2
Team Fortress Classic -> Team Fortress 2
DOTA 2

Every time they get close to 3, it's time to move on to something else.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:51 PM on June 4 [4 favorites]


(We could have avoided all this if someone had convinced them to call it "Half-Life 2 Episode 2 Part 2" instead of "Episode 3")
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:52 PM on June 4 [5 favorites]


Even if Half-Life 3 came out now

Confirmed


Cap: I understood that reference.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:19 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


I was just talking to a friend the other day about the ridiculousness of Shahrazad. A Shahrazad deck is my go-to plan if I ever find myself in a Seventh Seal type situation, playing a game against Death. Actually, later sets have offered potential "improvements"; I figure that with something like this deck I can get Death simply to concede in horror.

Amusement value aside, it may not say great things about how well Richard Garfield has his finger on the pulse of CCGs that the card he's most proud of is banned in basically every format of Magic, even the more casual ones.

I have seen several CCGs by otherwise-successful game developers go belly-up over the years, though, there does seem to be something about CCGs that makes them harder to monetize successfully than a lot of other game formats/styles are.
posted by mstokes650 at 8:15 PM on June 4


I am an OK player and a mediocre deck constructor in Artifact, and access to all of the cards won't change that. 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.

God this is so disingenuous! No, spending a lot on cards won't automatically make you a good player, but it is an almost essential component of it. Cards are tools. The more you have, the more options you have, the more likely you can hit upon a working toolset that wins you a lot of games. And having the cards also means you can experiment with them, play around and try things, and that's also an important element of success.

The complaint I have about Magic, and CCGs in general, is that they feel like they're more business model than game, and this feels like more of the same. They are games that are simply not available to me, because I don't have enough disposable income to pay the upkeep costs.
posted by JHarris at 8:31 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]


God this is so disingenuous! No, spending a lot on cards won't automatically make you a good player, but it is an almost essential component of it. Cards are tools. The more you have, the more options you have, the more likely you can hit upon a working toolset that wins you a lot of games.

I think this also fails to hit on the essential quality on what makes a game fun.

I mean, the entire experience from start to finish can be - or rather, has to be fun for the game to be successful. In Hearthstone or MTG, an essential part of the new player experience is playing with the crappy basic cards you are given before you collect the better ones. I gained affection towards the Chillwind Yeti or Boulderfist Ogre as I used them to win games during my first few weeks with the game, and gradually replaced them by strictly superior cards as I collected them.

It would not have made my "experience" of playing Hearthstone better if they had given me a full set of legendary cards on day 1. In fact, I believe the huge extra complexity of those cards would have made the game a strictly worse and less elegant experience.

Playing with "low tier" cards and tools is not a problem with proper matchmaking, because ultimately your rank is a combination of your tools and your intellect.
posted by xdvesper at 8:48 PM on June 4


Play Magic on Cockatrice for free.
posted by M-x shell at 12:26 AM on June 5 [4 favorites]


Fizz, do a thread on that OTHER Garfield designed game where every single deck is unique and you buy a complete deck. It came out at the same time as Artifact.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:57 AM on June 5


All this deck building talk reaffirms my love for games like Dominion where every player gets access to the same cards, even if you expand them.
posted by Artw at 8:03 AM on June 5 [3 favorites]


All this deck building talk reaffirms my love for games like Dominion where every player gets access to the same cards, even if you expand them.

Real gamers play euchre, and not with one of those cheesy Bicycle novelty decks of the month please.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 11:42 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Game of Cards
posted by rhizome at 11:51 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


While there’s a lot you could interpret from their statement, it sounds to me like they’re going to be tearing up the floorboards and reworking the game on a deep level.

This is pretty much what happened with the first Half-Life and that turned out okay in the end.
posted by straight at 12:18 PM on June 5


chromecow: "That people still talk about Valve as a game company is a misreading of their corporate history.

They are a company that facilitates the discovery and sales of digital products through their proprietary platform. They have some legacy connection to game development, but have not been in any primary sense a game development company for many years.
"

Maybe not in the same way they were in the Half-Life/Portal days, but they are along with Oculus and PSVR one of the three prime movers in the modern virtual reality market, having just launched a new in-house system that blows everyone else out of the water in terms of technology and design. These SteamVR launches have been paired with a number of funny and innovative narrative experiences, and Valve is supposedly finalizing at least one "flagship" VR title for later this year.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:44 PM on June 5


It's not all bad for Garfield, the other game he designed that was released that month - Keyforge - has been a big success, albeit on the table top.
posted by PenDevil at 3:41 AM on June 6


We did a thread on Keyforge and Artifact last year.
posted by SpiffyRob at 9:45 AM on June 6


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