“Dude, Valve is making games again!” was the general round of applause when a mysterious logo was being teased by Valve. Almost every gamer I know grew up with Half Life and Half Life 2, and have known the Half Life 3 meme for quite a fraction of their lives, and are genuinely excited for Valve to make a comeback and “make gaming great again!” The icon turned out to be for Artifact, a DOTA 2 card game. The disappointment that followed was quite something, with online wars between people supporting the game because they are pleased that Valve is making games again, and people opposing it because they wanted another single player title to be made. Well, if that wasn’t nearly enough, the launch of preorders on Steam and the ‘FAQs’ did raise some hairs on even the supporters who backed up Artifact in these keyboard wars. What was it that evoked so much attention from the people?
Needless to stay, the hype about Valve making games died down when people saw the new game to be a card game. Card games don’t have a particularly huge fanbase when they come to the PC or the consoles, and there is no real way to ascertain why. You ask a guy “Why is Artifact bad?”, you are bound to end up with “It’s only a card game, I expected something better!” Of course, when the ominous “Why do you hate it?” comes out, there’s no particular answer that finds resonance. The most obvious reason that I could come up with is that they are dissed off as ‘casual’ games, and somehow made to be synonymous with ‘mobile’ games. Considering that Hearthstone, Magic the Gathering, Shadowverse, Yu Gi Oh! Duel Links and other card games have made it to the PC too, there is little ground to that argument, but I guess people do have their own reservations about playing card games online. This unwarranted hate is the reason why Artifact was received badly when it was announced. However, the reasons why Artifact might not be a contender strong enough to force out the existing leaders in the shape of Hearthstone and Magic : The Gathering send shockwaves down one’s spine, because that would mean Artifact was Valve’s first economic failure, which can hinder other projects in the pipeline.
Well, the problem actually starts in the method used for adding to the revenue from the game. Most card games tend to be free to play by nature, meaning that you don’t exactly need to pay up front for getting access to the game. Artifact tries to do away with that model, meaning that you do have to cough up some money just to able to play the game. Like other card games, Artifact does have microtransactions, which technically makes the up-front payment for access to the game seem like bullshit. Of course, you do start out with some basic cards, and get some cards from packs you get when you buy the game as well as some ‘event tickets’ for access to in game ‘events’, but how does it justify locking access to the game behind a paywall? Adding something with the access to the game seems to be a legal wall Valve is hiding behind to justify the up front fee players are paying for the game.
That doesn’t stop there. In the official FAQ, it is mentioned that the only way to acquire card packs is through paying money, or through events which have rewards. These ‘events’ are just like the Arena game mode in Magic The Gathering or Hearthstone – you draft a deck out of random cards, then use them to play till you come across a certain number of defeats. Even the best players (AKA streamers and professional players) cannot beat an average of winrate of 50% in modes like these, because for one good run, you are guaranteed to have a couple of bad runs. The main concept of “not spending a dime” basically revolves around beating this ominous number in terms of winrate percentage. This is a impossible feat unless you manage to somehow manage to pull through with the use of ‘plot armor’. (Yu Gi Oh anyone?)
There are people who are going to stand out in support of Valve for allowing people to purchase individual cards to add to the decks you’ve been making to beat the people you meet in constructed to pulp. However, that makes sense only when you have a card base strong enough to only need a few cards to complete the decks. Of course, the only way to acquire cards en masse is to get card packs, and the only way to acquire card packs is to cough up money or to ensure you’re the World Champion in Expert Gauntlets.
The other problem of individual cards having different pricing is that pricing of cards will be determined primarily by the demand and usefulness of the card in question, rather than by its predetermined rarity. For example, if a rare card tends to be run in one of the popular meta decks, it is more likely to be more expensive on the Steam market than an epic card which sees play in fringe meta decks. That would mean that making a popular meta netdeck (a deck made available online on the Internet) from individual cards picked up from the Steam market would cost an arm or a leg. Of course, you can opt for the less competitive way by buying cheaper cards and making a less expensive deck,with the result being that you are more likely to end up being bored and having less fun because people beat you with better cards (and are better at stealing their parent’s wallets).
In other words, if you have to remain competitive and improve your card base, you need to spend money on event tickets, card packs, or individual cards at some point of time. Considering the fact that it is nearly impossible to play the game without constantly touching the wallet, it’s likely that players who want to continue will end up spending more money on the game than they had planned to. Without spending a lot of money, you can’t get a decent winrate. When your winrate tanks, so does your desire to play the game.
The only positive outcome that the problematic economy has is that players entering the game at any point of time after the launch of the game would face less difficulty in keeping up than players who had started earlier. This is because cards have an individual value, rather than being viewed as a part of a collection. Assuming people want to enter the game even after hearing after the system of monetization.
Richard Garfield seems to have mistaken the platform for video games for real world games, which might mean that other ‘mistakes’ in the game’s implementation might be waiting for the players along the line. Players already despise Hearthstone and Magic The Gathering (the video game) for being pay to win, despite being a lot less expensive than real life trading card games. If Artifact comes into the scene with the economy of a real life trading card game (which is a lot more expensive than online card games), it’s not going to down well with the playerbase. At least people have a feeling of attachment to their cards when they have physical copies, which rapidly evaporates when your collection is digitized. Add the fake emotional insecurity of not having the cards to construct the best meta decks, and you have a failure of a card game right there. In fact, the real fear is that Artifact’s economy might drive off players in search of other card games, with quite a few of them taking up Magic the Gathering, Shadowverse, Duelyst, Yu Gi Oh! Duel Links, or Hearthstone as their game of choice.
Of course, it’s never too late to actually change the system, especially since everything in Artifact is stated to “change over time with feedback”. Even if changes are made to rework this problematic card economy which looks like a “way of making money” for the ones who turned Counter Strike Global Offensive, DOTA 2 and Team Fortress 2 into a toxic playground of colorful skins, it’s designed to fatten Valve’s purse so that they can get back to hibernation with their middle finger pointing at you – you, the one who ‘supported’ Valve with the Artifact preorders.