It’s only been a couple of days since the game’s Non-Disclosure Agreement lapsed, and there’s already a whole horde of players complaining about Artifact. The game’s mechanics is critically acclaimed, nothing less to be expected from a game designed by the legendary Richard Garfield.
However, even though Artifact by itself is a well-designed game, it’s not for everyone. It requires more thinking that most games in the market. It’s not so simple to get into compared to other card games. There’s a very high skill ceiling, and so as its skill floor. Coupled with the game’s gatekeeping nature through its very high paywall, makes Artifact very daunting. And that’s a problem.
I’m too stupid for this
Artifact’s game mechanics are superbly designed. It has great depth, holding secrets long after you thought you’ve figured everything out. It’s also very diverse, with many different approaches and strategies being viable. There are many roads to success, and even the most seemingly-bulletproof strategies could be found lacking by newly discovered tactics. There’s so much to learn that it takes a while for you to take everything in. At the same time, there’s so many variables in the game that makes it hard to master.
This makes the game so daunting. For the average user who just stumbled upon the game, it might all seem too foreign. The game’s overall design and art direction is enticing enough to get someone interested, maybe even buy the game. But the game’s steep learning curve makes it hard for anyone to just step in and begin playing. There’s just too many things to consider, and it might even be too much for most of us. Not only does the game require you to be on your toes all the time, the deck-building component itself is deviously complicated.
It’s easy to get intimidated by Artifact. Many people who have tried the beta have already given up on it. It takes so much time and effort to learn, and playing a lot of it doesn’t even guarantee success. You could play the game for hours without even experiencing a single win, and this makes the game extremely unapproachable.
Balance is key
That’s not to say that making complicated games is bad. In fact, I think the reason why the game is designed the way it is is because it’s really meant to attract hardcore audiences. Many people have found joy in playing the game, heavily investing into it and getting really good in it. The Preview Tournament that BeyondTheSummit organized shows how great the competitive scene could look like. However, the tournament has been a bit premature in showing the game’s more complicated aspects at such a startlingly fast pace.
The tournament featured the dedicated players mentioned above, who received their beta keys way ahead of the rest of the public. Those players have spent a lot of their time playing the games, so it’s expected that they already know Artifact inside-out. The audience, on the other hand, will not be as familiar. Valve has given very limited access to the game to the public, after all.
Therefore, the key to Artifact’s success is balance. There is no need to cater to the hardcores or to the casuals, as the game itself is good. People will naturally gravitate towards it, and Artifact will easily find its audience. However, the game currently is too daunting that even interested players are waiting it out before investing. Balancing out the difficulty or providing enough scaffolding and support for new players to learn the game in a safe environment would help it capture an audience.
As mentioned above, learning Artifact is a task itself. One would need to spend a lot of time learning the rules, and then the countless interactions between cards. Deck-building itself will take some time to learn. This isn’t new, as you would naturally get used to a game the longer you play with it. However, Artifact is a multiplayer game, one that favors the more experienced, and in Artifact’s case, the richer. As there’s no other way to gain new cards other than by spending money, putting in longer hours into the game doesn’t give anything to the player other than experience.
Artifact launched with both a casual queue and a competitive queue for constructed and also a competitive queue for draft. Playing in the casual queue merits no rewards, while playing competitively grants you booster packs to bolster your collection. To play competitively, players will have to use up tickets, which are sold in bundles of five for $5 each. One ticket is needed for Competitive Constructed, while two tickets are required for Competitive Draft. On top of the entrance tickets for Competitive Draft, the player is also required to buy five booster packs to enter, which are available for $2 each.
The state of the r/Artifact subreddit in the past few days show that players aren’t happy with this environment. Locking competitive play behind a paywall isn’t new in the world of card games, but it’s definitely unheard of in online card games. Entrance fees are normally paid up front in paper card games, but it has always been free of charge online. Besides, online card games already make enough money from selling booster packs for real world cash, so there’s no need to gatekeep competitive play. Anyone who has a good enough deck could choose to compete in professional and amateur events, if they wish. However, that’s not the case in Artifact.
Critics of Artifact are frustrated over the fact that progress in Artifact almost always requires some sort of payment. There is no way to earn cards without paying upfront, and there is no way to compete competitively without shelling out cash. Although Artifact could be played for free beyond the initial $20 buy-in, you will have to spend money to make any progress at all. This kind of monetization model is unheard of anywhere else in the card gaming market.
We could point this state at Steam’s marketplace. Valve had the idea to replicate real-world card economy within the Steam marketplace by making cards available for buying and selling. In that regard, putting every single card behind a paywall makes sense. Giving out cards for free will increase the supply of cards in the market, and would lower the value of each individual card in a player’s inventory. To make sure that cards will not devaluate, cards have to have a cost. The fans don’t seem to agree with this monetization model.
Valve’s latest update to Artifact showed that they are willing to listen to the fans. One of the biggest complaints was the lack of casual draft mode. The developers rolled this one out as soon as possible, although the casual draft will not let players keep the cards they drafted. They also made casual drafting available to player-created tournaments, allowing players to practice the game with their friends at low stakes. Players have also complained about not being able to do anything useful with extra heroes. Therefore, the developers vowed to bring a dusting system that will allow users to exchange their cards for tickets in the near future.
As of now, it seems like Valve is willing to listen and follow the fans’ requests. Although they haven’t addressed everything yet, they do show a form of commitment towards working with the community to make Artifact a better game. That’s a good start for the community and the developers, but how far will Valve be willing to go to appease the angry fans?