The public beta for Artifact - Valve's Dota-inspired digital card game - began earlier this week, and suffice it to say, it's off to a rocky start. As soon as the NDA lifted on the private beta, the Artifact subreddit was flooded with posts from players who are upset with how much it costs to merely play.
Unlike card games like Hearthstone and Duelyst, Artifact is not free-to-play and has an upfront cost of $20. That gets you a starter pack which includes 10 booster packs containing 12 cards apiece, five "event tickets" used to play draft modes, and two completed decks. However, this hasn't stopped the game from integrating what many players have called free-to-play, nickel-and-dime strategies.
In a now-removed Reddit post, user Ac3Zer0 criticized the fact that you can't earn additional cards without spending real money. (User Sicarius6292 shared a helpful primer in this thread, which is still up.) Artifact does not have an equivalent to the gold in Hearthstone. You can only obtain more cards by buying more packs for $2 each, buying specific cards via the Steam Marketplace (which players will undoubtedly game in the future, and where Valve takes a cut of every transaction), or by performing well in draft modes which cost event tickets. And no, event tickets can't be obtained for free either; bundles of five tickets can be purchased for $5 dollars. So no matter how much you play, you're going to have to spend more money if you want to expand your collection.
These costs are compounded by the issues highlighted in this now-removed thread from Viikable. See, Artifact also lacks an equivalent to Hearthstone's crafting system, which lets players break unwanted cards into dust used to craft new cards. Sure, you can sell duplicates on the Steam Marketplace, but only if people want to buy them. However, the basic hero cards included in Artifact's starter pack can also appear in normal card packs. Everyone obtains these heroes automatically and you can only use one copy of a given hero in a deck, so these heroes have no value whatsoever. In other words, card packs sometimes net you worthless, redundant hero cards which you can't get rid of.
Several Hearthstone professional players have already tried Artifact, and many of them were turned off by its costs. Twitch streamer Savjz described the paywall as a "huge fucking mistake" in a tweet, while Twitch streamer and YouTuber Disguised Toast said he was put off by Artifact's initial price coupled with the recurring cost of buying tickets and packs. In the video above, Twitch streamer and YouTuber Kripparrian said he was still missing many key cards even after spending $300 on card packs (though he was able to build several viable decks with his expanded collection).
In response to this wave of disappointment, Valve issued a statement yesterday discussing incoming changes to Artifact's modes and business model. To make draft mode more approachable, Valve is adding a free version which doesn't cost event tickets (but doesn't yield rewards). This "casual phantom draft" is already available for beta players. A multiplayer version of the phantom draft, which players can use to play a draft with friends, was also added.
Valve is also adding "a system that allows extra, unwanted cards to be recycled into event tickets." This recycling system will arrive before or shortly after Artifact releases on Wednesday, November 28. However, Valve didn't say how many heroes it will take to create one event ticket, so it's unclear how well this system will improve the loop of earning tickets and obtaining packs. At the very least, recycling alone won't make it so that average players can consistently earn cards without spending money. Kripparrian said as much on Twitter:
So the Artifact devs replied already. I always hope to see early dev replies to the community's issues, but somehow I'm still surprised when we actually get one. Good changes, but those that were expecting the game to become a lot cheaper will still be disappointed pic.twitter.com/RyDsOvHshiNovember 18, 2018
The phantom draft will make Artifact more fun to play and the recycling function will resolve the issue of dud cards, but I worry that these changes won't do enough to appease players coming from games like Hearthstone or The Elder Scrolls: Legends. Even with how expensive Hearthstone has become, it's still much cheaper than a game like Magic: The Gathering, and Artifact's business model is definitely closer to the latter. The root of the problem seems to be that many players want to earn cards just by playing, and without needing to do exceptionally well in the draft mode. Unless Valve adds some occasional freebies or maybe additional, accessible tournament rewards, I think some people will always be disappointed. In the long run, it may come down to the health of Artifact's marketplace - but given Steam's track record for player-run markets, I don't have high hopes for that either. That said, it's still relatively early days for Artifact, and Valve did say it may make more changes based on player feedback. There's certainly no shortage of that.
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