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Artifact loses over 50% of its players after Week 1

Valve’s latest game had a good start and attracted a lot of attention, but what’s next?

Artifact premiered on November 28 and it’s been a little over a week since then. On launch day, the game had a peak of 60,000 active players, and now there’s around 20,000. The stats come directly from websites which track Steam players’ activity like Steam DB and Steam Charts.

So, what caused this? We saw the same trend in the two Artifact tournaments so far, The Artifact Preview Tournament and WePlay! Mighty Triad: Strength – high initial view numbers which rapidly dropped in the following days. Not even the finals were enough to bring back the fans.

Artifact’s initial release was advertised by Valve on multiple levels – an initial announcement of the game at The International 2017, free beta keys for everyone at The International 2018 and PAX West. It was a known fact that the mind behind Magic: The Gathering, Richard Garfield, is heavily involved with the development of the game, so it wasn’t that surprising that it had a high paywall. Artifact requires more of an investment than its initial price of ~$20. Sure, you can play the game with the basic cards provided, but you’ll be missing out on a lot since there are some examples of power creep in it. Currently, two heroes are the most favored and valuable in the market – Axe and Drow Ranger. Chances are if you have them you might be considering to sell them as the price of Axe used to exceed the price of the game itself, but now it’s sitting at ~€12. If you want to build a specific deck, you’d be better off buying the exact cards from the community market, thus eliminating any RNG. Investing in cards isn’t enough, though, as playing in competitive mode also requires tickets which are also locked behind $1 fee each. That quickly becomes a problem for many players after the initial 5 tickets run out. In comparison, you have Hearthstone, free to play and with a built-in in-game currency and quests allowing players to bypass investing any money into the title.

Let’s leave the paywall aside and take a look at Artifact as a game because it is one. Visually, it’s probably one of the best-looking card games out there. Mechanics include all sorts of interactions and even add items on top of that. It’s not a game you can master in a week and that’s probably the reason a lot of people backed off. Unlike Hearthstone, where the games take around 10-15 minutes, Artifact could exceed that twice, especially when using slow control decks. Combine the long average length of the games with the “pay for everything” and the lack of any matchmaking or rating system and you can already see the results. It will be interesting to see if Valve will make any changes to the current model of the game. Otherwise, it might remain as a highly competitive title, tailored for a specific audience which doesn’t mind the initial investment and honestly there’d be nothing wrong with that. Anyone else who wants to enjoy the game will always have the free phantom draft as an option.

An Artifact tournament is coming in 2019 with a prize pool of $1 million and while that may seem like much, the card game competition has increased quite a lot lately. Blizzard announced a $4 million Hearthstone circuit for next year and Magic: The Gathering trumped that with plans for $10 million dollars in esports.