The News Grandmaster 4000


I wish it were spectacular because then they might actually say or do something. Anthem is a spectacular failure; this is a failure of failures. They are no doubt relieved that almost nobody cares anymore because now they can take all the time they want to release the massive Long Haul update that adds tons of content/features and makes everything free except cosmetics and saves the game sit on their asses with their hands behind their heads.


the only reason anthem was a high profile failure while capitalist market simulator 2018 was a low profile failure is because people hate EA and like valve. they mostly hate EA these days for “microtransactions.” Valve IS microtransactions, they literally do nothing else.

anthem will somehow be fine in the long term, I’m sure, because EA will throw hundreds of millions more at it. no one remembers now, but destiny was an utter failure its first few months too. it wasn’t finished. it had no content, it was full of bugs and decisions that exhibited no coherent design principle. the story wasn’t sure if it existed or not. it was the first AAA game to unanimously review poorly. everyone hated it, and then promptly all played it nonstop for a year, paid for the expansion, and cheered when bungie announced the sequel that they had previously announced at the same time they announced the original game. maybe people won’t fall for that shit again, I dunno, but I doubt it.


Also, Artifact was lower profile because it was so unwelcoming that almost everybody who did try it instantly dropped it, so it didn’t even acquire enough space in the culture to become a “high-profile failure”. It would’ve failed regardless of if the card-trading aspect was absent or something different.

Artifact attempted revolutionary changes without a foundation in understanding why the average player enjoys card games in the first place, whereas Anthem, by mindlessly cloning Destiny, also mindlessly cloned many of its fun aspects I would assume.


All indications are that Valve has also produced many bad games which never saw the light of day. At a minimum, we know about Half-Life 3 and about their VR/AR games. The real oddity about Artifact is that they released it



Destiny feels good to move around and shoot alien dudes and ride a cool jetbike. Anthem feels like doing your homework in the car


I think Artifact is fundamentally an excellent game, and the current audience for it nowhere nearly reflects the potential audience it could have. Sure it is niche, sure it is long & dry & mathy… but it is The Dota Card Game, and that game is vastly more painful and inaccessible yet still maintains one of the biggest audiences in gaming.

To say Artifact is merely a bad game is to dismiss outright the uncountable amount of errors Valve made to alienate damn near everyone who could have loved the game and stuck with it, even those who bought it day one with all the cards (me) and are no longer playing it until Valve actually does something. At this point, there isn’t even a consistent litany of sticking complaints on the subreddit. I will make an effort to itemize, from my view, all the ways Valve fucked up. I will not even be able to collect them all at one go so I’ll probably come back and add to this post (edit: actually fuck that).

— The game should not have had a $20 entry fee. I can (and have) come up with a number of rationalizations for the fee based on what you get for the $20 (packs and tickets and most importantly unlimited free draft play), but I cannot expect anyone to care when every other card game is at least free to try. Even though the people who bought the game quickly dropped it too (due to the other issues I’m getting to), I still think this is the most alienating factor and I have no doubt Valve will remove the upfront cost regardless of whatever else they do, if they ever decide to do anything.

I personally bought the game for two friends who were disinclined from spending $20 to try it, and they were surprised by how fun they found it, but even when you’ve got your foot in the door there’s not much else to look forward to as we move down the list.

— The ticket system. It costs $1 per event ticket which enables you to play the “prized modes”: a run to 5 wins or 2 losses. Win 3 before two losses and you get your ticket back, 4 and you get your ticket and a pack, 5 and you get your ticket and 2 packs. Packs are notionally worth $2 each (their EV is actually much lower now given the severely depressed state of the card market, but whatever) so basically you’re wagering $1 in the hope of earning $4 profit (in the form of cards, which you can sell for Steambux).

I think the option of betting money on your performance is awesome, and Magic: The Gathering players are well used to $15 draft runs every friday night worldwide. The monetization decisions behind Artifact would, at face value, make a lot of sense to Magic: The Gathering players (if we accept the debatable notion that Magic players want to invest in any card game other than Magic). It’s too bad then that Valve made SWEET FUCK-ALL EFFORT to actually make paper Magic players aware of the existence of Artifact, much less to care about it. I had personally embarrassed myself by mentioning Artifact at Friday Night Magic multiple times, and nobody had ever heard of it. I guess Valve just wanted people like me to do it for free.

Anyway, the ticket system and “prized modes” as they are, are so appallingly messaged that they read as a “repeating micro-paywall for ranked play” (strictly speaking there is no ranked play), rather than optionally anteing a dollar on your performance. Valve did everything wrong in messaging this concept and thus inadvertently created the “pay to pay to play” meme that condemned the game. They even called the free mode “Casual” and the paid mode “Expert”, which even they realized (too late) was damagingly stupid and thus renamed them to “Standard” and “Prized” play. I think they could have made this concept work without any functional difference (just for theory’s sake) by not visibly segregating the modes (since “free” and “paid” modes are not any different to play aside from the ante), and instead just offering Constructed and Draft with a non-assuming checkbox beneath called “Ante for Prizes” or something, which does silently split you off into a different matchmaking pool. They needed to have “Free” seem like the default, but they fucked up and made “Paid” seem like the default.

It’s impossible to say whether they were greedy or just deluded. At any rate, the vast majority of the money going into tickets for Prized Play is ultimately exchanged between players. Someone did the math and it appears Valve takes a 10% rake, which isn’t so bad compared to the 100% rake of Hearthstone or whatever, but Valve sure as hell didn’t convince anyone of that.

— Virtually no social features at launch and all they added afterwards was a limited opt-in text chat and emote system. They advertised Artifact as a social-minded game intending to capture the feel of kitchen table Magic, and they totally underdelivered. There is no way to search for communities or publicly-run tournaments within the game; the matchmaking experience is the core of the game and is just as impersonal and asocial as Hearthstone. The customization options for private matches with friends are by far better than any other digital card game, but you will not actually make friends playing Artifact because they fucked up that whole feel (there aren’t even general chat lobbies, whereas in Dota 2 they have per-town regional chat lobbies greeting you on the main page), and the options are lacking in crucial modes such as 1v1 draft play and cube drafting (making a custom draft pool out of the cards you own).

— No hamster wheel bullshit = “no reason to play the game”. The game is severely lacking in psychological blackmail to keep people logging in for Daily Quests and filling up bars and grinding cards at the converted rate of 30 cents an hour. They slapped in a bandaid progression system that you could unlock a few packs and lame avatars with, but nobody cared, especially when it doesn’t have the brilliantly seductive presentation of Hearthstone which has made even me a lifestyle slave to it.

But for real, they should have unlockable cosmetics or something. Or just make all cards free and what’s marketed are the PREMIUM COSMETIC versions of the cards, which you can optionally grind for at that awful rate that people love so much, as Hearthstone has proven.

Hearthstone is not successful because it is a great game (I think it’s pretty good for what it is though, which is how I cope with having spent $1100 and counting on it). Hearthstone is successful because it knows how to keep people hooked, in all the worst but most effective ways. Artifact could have had a more ethical (or at least generous) form of grind-reward maybe, but instead they opted for nothing at all, and thus so many in turn opted not to play the game in favor of those which exploit them better.

With the absence of social features and the absence of a ladder, most people really are left with no reason to play the game. You can’t make friends, you can’t be #1 Ranked Legend, and you can’t even make money off the game anymore (which was, for a time, perceived as the game’s most ironically redeeming feature).

— No communication from Valve. No roadmap. This shit does not fly anymore. People are always willing to leap to the defense of “That’s just how Valve does things”, but they say that in regard to games that already have humble (and free) roots and an airtight fanbase that wouldn’t consider playing another game besides CS:GO or Dota 2 or TF2, no matter what neglect they faced. It will not work for any new and untested Game as a Service. Even Magic: The Gathering’s head designer Mark Rosewater frequently answers any fan’s questions and the rest of the staff publish lengthy blog entries explaining their decisions. Valve are not more privileged than Wizards of the Coast when it comes to card games. Valve needs to Get Real. Also that $1,000,000 first prize tournament they slated for Q1 2019 and big-upped prior to the release of the game is apparently not happening and they haven’t said anything, go figure.


The reason for that post I hope you didn’t read is that Artifact is the worst ever handling of a great game, what could be the greatest game in its genre with a couple of card expansions and a reversal of all their fatally misguided marketing decisions, and I feel like I’ve been privileged to a distinctive vision of Hell by processing it all and subjecting myself to the discourse.

I really fucking wish it were just a bad game, and not a brilliant game mismanaged by smug assholes. I really fucking wish it were so simple and expected as that, so easy to forget about.

Every now and then on Friday I try to go back to Friday Night Magic at the local game shop, and I just can’t do it, I can’t handle the scowling and the mana screw rendering 15% of matches unplayable to either party; it’s such an archaic and overrated game and Artifact just answers all the problems I have with it. And I don’t like football, sorry.


while that is true, it gained that audience organically over many years. dota was already an old and popular game by the time valve dumped an engine and a shop on it


Addendum: I avoided (and am avoiding) getting into a defense of Artifact as a game; my argument is that the appeal of the game wasn’t the primary reason it failed (there are too many reasons it failed). I’ll praise (and resume playing) Artifact when it is no longer embarrassing or pre-empted by huge caveats to do so; i.e. when Valve ever makes the game less monetarily intimidating and reeking of neglect.

I will concede that I think the game is unwatchable to bystanders, but for that matter I think MtG (and Dota) is too. I could also give MtG and Hearthstone much more credit for their respective merits (and they have many), but they don’t orthagonally relate to what I’m discussing here, and at any rate I’d have to start defending Artifact as a game (which I’m not going to do yet lol) to get into direct comparisons on how they handle combat, turns/priority, randomness, dramatic impact, etc.

I generally can’t care at all about people watching a game on Twitch, and I don’t do it myself when I can just play the game, but as an indicator of how many people care about it… yeah, it’s pretty fucking sad where it is.


IMO the biggest Artifact fuckup has nothing to do with the game economy or the game itself, but just that they weren’t on mobile on day one.


The first thing I saw of cyber shadow was Bob Mackey comparing it to The Messenger and calling the messenger shit. I liked The Messenger and the movement in this definitely looks worse and any game presenting it’s verb expansion screen as something to get excited about makes me want to take a bus and start over.


That’s definitely an issue, and a couple notes about that:

— A datamine of the January 28 patch revealed strings related to Unity, which they might be going with because I guess Source 2 doesn’t actually run well on mobile, and

— There is no conceivable way they would launch a mobile card game app with a $20 price tag; that’s just obscene for the mobile space and Valve’s name doesn’t have any clout there. Maybe they planned to drop the upfront cost for the mobile launch all along, who knows.

at this point is it bad if I unironically hope for an impassioned apology to go with whenever they drop the 180-turnaround-on-everything patch

a postmortem or a documentary on whatever’s going on behind the doors of this and other huge flops I would definitely pay to see.


It’s not just that the price to buy in is high, but their entire in-game economy is unlikely to jive with App Store rules to begin with. I think the best case scenario Valve can hope for is releasing a client that can requires an existing Artifact license on PC and lets you buy tickets and play games with your existing card library, but all card buys/trades must happen on PC.

That they’ve seemingly designed the entire game without taking this into account is baffling.


I think the most straightforward pain point was that F2P without grind feels harsh (ironically described as “exploitative” when it’s actually dropping the most effective and subtle psychological hooks).

I’ve heard many people complain about the complexity of the game and I don’t know enough to rate those complaints but it’s the kind of thing that can kill a game.

Does Valve have a library of games they never shipped for quality reasons?

It’s simpler than that. Everyone is told to find work that’s “most valuable for the company”. Everyone with a project needs to convince others that their project is valuable and needs team members.

Owning all of PC games sales is infinitely more revenue-generating than making games and it’s very hard to justify games when you could be working on Steam or platform-like things.

Subtext: remember when Valve bought Campo Santo? Don’t expect them to be able to justify finishing an indie game in this context.


I was pretty sad when I heard about the Campo Santo purchase.

Was looking forward to Firewatch 2: Watch Harder.




They could make the app actually fucking work and not launch a browser window that asks you to sign and then confirm on the app that you are al-


If, for some reason, you’ve been interested in owning Morrowind at some point but haven’t gotten your hands on it yet, Bethesda’s giving it out for free until the end of the month. This is on account of the Elder Scrolls series turning 25 a few days ago!


also Valve famously has no dedicated QA

I think certain types of quality-of-life features naturally fall into blind spots of their peculiar focus.


Seriously in 2019 they don’t have a smartphone webstore you have to navigate the desktop store in all the pan and scan glory and whenever it is a special event-sale it bre-