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What Went so Wrong with Artifact?

Artifact was originally heralded as the first potential “Hearthstone killer.”

Developed by Valve and revolving around the story and characters of Dota 2, it’s become a far cry from that since its release in November. I’d even go as far as to say that Artifact has failed.

Its launch and reception is reminiscent of WildStar—remember the massively hyped MMO that ended up falling flat as early as its first month? That’s an acceptable outcome if you’re a small indie studio, but we’re talking about NCSoft and Valve. It was never supposed to be this way, right?

So, what happened? Let’s talk about Artifact and how it became an afterthought so quickly.

Payment Model

This is the most obvious mistake that Valve has made with Artifact. The pay-to-play model is on its last breaths, so introducing Artifact by asking for $19.99 upfront was not a good look. This purchase earns you two 54-card decks and  ten 12-card packs.

Card packs cost $1.99 each.

For anyone who thought, “What’s the big deal? It covers the cost of the ten card packs we’re giving you.” Steam Charts alone will tell you what the community thinks of that. The game has plummeted to just 2,000 players at its 24-hour peak.

Savjz said it best when he called Artifact’s “paywall” a “huge fucking mistake.” It’s not just the price of entry, though. You have to pay for everything in Artifact. In Hearthstone, you can pay $1.99 or 150 gold for an Arena run. Artifact launched selling Event Tickets for $4.95, all the way up to $12.

Who has the money to effectively gamble like this on a brand-new game? Artifact went whale hunting and it didn’t pan out.

Viewing Experience

Valve knew of Twitch’s massive popularity before they even started development on Artifact, so why is it such an awful viewing experience?

Have you ever tried to watch a game of Artifact without knowing much about it? It’s a complete mess. You’ve got multiple lanes, items, and so many other things to worry about. More than half of the current match isn’t shown on the screen at any given time. How does a casual viewer keep up with this?

Compare Artifact to Hearthstone, where everything you could possibly want to see is neatly assembled on the board.

Hearthstone’s board even has additional space for interactive elements where you can smash crops, set off volcanoes, and fire lasers. A small touch like this has become one of the most beloved parts of the game. Blizzard’s commitment to creating a clear and concise playing space has made Hearthstone an awesome viewing experience. The same can’t be said for Artifact.

Learning Curve

Artifact isn’t necessarily a complex game. It’s got bits and pieces that take time to understand, but having a galaxy brain isn’t a prerequisite.

However, we have to judge all of the new collectible card games comparatively against Hearthstone. It’s no different for any other genre, like in MOBAs, where new competition has to gauge what they bring to the table against League of Legends.

If you’re a casual Hearthstone player, Artifact is a complicated game. I’d be interested in seeing the statistics of how many players quit during the tutorial, where the two AI games can take an hour to complete. This can’t be a good first impression for new players, especially coming from a competing title where matches rarely extend beyond 20 minutes.

Additionally, there’s not enough onboarding after the tutorial. Gwent made similar mistakes, which may be why it hasn’t been massively successful either. In a way, Hearthstone experience is gatekeeping casuals out of games like Artifact because they demand so much more from a player.

In Artifact, you invest more time, money, and effort into learning the game. It leaves many players, including myself, wondering, “Is this even worth it?” This outlook could be completely different if so many players weren’t crossing over from Hearthstone, but it’s on Valve to make this game attractive to us. They haven’t done that so far.


For a game that was once touted as having what it takes to kill Hearthstone, it’s ironic that Artifact’s three biggest mistakes come as an offshoot of Hearthstone spoiling us. Hearthstone can be played entirely as a free player, the streaming experience is solid, and it’s an easy game to pick up and learn.

What do you think were Artifact’s biggest mistakes on launch and still today? What does Artifact need to do to recover—or can it? Let me know in the comments below and we’ll talk about it.

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  1. I feel like not allowing players to earn stuff for free after the paywall was the kicker. I like the game a lot, but I also feel like it doesn’t have enough content to sustain past launch.

  2. The prices and pay to play model for this type of game pushed by Valve clearly shows they don’t make games anymore, they just make money.

  3. Good article. I’d heard of it and was curious. This article pretty much lays it all out there and I don’t sense any bias. Keep em coming!

    • P.S. I’d also like to say the website as a whole has improved greatly in 2 days: it’s much more responsive, whatever was causing the hang up when posting comments is gone, the “hamburger” menu has more options, the “type text here” thing is gone, and I see new articles being added. Glad to see it’s actively being improved day by day.

  4. At Least Dota 2 arcade game auto chess is popular, maybe valve is going to make this a standalone game.

  5. it all boils down to who was the target audience/market for this game and how to cater to that target. The complicated gameplay, paywall, and visual aesthetic/twitch experience of this game feels like it was targetting more hardcore card game players and NOT Hearthstone players.

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