The latest game from one of the most respected developers in the business is showing early signs of being a flop

  • Valve Software is one of the most-respected game developers in the business, having created the “Half-Life,” “Portal,” and “Left 4 Dead” franchises.
  • The company’s first game in years arrived in late 2018 – a collectible card game named “Artifact,” developed by “Magic: The Gathering” creator Richard Garfield.
  • Though the game was warmly received by critics at launch, it has largely flopped with players.

The studio that created classic video games like “Half-Life” and “Portal” has a brand-new game named “Artifact.”

Never heard of it? You’re not alone.

That’s because “Artifact” is a rare flop for Valve – a company that specialises in making games that tens of millions of people play for years.

There are so few people playing “Artifact” that it doesn’t even chart on Valve’s own top 100 games currently being played on Steam, Valve’s ubiquitous PC gaming platform. That means, as of this writing, fewer than a couple thousand people are playing “Artifact.”

Since the game arrived in late November 2018, its player count has continuously dropped to where it is now – with fewer than a few thousand players at any given time.

Artifact (stats)

That is not normal for Valve’s games, which tend to be enormously popular.

Three of the top 10 games currently being played on Steam are made by Valve: “DOTA 2,” “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” and “Team Fortress 2.”

The most recent of those games, “DOTA 2,” came out all the way back in 2013 – and it’s still popular enough years later than nearly 700,000 people are playing it on a Thursday morning.

So, what’s going on?

The answer isn’t black and white. At least part of the issue stems from the game’s rocky launch, and what players perceived as a game set up to strongly encourage additional purchases.

That’s because “Artifact” is a collectible card game, along the lines of “Magic: The Gathering” and, more recently, “Hearthstone.” For $US20, you get the game itself in addition to a smattering of collectible cards that you use to play against other people.

Artifact (game)

The issue, broadly speaking, is that “Artifact” stacked the deck against new players.

So the criticism goes: In order to build a good deck in “Artifact,” you need to either spend a bunch of additional money buying cards from other players/from Valve, or you need to spend a lot of time losing against much better players as you slowly earn cards.

Those early issues led to a lot of very negative Steam user reviews for the game early on, which assuredly didn’t help to attract new players. And as the game bled players across the last month, the net effect was a massive dropoff in player count that never recovered.

Artifact (game)

“Artifact” is a multiplayer-only game that’s dependent on having a large userbase.

The more players, the more varied the player base is – and that’s crucial for multiplayer-only games because new players need other new players to play against, while more seasoned players need more seasoned players to play against.

With so few players sticking with the game over time, the overall player pool shrank to the point where new players were likely to spend a lot of time facing off against far better-equipped opponents.

Where “Artifact” goes from here is anyone’s guess – Valve didn’t respond to a request for comment – but the company isn’t known for walking away from its games.

For the time being, “Artifact” appears to be the extremely rare flop from one of the world’s most-respected game studios.