Valve ceases development on its ‘Dota 2’ card game ‘Artifact,’ making it freeware

(Artifact Images)

Valve Software has stopped development on Artifact, its 2018 digital card game. Artifact will remain online, but has been made free to play on Valve’s online storefront Steam.

Artifact made its debut in November 2018 on Valve’s digital storefront Steam, made as a collaboration between Bellevue, Wash.-based Valve, and Richard Garfield, the creator of the landmark collectible card game Magic: The Gathering. Set in the universe of Valve’s international hit online game Dota 2, Artifact released to an initially enthusiastic audience.

However, it quickly came under fire from both fans and critics for its high degree of complexity (back at PAX West 2018, I called Artifact “what would happen if you threw a deck of Magic cards in a blender with a MOBA and a backgammon set,” and I stand by that), as well as its nickel-and-dime microtransactions. As it turned out, anybody who wanted a truly competitive deck of cards in Artifact would end up paying through the nose for it, which audiences will apparently accept in Magic but won’t in a digital card game.

As a result, Valve went to work behind the scenes on a version 2.0 of Artifact that would serve to reboot the game. As of today, however, the Artifact project has been officially discontinued.

“While we’re reasonably satisfied we accomplished most of our game-side goals,” Valve wrote on Artifact‘s Steam page, “we haven’t managed to get the active player numbers to a level that justifies further development at this time. As such, we’ve made the tough decision to stop development on the Artifact 2.0 Beta.”

Artifact does still have a small group of players, however, and so it’s being made free to play. That usually means a game is free to download and will bushwhack you with optional purchases sooner or later, but not here. According to Valve’s announcement: “…when we say ‘free,’ we really mean ‘free.’” All of Artifact‘s previous in-app purchases, and its integration with Steam Marketplace, have been disabled.

Valve’s Dota 2 card game Artifact is basically that 3D chess game from “Star Trek,” but with more elves. 

By downloading Artifact from Steam, players now get two versions of the game. One is the original 2018 game, now called “Artifact Classic“; the other is “Artifact Foundry,” the mostly-finished build of Artifact 2.0 that Valve’s been working on for the last 18 months.

Foundry has a number of new features, including an expanded tutorial and a single-player campaign mode. It also removes many of what Valve calls “random elements” from the base Artifact experience, so your hero units play a much greater role in any given turn.

Valve has specified that all of the content it had in the pipeline for Artifact 2.0 has been added to Foundry, including more than 100 new cards and 20 new heroes. Players in Foundry earn cards the old-fashioned way, by playing the game, and can’t buy cards off the Steam Marketplace at all.

New players of Artifact Classic receive every card in the game for free, and cannot buy card packs in-game. Players who previously paid for Artifact have had their old cards turned into special Collector’s Edition versions, which can be sold to other players via the Steam Marketplace. Paid players can also earn more Collector’s Edition cards for free by continuing to play the game.

Generally, announcements like this can mean one of two things for a game. It’ll either go on until the heat death of the universe (there are roughly 10,000 people in the world still playing Ultima Online) or the server will get quietly shut off at some point in the future (Asheron’s Call 2 went on for five years in “maintenance mode” before Warner Bros. finally pulled its plug).

Of course, that’s what you’d expect for a normal company that makes normal decisions, but this is Valve. Artifact may be dead and gone, or Valve could pick it up again next year, or it may randomly decide to resurrect Artifact as a kart racer in 2025. In the meantime, one of the most complex digital card games in the history of the sub-genre is now available for free.