A new digital card game that encourages players to spend money to build their collections has been categorized as an outrage by detractors. Though its proponents believe the negative outcry to be an overreaction, Artifact — a card game based on the world of Dota developed by Valve Corp. and Richard Garfield, designer of renowned card game Magic: The Gathering — was assailed with thousands of negative reviews on Steam following its Nov. 28 launch, with critics taking aim at the game's monetization structure.
The outrage stems from the fact that many users believe players need to spend a significant amount of money, beyond the game's $20 purchase price, to be properly competitive. Price-tracking site ArtifactGoldfish places some of the game's highest-level decks at up to $60 to $80 apiece. Detractors claim to not enjoy a "pay-to-win" monetization method, where users feel compelled to buy more after already buying into the game.
In the 24 hours following the game's launch, it accumulated over 1,500 negative reviews, while also racking up 2,600 positives and gaining a user base of 60,000 players, according to PC Gamer.
Upon purchase, users are granted two 40-card decks, 10 additional card packs and five event tickets, which allow users to enter competitions to earn prizes in the form of new card packs and event tickets — but to earn those prizes, the player must perform well across several matches. You could "go infinite" — winning competitions and accumulating event tickets and card packs, thus never needing to buy a pack — but the odds are so demanding that most players won't be able to.
Players seeking to improve their deck beyond their initial construction will likely need to purchase additional packs, priced at $1.99 apiece, or purchase individual cards from other players in a marketplace operated by Valve, which takes a 15 percent cut of every transaction. More event tickets are sold in bundles of five for $4.95.
Over the weekend, the Artifact Twitter account announced that 6,056,282 cards had been traded on the Steam marketplace since launch. As Dota analyst Kevin Godec noted, if you assume a minimum split of $0.02 to Valve on each trade, that's $121,125.64 profit in less than a week.
Other popular digital card games like Hearthstone have developed free-to-play models that reward invested play time with booster packs, without players having to spend any cash. Players can make additional purchases, however; Artifact is more like Magic in its seller's market, featuring cards that cost pennies and others that cost thousands. The contrast is smaller though, as Artifact's most expensive card — Axe, a hero card — has evened out at around $15 to $17 this week, falling from a $40 price closer to the game's launch date.
The structure has been divisive among fans and prospective players, who seem to either love it or hate it. Users review-bombed it on launch, dropping it to a "mixed" overall rating.
Valve has already addressed two player concerns: The draft mode was locked behind buyable event tickets, and players were opening cards with packs that come in everyone's starter set (and thus worth nothing on the market). The company implemented a free draft mode with no rewards, and a system where 20 cards can be recycled to create one event ticket.
Still, unless you are good enough at Artifact's draft mode to continuously maintain a high win ratio, you'll probably have to invest beyond the $20 entry fee to get the decks you want.