The weird, woeful, and nearly redemptive development of Valve’s digital card game Artifact has ended. Effective today, Valve has launched the 2018 game’s total-overhaul “2.0” version as a completely free—and “unfinished”—card-battling game dubbed Artifact Foundry, and while it’s playable, it’s effectively dead on arrival.
That means the game (formerly known as Artifact 2.0) no longer requires signing up for a closed beta—and is immediately available for anyone to download and play with zero microtransactions or restrictions on ownership. The apparent catch is that this near-total overhaul of the original game’s ruleset and card abilities will not receive a single substantial update going forward. While Valve admits that Artifact Foundry could still use more “polish and art,” its devs insist that “the core gameplay is all there.”
Additionally, the game’s original version has been left as a playable option, in case you preferred its specific spin on Magic: The Gathering-like card combat. The biggest change is that it’s been updated to remove all microtransactions, while anyone who paid for the original game or its cards has been given a curious perk: a series of “Collector’s Edition” cards, which can now only be traded and sold for real-world money within the Steam Marketplace ecosystem. Within the game itself, “marketplace integration” has been removed, since the original concept of buying blind card decks has been nuked from orbit. Every card in Artifact 1.0 is now free and instantly doled out to players.
To review: Two versions of Artifact are now available on Steam, and both are totally free, sans microtransactions. Neither will receive updates going forward. They’ll both still be playable online through traditional matchmaking.
From $20 to beta to free
Artifact Foundry had clearly been built with a more favorable and digital-friendly card economy than its forebear, since today’s new version only lets players unlock new cards for their battling decks via gameplay. Players must beat solo campaign missions and versus matches to get more cards, as opposed to buying or trading them on a marketplace. It’s unclear whether Valve would have sold the game as a flatly priced “buy once” model, or whether it might have eventually included some form of microtransactions or DLC pack purchases.
This followed Artifact‘s messy 2018 launch, which tried to create a card economy, fueled by real money, that resembled real-world Magic: The Gathering cards—yet also required an up-front $20 client purchase. Once the game went live, its online play was was marked largely by card prices exploding within the Steam Marketplace and immediately painting competitive players into a corner, in terms of how they might build competitive decks. This issue was compounded by a significant lack of updates from Valve to pump new, strategy-boosting cards into the game’s ecosystem. That development standstill wasn’t helped when game co-creator Richard Garfield was laid off from his contract position at Valve less than four months after its launch.
Weeks later, the remaining Artifact development team announced plans to go “heads down” on revamping the game, instead of shipping regular updates and patches, as its concurrent player counts dipped from tens of thousands to merely hundreds. This was followed one year later, shortly after Half-Life Alyx‘s launch on PC-VR systems, by the announcement of Artifact 2.0 development beginning in earnest. Two months after that, Valve opened up access to this massively refreshed and tweaked version of the game as a closed beta, which saw regular development updates and an emphasis on developer transparency. The newer game included a clearer tutorial process and more focused card abilities; instead of making players juggle exactly how cards in separate lanes might bounce around, each lane was easier to parse as a standalone battling zone. The tweak felt promising in our closed beta tests, even if it watered down the game’s uniqueness compared to digital card-battling rivals like Gwent.
In today’s announcement, however, Artifact Foundry‘s team admitted that interest in this beta version wasn’t fruitful enough: “We haven’t managed to get the active player numbers to a level that justifies further development at this time.” Hence, many of Valve’s biggest ambitions around Artifact, particularly a global tournament with a $1 million grand prize, will never materialize.