How Valve Has Fallen: From Half-Life to Dota Underlords

Valve’s created many moments that will remain engraved in players’ minds for the rest of their lives. It was Gabe Newell’s company that created indisputable classics such as the Half-Life and Portal series, not to mention being at the helm of video game digital distribution platforms with Steam.

But those days are a thing of a distant past. Valve isn’t the trendsetter that it used to be and seems content with following a new trend, resorting to game designs that lack the flair that Gordon Freeman once brought us. Valve seems to be following the money, instead of striving for innovation and brilliance like it once did.

It only takes a quick glance at the studio’s latest releases to realize that despite its huge success, Dota 2 was heavily inspired by League of Legends. I’m willing to give Valve a free pass for that, but fast forward a few years to Artifact and we see Valve’s attempt to set foot in one of the latest and most profitable trends; the digital collectible card game. Hearthstone was the obvious game to beat, but Blizzard’s colossal CCG didn’t feel the blow, not even in the slightest.

Artifact

Where Do We Go from Here?

Artifact’s colossal failure wasn’t entirely expected, but putting a price tag on a game in a genre filled with great free-to-play options felt arrogant. Valve’s ego was so inflated from previous successes that it was convinced players would jump in blindly, and truth be told, many did. Soon enough though, players realized that Artifact wasn’t everything it was advertised to be, especially with Hearthstone or Shadowverse ripe for the picking. Polished, brimming with content, and above all, free. What else is there to say?

Artifact isn’t dead, but it is going through a painful “process of experimentation and development.” No matter how much they change it, the harm is done and even if a business model switch is looming, it won’t make paying players happy. Artifact is in a scary place, stuck between uncertainty and cancellation. So, what’s next for Valve? Perhaps the long overdue Half-Life 3? Another insanely funny and genuinely clever Portal game? Maybe a third game in the awesome zombie co-op shooter Left 4 Dead? Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely considering Valve’s adverse relation with the number “3”. Every single one of its franchises hits a dead end with third titles, and this has naturally turned into its own meme.

But I wouldn’t lose hope. Perhaps Valve, in another one of its unprecedented outbursts of creativity, is secretly working on Team Fortress 3. You know, there’s this huge game called Overwatch and the hero shooter genre is timeless, so maybe it can borrow a significant chunk of Blizzard’s player base with a new game?

Valve Dota Underlords Auto Battler Team Fortress 2

This is only speculation, but one thing that is very real and palpable is Valve’s latest game, Dota Underlords. Like a snake eating its own tail, Valve once again turns a mod into a full game. However, unlike Dota 2, where the Auto Chess craze derived from, this Auto Battler game feels bare bones and, quite frankly, deprived of any true challenge or long-lasting appeal. It’s a game where lady luck (RNG, in fact) plays a preeminent role, leaving player skill as a superfluous afterthought.

Dota Underlords doesn’t feel like a true Valve game. It feels like a student project that garnered lots of attention for some unfathomable reason, and that is noticeable in every aspect of its design, from the overly simple mechanics to the rudimentary graphics. Early Access isn’t an excuse for everything, and I always expect more from Valve in every regard.

I strongly disagree with most player claims that Dota Underlords is “fun” and “interesting”, but I do agree with those who say it’s addictive. Loot boxes are addictive as well and that doesn’t make them any more fair or fun. Watching a bunch of heroes having a go at each other is the stuff of generic mobile games, where auto battlers, commonly known as hero collectors until recently, are a dime a dozen. Dota Underlords is an evolution of the hero collector genre, with a side dish of RNG for extra… hmm… appeal?

Dota Underlords Bubble Chaos

The Future Is Uncanny

It’s not like Valve won’t release Half-Life 3 because it lacks the budget, engine or staff. No one is asking it to push the medium forward once more, as it happened with Half-Life 2’s brilliant physics-based puzzles or the exciting and brand-new Gravity Gun. I just want another trip to a world that profoundly affected me, to reunite with old friends and enemies, and to continue a story that was cut short because Valve didn’t bother to release Episode 3. There was no closure.

This abrupt cliffhanger felt like a genuine cop-out, one that could tarnish the reputation of a studio for good. It’s been over a decade and the promised third episode is now an illusion. With Arkane Studios pumping out two fantastic Dishonored games during this interval, I’m starting to wonder if Valve’s staff isn’t being pushed around for lesser, potentially more profitable projects, such as Dota Underlords.

Valve Campo Santo In the Valley of Gods

It is rumored that Valve has other games in development, something that isn’t surprising. There is so much untapped potential in the studio’s catalogue that it would be a crime not to take advantage of it. However, I’m guessing that the next big game is going to be a “borrowed” one: In the Valley of Gods, developed by Firewatch creators Campo Santo, now a Valve subsidiary since 2018. I’m utterly convinced that this will be a remarkable adventure, but it won’t be a tangible way to gauge Valve’s current expertise.

I have such an admiration for Valve’s previous efforts that I’m reluctant to watch it transform into a bland trend follower, failing to realize its own ideas because of too much reading into charts and figures. Valve made a name for itself when it didn’t care about what was hot, setting out to create the games that its staff wanted to play. Those days appear to be behind us. Right now, Valve seems to be on autopilot, pretty much in tune with its latest release, an auto-battler.

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Valve Tweaks the Monetization Model for Artifact

Artifact, the online CCG being launched by Valve, is already making some waves before it even enters beta…and not the good kind. Complaints regarding the “pay for everything” style of the Artifact monetization scheme has prompted backlash from potential players and a bit of adjustment by the game’s publisher.

artifact monetization

As we reported earlier this year, Artifact is a buy-to-play game that requires you to pay additional money for card boosters or to purchase cards from the in-game marketplace. The only in-game way to earn cards would be through winning draft events, which require you to use an Event Ticket — another item that’s bought with real money.

On top of these paywalls, players have expressed their dismay about the fact that cards from said boosters are almost always the same you’d get from the base game, making them ultimately worthless in the marketplace.

In response to at least a few of these concerns, Valve has penned a dev blog post that will introduce some changes in the next beta builds. An option to create a draft event with friends will be included, and a Casual Phantom Draft mode in Casual Play will let players practice the draft style of gameplay without burning an Event Ticket. Additionally, a system will be included that lets players recycle unwanted cards into event tickets.

Nothing in the blog post, however, addressed any of the other paywall complaints.

The draft options will be available with today’s public beta, while the card recycling system will go live over the next week or so along with other beta improvements.

Our Thoughts

The dev blog reads to us like they’re slowly walking back changes to see just how much paywalling they can actually get away with, which probably won’t sit well with fans of online CCGs. Especially when there are other, more freely open and available digital card games out there.

Sources: PC Gamer, official site

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Artifact and Valve Clarify Chat Moderation Statements

Judging solely on earlier word about Artifact chat, it’d perhaps be easy to assume the game would be a smoldering landscape of text-based toxicity. After some clarification from both the devs of the CCG and Valve, that doesn’t appear to quite be the case.

artifact chat

According to statements from programmer Jeep Barnett, the chat system being used in-game isn’t being made by Artifact itself but from the Steam devs.

“I don’t want to commit to features that other people at the company are then going to have to do,” said Barnett. “I don’t want to come back to the office and have a bunch of people yell at me like ‘why are you promising to have these things that we’re not planning on doing or are planning on doing?’”

When pressed about the matter, Valve confirmed that the option to entirely shut chat off will be included in the full game – a feature that was then confirmed by Barnett: “If you don’t want to hear what other people are saying, you can turn them off,” he said.

Further details on other chat moderation tools being implemented by Valve are expected to be confirmed at some point later.

Our Thoughts

Hopefully the ability to have digital loudmouths scream mindlessly into the void will alleviate some of the reservations people have about Artifact. As much fun as multiplayer games can be, often hell can be other people as well. It’s an interesting catch-22.

Source: IGN

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Artifact Will Not Have Free Cards or Chat Moderation

Most games are keen to tell you about the features that will be included in a game, but Artifact is perhaps most telling for what it won’t have. Namely, Artifact monetization will currently not include any way to earn free cards and the game’s chat will not include any form of moderation.

artifact monetization

In an interview with programmer Jeep Barnett and lead designer Richard Garfield, it was revealed that Artifact will cost $20 up front, which grants you two starter decks and ten random card packs. The game will not include any way of earning cards through play. Cards can currently be earned in one of two ways; real-world money purchasing of packs, or bartering of individual cards in an in-game marketplace.

According to the interview, this decision was made in order to avoid the “suboptimal experiences” of free play according to Garfield.

“It’s not pay to win. It’s pay to participate. We expect top-tier play to include a lot of common cards. We also make sure that rare cards that are there are not so rare they drag prices up.”

As for chat, Artifact will include one-on-one chat between yourself and your opponent, but once again does not currently have any features that will allow a person to report bad actors or even involve any sort of direct moderation plan. According to Barnett’s response, it appears the devs of the game are hoping that a lack of an audience for someone being a digital a-hole will be moderation enough:

“Psychologically, we find that people misbehave when there is somebody else to observe them misbehaving. When it’s a one-on-one game, what is my motivation for saying something awful? But when you’re in a game with a bunch of other people and you say something, a bunch of other people laugh at you, so something happened. We tend to see people behave very differently in one-on-one situations.”

There also does not appear to be a plan for inclusion and diversity surrounding any esports scene that might spring up around Artifact, with both Barnett and Garfield appearing to hope that the scene would just be inclusive all on its own. “If you look at Magic tournaments, it encourages wide participation from lots of different players. I think Artifact’s tournament will look a little more like that,” remarked Barnett.

It is important to bear in mind that Artifact is still in development and a number of these decisions may not yet be final, particularly in regards to card earnings or other features found in online CCGs like a single-player mode or ranked matches. According to the piece, Barnett did mention that these features may come later depending on community response.

Our Thoughts

Early days or not, these sound like astoundingly poor design choices, particularly in regards to moderation. We definitely hope that the devs of Artifact strongly consider, because right now a number of these missing functions and features mean a pretty hard pass for many of us.

Source: GamesIndustry

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