Enlarge / Two posters, one ambitious game. (credit: Valve)
BELLEVUE, Washington—I was about to sit down to play Valve's first new PC game series in five years. But this being Valve, the world's first press demo for Artifact was preceded by something almost equally rare: a speech from company cofounder Gabe Newell. The speech wasn't just a how-to of gameplay mechanics, nor was it focused on the day's major surprise reveal—that Valve had hired Magic: The Gathering (MtG) creator Richard Garfield four years ago to start working on this game.
Instead, Newell gave a high-level overview of the game, with unexpected comments about the company's history, corporate structure, and economics. Valve devotees tend to scrutinize every word uttered by Newell; he's a five-years-ahead type of thinker in the games industry and generally plays his cards very close to the vest. And looking back, his Thursday evening speech feels like a compelling examination, and possibly a criticism, of where Valve has gone over the past few years.
"From a high-level perspective, we want to stay away from pay-to-win," Newell said. Within nearly the same breath, he announced that Artifact will not function as a free-to-play game—you'll have to buy something akin to a "starter" pack of gameplay cards, another staffer later clarified, before you can load into a game. Further cards can be purchased in packs and singles, either directly from Valve or from fellow players. And this, Newell insisted, will do something important for how the psychology of its paid cards plays out. "When you’re in a free-to-play environment, you get into a tendency that rarity equals power," Newell said. He called this an "artificial relationship" and insisted that in Artifact, "that’s not the case at all. Lots of common cards will be super powerful."