Valve parted ways with Richard Garfield, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Artifact.
Late last week, Valve confirmed to Variety that it had laid off 13 employees and a number of its contractors, one of which was lead Artifact designer and Magic: The Gathering creator Richard Garfield.
According to an an email Garfield sent to Artifact fan site Artibuff, both he and Skaff Elias (the two of which make up a game design consulting company called Three Donkeys) were among the contractors let go by Valve, a decision Garfield said “makes sense for a number of reasons.”
You see Garfield play a match of Artifact with me in the video below:
Garfield explained that they “weren’t surprised by the layoff considering how rocky [Artifact’s] launch was.” Artifact released in late November to general praise – I gave it an 8.5 in my review, and still think it’s a very unique and fun digital card game – but issues stemming partially from its progression and economy caused its player base to fall off rapidly. In the last 30 days, its average concurrent players has been less than 600.
While Garfield maintains they were confident with Artifact, he said “it became clear it wasn’t going to be easy to get the game to where we wanted it.” He explained that the decision to lay Three Donkeys off made sense partly because their expertise was less valuable after working with Valve closely for more than four years, and partly because it will be important for the Artifact team to make decisions more quickly post-launch, which is harder to do with more voices chiming in.
It’s important to note that this doesn’t necessarily spell death for Artifact. Moving between different projects and companies is generally what Garfield and Three Donkeys do – for example, Garfield was also the lead designer of a card game called KeyForge which he developed with Fantasy Flight Games and released right around the same time as Artifact. Valve has been notoriously silent around Artifact for the last month and a half, but a surprise patch back on January 28th ended with a line that simply said “Unchanged: Still in it for the long haul.”
That silence is not necessarily out of style for Valve either, as Jeep Barnett from the Artifact team told me back in August that the way they address feedback is by “making changes to the game and trying to ship features.” Barnett said that “rather than just speaking and saying we’re going to do this thing, we actually just go and do that thing.”
A Valve rep also said the layoffs as a whole are “an unfortunate part of business, but [do] not represent any major changes at the company.” Similarly, reportedly among the core staff layoffs were members of the VR hardware team, but Gabe Newell allegedly confirmed in an email that this “was a people thing, not a hardware thing,” further indicating that we probably shouldn’t jump to any conclusions about what it means for the developers plans.
Meanwhile, Valve has been fighting battles in a different area altogether. It recently had to bar another intentionally offensive game from Steam – a decision I agreed with, but think doesn’t solve the root of Steam’s curation problems.
Tom Marks is IGN’s Deputy Reviews Editor and resident pie maker, and he still likes card games a lot. You can follow him on Twitter.