Valve may have found the hit game it was looking for after its foray into digital card games, Artifact, catastrophically failed last year. Dota Underlords, the Valve-developed version of the popular Auto Chess arcade game that used Dota 2 assets, has already reached just shy of 180,000 concurrent players. That total comes only days after the game hit open beta on PC and mobile devices.
As one of the first waves of autobattler games (Riot launched its own take on the genre, Teamfight Tactics, earlier this week), Dota Underlords has already outstripped the game that was meant to revolutionize the digital card genre. Valve hired Richard Garfield, the creator of the most popular card game of all time, Magic: The Gathering, to steer the Artifact project. The game’s release was highly-anticpated. Streamers who got to try the game early praised Artifact’s virtues and made it sound like it was going to be the Hearthstone-killer.
When it was revealed at The International 7, the reaction was mixed. But as the game grew closer to release and groups of streamers from games like Hearthstone were given access, the excitement was palpable. It seemed like Valve had another hit on its hands.
While Artifact hit 60,000 players on launch day, not even a month after the Nov. 28 release date, that count plummeted to just under 7,000. And since February, the player count has been unable to crest 1,000. At time of writing, the game only has 100 online players. Meanwhile, after holding steady at 30,000 players until two days ago, the player count for the free-to-play Underlords has increased sixfold as the game closes in on 200,000 concurrent players.
Part of this huge divide stems from Artifact‘s paywall, with its $20 cost barring a huge market that Underlords has opened its doors to. But yet another part comes from the simple fact that Dota Underlords is easy to pick up, easy to play, and extremely fun as opposed to Artifact’s awkward complexity.
Valve attempted to break ground by bringing Dota characters to the digital card game in its first foray into the genre. But now, Valve has entered the early battle for autobattler supremacy for its latest hit. The number of players engaged in Underlords is a stark reminder that Artifact never achieved the hype built around it and could now languish in obscurity as Valve pivots to its new game.