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  • Writer's pictureJiajun Tan

DOTA Auto Chess -- The Way Out For Trading Card Games

Updated: Feb 21, 2019

After the big success of Hearthstone and Clash Royale, trading card game market seems to encounter a bottleneck. Artifact doesn't reach the players' expectation to be the new stimulation for this field, and all the signals seems to convey the idea that trading card games are transforming into a niche game. Then there comes DOTA Auto Chess. Similar as the success of DOTA, DOTA Auto Chess was built from the DOTA creative workshop. Based on these days observation, I think if there is a way out for trading card games, it's going to be Auto Chess.

Talking about trading card games, let's first focus on some representatives before Auto Chess.

Yu-Gi-Oh is the most popular card game when I was in middle school. Together with Magic: The Gathering, they are the originators of the trading card game, that we can still see a lot of features from them in later games like Hearthstone. Trading card game wisely uses the beauty of randomness. Each player has his/her own deck of cards, but you won't know which card you will draw at your turn. This kind of game involves great strategy making process, and also has the attractive process of collecting. Magic Card has better balance system that there are still some hardcore players playing the game. Pokemon card game also gained a lot of fans in a certain period. The card design of it is very like Yu-Gi-Oh, while occupied its own market because of the IP that makes the most money. And I think Hearthstone achieved its success at some level in a same way. It developed based on the story of World of Warcraft, and at one point tried to extend its own way out without WOW, but eventually found out it's better to keep the close relationship with it. Hearthstone is a simple and relaxing version out of all other trading card games, and that is also the reason why it stays popular for a long time. Hearthstone also does a great job on weak care, which is essentially important from my point of view. It annually replace the current environment's series so that the old players won't have that much advantage on the strength of deck, which is a really brilliant move. The most recent one is Artifact, an official trading card game of DOTA from valve. It is a cool designed game which extend the possibility of these kind of games to multi-battlefield, which reminded me of another great card game called Clash Royale. But Artifact didn't appear at the right time, because it is too hard to start, and also too hard to master. In a era with rapid pace, there is fewer people still want to start a new hardcore game. Even though it has the IP of DOTA, a game without great new player care won't last long. Clash Royale is another kind of trading card game, that break the wall of traditional turn-based game, which is more like a MMO or SLG game. Clash Royale is also extremely successful, and from my perspective the key of this success is about breaking the rule. It helped the traditional trading card game to seek other possible solutions. And that's also the reason why I think Auto Chess will be the next evolution of this field.

So what is the core keys of a great trading card game? Why Artifact fell so fast? And why is Auto Chess promising? These two game has exactly the same background of DOTA, so it is great to use them as contrast illustration of this field.

1. Player Basis

Yu-Gi-Oh and Magic Card received their success from their novel idea of trading mechanism at that moment, but with the mechanism already exist, how does a new card game stand out and attract players? It is always difficult to use the cool designed mechanic to attract players without letting player actually use it, while an already exist successful game background becomes the best advertisement. Pokemon, Hearthstone, and even Clash Royale, they all based on other games, and start as a subsidiary product of the main game, which ensure they will have players from the main game be the volunteers to try the game. I think Auto Chess and Artifact both use this strategy wisely, and that is why Artifact has a crazy 50 thousands online player in its first two weeks. These two games conform to the fast food culture of the present, with a good starting player basis, they are more likely to success than other games.

2. Threshold

I believe all games have this invisible door. If Auto Chess has a regular one, then Artifact surely have a Metal-Spiky-Thick one. It is not enough for a game to only have the player basis, it also needs the players to step astride the threshold. Valve seems to be too conceited for Artifact. They became a little too ambitious after tasting the sweet from the trading market of CSGO, and hoped to use Artifact as another money tree. The trading market of CSGO is success because it already has stable players. But that is not true for Artifact. As a new game, artifact hasn't retained stable players to play the game, which makes this trading market method too expensive for a new player to join the game. In order to build a competitive deck, the player has to spend money on market to buy cards from others. There is a comment for Artifact which precisely conveys the current state of Artifact: "Start Game, Enter the Tutorial, Open the Pack, Get Axe, Exit Game, Sold Axe, Artifact is interesting". Too many threshold consuming makes Artifact extremely unfriendly for a new player. While Auto Chess is a completely free game, that everyone can just download and try. The only thing player can purchase for Auto Chess now is a model for chess player, which is purely a skin that doesn't influence the game play. Hearthstone also has the pack for purchasing, while it has some not expensive deck that a new player can first enjoy the fun part first and then decide whether to consume more. Threshold makes many players just take a picture of Artifact, and step into the realm of Auto Chess.

3. Difficulty

When a true warrior enter the gate of a game realm, then the task for him/her is to slay the dragon, which in a simple word is to master the game. Players want rapid positive feedback, there are fewer and fewer players still want to pay a lot time costs to just stay in the arena. And Artifact is too hardcore for a player to taste the first blood of the dragon, the difficulty of it is even hard for a experienced card game player. Three line strategy, gives Artifact great gameplay depth, but also ends in the result that players seldom get the positive feedback. If a game is not fun enough to play with sufficient positive feedback, then it won't achieve great success. Compare to Artifact, Auto Chess is very easy to start. The name speaks for itself, the whole fighting is automatic happening, and all you need to do is select the chess you want and place it the place you want. Even if a player doesn't know DOTA well, he/she can still find the excitement of both DOTA and Auto Chess. I win my first game on my 6th attempt without playing DOTA before, and that accomplishment I received is amazing.

4. Balance and Update

Balance is an important word for all the card games, and it is really hard. And that is also a battle that Artifact and many other trading card games lose and Auto Chess wins. For a deck based card game, there is always a strong and weak difference between different decks, and once the balance is not good enough, the game will turn into a state that all player play the same deck and make the game environment rigid. However, Auto Chess is definitely an odd. It is not a deck based card game, and its trading concept are not even the same with the others. The trading element is inside the game, that you don't need to build a deck before the game, but to collect and build and therefore make strategies inside the game. That means you will have the chance to use any card, which wisely preserve the diversity of the game, and reached a great balance till now. Often update comes with balance, to keep a better balance, the game need to have a rapid rate of update. Auto Chess still keeps the rate about daily update which is super cool that makes the game fresh for players to play. I know this state may not last long, but it is still great to see a game has such vitality. Artifact was accused of some card being too dominant like the Axe. They now undermine a bunch of card like Axe, but the update is absolutely not enough for the players.

Balance and Update are the vital power for a card game to stay alive.

5. Break the Rule

Players get aesthetic fatigue quickly if there is rarely things new from the old games. There is a time that Hearthstone had the tendency to fall, while a new version called Journey to Un'Goro saved the game. When the designer talking about the success of that version, the key word is break. They design a mission card which gives the game another living style, and keeps this design method to make sure every new version have a new element. They jumped out of the scheme and broke their own rules which gives the game a second life to stay popular till now. Why not break something bigger. Artifact still follows the traditional trading game pattern even it has three line strategy, it still feels the same. But Auto Chess is different. It combined the MOBA and Survival Game into a card game, which is quite insane but also reasonable. As I said in last session, there is no more classic deck design in the game, and make players to make the intense strategy inside the game. 8 players playing in a same court game reminded me of another successful card game called Legends of the Three Kingdoms. More players means more possibilities and more randomness, which are very beneficial for a game to be fun to play. Auto Chess even extend the gameplay level to another height, that with the same setting of the chess choices, the AI's fight result could be different, which urges the player to adjust the position of their chess and update their plan. The game takes PVP and PVE at the same time that Neutral creeps appears in certain round to give players a round to adjust while also provide weapons for players to upgrade. I won't say all the new things are great, but it is always exciting to see something new while also fun. If trading card game wants to keep its charm, I think it's time for some big revolution.

It is still too early to define Auto Chess a flash in the pan or a competent participant in trading card game field, but it is never wrong to take the inspiration. From the comparison between Auto Chess and Artifact, we can take a glimpse of where trading card game's way out is. As a huge fan of this field, I can't wait to see the development in future. Playing chess for a while, always been cool. I am ready for the new revolution.

p.s. Auto Chess is not technically a trading card game, but it still has great inspiration on the development of this field.

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