Video game distribution models are changing rapidly. With Steam, the App Store and other digital services, it has never been easier for independents to reach a larger audience. The problem with this model though, is visibility. To this end, indie developers have teamed up to create game bundles.
The idea is simple. Various developers contribute to a bundle, which is then sold to the customer directly online, with proceeds divided among each developer and often charities.
One near ubiquitous aspect of this business model is the ‘pay what you want’ concept, where customers are free to decide exactly what they want to pay for the games. Incentives are often given to encourage higher donations, but customers are never cut off from content based on their choice. The benefits then, are shared, as the consumer gets a stack of content at a fraction of the market price, and developers are able to get their name out there and possibly secure future fans who will anticipate their next release.
The most famous of these bundle companies is the Humble Indie Bundle, who recently finished their second Mojam, a game jam featuring famous developers Mojang, who raised over $400,000. The idea of the game jam is much like a music jam. A small group of developers come together, and attempt to create a playable product within a short space of time. This interesting approach to development often results in unique and sometimes bizarre creations. End results of Mojam 2 include Mojang’s Nuclear Pizza War, a shooter taking place on a giant pizza floating in space, and Endless Nuclear Kittens.
Recently, Humble Indie Bundle tried something different, with the THQ bundle offering a variety of big-budget games, including Red Faction: Armageddon and Saints Row: The Third. In hindsight, this was the last hurrah of a company in financial chaos, but for customers at the time, it was the greatest value bundle yet, selling more than 800,000 copies.
With this growth though, has come a backlash from the indie community. Sites like thefreebundle.com offer games they claim to be from ‘real’ indie developers, in many cases giving them away free. They claim that in doing so they stay true to the roots of the bundle concept, generating exposure for small developers, whilst other companies grow, offering bigger titles from larger developers. Many have criticized this move as an example of the elitist, “indie-er than thou” attitude in the community.
Whether the concept of the indie bundle is a viable business model remains to be seen. Is it possible that any profitable game company can stay true to its roots, or will they inevitably grow too big and greedy? In the mean time though, for cash strapped students, sites like humblebundle.com are a godsend, offering hours of innovative entertainment for a tiny, negotiable price.