Small Developers and their Big Bundles

Small Developers and their Big Bundles

While television and movies have struggled to migrate to the internet and take advantage of the boundless possibilities it offers, video games, as a relatively young medium, have been fortunate enough to evolve hand-in-hand with internet and online communities. More so than traditional media, the video game industry has embraced the internet as a rich digital distribution system, allowing developers and publishers to get their games out to a large audience. Digital distribution doesn’t only apply to PCs, mind you. Despite the fact that consoles are largely designed for playing physical media, services such as Xbox Live and Playstation Network offer titles that are only available for download. The great boon of digital downloads, however, is not only that one can conveniently download big name titles while saving a trip to the store; digital distribution has allowed the indie game community to flourish, both on PC and consoles.

Like most independent artists, indie game developers often work in small teams with relatively limited resources. As such, they often offer smaller, less expansive titles compared to large game studios. On the other hand, such games tend to be cheaper and more experimental, toying with innovative game concepts and charming or surreal art styles. More importantly, the most successful experiment of indie game developers has been how they take advantage of digital distribution to sell the games. In addition to content delivery services such as Steam or Xbox Live Arcade, indie games have started to be sold in packages called “bundles,” collections of several indie games together at low prices for a limited amount of time with the added benefit of cutting out middle men and directly paying developers.

The first of these bundles, the one that set the standard, was the “Humble Indie Bundle,” which was released in May 2010 and consisted of six independent games from six developers, along with several bonuses such as soundtracks and concept art. Three things set this concept apart from other ways of selling indie games. First, all payments went solely to the developers and charity. Second, the games were free of DRM (Digital Rights Management software), meaning they could be freely shared with friends, as well as being unhindered by the often customer unfriendly DRM models that accompany most games. Finally, and most importantly, they allowed the customer to set the price to as low as one cent. Of course, many people abused the system and purchased games for pennies on the dollar. The low price, coupled with the lack of DRM, meant that the games wound up on torrent sites in minutes. One would think that the experiment was a failure.

The Humble Indie Bundle raised $1,270,000 over the course of just one week. Over the course of that week, news spread of the bundle via word of mouth and social news sites such as Reddit and Twitter. Towards the end of the week, some people were paying tens, hundreds, even thousands of dollars for the bundle of games to show support for the endeavor, including other successful indie game developers. In a clever move, customers were offered extra games if they paid more than the average amount (only around $5 for six games), which further discouraged people from paying mere cents. All in all, it was a clever experiment that relied on good will from both customer and developer and proved be a success, both financially and in terms of drumming up interest in the games themselves. It also started an overnight revolution in how independent games are sold.

Since the first bundle, there have been 10 bundles from Humble Bundle Inc., the most recent being the Humble Bundle for Android 2, a collection of indie games for mobile phones. Likewise, there have been countless groups of independent developers following the Humble Bundle mantra. Websites such as Indie Gala, Indie Royale and Groupees, to name a few, have adopted this model, offering several quality, quirky games at low prices. There are variations on the model, including a base price of $5 rather than setting your own price or offering bonus games based on how many sales the developers make overall to encourage telling your friends. In either case, they all follow the same ideal of DRM-free quality games delivered in a convenient package, the payment for which goes directly to the people actually making the games rather than advertisers or publishers. As a college student with limited funds and a passion for games, it also helps that the games are easy to share with friends to expose them to new ideas — and maybe make a fan out of them, too.

If you’re interested in seeing what bundles of games are out there, check out or or just do a search and see what you find. There are countless packages of games out there, some more obscure than others and some featuring games with an “avant-garde” flavor that may be worth checking out.