2011 has arguably been the year of the Indie bundle. In the last year, there have been five bundles from the most famous of these – the Humble Indie Bundle – alone, and some quick maths tells us that if you had bought every single Humble bundle at just one cent above the average price (thus getting any extra games offered) when each bundle ended according to Wikipedia, you would now have twenty-eight games for a total cost of a mind-boggling £16.03 (About $24.99). With these figures – and other new bundles appearing at a startling rate – it’s not hard to see why some are starting to question whether these bundles are doing more harm than good.
Yes, on the outset that statement does sound like the ramblings of an evil businessman. A corporate, stuffy suit who’s primary interest is making money and as far from the Indie mindset as possible. It’s easy to assume that the issue with these bundles is that there’s so many, they’re devaluing gaming, making the work that these developers put in seem rather meaningless and not worth much. But I don’t think the volume of these bundles is at all the problem here. I would argue that – to a point – there’s a range of issues at fault with our perception of these bundles. We seem to be focusing on the wrong aspects of these bundles – and it could be a sad indictment on our mindset as a whole. After all, the majority of these bundles raise an incredible amount for many deserving charities, and more than one developer has seen the playtime of their own games massively boosted and new audiences made aware of their games. In my opinion, there are several ways we need to change in order to stop the bubble of Indie bundles bursting.
So yes, obviously these bundles are great value for money and provide a mind bogglingly small dent in your wallet – but I dare say many people end up buying them and then never touching the games within for many months. There’s nothing wrong with this practice per se, but I think less emphasis needs to be put on the price of these bundles. Just how many news stories that you see reporting on these bundles announce how cheap they are, or how many messages from friends are telling you how many games you can get for a stupidly cheap price? Heck, even this very article is guilty somewhat of that, because it does help catch your attention. More focus needs to be put on exactly why we should be excited that these games in particular are on sale. Why are these games great? Why are they worth playing? Let’s let Indie Bundles showcase the breadth and width that Indie gaming has to offer. We’re all too aware of the perception of stagnation in the retail games industry whether it’s actually there or not, but we completely forget that the primary reason these games are so cheap is often not because the developers want as little money as possible from you – it’s because it grabs your attention. It pulls you in and makes you look at their game. An oft-cited reason for publishers not wanting to take risks is that they don’t know how many people will buy into it. A low price removes that barrier, but if you don’t end up playing the game then what has it achieved? I’m not saying by any stretch that the prices should rise – but when you’re telling a friend about these bundles think if you’re going to open with “SEVEN GAMES FOR A FIVER!” or “Seven great, original, fun games all in one purchase. And even better: it’s cheap too!”
There’s also – and it seems almost mental to say this as a problem – a disproportionate amount of attention brought onto the fact that the games are DRM free. Yes, this problem is somewhat the fault of the larger games industry as a whole, but it seems somewhat sad that in a large amount of the comment threads for many indie bundles, the first question asked is what DRM these games use. Let’s be completely straight: Yes, DRM is a problem but no – it very rarely effects the experience of playing the game itself. Sure, it might stop you getting into the game, it could go wrong and take you out of the game. But when you’re buying a pack of several games, and your money is going to charity or the developers and you’ve not even paid that much for it, it seems rather selfish to be more concerned with whether a company you take personal issue against can count you as a customer, however temporary that may be. Again though, I’m not saying to load up these bundles with DRM, but I do think too much emphasis can easily be made on the fact that these bundles do not have the DRM rather than the great, original moments of pleasure that these bundles contain.
So yes, Indie Bundles are great and I love seeing the generosity and success of all these bundles. But let’s not forget why we’re buying them in the first place. A concentrated effort and focus really has to be made on what’s physically in these bundles and in many cases, helping some very well deserving good causes. In addition, let’s start thinking of the prices, free soundtracks and protoypes and DRM-freeness of them as great extras, rather than the main focus. There’s a hell of a lot of absolutely fantastic, original and fun indie games being included and the creativity and new, interesting ideas being fostered and made successful through these bundles – along with a heap of goodwill – is something that needs to be encouraged and nurtured, rather than develop a ravenous demand for bundles for bundles sake.