Humble Bundle is long established as a service that groups together games, eBooks and music into affordable packages, for which you pay what you want and determine how much money goes to the creators, Humble itself and a chosen charity. It's in gaming circles that it's best known, is hugely successful with Indie and major publisher collections for PC and also for smart device game bundles. Until recently, however, consoles were out of reach.
It was certainly surprising, then, that it was Nintendo that broke that duck, with the Humble Nindie Bundle having already sold over 57,000 units and raising over $500,000 in under a week. It's a two week promotion and more games will be added; it's undoubtedly regrettable that it's only available in the Americas, however.
We already spoke to Nintendo of America's Damon Baker last week and have a detailed interview with Humble Bundle co-founder John Graham on the way later. In this look at the bundle, however, we catch up with those publishers and developers that are selling their work in that first ever console bundle - namely Curve Digital, Drinkbox Studios, Over The Moon, Renegade Kid, Image & Form and Choice Provisions.
The announcement of the Humble Indie Bundle had particular impact, in part, courtesy of the surprise factor at Nintendo leading the way in the console space. That surprise wasn't universal, however - Nintendo has in some respects been either leading the way or in the main group when it comes to devolving power to Indies and changing the ways in which download stores operate. Examples cited to us by developers often come back to strengthening relationships with Indies and practical ideas such as cross-buy. It's clear that the eShop team is a strong force - John Warner of Over The Moon (The Fall) was quick to highlight the fact that staff at Nintendo are often "open minded and excited" about the evolving download scene.
Rob Clarke, PR Manager at Curve Digital, also tackled the potential reasoning for Nintendo being more open to the Humble Bundle concept than its contemporaries Sony and Microsoft, essentially getting there first.
I won't pretend I saw it coming, but it does make sense. Sony and Microsoft are seen as 'ahead' of Nintendo when it comes to digital, but for those guys, keeping people in their ecosystems is really important. That's why Plus and Gold are such a big deal now, and it's a whole different thing working with an external company like Humble. When you look at what Nintendo have been doing recently, it's not all that surprising they did this first. In the last few years Nintendo's approach to digital with things like the digital only E3 and offering cross-buy titles is all really exciting.
There's that word exciting, once again, but we should point out that some of the participating developers are still slightly surprised at what's transpired. Brjann Sigurgeirsson, CEO of Image & Form (SteamWorld Dig) is always supportive of Nintendo and the eShop, but told us "I thought I'd misread it" when the message came through asking the studio to take part. He explains that it seemed "wildly out of character" for Nintendo - while the company is often praised for its forward-thinking approach, Sigurgeirsson highlights that the old perceptions of slow and steady Nintendo aren't completely irrelevant.
I've now met with the platform owners a number of times, and I generally view the Nintendo reps to be cautious. You get the feeling that every decision of any importance needs to travel to Japan and back, which gives the impression that most "new" or "untried" ideas take a good while to mull over. I think Microsoft has its own agenda for Xbox One and Windows, so they may have considered it counterproductive. But I'm surprised Nintendo beat Sony to it, who often come across as faster and more dynamic.
In general the developers we spoke to state they were enthused when asked to take part by Nintendo, especially as a number of these studios have an established history with Humble. Though the decision was taken eagerly, though, it's loaded with important considerations. Let's not forget that a significant part of the appeal from a consumer standpoint is the potentially ludicrous value on offer, with 'pay what you want' allowing gamers to get up to eight games (some with multiple versions) for $10 or slightly less. That's just over a dollar per game, and don't forget that more games are confirmed to be on the way today (2nd June) at 11am Pacific time, tilting the value further down per game.
The circumstances around this choice, understandably, vary between developers and the games they're submitting. Dant Rambo from Choice Provisions (publisher of Woah Dave!), explained that the company's long relationship with Nintendo - formerly as Gaijin Games and well known for the BIT.TRIP titles - combined well with the market status of the quirky 3DS release. Quite simply, its natural sales on the eShop will be long past their best.
Timing is certainly a big factor. If a game was just released, we're going to be a little more apprehensive about offering it at a discount or in a pay-what-you-want scenario. But if the game's been out for a while and we're looking for a way to get it back on people's radar and generate some buzz, then getting it in a bundle makes a lot of sense.
We posed a key question to each developer - how do you weigh up the financial implications of giving away copies of your game, potentially, for a return of less than a dollar per sale? The common answer was simple - exposure. Humble Bundle has achieved much success and become a recognisable brand, particularly among PC gamers and - to some extent - smart phone gaming aficionados. Graham Smith from Drinkbox Studios (Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition) told us that a long view is required - "with each download you're also creating a potential new fan of the company, who might now buy your next game when it launches."
The timing is apt for this writer, notably - days before Humble Bundle emerged I wrote a fairly personal opinion piece on issues around eShop pricing and the 'value' of games. Yet it was a self-confessed idealist's piece, and not necessarily offering solutions or answers to the issue. The realities of what gamers will pay to take a punt on a new download from an unfamiliar developer are tough - John Warner of Over The Moon explained that this is an adjustment he's had to make to his thinking when embracing Humble Bundle. The value he places on The Fall is necessarily secondary to actually getting it into gamer's systems.
We're quite proud to be promoted by Nintendo here, and especially so since this is the first console bundle; this is a pretty damn cool thing to be a part of... But again, we've already done similar promotions and were comfortable with the idea of being part of a Humble Bundle by the time the invite came along. I didn't always feel this way though; when we launched The Fall a year ago, I had the general sense that bundles were devaluing video games everywhere, and I hated the concept. However, I think that view is fundamentally out of touch with reality to some extent. The unfortunate reality is that there are a lot (and I mean a lot) of indie games, and more are coming every day. Developers have been forced to compete for promotional space. Furthermore, bundles are a good way of reaching players who wouldn't otherwise purchase a game. Additionally, in our case, The Fall will be a trilogy, so it makes sense to get a wide distribution for part one.
The 'event' nature of Humble Bundle is another factor raised when we pushed the issue of pricing and value. Jools Watsham of Renegate Kid (Moon Chronicles) shared his view that there's an effect of it being "similar to a holiday sale or other rare promotional events you see in other industries". That one-off nature in which you can pick up a diverse batch of titles all at once for a limited period, in this case two weeks, detracting from a sense of 'devaluing' games.
Another notable part of Humble Bundle, which further assuages some negative perceptions, is that payments are split as the gamer sees fit between the developer, Humble and a chosen charity - Code.org in the case of the Humble Nindie Bundle. Watsham feels that it's a win-win for all concerned - "I feel good that my game can help contribute towards a charity, and I expect the players buying the bundle feel good about their money helping others too."
Image & Form's Sigurgeirsson (and all of the developers, in their own ways) echoed this sentiment, with the SteamWorld Dig developer's past history of trying to support good causes providing further incentive. The very principles behind Humble Bundle, perhaps, play into compassion and comradeship among developers and gamers.
Image & Form is about making great games, but also about personal and company legacy. I think it's important that we're doing something good other than provide excellent entertainment. And being charitable isn't about raising money - we decided a long time ago that we would try to help other indies with whatever we can, such as intros to key industry people, sharing tips, sales figures, and so on. Doing good feels good.
Of course, the question is whether we'll see more Nindie Bundles in the future; Nintendo of America's Damon Baker was positive in terms of telling us that the company is "absolutely interested" in future collaborations. Of course, a future campaign will hopefully include PAL regions, and it goes without saying that all of the developers shared that sentiment with us - there are many positives to this first bundle, yes, but that's a negative that is tricky to escape.
Looking at what's next, though, there's a consensus that we could certainly see additional bundles, but that they shouldn't - or perhaps can't - be overly frequent. Sigurgeirsson argues that "one Nindie bundle per year could be adequate" as the eShop library simply doesn't have the staggering diversity to be found on PC and smart devices. Dant Rambo from Choice Provisions feels diverse pricing and bundles can have a future "provided developers continue to be able to sell their games at prices they're comfortable with and not feel coerced into devaluing their work".
John Warner, a relative newcomer with The Fall - perhaps - in comparison to the other companies involved, once again highlighted the pricing dilemma highlighted above; it's the battle between market realities, aspiration and a desperate need for exposure.
The truth of the matter is that as an indie, the growing number of games being made, and being made available at a low discount is, without a doubt, a concerning reality, or at least a complex one. Will more and more bundles ultimately help us or not? I really don't know. The fearful part of me wonders if there'll come a time where I'll be expected to sell my games for ten cents.... But what am I going to do? Am I going to say no when Nintendo reaches out to me like this and I need the visibility?
That reality is what counts for these developers, ultimately. All six studios were emphatic with one answer when asked whether they'd be interested in participating in another Nindie Bundle in the future - yes. Provisos also remain, though; Sigurgeirsson feels "all devs should be a bit wary and plan it towards the end of any game's life cycle", though leap at the chance if the time is right and the exposure is worth the risk. After all, a whole new audience may just be getting more familiar with the eShop and these games courtesy of their appearance in a Humble Bundle.
With over half a million dollars raised in less than a week, we suspect the strong appetite shown for the bundle will see it return again in the future.