The Humble Friends of Nintendo Bundle is, at the time of writing, in its final stretch. The final offering includes 11 games (and a neat 3DS HOME Theme) - three of which are retail titles - for $13 or more, with three tiers from which to choose. The mix of big-name games and high quality Indie - or Nindie, if you prefer - options is largely agreed to be excellent, and the fact it's been available in both North America and PAL territories has also been a positive. The first Humble Nindie Bundle in 2015, lest we forget, was innovative and exciting for North Americans and a source of disappointment for everyone else that missed out.
We've already spoken to Humble Bundle co-founder John Graham about this latest offering, and he was enthusiastic about its reception and the hope for more Nintendo collaborations; we decided to also speak to some of the developers involved. Not SEGA or Capcom, as that would involve jumping through a lot of PR hoops, but to some Nindies taking part in a Nintendo bundle for the first time. The sort of developers that, ultimately, make Humble Bundles tick.
First of all we have Anchel Labena, producer at KnapNok Studios (Affordable Space Adventures), who followed 2015's bundle with interest - mainly as it was, at the time, a bold and unexpected development.
Back when the first Nindies Humble Bundle kicked off we were quite excited about what that could mean in the future for us. Before this ever happened, the chances of having console games distributed via the Humble Bundle was unthinkable so it was a major game changer. At that time we had just recently launched Affordable Space Adventures and it didn't make sense to have our game in the bundle, but this opened up new opportunities for the future so we were quite curious to see how that would turn out.
Jasper Koning from Ronimo Games (Swords & Soldiers II) also followed the first bundle closely and wishes his studio had been involved, though a cautious note is raised that we'll return to later.
It was a great promotional event for the existence of indies on Wii U. Our first thought was general disappointment that we weren't included of course. After that we were hopeful that this would reinvigorate the indie game market on Wii U; it also gave us hope that our game could be included in the future. In the end humble bundles give us mixed feelings, as it is a great way to introduce gamers to a lot of indie games for a low price. At the same time, there's always the danger that the market gets over saturated.
The focus now, of course, has been on the new bundle. For the developers involved there was solid support from Nintendo and Humble Bundle, with the studios mainly required to supply art assets. Yet though Humble Bundle co-founder John Graham told us that ideas for a new bundle began to be discussed right after the last one finished, not all aspects of organisation were fully on-point. The developers talk glowingly about Nintendo of America in particular dealing with contracts and so on, but some late decisions were nevertheless made. Runbow by 13AM Games was one of three titles added at the mid-way point of the two week promotion, yet the studio had to make a rapid decision when asked to join the bundle. It seems that even carefully choreographed promotions, planned months ahead, can hit time-limits and have late additions - Dave Proctor from the developer told us the following when remembering Runbow's recruitment into the bundle.
It all happened so fast, but our friends at NOA phoned us up and said, "Hey, we have this opportunity, and we think it would be a great fit for you guys." I think they needed a turnaround in a day. We had just launched our DLC and had a recent sale, so our online servers were starting to pick up again and we figured it was a no-brainer. A chance at having 50,000+ more people play Runbow? Sounds good to us.
The move to ensure a more global release was also considered crucial - Brian Provinciano, founder of Vblank Entertainment (Retro City Rampage: DX) rated it as "probably the most important thing for me". Jasper Koning highlights that not only is it vital for revenue - "30-40%" from sales outside of North America, in Ronimo Games' experience - but to ensure fans didn't feel like they were missing out. For each studio there was the decision whether to take part at all; from those we spoke to the answers ranged from "it was an easy call" to slightly more considered approaches, as important factors were taken in mind.
Dave Proctor (13AM Games): Really, none. We took a vote in, like, 4 minutes and it was over. Unanimous. Everyone wanted this. We knew it would grow our online community and we knew our fans would love that.
Brian Provinciano (Vblank Entertainment): Timing's probably the biggest [factor]. I waited about 3.5 years before putting RCR in a bundle, which is a very long time, but it finally felt right, especially with a new game [Shakedown Hawaii] on the way. It's fantastic to see all of the new players enjoying the game, and hopefully helping to grow the audience for my future open world titles.
Anchel Labena (KnapNok Games): Timing is most important. If we had been asked to add Affordable Space Adventures to the previous Humble Bundle we would have most likely said no. People had just been paying for the game at full price and they would have felt cheated if, just a month later, it was put on sale with the amazing deal that you get out of the bundle. It just wouldn't be fair for the fans that bought it during launch. We also considered distributing our game's soundtrack via the Humble Bundle as part of the package, but in the end we went against it so we could simply make that available for everyone, for free.
Jasper Koning (Ronimo Games): When deciding to run a promotion like this, it mostly depends on the strength and experience of the partners. In this case those are Humble and Nintendo. So we knew they would be able to put together an great bundle that would get fans excited and that it would be easy on the administrative side as well.
The inclusion of a couple of games was particularly notable. Both Swords & Soldiers II and Affordable Space Adventures arrived on the Wii U eShop at prices that could be considered 'premium' for eShop exclusives. The debate around the value of games, and how much developers can and should be able to charge a 'fair price', are at the core of the modern gaming industry. Koning asserts that the Swords & Soldiers II launch price was a reflection of the "amount and quality of the work we put in", also leaving room for promotions. His description of those that hold-out - waiting for discounts - isn't supposed to be critical, but perhaps reflects a perceived reality - "we know there's a large group of gamers who are happy to hold the gun until they can get a great deal".
Affordable Space Adventures - for which KnapNok Games collaborated with Nifflas - was another game that asserted its value at launch, getting inevitable "but it's not affordable" comments on social media. For Labena and his colleagues, balancing a desire to maintain a market value along with the unique pay-what-you-want bundle was a talking point; timing, of course, is key.
It's been over a year now since ASA first launched, and the reception the game had back then was overwhelmingly positive. But let's face it: we now live in a world in which we are surrounded by great offers and new games all the time, while the amount of money gamers can spend in new titles is quite limited. PC gamers have got used to the fact that a game they really wanted might be on a 70% discount really soon, for example. Whether they wait for that discount or buy it at full price during launch depends on how badly they want to play that game or how much they want to support the developer. But, just the same as Nintendo, at KnapNok Games we believe that it is very important not to let your game lose its market value. If you keep placing your game on sales, it's just going to lose that.
So why suddenly take the plunge for a deal that allows people to potentially buy our game for just $1? Well, first of all, because the timing was right for a sale. But besides that, Humble Bundle has a deeper meaning than "just a temporary discount". We are trusting people to decide for themselves what they think they should pay for all the games and, if they wanted to do so, they could put all that money for charity instead. We love the concept of the Humble Bundle and its "pay as much as you want" approach with a percentage going to charity by default. And as you can see from the bundle stats, given the choice, players actually care about it rather than deciding to pay $1.
Timing is a common thread for all four of these developers. For 13AM Games, for example, it provided an unexpected opportunity to further boost traffic in Runbow's online servers - following the recent launch of DLC it "warmed our heart" (in Proctor's words) to see players online in higher numbers. With the game's inclusion in the Humble Bundle less than a week ago, at the time of writing, the team has seen the numbers playing online spike - "We're seeing our online server's activity higher than launch month levels and not going down! Seriously, that's insane." While the prospect of selling more DLC could be an added bonus, Procter emphasises that it feels like a thanks to fans to help push more players online to fill up those lobbies quicker.
Beyond money, in fact, it's clear that the real value for developers in being within a Humble Bundle is the exposure it brings. Provinciano talks of a "large uptake in tweets" and Miiverse posts, and he's "enjoying the reactions by people who hadn't heard of Retro City Rampage: DX prior to the bundle, who are having a blast". Labena speaks of Reddit threads where gamers who hadn't heard of Affordable Space Adventures are talking about the game and recommending it to other Wii U owners. Koning jokes that "well, I was asked to do this interview", before highlighting that he hopes the bundle will spread the word on Swords & Soldiers II.
If it's difficult to place value on exposure, the question over actual dollars and cents is another matter entirely. The average purchase price is a shade under $10, which gets players nine games (including those of our interviewees) plus a 3DS HOME Theme. Humble Bundles generate huge hype, but mainly because gamers save - typically - over $100 combined from standard prices. Along with the issues of timing as discussed above, it's primarily a means to get games in more player's hands, which is particularly vital for small studios. When we proposed the issue of games being 'valued' at $1, the developers took a broader view.
Dave Proctor (13AM Games): I feel like that's not the whole thing to consider. Like I mentioned, the value of people playing our game and just speaking positively about Runbow online and with their friends is pretty high, maybe more important than the revenue. I don't think it devalues the game so much as it does introduce it to a different group, maybe people that were on the fence or weren't ready right from the get go to pick it up. We've had a lot of people tweet at us saying things like "This game is really fun, I feel bad I got this so cheap," which means they didn't even think to get it at launch anyways. Maybe they'll recommend it to someone at full price, maybe they'll buy a t-shirt or some DLC, maybe they'll only ever spend a dollar on it and stream it for 9 hours straight every day because they love it so much. Rising tides raise all ships.
Jasper Koning (Ronimo Games): It's a bit scary from a developer standpoint. These bundles can potentially be snapped up by key resellers or other parties. And there's always the danger of over saturating the market, as I'm sure there's a lot of readers here with Steam libraries filled with unplayed indie games. However, in the end it's hard to argue with the numbers. Adding so many players in such a short amount of time, who will potentially get hooked and will start appreciating you as a studio, that's a great value in of itself.
With the Humble Friends of Nintendo Bundle coming a little under a year after the pioneering Nindie bundle, those we spoke to generally felt that we shouldn't have too much of this particularly good thing. Part of it comes back to the issues highlighted above - timing and maintaining value in games. Brian Provinciano - who is notably patient in his work - doesn't want bundles to be too frequent, with longer gaps resulting in "better bundles and excitement surrounding each". Anchel Labena also highlights that racing to the bottom in pricing too frequently benefits no-one, while emphasizing variety as key. In the two eShop bundles to date there has, it should be noted, been no overlap of games.
I think this could be an interesting idea to have annual bundles as long as there is variety in the selection of the games. If it's the same handful of titles getting discounted every time then its standard price outside of the sale becomes irrelevant. Of course I can't speak for whether there will be more or less frequent bundles, or if there will even be a new one with Nintendo involved. Also the appearance of a new bundle shouldn't become too predictable either. Would you buy a new game when you know that there will probably be a new bundle within the next couple of weeks that might include that game you want? Many people would choose not to.
Another area we quizzed the developers on was the prospect of external stores - such as the Humble Store - being able to sell Nintendo eShop downloads at conventional prices. For a time the only way to buy eShop games was on the respective systems, and recently - with the launch of My Nintendo - more of us have been able to buy downloads directly from Nintendo's websites. Yet with eShop code distributions now second nature to Humble Bundle, and evidently with the possibility for others to do the same, could we see Nintendo games on multiple stores? It's common with PC, of course - Steam, Humble Store, GOG, Green Man Gaming etc - and prior to these Nintendo bundles some would have thought it was beyond console holders to do this.
Yet Nintendo has now - twice - changed the game with the Humble partnership. Humble co-founder John Graham already told us the idea of his store selling eShop games "would be a great to try out one day", and there's a sense of "the more the merrier" among some in the 'Nindie' space, even if there are doubts over whether such an initiative would bring many sales.
Brian Provinciano (Vblank Entertainment): It's pretty cool that games can now be purchased at Nintendo.com, but the bread and butter of sales will probably always be on the actual Nintendo consoles, even if more storefronts offered them.
Jasper Koning (Ronimo Games): That's an interesting idea. I'm always a proponent of making it easier for people to buy the games they want to play, and giving them more channels counts as easier in my book.
Overall, the developers we spoke to have been overwhelmingly positive about their involvement in the promotion; there's little sense of any regrets. For each of these companies the overriding message is about matching circumstances and timing with what is, in essence, a great opportunity for increased exposure. We closed by asking the developers what they would change for future bundles - not much, ultimately.
Anchel Labena (KnapNok Games): That 3DS Home Menu theme of Retro City Rampage: DX? It would have been awesome to have more of those included in the bundle next time. I love getting themes, artwork, soundtracks or any other extras that complement the games. Also, I'm addicted to Rhythm Thief thanks to this bundle and I don't know how to stop that.
Jasper Koning (Ronimo Games): I would've preferred it if the bundle remained on the front page of humblebundle.com for the whole duration, of course (right now the bundle has been overtaken by the humble eye candy bundle).
Dave Proctor (13AM Games): I would change nothing about this bundle. This bundle is pure joy.
We'd like to thank Anchel Labena, Jasper Koning, Dave Proctor and Brian Provinciano for their time.