Thursday, December 20, 2012

After THQ Partnership, Humble Bundle Goes Back to Its Roots

People love bundles.  They just do.  Computers come bundled with software.  Xbox 360’s come bundled with Kinect goodies.  Hell, some coffee makers even come bundled with coffee.  It’s inherent in humans to want value and there’s nothing wrong with that.  And gaming’s no different – there are always bundled deals on Steam and sites like Good Old Gaming that give gamers value in quantity on the cheap.  That’s probably one of the reasons why I love Humble Bundle, a company that has been selling game bundles with a slightly different business model.  They allow customers to decide how much they want to pay – as little or as much as they like, as well as how to split the distribution of that money between the developers involved, the company and charity.  Two great causes that are always on the menu are the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that fights for your digital rights and the Child’s Play Charity, the brainchild of Penny Arcade’s Gabe and Tycho to help children in hospitals.

The first bundle was introduced to us as the Humble Indie Bundle in May 2010, showcasing (naturally) games from independent developers, including AquariaGishPenumbra: Overture and Lugaru HD.  An admirable package, especially when the cost to me was whatever could pay or I wanted to or pay.  I was attracted to this first bundle because it also included World of Goo, a strange and gooey bridge building game that spoke to the engineer in me.  So I ponied up some bucks, it split it between the devs, the EFF and Child's Play, and went on my merry way with a handful of downloadable, multi-platform, and more importantly, DRM-free games.  And it was a win for everyone involved - I got games, the devs got some dough as well as some publicity, and some worthy non-profits got donations.

Luckily for everyone involved, the program continued, spawning around 20 additional bundles from 2010 to now serving up great indie DRM-free games to the masses.  A couple of them were even for books and music.  Last month though they switched it up a little bit, partnering with THQ for an exclusive bundle of their games instead of sticking with the indie route.  There was some solid stuff in there – Saints Row The ThirdDarksiders, a couple of Company of Heroes titles, Red Faction Armageddon and Metro 2033.  Users could still pay what they wanted and decide how much of it went to non-profits,  but with a minor difference in this iteration – what users would get were Steam keys instead of DRM-free downloads, and cross-platform became Windows only.  This in turn caused humble loyalists to splinter into two camps – those who loved the idea of being able to get triple A studio games for pennies on the dollar, and those who thought that a partnership with THQ was a betrayal to the brand that had been built since their first indie bundle.  The former's argument was tough to argue against – it was a pack of games that would normally cost hundreds available for just a few bucks.  The latter on the other hand, felt that this was a great deal for THQ, who was teetering on the brink of implosion, to use the Humble name for a last ditch sales effort and sully the Humble brand image.

In the end I guess it didn’t work out for THQ on its own, since as of yesterday they filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy.  They were rescued though, so their upcoming titles will in fact stay under development instead of being tossed in the bin.  Clearlake Capital stepped in with some cash to save the day, and in the process revealed three new titles THQ has in the pipe - Evolve from Turtle Rock, 1666 from THQ Montreal and Atlas from Relic.

But I digress.  As good as the THQ bundle offer was for users (well, Windows users), and despite the $5 million they raised in 2 weeks, there was fear out there that Humble had abandoned its indie roots and settled on a Windows-only “Steam key” platform moving forward.  But that simply isn’t the case.  In response to questions from Ars Technica, the folks at humble assured fans that they will “never stop creating Humble Indie Bundles... and the other bundle types we've successfully launched this year. But we’re also eager to see if our pay-what-you-want plus charity model meshes with critically acclaimed AAA content as well.”  And they made good on their word.  Their new bundle is the Humble Indie Bundle 7, and I think it’s one of the best ones they’ve released yet.  The new set includes the already popular Dungeon Defenders, as well as the movie Indie Game.

It was important for them to come back with this Bundle quickly after the THQ partnership, if anything else to let users know that they will never abandon their roots – great games, pay what you want, money for charity, a cross-platform experience, and no DRM.  Check out humblebundle.com to not only grab HIB 7, but every bundle going forward as they become available.  You can do some good while filling your game library.

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