Bundles of Joy

Steven Balbirnie takes a look at Humble Bundle Inc. and how gamers can be mobilised for the support of charities.


In a world in which the mainstream media quite often depicts the gaming community as being composed of self-centred misanthropes, it is always heartening to witness the care and generosity of individuals and groups whose work undermines these narrow-minded prejudices. One of the groups at the forefront of this is Humble Bundle Inc., a group whose efforts over the past three years have raised over $33million for charities and independent developers.         

The concept behind the company’s Humble Indie Bundles is a straightforward yet effective one; they assemble a batch of titles from some of the industry’s best independent developers, which is then sold online for a two week period using the ‘pay what you want’ model; which not only allows you to choose how much you pay for the bundle, but also how this money is divided between the charities and the developers, and how much goes to covering the bandwidth requirements of Humble Bundle Inc. themselves. Charities over the years which have benefited from this initiative include Child’s Play, which was founded by the authors of Penny Arcade to organise donations of toys and games to children’s hospitals worldwide, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which works to protect digital civil liberties throughout the world such as free speech and privacy, as well as other charities such as Charity: Water and the American Red Cross.        

This is a remarkable achievement given the literally humble origins of the first Humble Bundle, a one-off experiment by independent developer Wolfire Games to both raise money for charity and raise the profile of indie games. The first bundle consisted initially of five games, Wolfire’s Lugaru HD, Gish by Cryptic Sea, World of Goo by 2D Boy, Penumbra: Overture by Frictional Games and Aquaria by Bit Blot, with Amanita Design’s Samorost 2 later being added to the bundle as the developers wanted to help the cause. The astonishing success of the bundle defied all expectations, raising over $1million and resulting in Humble Bundle Inc. being spun out from Wolfire Games so that there could be a company able to devote itself full time to organising and selling future charity bundles.       

So why was the first Humble Indie Bundle so successful, and why do subsequent Humble Bundles continue to receive such positive reactions? There are several reasons for the success of the bundles other than its charitable purpose and the previously mentioned ‘pay what you want’ model. First of all are the benefits which the bundle system offers to the consumer. Perhaps most appealing is the opportunity to purchase award-winning titles such as Braid, Super Meat Boy, Closure, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Limbo and Bastion for a discounted price, though other benefits to the consumer include the fact that all bundle items have to be made available not only to PC users but to Mac and Linux gamers as well. All bundle items are also offered free from DRM (Digital Rights Management) which means that buyers don’t need to worry about limited install activations or persistent online authentication. The system also offers incentives for higher levels of generosity such as set prices to gain Steam or Desura codes for the games; MP3 downloads of the games’ soundtracks or games which are added to a buyer’s bundle if their donation beats the average price which others are paying for the bundle. 

The success of the bundles can also be attributed to the benefits which they offer to developers. There is no shortage of independent developers willing and eager to co-operate with Humble Bundle Inc. as inclusion in a bundle can provide a massive boost of publicity for talented but low profile developers. In an interview with Destructoid, Humble Bundle co-founder Jeffrey Rosen revealed that “a number of developers have actually made more money from their time in the Humble Bundle than they have from any other source, which is pretty serious.”        

Beyond the main seven Humble Indie Bundles the company have branched into a variety of specialist bundles such as Android bundles, music bundles and even E-book bundles. Other unique bundles have included the Mojam bundles which have bundled together the games created at three day games jams organised by Minecraft creators Mojang, The Amnesia Fortnight bundle which included prototypes for games by Double Fine Productions, the developers behind Psychonauts, that were created and voted on by the public over a two week period, as well as the Humble THQ Bundle which was an effort to save the beleaguered publisher from bankruptcy.        

The company recently released their first bundle exclusively for mobile platforms, the Humble Mobile Bundle which ran from the 26th of March to the 9th of April and included Plants vs Zombies, Anomaly Korea, Bladeslinger, The Room, Contre Jour and Metal Slug 3; with Funky Smugglers, Raiden Legacy and Another World being added as rewards for beating the average donation. This bundle has raised over half a million dollars with some individual donors choosing to pay up to $250 for this set of games.          

With such diversity in the products that it offers and a business model that benefits charities, developers and consumers, Humble Bundle Inc. looks set to exert a positive influence within the games industry for years to come while also proving that gamers are a demographic which can be mobilised as a force for the common good.

You can find out more about Humble Bundle Inc. and its future bundles at www.humblebundle.com