Why Game Bundles Make Dollars, Not Sense

Tech Test Phone Shopping

Few things have swept the indie-game scene by storm like the game bundle. Here’s the basic premise: bring five games together, sell them “bundled” at a deeply discounted price and then profit. One successful game bundle, the Humble Indie Bundle (currently on its 14th iteration) has made about $19.5 million in revenue doing exactly this.

What the heck is going on here?

Game bundles have popped up all over the Internet as people catch on to the fact there’s money to be made in them. Just check out this sample of recurring bundles that have come into existence in the past few years: Humble Indie Bundle, Indie Royale, Bundle in a Box, Indie Gala, Indiefort, Build a Bundle and the Indie Pirate Kart. My game company, Lunar Giant, has even participated in one, and plans to take part in more soon.

But participating in a bundle doesn’t necessarily mean you understand how they work, especially when customers purchase a game bundle don’t seem to have much reason behind it except for, "Hey, what the heck?"

This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which says people buy games because they appeal to their personality. What is it about a bundle that gets people to buy games that don’t do that?

It might be fair to say a game bundle is the a hyper-specific equivalent of a gamer’s Cyber Monday. Indeed, the mad rush to buy a bundle and tell others about it seems very similar. So the comparison could further extend to the reasoning behind why people buy bundles: they want to feel like they’re getting a deal.

This troubles me for a couple reasons:

1) Several months ago a tool was released that analyzed how many games any particular Steam user had played in their library. Through using it, I discovered I’d only played a startling 30 percent of the games I own. This, I think, is largely due to the bundles I’ve purchased throughout the years. That means 70 percent of what I own -- of what someone else took the care and time to create -- hadn’t been opened. What a waste.

2) The ideal (while it may not always be true) behind indie-game development is a developer is creating something personal they want to share with others. Reducing a game to another thing that needs to be acquired seems contrary to the entire premise.

Or, to put it in different words: when people are buying games just to acquire and consume additional media, does it devalue the meaningfulness of the work we’re creating?

Jay Margalus is a game developer at Lunar Giant, and chairs the Chicago chapter of the International Game Developer's Association.  He can be reached @Poplicola on Twitter.

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