Why The Humble THQ Bundle Sucks for Indies
This year has been a rollercoaster for indie game developers everywhere. In many ways it’s been great – an unprecedented number of independent games making their way to major outlets like Steam and the Big Three Consoles. Kickstarter projects have succeeded at enormous rates, allowing ambitious, innovative new games to make their way to market. The Wii U promises to revolutionize how Nintendo treats independent developers. There are ample examples of where things are going right.
There have been a lot of missteps too – we’re seeing a lot of those same Kickstarted projects failing to deliver on time (or in some cases, canceling outright.) Steam opened its Greenlight program, which has been at best a mixed blessing.
And now today, the
Humble THQ Bundle launches to great displeasure among the indie community. As I write this mere hours into the sale, they’re already well into the tens of thousands of units sold, so there’s no question about the popularity of this bundle. People like AAA games. They like getting them cheap. This isn’t really a big deal. There are so many things wrong with this being a “Humble” bundle though, it’s hard to know where to start.
Let’s start with a bit of “history” – the Humble Bundle was invented by and made popular by independent games and independent game developers. Humble Bundle (or rather, Wolfire Games) wouldn’t have nearly the notoriety it does now without the good will of several well-known indies. Through this network they were able to reach out to other, lesser well known indies and elevate them to recognition in the public eye. It strengthened the community, and was built both by and within the rising crest of the indie game wave. It gave confidence to fledgling developers who realized their hobby could be more than just a hobby. It could be a legitimate art form, a business, a way of life.
Needless to say, THQ (at least THQ today) doesn’t fit this mould in the slightest. Most of the people who sweated blood and tears into the games offered in this bundle no longer have jobs at THQ. That’s right, they were laid off some time ago. So the THQ slider on the Humble Bundle is essentially you deciding how much the publisher gets for simply hanging in there at the expense of all their former employees. Bravo.
Well, at least these games will be DRM free, right? Nope. Humble has decided that’s not in the cards this time. You will get Steam Keys – nothing else. The whole point of the Humble Bundle was the goodwill and trust established with the community. Support indies; in return we’ll treat you like human beings that can be trusted to do the morally correct thing without needing digital shackles to keep you in line. THQ likely never would have agreed to this. They probably see piracy as their number one enemy, without realizing why the piracy exists in the first place.
Which leads to another thing that is very convenient for THQ: no Mac or Linux ports. Not more than a week ago I had espoused the benefits of enforcing Mac and Linux ports as the Humble Bundle does, in fact arguing that the Humble Bundle does the right thing. I’m not sure who had the bargaining power in this deal, but I’m guessing it wasn’t Humble. Omitting Mac and Linux ports removes a significant chunk of sales, as previous Humble Bundles have shown these two combined make up around a third of total sales.
Let’s ignore all that, somehow. Let’s ignore what made the Humble Bundle great in the past. Maybe you love THQ. Maybe you want to see another Saint’s Row or something because you haven’t got enough GTA-likes with purple dildos in them. I can sympathize with that, legitimately. Here’s the problem.
A company like THQ needs multi-millions to run for even a short while. Imagine THQ makes $3mil from this. Well, $360,000 of that is going straight into CEO Brian Farrell’s pocket this year. So 10% of that money is gone, even if all of it went to THQ. It doesn’t. Some portion of it goes to charity (great) and to Jeffrey Rosen et al (not so great at all given recent events.)
So what does a company like THQ do with a small handful of money, no prospects on the horizon, a losing business strategy? Is this actually a last-ditch effort to revive the company so they can get back to great classic games like Zombie Shooter With Marginally Better Graphics 4? My money is on THQ liquidating and shoveling out the cash to what few stakeholders are left. It’s a last ditch effort to squeeze blood from a rock. I can’t imagine how this pittance of cash even gives a glimmer of hope of sustaining THQ otherwise.
So why is this bad for indies, why all the fuss, who cares if THQ is offering their products at unsustainable breakneck prices?
It destroys the Humble Bundle reputation. The reputation that was built by indies with hopes of a brave new future ripe with interesting and unique games. It was the bundle that every indie strived for, looked forward to and dreaded launching beside. Now a good chunk of that is eroded if not erased entirely. The indie community, more and more, is showing that it hates AAA titles until enough dollar signs show up. Humility can be bought.