Last month, Wolfire Games, an independent game developer and distributor, unleashed a pay-what-you-want campaign for a bundle of indie games that seemed to take a play from the famous Radiohead pay-what-you-want experiment. The Humble Indie Bundle, as it was called, was offered from May 4 through May 11, and generated over $1.2 million in revenue for the game developers who participated, as well as two charities.
The bundle initially consisted of five indie games: World of Goo (2D Boy), Aquaria (Bit Blot), Gish (Edmund McMillen), Lugaru (Wolfire Games), and Penumbra: Overture (Frictional Games ). Later, Amanita Design kicked in a sixth game, Samorost 2. All the games run on PC, Mac, and Linux platforms.
People could literally pay anything they wanted for the Humble Indie Bundle, starting at $.01. The largest single donation rang in at $3,333.33. I personally paid $10.01. You could choose to allot part or all of the price to the two charities, Child’s Play and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). While you could have bought the games or donated to the charities separately, the combination of the two made the bundle appealing. You can’t deny the power of one -stop shopping.
John Graham, Chief Operating Officer of Wolfire Games, was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the Humble Indie Bundle campaign in a post-promotion debriefing.
How did the idea for the pay-what-you-want Humble Indie Bundle come about?
Ever since the success of 2DBoy’s pay-what-you-want experiment and our Organic Indie Preorder Pack [a game bundle of Wolfire’s Overgrowth and the Unknown Worlds’ Natural Selection 2], we had this feeling that independent developers could really do a lot to promote themselves.
How did you decide what games to put in the bundle?
Our main requirement for this bundle was that we needed awesome indie games available for Mac, Linux, and Windows. We didn’t have a fancy rubric, and weren’t maximizing any kind of bundle hotness equation, but I think it’s fair to say that we ended up with a group of games that are all different but very awesome.
Have you ever tried anything like this before? Did you learn anything from the Radiohead pay-what-you-want experiment?
Well, our theory was that a pay-what-you-want bundle would maximize participation and also allow people to feel like they were getting their money’s worth, and I think this proved true. With pirated copies already easily available for all the games, we figured our biggest risk was not piracy but rather that we would spend a lot of time on this promotion, and then no one would hear about it.
The games bundled together were an $80 value, and people paid $9.21 on average. Do you consider the campaign a success?
I think it’s fair to say that the bundle exceeded all of our expectations. I wouldn’t look at the average price as our main success metric but rather the overwhelming participation. With over 100,000 contributions we managed to raise over $1,000,000 in just a week. I don’t think anyone dreamed that this could be possible.
How much did you raise for charity, and how much for your company and the other companies? How do you think attaching charities affected contributions?
Our best guess so far at the final totals has been posted publicly on the site. I think the charities were definitely one of the features which set our bundle apart from most other gaming bundles. Chargebacks and refunds not withstanding, it looks like we will have raised over $180,000 for each of the two charities and over $160,000 for each developer.
Why did you pick those particular charities?
We thought it would be fitting to choose charities that were somehow related to the gaming industry. Helping Child’s Play provide games to sick children, and giving the EFF more resources to use to defend people’s technology-related rights just feels good. Thanks to everyone’s generosity, I think the bundle has raised enough money to actually make a significant difference in the budgets of these organizations.
How did you spread the word about the campaign?
We gave all our major press contacts an early warning that we were about to launch our crazy experiment. So it was great to know that a few major sites were going to cover us at launch. Reddit was easily the biggest single driver of traffic. However, the 20,000 bundle Tweets and 40,000 Facebook shares suggest that organic word-of-mouth was also a huge factor.
Why did you choose to make the games DRM-free ?
DRM is one of those ugly things that just doesn’t seem to be going away in the mainstream gaming industry. The truth of the matter is that if giant companies like Ubisoft can’t make uncrackable DRM, we indies sure as heck aren’t going to be able to either.
In reality, DRM’s main function becomes aggravating honest users who actually purchase games while the pirates are free to do whatever they want with their cracked versions. This doesn’t seem right, and we’d rather spend our time creating awesome user experiences rather than squander it in a counter-productive attempt to punish pirates.
Were there any surprises? Would you do it again?
We were surprised by how much support this humble indie promotion received. I think this more than anything, validates the idea that it is possible for indies to reach out directly to consumers. If we don’t try to do something like this again, someone else definitely will.