The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutraís community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.
Hi [Insert Developer Name Here],
We really like [Insert Game Name Here] and would love to include it in our upcoming bundle over at [Insert Bundle Site Here].
If you’ve recently released a game on Steam, chances are high that you - or someone else on your team - have received an email that starts out like this. While bundles are a great way to generate interest and fast cash off of your titles, I’d strongly recommend due diligence and research before agreeing to be included in any bundle.
Since I started Mighty Rabbit Studios in 2010, we have developed and released two games: Saturday Morning RPG and Breach & Clear. Both games have since been released on Steam and have performed wildly different in terms of sales. While this can be explained by a number of factors (Saturday Morning RPG is super niche while B&C is not, etc.), one of the key factors Saturday Morning RPG is not selling well is because we bundled it too early with sites that did not have our best interests in mind – which leads me to why I am making this post: developers need to seriously consider all the ramifications of bundling. I’m sure there is plenty who do this already – but I’m also sure there are plenty of people out there like myself, who would jump at any opportunity to spur revenue.
Saturday Morning RPG has been in four bundles: Indie Royale, Groupees, Indie Gala, and Blink Bundle. Each bundle has their own benefits, but only one of them has a serious flaw that I was totally blind to:
When I was approached to include Saturday Morning RPG in Indie Gala it seemed like a wonderful opportunity. From what I had seen, Indie Gala was consistently the second highest grossing bundle out there – behind Humble Bundle, the golden standard of bundles. There is a reason for this: Indie Gala’s model panders to third-party resellers. This is bad. Like, really bad. It will absolutely kill your game’s long-term saleability. Third-party resellers are effectively the seedy black market of Steam keys – they will sell keys for your game without your knowledge, at a fraction of your Steam price. Many times these prices will only be pennies on the dollar of your original price – which reflects how little they paid for the keys in the first place.
You see, Indie Gala has this thing called “Happy Hour” where to spur sales they allow 2-for-1 deals on keys. Pledge the minimum $1 and you’ll get two keys for each game instead of one. Sometimes the happy hour deals will even yield 4-for-1 deals instead of the usual 2-for-1. On top of that, Indie Gala offers tiered “gifting” which allows you to buy multiple copies of the bundle at progressively lower prices, the more you buy. This is perfect for resellers looking to get a couple hundred, or even thousand keys. Especially when the tiered gifts get crazy cheap during happy hour (these offers stack!). Oddly enough, Indie Gala’s happy hour actually lasts eight to ten hours and sometimes arbitrarily longer. It will occur multiple times throughout the bundle, so there is almost no chance customers/resellers will miss it.
After all was said and done, we made approximately $0.09 per copy of Saturday Morning RPG sold during Indie Gala. I knew the per copy yield wouldn’t be high going into the bundle, but what I did not predict was the long term effect resellers would have on the game.
After we were in Indie Gala, sales on Steam flat lined – our only way to generate sales at this point is to discount the game. It simply can’t sell at MSRP any more. One simple decision to be in a bundle permanently destroyed our sales. Four months after the bundle, sales still haven’t recovered due to the bundle and the easy availability of the game through resellers certainly isn’t helping. Saturday Morning RPG had a small market to begin with, and the few people who were buying it are savvy enough to search outside of Steam for better deals.
The core problem is that Indie Gala is not designed with the developer’s best interests in mind. It’s designed to make money, which is sensible, but when most of that money comes from resellers – it’s hard to argue any benefit to the developers. Humble Bundle actively changed their system to fight resellers, which is absolutely commendable considering their revenue took a huge nosedive after the change (which I believe occurred after the WB bundle). They are protecting developer interests above all else – something all bundles should do.
When you are asked to be in a bundle, make sure that your interests are protected. The quick cash and instant exposure is good, but consider the potential long-term costs. Don’t make the mistake I did and send your own game to the bargain bin way ahead of its time.