I'm writing this blog the morning after Interstellar Marines went live in an Indiegala bundle. The premise of the bundle was simple: we wanted to release the two versions of our game as part of a two-tier bundle on Indiegala so we could support their chosen charity. And if I'm being honest we also hoped to earn a little bit of PR.
The main aim was to support the charity through Indiegala selling copies of our game, with part, or all, of the revenue going to said charity. Bundles of this type do not make any appreciable money for developers, and as we're still early in production, with a lot of features and content not yet implemented, we did not take part in the bundle to increase the number of people playing. That will naturally increase as we add additional content and features. The bundle was about charity.
At this point I should probably mention we're an early access game, having been greenlit by the Steam community. We have a lot of history behind us, which is detailed in this post if you're interested in learning about our background.
Bundles have been around for some time, and we'd also taken part in some Steam sales, so we didn't anticipate our community would be too upset by this. Oh my did we get that wrong!
The normal price for Interstellar Marines is $14.99, and the price for the Spearhead edition is $39.99.
On Indiegala the minimum price to buy the first bundle was $1, and the minimum price to buy the higher bundle was $3.99 for the first 12 hours. Plus of course you got some additional games as well.
There was also a miss-communication with Indiegala. We wanted to have the regular version of the game in the smaller bundle, and the Spearhead version in the larger one. They thought we wanted both games in the larger bundle, so that's what they did.
The Community's Reaction
As you can imagine, what's obvious in hindsight happened - the Steam forums erupted with complaints from players who had bought Interstellar Marines at much higher prices and could not understand why we would do this. There were a LOT of posts from community members who felt they'd been betrayed by us. Many posters thought we'd done a cash grab and were in serious financial trouble.
We spend a lot of time and effort working with our community. We have a team of only 10 people, and 2 of us are CMs, so it was heartbreaking to see that trust we'd built up over the years being eroded and degraded by a completely self-inflicted and needless mistake.
Interestingly enough our own website's forums had precisely one thread devoted to this topic, which was a very civilised and relaxed discussion. That is probably because a lot of the people in our website's forum have been around for several years, while the Steam forum has only been there since last year.
The first thing we did was get together and try to find out what had happened. We all knew there was going to be an Indiegala bundle, but most of us did not know the details of what had been agreed with Indiegala. Had we made a mistake? Had Indiegala? Who had agreed to what?
When we'd gone through that process and realised the mistake was ours, the first thing we did was the most important - we wrote a response on the Steam forums that contained an apology, a request for forgiveness and an explanation of why we'd gone ahead with the bundle. We could have obfuscated and tried to fob off our community, but that's the cowards way out. We screwed up, and the first thing you do in a situation like that is own up to it. The second thing you do is try to fix it.
The biggest complaint we had from the community was that the Spearhead edition should not be on sale at that price. We contacted Indiegala and asked them if they could remove it from the bundle. Understandably they replied they couldn't do it as they'd committed on their website to provide the bundle for several days. Nuts! We asked if they could instead raise the price of the higher bundle, the one that contains the Spearhead edition, and as I'm writing this we're hoping they'll be able to do that.
At the same time we hit the forums. We are active on the forums all day long under normal circumstances, this time though we stayed active through the night, and my fellow CM was on into the early hours. We answered all questions, kept discussions civil, and where they got out of control damped down the flames. I'm really proud that many of our core community members stepped up and helped to answer questions. Several of them had severe misgivings about the bundle, and they expressed that in no uncertain terms. But they also rallied round and supported us. Truly we are lucky with how damn awesome our community is. As a CM what more can you ask for?
I hope this blog post perhaps helps others who are in a similar situation, or even better stops you getting into it in the first place ;) This was entirely avoidable, and had we put more thought into the effect it would have on our community we would have avoided it entirely. Still, hindsight is always 20:20 and we'll just have to make sure we do not do it again!