Are game bundles dead?

Alex Calvin
Are game bundles dead?

In theory, game bundles sound like a great idea. Companies get their titles out in front of thousands of people who might not have given them a second look otherwise.

But according to some, these deals are acting as a gateway for profiteers and are eroding the price of games.

It may not have invented the concept, but it was Humble who popularised the notion of the games bundle.

The idea is a simple one – consumers pay a low price for a selection of titles. There are a variety of offerings out there – Humble lets fans pay what they want, and lets them dictate how much of their money goes to Humble, the publishers and various charities.

And it can certainly have a positive impact on a games business.

We introduce games to millions of customers,” Humble co-founder Jeff Rosen says. The result is more consumers and revenue.”

Rob Clarke, senior marketing manager at Curve Digital, who has had games in bundles, and recently launched its own Indie Mixtape bundle scheme, adds: If you get it right, bundles can be massively helpful. Especially if you have a new game out. Aside from increasing the lifecycle of a game, you get a lot of exposure. We put Stealth Inc in deals close to when Stealth Inc 2 was coming out. You tend to get more legitimate full-price sales as well. But we need to be careful when we put games in bundles. If you go too early you're going to lose your sales. If you go too late, bundle sites aren't as interested in you.”

This is a concern echoed by indie developer Dan Marshall adds: Bundles can do a lot for exposure and getting the games in the hands of people who wouldn't normally have taken a punt. They're great for players, because you can dip into a game without feeling like you've spent a fortune on it. They can do really well in terms of bringing in a nice lump of cash during dry spells, but I'd be very wary of putting any of my games in a bundle too soon. Once you drop the price, it's hard to bring it back up. Bundles can harm your regular sales.”

"If we're looking at being in a bundle,
the fear of key re-selling makes us
question whether we want to do it or not."

Rob Clarke, Curve Digital

But it's a crowded sector, and only getting busier with every passing week. Perhaps inspired by the success of Humble, there are huge numbers of competitors joining this area of the industry by the day.

And you can see why – in 2014, Humble generated $31.1m, and so far this year it has generated $11.1m.

There is just so much noise out there,” Clarke says. There's a lack of quality control. When you look at some of the huge amounts of bundles out there, a lot of them tend to be on the side of lower quality, smaller games,
titles that people haven't heard of. More people will already have a lot of the games in these bundles, which ultimately makes them less attractive.

The bundle sites are increasing hugely in number and the amount of choice is growing as well, and that's great. But the value of them is decreasing in that respect. The biggest problem for bundle sites is competing with everyone and finding enough quality games to make it worth it for consumers.”

Marshall adds: The bundle sector is pretty swamped, and the sort of returns they're seeing seem to be a lot less than when they first started out. There's a big of a moral obligation with bundles that they really need to start making sure that the people who have done the sweeping majority of the work, the developers, see suitable financial returns. There can be too much of a tendency to exploit developers, and it's a worry.”

We have operated for years without OAuth, and we have now operated for almost a half a year since we removed it from the site. It was a good, short-lived feature that was great for customers and developers.I'm sad it's gone, but let's not blow it out of proportion. We have a number of features to detect and curb fraud and resellers.”

Jeffrey Rosen, Humble Bundle

And saturation and quality aren't the only things concerning publishers and developers.

Earlier this year, Steam ditched support of its OAuth system. OAuth bound together a group of codes and tied them to a user's account. Thus, it effectively stopped people splitting games out of a bundle and selling them on. And Valve's decision to remove the system has worried games companies.

It was a massive pain for us. OAuth was a saving grace for us in terms of people re-selling our codes,” Clarke says. It's a big thing for us. If we're looking at being in a bundle, the fear of key re-selling is the thing that makes us question whether we want to do this or not. Because we know that the keys will end up on CD key sites. We can't really control that. We can attempt to stop it, but like all piracy, it's not really possible to stop once it happens.”

Eleonora Lucheroni, PR and social media strategist at bundling site IndieGala, adds: OAuth was simply phenomenal. It was an excellent feature and most users loved it – while scammers and key resellers hated it. All the developers we have spoken with were very disappointed by the removal of OAuth support.Nobody knows why it was dropped. We'd like to know.”

But Humble's Rosen thinks those getting worried about the removal of the feature are over-reacting.

We have operated for years without it, and we have now operated for almost a half a year since we removed it from the site,” he says. It was a good, short-lived feature that was great for customers and developers.I'm sad it's gone, but let's not blow it out of proportion. We have a number of features to detect and curb fraud and resellers.”

And UKIE's IP co-ordinator Mo Ali says that the removal of OAuth has ultimately given companies more information about where there keys end up being sold.

From an infringement point of view, not having OAuth can potentially help some games businesses,” he tells MCV. They can better identify if and where keys are resold online because they can then better track sales and activation numbers.”

"Bundles are contributing towards this ‘race to the bottom' in terms of pricing.‘I'll wait till it's in a bundle' is the new ‘I'll wait till it's in a Steam Sale'. And for developersthat's always disheartening to hear."

Dan Marshall, Size Five Games

But for Clarke, the problem is not with the key reselling itself, but the consumer perception that by buying keys from reselling websites, they are not damaging developers and publishers.

If a consumer goes to a torrent site, accesses a crack, or has to download something from a site that they don't know and trust to get a game, they're getting a worse experience,” he explains. With re-sold keys, the experience is nearly identical as legitimately buying the game. We will help anyone using them like they are a customer. You'll be able to load it up in Steam in the same way anyone who legitimately bought it can.

The other issue is with key resellers, people don't realise what they are doing is essentially piracy. They think because they are paying for it then the developer must be getting something for it.”

Meanwhile, Marshall is concerned that bundle deals are ultimately harming game prices.

I'm worried that b

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