Us versus them: the new humble THQ bundle case

The new Humble Bundle has received mixed opinions. People are taking sides and preparing to attack or defend the new bundle – or something between. People have really fierce arguments over how the current bundle is nasty, evil bad thing.

I think there’s quite many irrational arguments that get dragged in the conversation to support people’s views.

Here’s the situation I’m thinking when I’m estimating the newest bundle:

If we imagine a situation where this newest bundle would be the first bundle. How would I react?

Here’s some facts:

  • I get to pay whatever I want ($1 or more)
  • I get several games from a company who has paid & owns the rights for those games.
  • I can decide the amount that charity will receive
  • I get to decide the amount that bundle creators receive
  • There’s DRM.
  • These are Windows-only games

These are the facts as I look at this offering as-is. When looking at this offer only, it’s irrelevant whether there has been previous bundles or not. Whether previous bundle had Linux games or not, is totally irrelevant when it comes to evaluating the current offering.

If I’m having a good day today, it’s irrelevant whether I had a good or bad day yesterday. I can be happy about today, even if was shitty day yesterday.

Similarly, I can objectively look at this bundle offering, and determine whether it’s a good or bad.

The actual offering looks to me pretty humble and solid. I can decide price, I have windows, so those factors are okay. Then I can determine what I think of DRM. Well, usually I prefer without… but if these games work enough, I don’t care having DRM, so that factor – to me – is fine.

Then there’s couple of other factors:

  • Charity: does these charity organisation do good things? Are they worth supporting? I can google, ask others, and do bit of research to see whether I want to support them or not.
  • THQ the company. I can ask questions such as: what is this company about? Have they’ve done such things in the past that I don’t want to support them? If I help them today, will they use my money wisely? Will they do good things? If I don’t know the answers to these questions I could google and find out. I can adjust the slider as I prefer.
  • Bundle organizing company: I can see they have investors backing them, I see they have job offerings. In the past I’ve seen nice bundles, so they’ve done good things in the past. They are collaborating with THQ – is that good? Do I want to support this? Again, I can google, ask around and do a bit of research if I want, and then decide where I set the slider.

To me, it feels that only the “which companies are participating in this” is bit more subjective. All other factors can be reasoned to be pros or cons (for example: Linux gamers can automatically reject the bundle since it’s Windows only).

Then some factors that are irrelevant:

  • Previous bundle had Linux + Windows + Mac
  • Indies made the games in previous bundles

Going to take a closer look at each of these factors.

“Previous bundle had Linux + Windows + Mac”
This argument has absolutely no meaning in measuring this current bundle. If I have a great day today, it’s irrelevant whether I had a bad day yesterday. Dogs are good at getting this, humans not. We humans tend to drag our past experiences into something where they don’t belong. And I must emphasize: I’m evaluating this current THQ bundle.

Equally well we could turn it around. Imagine that all the previous bundles were AAA, windows-only, DRM games — and you bought none of them.

And then comes a new bundle. If the new bundle offers indie, windows+linux+mac, no DRM games, would you not buy “because previous bundles were windows only”? To me, that makes no sense.

“Indies made the games in previous bundles”
Again, a factor that doesn’t matter. Two reasons why: being “indie” is not important. Providing fun games is.

When I purchase games, I make the decision based on the fun factor, or when I want to support interesting projects. Whether they were created by indies or not is irrelevant. I want that the most fun games survive in this world.

I’m an indie, but my goal is not to be an indie. My goal is to have fun creating games, and to see that other (some, not all) people find them fun. Whether I’m an indie or not is irrelevant.

And again the history aspect: whether other bundles had indie games or not is irrelevant when evaluating this current bundle. We people want continuation, and if something doesn’t match our expectations, we tend to drag the history with us to argument how this current offering cannot be good since previous offer was different.

When estimating this offering, the indie factor has little meaning.

The gaming world is not about “us” and “them”, “indie” or “aaa”. It’s more about “offering bad games” or “offering fun games”.

I vote with my wallet for “offering fun games” by companies that hopefully treat their people good, and just perhaps help make the world a bit better place.

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. You might be the exception that tests the rule and act as a purely rational customer who remains unbiased by the brand that offers you a particular product. When I said “brand is marketing 101” I was referring to the rest: the ones who, like it or not, being that an irrational thing to do or not, do judge a product by (among other things) the brand. I’m not an expert on marketing and even I know that.

    That’s the reason why people cue in front of certain stores to buy some particular product: because it has an apple logo; they are loyal to that brand and get excited about their products. That’s why Nokia dominated the mobile business on the last decade: the brand Nokia was attached to certain values that the consumers appreciated. This is over now and almost no one is considering choosing that brand when they are buying their next phone. Some people have strong feelings against the brand “Microsoft” and like to put dollar signs when they spell the name of that company, and some other people are happy with their products so far and will see new products attached to that brand with a positive bias. Human psychology, that’s how consumerism works. Marketing 101 indeed.

    And there might be people who are oblivious to the brand and evaluate every single offering with a completely rational, clinical eye, like you claim, but I don’t think that’s a majority of the consumer base.

    “Indie” is also a brand. People now have particular expectations about a game if it comes branded as “indie”, the graphic style, the gameplay, etc, in opposition to that other brand “AAA”. Some people feel attracted to the “Indie” brand, some people not. Which is a bias either way.

    “Humble Indie Bundle” is also a brand, regardless of that fact being intentional from the guys who run it or not. Everything that is for sale has a brand perception attached to it, in the sense that people will regard stuff coming from the brand as similar to other stuff that has come from that same origin before.

    So why must you, in your particular case, as an individual who is a potential customer, care about that brand, from a rational point of view? I agree with you, you don’t have to. But why do “Humble Indie Bundle” have to care about their own brand? Because that’s how a majority of their customers will judge them each time they are deciding to purchase or not one of their products. Because that’s what customers do. In my opinion, if you are selling consumer products, you should be aware of these things.

    The bundles from “Humble Bundle” are making 10 times more money per bundle than their competitors “Indie Royale” and “Indie Gala”, according to publicly available figures. Why do people do that? Why do people, as a group, spend 10 times more money on one of these bundle brands rather than the others? Certainly, there’s brand value here, problably achieved through the curation process so far, the popularity of the featured games, or maybe because of the effort put in easing the payment process, or maybe because it’s always been “indie”, “drm-free” and “multiplatform”. Or maybe a combination of all those together. It’s probably different for each one individual if you ask him. But there’s a brand, and breaking it means a risk of loosing the customers that care about the particular values of the brand that have been abandoned now, even if there will be other customers who don’t care about those particular ones.

    By the way, if the purchase of a pay-what-you-want product was done in a purely rational fashion, no one would be paying some of the sums we are seeing each time, of hundreds and thousands of dollars. The rational thing for each individual customer would be to pay the absolutely minimum to get the games, just a couple of cents of a dollar. And that sum would be the average, since everyone would be rationally paying that same amount. Then customers would also get all the bonus material that gets unlocked when you pay the average. However, some people are paying more, for a whole variety of reasons, from the purely sentimental to trying to influence the future bundles by “voting with the wallet”. See, customers are not always rational. That’s why, if you have a brand, you should look after it.

    • That’s one long reply!

      Maybe I should have clarified, that I wasn’t thinking bundle organizers… of course gotta agree that bundle creators need to think of their offering, to see how it could harm/benefit them.

      I was thinking more of the devs who think that now HB “sold out” or “isn’t indie anymore” etc. — from customer perspective, that really shouldn’t matter as long as the offering is good…

      So, in a way I feel you + me argued bit different things here.

    • P.S. I know I’m NOT a rational being, or making rational choices. Sure, my *brain* tries to convince me that I am (it even tries to convince that I should not write the previous sentence since “it’s not true!”), but I’m not believing that living organism & those chemical reactions on this matter ;)

  2. The latest Humble Bundle triggered the usual underdog vs. corporation debate.

    IMO many indies see/saw the HB guys as like-minded. But now that they sell a bundle of “corporation” games they seem to have run over to the enemy. It feels like treason.

    The truth is: HB does not represent the average indie. They just sell top-notch games. From indies. Up to now. They proved to gross millions. So it was just a matter of time when a stock company like THQ would take notice.

    HB seemingly started as side project to fund Wolfire. Wolfire is (or was?) indie. Maybe that’s the reason why people think they should sell just games of their own kin?

    • Interesting how the “who sells” matters that much. Imagine if EA had done all the previous bundles in exactly the same conditions. Would that been acceptable? Would we have bought the games then?

    • So far the THQ HB made 2.8 million dollar. Correct me if I’m wrong but this bundle already outperformed each foregone. Thus we can assume players don’t give a about who made the games, just how good/famous they are. Regardless if it’s THQ or EA, the bundle would sell well.

      HB just left puperty and plays with the big boys now. More famous games => more $$$. Understandable, I would do the same.

      I’m curious if they keep following this path and abandon indies. At least the stats on the HB site say “YES”.

  3. These factors are not relevant to this particular bundle if taken isolately, you’re right. But they are relevant to the “Humble Bundle” brand. That’s where the criticism is coming from, IMHO. The discussion thread I’ve seen in TIGsource, for example, is between people who argue that those were part of the brand and people who point out that “multiplatform” and “indie” were never meant to stay.
    My only takeaway is that the perception of the brand “Humble Bundle” has changed in the minds of a lot of people as a consequence of this last bundle. Changed for better or for worse, that’s something I don’t dare judging.

    • Yes, the current bundle is a different from others. Of course this can lead into asking: why should perceived brand be important?

      I don’t have the answer, but as long as the companies act well, Im okay with people voting with their wallets to determine what is important…

      Not saying my view would be “right”. It’s merely an opinion.

    • @Juuso Well, brand is everything nowadays, specially when it comes to consumer products such as videogames. That’s marketing 101.

    • Rationally thinking… I don’t really care about the humble bundle brand when estimating this offer. Also stating that “brand is marketing 101” really doesn’t convince me that I as a customer should think “brand” when Im estimating the current product offering. “Brand is everything” doesn’t provide rationale reasons for thinking good nor bad about the current offer. Hence the question remains: why would I – as a potential customer – be interested about importnce of humble bundle brand?

      I do agree that newest humble bundle is a different, and can have impact on how HB does in the future. Consistency is important in strenghtening the perceived imago, and “indie only” aspect really got thrown out of the window in the latest offering.

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