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A Humble THQ | Desperation or A Glimpse of the Future?

Matt Gardner
Humble Bundle, Indie Games, Pay What You Want, Pricing models, THQ

A Humble THQ | Desperation or A Glimpse of the Future?

The Humble Bundle has been a bastion of forward thinking in an age that has seen consumer power steadily on the rise. Even as platform holders and publishers have sought to restrict the power they hand over to the consumer, in order to protect their own interests, others have found a way to empower the gaming audience by eschewing traditional distribution models and RRPs. The ascension of pay-what-you-want as a viable business model, not to mention crowdfunding in the industry, has given consumers the ultimate freedom over how they spend their money, appealling to gamers' altruism and leveraging a sense of wider industrial community rather than the adversarial nature (at best) or hunting grounds (at worst) that the man in marketing talks of behind closed doors.

It's no surprise, either, that upstart business models have made the most of upstart games, with the indie sector benefitting the most from the pay-what-you-want model. The Humble Bundle has become synonymous with smaller, less-well-known titles and DRM-free downloads. With the PWYW model allowing consumers to distribute their funds across the various developers, partner charities, and the folks at Humble Bundle themselves, there's been a growing sense of goodwill. Buy game, donate to charity, support indie devs, take home five or more games at a steal, and feel happy and content in the understanding that you've been part of A Good Thing.

A Humble THQ | Desperation or A Glimpse of the Future?

So it's understandable that some have criticised the latest Humble Bundle - a single-publisher venture with THQ - for seemingly "threatening to ruin the brand's reputation" or taking a "step backward" with regard to the pricing model.

The kneejerk reaction is, of course, one of almost indignation. Here we go again, after all, another case of the big publisher taking attention away from the little guys that need it. Isn't it the Humble Indie Bundle, after all? Isn't that how this all got started? Mac and Linux users won't be able to get involved? And what's this...we have to use Steam? As ubiquitous as Valve's platform is, it's still a restrictive platform and therefore a form of DRM, no matter how cuddly it might seem.

Things are certainly a little bit different. After all, instead of a cent, the lowest thing you can pay is a dollar. Moreover, with this being a publisher-led Bundle, many of the studios responsible for the games in the Bundle won't see any of the money that's been rolling in having moved on to pastures new and fresh adventures years ago. For an initiative that was deliberately designed to be open and offer unparalleled freedom, there seem to be an awful lot of caveats.

A Humble THQ | Desperation or A Glimpse of the Future?

Mac and Linux users will be unhappy, and they have every right to be. They are, after all, regularly more generous than Windows contributors, grateful perhaps for the attention and consideration. To be shut out from an exciting new development as a big dick strolls into town is a little raw. So too will PC owners who  cheered when Jeffrey Rosen wrote "When considering any kind of DRM, we have to ask ourselves, 'How many legitimate users is it OK to inconvenience in order to reduce piracy? The answer should be none." There are swathes of legitimate users who've just been wholly alienated by this latest Bundle by the simple matter of not being able to take part in it.

Will that have an impact on Humble Bundle themselves going forward though? I very much doubt it. Co-founder John Graham has already moved to dispel the notion that this will change Humble Bundle irrevocably forever. “One thing I’d like to point out is that this is not a perpetual policy shift that will obstruct our efforts to construct other types of bundles but is rather a brand new experiment of its own,” Graham told PAR. “2012 has been a year of many promotions for us that fall outside the original Humble Indie Bundle framework and we are excited to be able offer a critically acclaimed line up like this in a ‘pay what you want plus charity’ promotion."

A Humble THQ | Desperation or A Glimpse of the Future?

More attention then for charity, that's surely a good thing, right? More people, too, attracted and alerted to the Pay What You Want model, informing and educating consumers who might then return for future indie bundles, or perhaps go off and do their own research now they know that this sort of thing exists.Whether or not THQ, as Kotaku flippantly put it, were so broke that they made a Humble Bundle is not really the point. They're a canary of sorts, testing the waters of a model previously untouched by big business. That it's a big business which has been brought to its knees and humbled by falling stock prices makes it something of an ideological fit for Rosen and Graham's company.

For consumers that's a good thing. We've seen plenty of imitators pop up over the past couple of years, bringing indie games to the fore, and empowering consumers by offering up subjective transactions. Indeed, the freedom of choice when it comes to how your money is divided means that you could feasibly buy the THQ Bundle and not give THQ or Humble Bundle a penny, and that appears to be exactly what many ambivalent parties have done.

It's interesting, though, that THQ didn't do a PWYW bundle off of their own backs. A slick little site of their own here, some blanket press releases there, and they could have really made some noise without bringing the Humble Bundle brand into it at all. It would have been better, perhaps, because PWYW is too interesting a model to find itself embroiled in brand politicking. Taking Humble Bundle for granted would be wrong, and it's all too easy to see some of the negative backlash as a form of entitled whining from one perspective. Just because things have been done a certain way before does not necessarily mean that it will always be so.

A Humble THQ | Desperation or A Glimpse of the Future?

Furthermore, as altruistic as Humble Bundle have been in the past, they must continue to look forward, and one can't help but wonder just how much (or rather little) say they would have had in how the games were presented. Expansion and growth costs money, so for them to continue to operate and evolve as a company, if they have to offer a "Big" Bundle every once in a while to support their more niche offerings then so be it. It would be a mistake to think that Humble Bundle have long championed unsung heroes. Indeed, most of their indie offerings have come via established darlings such as Braid, Darwinia, Trine, and Machinarium - smaller games, yes, but hardly unknown elements.

So there are two sides to this. From an idealist standpoint, it's a shame that this Bundle eschews some of the principals upon which Humble Bundle has been built. From a consumer perspective, however, there's little to complain about. But by far the best thing that has come out of this is an increased awareness, and serious debate. The Pay What You Want model, after initial excitement, has been in something of a saturated rut this last year or so. Hopefully, as a result of this recent Bundle, we might see a few big names pushing the boat out for themselves and how a model in which everyone can be a winner might become more important going forward.

Add a comment5 comments
Quietus  Dec. 10, 2012 at 15:39

I fail to see any problem with what they did. The way I see it, indie stuff has been getting massive public attention in recent years anyway, so word is getting around. Therefore the 'they're not doing indie' argument doesn't really mean much. Ultimately, with this bundle, THQ won, Humble won, charity won, and the consumer won, so I really don't see the grumble. Also, Humble is like any other company, and they're here to make money. While their original intent was to promote indie stuff, any person with more than two brain cells to rub together would go where the money is.

imdurc  Dec. 10, 2012 at 15:58

As far as I'm concerned, I don't care what the H.B. do with their brand. I know that people out there were annoyed at the decision to put out the THQ bundle under the H.I.B. name. But, tbh, I don't mind. When I saw the email for the THQ bundle arrive in my inbox, I bought 2 packs to gift to others.

To get caught up in saying what's right or wrong about the THQ bundle and/or the meaning of the H.I.B. name, is to miss the point. It's for people to raise money for a brand, charity or dev (no matter how big or small). As mentioned in the article, how many games like Trine, Braid, Super Meat Boy, Bastion, etc. etc. really needed to be featured in the H.I.B.? Probably none of them. But appear, they did. And sometimes, they still do. And yet, there was no outcry about them. Even though, I'm sure there were other more worthy indie titles that would've appreciated the attention.

I find it quite distasteful to find people poo-pooing a big company like THQ for their Humble Bundle. In truth, they probably needed that boost and I'm glad (even though I can't champion their games!) they got something out of it. I'm also glad that it has brought wider awareness of both the Humble bundle as well as the model on which it is built. Perhaps other companies will see it and consider it in the future, now.

themattyplant  Dec. 10, 2012 at 16:44

I cant see anything wrong with this, i had two of games already. My friend had all but 2 of them, yet he bought it.

The money went to charity mostly.

You could argue that the latest have been the humble android bundle?

THQ were on their butts, this has fixed them, i can expect to see other devs doing the same like you mentioned on their own sites.
Its paved the way for people not to pirate and get a bargain, look at ubisoft, you feel like a pirate for paying for one of their games with the stupid drm system!

All in all it was a great sucess, i now get to run around steelport with giant knockers until (hopefully) GTA 5 lands on PC!

davidpanik  Dec. 10, 2012 at 17:17

I'm not convinced THQ would have done nearly as well, offering the exact same deal of their own backs - it needed the "Humble" name to get taken seriously.

Tsung  Dec. 11, 2012 at 09:13

Everyone won, as far as I can see. I don't understand why people are getting upset?. If people felt the deal wasn't for them, or THQ are profiteering off the Humble brand, don't buy it. I haven't bought Humble/Indi bundles when I felt the games didn't appeal to me.

Hopefully some other publishers might see this as a chance to get their games out there. However, there is always a risk that shovel-ware starts appearing in Humble Bundles. I think maybe that is what other people fear.

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