If you're a PC gamer, you're probably aware of Game Bundle websites. From the ever popular Humble Bundle through to sites such as Bundle Stars or Indiegala, you've probably bought a bundle or two and either saved yourself a lot of money or gave yourself access to a few indie games you might not have played otherwise. But we only see these websites and their deals from the public consumer perspective - what are they like from a game developer's standpoint?
Bruno Cesteiro works over at indie developer Camel 101, the team behind Syndrome, Mechs & Mercs and Gemini Wars, and he's written about their experiences with Bundle sites. They can be used to help indie developers, Bruno says, but he also advises caution.
Think it takes a while for games to get approached for sale in a Bundle? Apparently the second a game is available to buy you'll immediately get contacted by these sites looking to put your game in their latest package. Bruno starts by detailing the deal indie developers get, saying that the bundle store keeps a smaller percentage of sales, and splits the rest among all the developers. The worst thing is devaluation, as the second a game's in a bundle then that might as well be its price tag - players won't want to get it on Steam directly anymore if they can get it for a few pennies elsewhere. Bruno advises, "if your game is still selling, then you’d better wait until putting your game on a bundle."
Bruno then goes into detail about a smaller game of Camel 101's that got the Bundle treatment called Orczz, which taught them hard lessons about this deal-making industry.
After they got the game on Steam Bruno admits it didn't do well, selling just 9 copies on launch day, so it got put into a few bundles. He says they've had good experiences with most, except for one which was a bit of a nightmare for them and the source of Bruno's warning "be very careful about who you work with".
"Look at the contract the bundle store sends you, and see if it’s specified what happens with the unsold keys. They will usually ask between 5000-10000 keys, but these numbers are rarely reached. What happens with the remaining keys?"
Orczz was apparently in a bundle that sold 1400 copies and once it was done, Camel 101 requested the remaining keys they'd supplied back, which would be around 8600 keys. The website did not respond. A few months later, they began to notice a lot of unexplained keys were being activated, over 2000 in a single day and all marked as having been sold in that bundle, despite the bundle only actually selling 1400 copies in total.
After a lot of going back and forth between the site's representative, other developers in the same bundle, and Steam themselves, they discovered that the website had accidentally left the bundle with Orczz in still available to buy through a social media link, which was being exploited en masse.
No explanation was given as to why no one had noticed over 4 months that these sales were going on, nor why there was such a gap between activations of the keys. Most worryingly of all though, Camel 101 only noticed because they tagged their Steam keys so they know where they are being sold from. Most of the other developers they spoke to did not tag their keys, and so were totally oblivious to the money they were losing.
Bruno has this final warning to game developers looking to try out bundle websites to give their game a sales boost:
"Game bundles can be interesting in a particular time of the life cycle of a game, but please be careful with who you work with, always tag your keys and demand the unsold keys to be returned to you. Games are already too devalued, let’s try not giving them away for free."