Humble Bundle and THQ Shake Hands, Many Heads

by Rob Williams on December 5, 2012 in Editorials & Interviews, Gaming

When Humble Bundle announced a promotion featuring THQ’s games last week, what resulted was on par with a digital atom bomb. Long-time fans of the service felt betrayed, disgusted by the fact that the people behind it would go against their core values for a profit. But before we get too hasty, let’s look at things from a couple of different angles.

Introduction, The Bumbling

When the original Humble Bundle was released in early 2010, it was as if gamers’ prayers had finally been answered. Up to that point, Valve’s Steam platform was the best source for scoring great games on the cheap thanks to its regular sales, but here we had a new service that didn’t just aim to sell good games for cheap, but promote good ethics and the independent developer.

Since its inception, there have been a couple of specific qualities about Humble Bundle that have helped set itself apart from the pack. At the forefront has been its insistence on selling DRM-free content. After purchasing, you’re given a URL to download a no-nonsense installer. No phoning home. No complex serial codes. No need to send a sample of your DNA to the publisher. Much like, the folks at Humble Bundle realize that serving DRM-free software to paying customers is a sign of respect.

Humble Bundle has also done well to promote cross-platform gaming. At the time of the first Bundle’s launch, Valve had just released its Steam client for Mac – which was effectively a punch to the gut of Linux users everywhere. With Humble Bundle, however, Linux users stood proud and consistently spent more than the average. They finally had a platform to prove that they want games for their OS of choice – and some have attributed this movement to Valve’s recent interest boost in the OS.

DRM-free and cross-platforming would seal the deal for a lot of people, but taking things one-step further, Humble Bundle allowed gamers to pay what they felt the games were worth, or at least what they could afford. This has bode well as we’ve regularly seen select Bundles reach $1m in revenue – and sometimes, much more. The current leader is Humble Bundle V, which featured games such as Bastion, Amnesia and Limbo. In all, that Bundle sold nearly 600,000 copies, resulting in sales of $5.10 million.

Oh – and let’s not forget the Humble Bundle’s focus on generating funds for charity. Charity, DRM-free content, cross-platform, a focus on indie developers and a pay-what-you-want pricing scheme – what could possibly make Humble Bundle better? That’s a hard one to answer. What could ruin a Humble Bundle? This one’s easier.

For the two-and-a-half years that Humble Bundle has existed, it’s become expected that the folks there would stick to the ethos laid out in the early days. Few would have expected that it’d become not-so-humble and jump into bed with major developer – much less go against most of the other rules that have been in place for so long. With the release of the “Humble THQ Bundle” last week, it became clear to both the folks at Humble Bundle itself, and the world over, just how seriously some people have appreciated the service because of its core values.

The official blog post promoting the bundle was immediately inundated with unhappy fans. Here area  few select comments that illustrate the situation well:

I am so disappointed. This is not indie. It’s not multiplatform. It’s DRM.

By doing this the Humble Bundle has become just another “cheap deals” platform for games.

I have bought every bundle so far, based on the fact that it supported Linux, was DRM-free and it supported indie developers.

Why, Humble, why? Going back on your core values.

Were the people behind Humble Bundle really that ignorant to not realize that this move would garner this sort of reaction? I’ll be honest – I didn’t expect it. While I appreciated the core values that the Humble Bundle stuck to, I saw other pluses with this bundle that helped level things out.

I don’t expect many people to agree with me, but I’d like to lay out the pros and cons that I’ve thought about over the past couple of days and see if this really is as bad as it’s been made out to be.

The Bumbling

If you can remember as far back as the second, third and fourth paragraphs that helped kick off this article, simply inverse them. You’ll now be able to see why some people are so up in arms with the latest bundle. THQ’s Bundle isn’t DRM-free, isn’t cross-platform and certainly isn’t indie. The factors that have carried over include the donations to charity and the pay-what-you-want pricing scheme.

With this Bundle, a couple of major values that the folks behind it have stuck to all this time have been gone against. As has been made clear by many comment sections around the Web, including our own, people took the focus on indie and the DRM-free and cross-platform nature of the games (and other content) to heart. To some, this move felt like a back-stabbing. Many have been faithful all this time, supporting each and every Bundle – because it’s been a great way to stand up for what they believe in and it’s what they want to help promote. But many now feel that the people behind the Humble Bundle just can’t be trusted.

So what’s this all mean? Are those who have remained faithful to the service all this time suddenly going to stop supporting it? It’s hard to say. I have seen many people state it, however, as the main reason they’ve supported it up to this point has been to support its core values and the promotion of indie games.

A bigger question is whether or not the people behind Humble Bundle will truly care. At the forefront, they’re running a business, and to go against an idea that’s a sure-fire way to increase revenue isn’t something we see all too often. At the time of writing, THQ’s Bundle has been live for six days. In this time it’s sold more units than any other promotion (622,000), and its $3.5 million revenue isn’t too paltry either. It still has a ways to go to reach the $5.1 million record1 of Humble Bundle V, but there are still 7 days to go. 

I can sympathize with those who put their money where their mouths are for these Bundles. Supporting a good cause and then being played for a fool is never a good thing, mentally or emotionally. In Humble Bundle’s defense, I don’t believe it ever stated with certainty that it’d only ever be adhering to those values I laid out in the first few paragraphs. In that way, this move may not be so surprising after all. This is business.

I will say, however, that there was another comment made to the Humble Bundle blog that I’m having a hard time disagreeing with.

THQ is welcome to make its own Bundle for those purposes. This dilutes the Humble Bundle down to zero.

THQ is a major game publisher, and with the excitement that’s always generated around a Humble Bundle, Steam sale or anything similar, you wouldn’t imagine that it would have been too difficult for the company to implement its own pay-what-you-want Bundle. Sure, people would have still compared it to the Humble Bundle, but it wouldn’t have been associated with it. Humble Bundle devouts would have had no mood change, and the people behind the service wouldn’t have had to stomach so much flak. There’s no way I believe that THQ wouldn’t have had a seriously popular promotion if it decided to do one on its own.


Page List

1. Introduction, The Bumbling
2. The Humbling, Final Thoughts

  • madmatTG

    My thoughts? Everyone that’s unhappy with this bundle should buy it for $1 and give 100% of the money to charity and get Steam gift keys and give the keys to someone less fortunate. They make a statement to THQ and Humble, help a charity and enrich the life of someone that could use it.

    • Marfig

      It still won’t answer the issue.

      • Rob Williams

        The pricing sliders exist for a reason, though it could be considered hypocritical to hate the premise of a Bundle and then buy it -anyway-. Still, want to make a point? Just slide that HB Tip down to 0. I am not so sure it’s going to make much of a difference though when it seems the vast majority have no problem with this kind of sale.

        • madmatTG

          No more hypocritical than leaving a $.02 tip to a poor waitperson. You’re voicing your displeasure in a way that may make them sit up and take notice.

      • madmatTG

        Moaning about it on discussion sites will help how? At least doing what I proposed would send a message to both parties. It’s called speaking with your wallet.

        • Marfig

          Oh c’mon! Drop the old — and boring already — “moaning” adage, will you? As if people couldn’t just express their opinions. Keep your opinion to yourself, is that it? Well then, keep your opinion of my opinion to yourself. Sheesh!

          Tell you what, your so-called proposal has the precise same effect of toilet paper in a cesspit. You really expect a concerted movement of tens of thousands of disparate people? On gaming no less? Right.

          Sorry if I don’t look excited about your idea. Want that to happen? Stop calling people moaners and always discuss your ideas and always defend your principles regardless of where you are. You’ll help shape opinions and form larger groups of like-minded individuals.

          • madmatTG

            Moaning, whining, bitching, complaining, whinging, pissing, crying, etc, etc, etc. It all adds up to bellyaching fruitlessly to anyone that’ll listen and even to those that could give a rat’s ass. What good do you think it’s going to do? Answer my question rather than coming over all emo about how I phrased it. Do you think that THQ or Humble is going to give a damn about ten thousand gamers COMPLAINING (there, happy?) about what they do? Hell no. Want to make them care? Then do something meaningful. In the terms I grew up with, put up or shut up.

          • Marfig

            Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ve heard it all before.
            Discussing, forming opinions and then doing something about it isn’t your type. You like action movies.

            Sorry. But I still believe in discussing and debating, forming and trashing opinions. I like drama.

          • madmatTG

            The thing is that it’ll get talked to death and nothing will get done. Then it’ll happen again and the same thing will happen, everyone that doesn’t like it will complain yet do nothing else and no one but them will listen.

            You don’t like my idea? Cool. Come up with one of your own and implement it. Just do something because nothing comes from doing nothing and as far as Humble is concerned, nothing is exactly what is being done.

          • Marfig

            You want ideas? Why. I don’t even know how you stand on this matter. I don’t know you. All you have been doing is whining about my moaning.

            So here’s an idea:

            Don’t buy from Humble Bundle, not even $1. Don’t buy from THQ, not even one game. Oh, and about DRM. DRM is bad. Bad DRM, bad! So don’t buy games with DRM. We also don’t like big Ubisoft. Don’t buy Ubisoft games. And Origin is a piece of crap, don’t buy Origin games.

            The above is as much absurd as your idea that you can congregate tenths of thousands of consumers into buying the Humble Bundle at $1 without “Moaning, whining, bitching, complaining, whinging, pissing, crying” about it on public discussion groups. Impromptu.

            But hey, don’t let my whining and moaning discourage you from having a spontaneous baby one day.

          • madmatTG

            Go soak your head.

          • Marfig

            Thanks :)

            You wouldn’t believe the opportunities here. It’s mad. And pretty ones too.

  • Marfig

    It’s been a staple of computer gaming that no good thing lasts for long. Sooner or later it’s going to be tainted. It’s also been a staple of computer gaming that the consumer can be generally defined as an hypocrite. Me included. Let’s just call it for what it is, the entertainment industry can only be made almost entirely of hypocrites when we choose to discuss ethics around it. Putting our wallet where our mouth is? Not when we talk about computer gaming. Look at the sales.

    More than the fact Humble Bundle went to bed with THQ, what I find really outrageous however is the default 65% THQ cut. I’m still at awe at the cheekiness. Humble Bundle and THQ can kiss my buttocks. But only after I don’t wash for a week. Right now it’s to clean for these two SOBs.

    • Rob Williams

      Hypocrisy is at its worst when gaming’s involved, I swear. I’ve given in many times to things as well, just because I refuse to go without playing the latest blockbuster. I saw on Reddit last night where one BLOPS 2 player was seriously pissed-off at the game, and then went on to say once he got two more prestige’s, he’s done. To get to where he is at the current point would have taken a couple hundred hours :D

      Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought 65% was standard for the developer? With 25% defaulting to charity and then 15% to Humble Tip.

      • Marfig

        To my knowledge yes. But this isn’t your typical Humble Bundle. THQ is a well funded multi-million dollar company that didn’t know how to handle its money when it had it. It’s not an indie developer trying to promote his creation.

        The fact both are deemed equal bugs me.

  • xOptix78

    I’ll play devil’s piggy back advocate here and say that the THQ bundle is pretty bad ass. If I had more free time and didn’t have Borderlands 2, I’d likely drop some cash on it. The Company of Heroes games alone are worth it and Saints Row The Third sweetens the deal.

    I love indie games and stand behind the developers, but Valve is running a business. It’s not like they dug through the THQ bargain bin to find crappy games from 10 years ago. These are quality titles.

    Upset at Valve/Steam? Go jump on Origin for a few minutes.

    Yeah, I thought so. Bleeding hearts.

    • Marfig

      What? Valve?

    • Rob Williams

      Aside from Valve having nothing to do with Humble Bundle, I agree ;-)

      • xOptix78

        Well poo. I always thought it was just a bunch of titles that Valve grabbed and offered them in the bundle. Colour me educated!

  • Marfig

    My name is all over this article comments section. Bah! :(

    But a though occurred to me (no, It’s safe. You can come out): We all know why THQ is doing this. Their financial troubles are putting them at serious risk of launching the next titles. The company can fold at any moment. What I find rather curious is that this move achieved in 6 days (assuming the 65% cut is the average) what Kickstarter can’t in a similar amount of time.

    THQ could have gone that venue and get help finishing their next two projects. The fact they didn’t is food for thought. One thing is for sure, this humble bundle was a stroke of genius for a company like THQ and it’s possible many other studios are getting designs on it. Who needs Kickstarter when you get humble bundle, right?…

  • Mike Frett

    I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Microsoft shaked a few hands there and cut some back room exclusive deal. It’s not beneath them at all.

    • Rob Williams

      Well, as it appears at the moment, nothing is going to change with regards to the indie/cross-platform/DRM-free bundles. The only difference is that we might see oddball bundles like this on occasion as well. I really can’t see many game publishers being so desperate to go this route like THQ was.

  • Toad

    Best bundle yet IMO