Humble Bundle

The Humble THQ Bundle loses indie games, adds DRM, and is a step backward for the bundle model

The Humble THQ Bundle loses indie games, adds DRM, and is a step backward for the bundle model

Disclosure: Child’s Play is one of the charities that benefit from the Humble Bundles. Penny Arcade content has appeared in previous Humble Bundles.

Past Humble Bundles have done gamers a great service. Each bundle contained a variety of high-quality games by independent studios, offered without DRM, that worked on Windows, OSX, and even Linux in most cases. You chose how much you paid for the bundle, and you also selected where that money went. Did you want to support charity? Or the developers? Or both?

The Humble Bundle system was a wonderful engine for making smaller games visible, and introducing them to a wider audience in a way that was both innovative and lacked hassle for the buyers. The team stretched out into offering a bundle of Android games, and even books.

The latest bundle, unfortunately, gets rid of everything that made people love Humble Bundles, and may be damaging to the brand.

Where are the indies?

Instead of a selection of indie games, the Humble THQ Bundle includes a selection of games from THQ’s back catalog. You can pay what you want, as long as it’s at least a dollar, the games are Windows-only, and you have to play them through Steam. Indies have been replaced by a single big-name studio, DRM is back, and the variety of platforms supported has been shrunk. This isn’t a Humble Bundle, it’s a Steam sale.

At least the soundtracks offered with the games are DRM free.

“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,” Humble Bundle’s John Graham told the Penny Arcade Report. “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.”

The lack of DRM-free options here is another big deal. “The move away from DRM-free multiplatform distribution might be even more damaging to the Humble Bundle’s brand,” Ars Technica’s Kyle Orland wrote. “Back when the first Humble Bundle launched, co-founder Jeffrey Rosen was very open about tolerating piracy rates of up to 25 percent in order to ensure the bundle would be DRM-free. With pay-what-you-want prices as little as 1¢, Rosen said he realized that most pirates were probably just getting around region-locked payment processors or pirating out of sheer laziness.”

The reasons people love the Humble Bundles have mostly been removed in order to sell big-name titles from THQ. The deal itself isn’t bad, these are wonderful titles for a good price, and the support for charity is a good thing, but this is a move in the wrong direction. None of the things that make a Humble Bundle great are present. Instead we’re presented with what amounts to a Steam sale.

This bundle also won’t benefit the people who create the games, as previous Humble Indie Bundles have done. “Most of the people who sweated blood and tears into the games offered in this bundle no longer have jobs at THQ. That’s right, they were laid off some time ago,” the We Get Signal dev blog stated. “So the THQ slider on the Humble Bundle is essentially you deciding how much the publisher gets for simply hanging in there at the expense of all their former employees. Bravo.”

I’m going to be a hypocrite and buy a bundle, just because these are incredible games at a staggeringly low price, but wouldn’t it have been something if they were offered without DRM? Or if they ran on Linux? Or if the space was used to promote games that hadn’t already sold millions of copies? This isn’t a bad deal, but it’s certainly a step away from what made Humble Bundle so unique. If this is the sort of thing we can expect to see in the future, the Humble name could quickly become just another cut-rate digital retailer pushing catalog titles. Humble Bundles should be something special, and worth getting excited about. This could be the death rattle of a publisher who has already laid off much of its staff. While past bundles may have allowed developers to fund their next projects, this money won’t likely make a difference for THQ one way or the other. It’s a wasted opportunity.

So why offer this bundle? “We’re hopefully going to raise a huge amount of money for charity and expose a ton of new customers to the Humble Bundle model.  We are debuting more games for Mac and Linux (and Android—and even had an eBook digital debut this year!) and this will just help us continue to do so,” Graham said. “We are humbly hopeful that our customers will see this as a good thing instead of a permanent departure from what we have done and will continue to do.”

Let’s hope the bundle’s values make a return soon after this unfortunate misstep.