In the latest installment of his column Persuasive Games, Ian Bogost explores the new phenomenon
of indie game bundles... including pondering how they're marketed like cereal.
"Game bundles resemble cereal bundles in almost every way," writes Bogost.
Popular bundles include the Humble Indie Bundle, which last year raised over 4 million dollars
in venture capital, and Indie Royale, which is run by UBM TechWeb (as is this website.)
"They collect eight or so titles together, offering a variety of hand-selected options. They gather them together in a convenient package, and they offer them at a substantial discount. While indie games are perhaps not so indulgent as sugary cereal, they are still a kind of extravagance for most people -- or at least a nonessential product, an exploration of a part of the video game shelves less commonly raided in large numbers."
"Cereal fun packs also explain why deep discounts only work at scale. Internet utopians often celebrate 'experiments' in digital distribution in which famous entertainers like Radiohead or Louis CK offer pay-what-you-want or low-price deals that produce enormous response, but they ignore the fact that those artists already have enormous followings created by years (or even decades) of traditional media -- just like fun pack buyers already know about Trix."
"Selling more units of something requires selling to more people, and selling to more people means appealing to them in a way that overcomes perceived deficiencies in the product, among them simple indifference," writes Bogost.
"Bundles thus exert forces of both novelty and homogenization. Atypical customers try out unfamiliar goods, but in order to make them appealing those goods must be selected or adapted to make them less undesirable."
Bogost compares, then, the bundling trend to other rising trends in game publishing:
"Current trends in free-to-play games are producing enormous player bases, but they do so at the cost of, well, cost -- only a small percentage of F2P players become customers, thus a very large user-base is required."
"But a large market always entails a dilution of the product, making it more unassuming and homogeneous. So while bundles may introduce independent titles to a larger audience of gamers, the kind of titles most conducive to bundle purchases might turn out to be more like Apple Jacks than like, say, [forgotten 1970s cereal] Sir Grapefellow."
The full feature, in which Bogost explores the bundle phenomenon from other angles, is live now on Gamasutra