Your Humble Servant

Today, the Humble Bundle site rolled out its latest “Pay what you want” bundle of games- the Humble Origin Bundle. Electronic Arts, one of the most arrogant companies in gaming, is getting in on the humility business. Already it’s setting records for the Humble site in sales, and everything except a small piece used for site maintenance is going straight to charity. What incredible generosity, right?

Well… not exactly. The Humble Bundle, despite its name, isn’t really about meekness inheriting the earth. It’s just another tool of capitalism on the march. It has been a while now since the Humble Bundle has truly been about humility, if indeed it ever was. No, the true purpose of the H(I)B is simple: publicity and marketing. And it’s pretty much a slam dunk on that end.

It’s quite possible that the first Humble Indie Bundle truly was an effort of humility over pride, offering games at a pittance simply for a love of the community. I have a few doubts about that myself, but there’s no point in arguing that particular point. After the bundle raised over $1.2 million, with an average of $166k going to each of the five developers involved, any modicum of modesty went right out the door. The money was nice, but the real appeal was the press- every major gaming site wrote about the bundle, most of them several times, and they didn’t have anything but nice things to say about it. What’s more, thousands of gamers that would otherwise have never tried the games in question got to pick them up, and gained an interest in their creators.

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After this, the bundle became a major force of PC gaming, and everyone from Double Fine to Mojam to Deep Silver to (now) EA has gotten in on the action. THQ used it as an effort to slow the sinking of their corporate ship. It’s a force for improving a company’s reputation, endearing them with customers while offloading some games that have long since stopped topping the charts anyway. There’s nothing humble about that.

But the fact that it’s good for companies doesn’t automatically mean it’s bad for consumers. The Comcast model of business has been showing its holes for some time now, as other companies prove that giving the customers what they want instead of trying to screw them can be good for business too. The Humble Bundle is that rare win-win scenario- it helps them out, and it’s great for us too. We get games for incredibly cheap, with minimal or no DRM, and we get to support charity as we do it. It isn’t likely to get much better than that. So as more and more companies get into the bundle business (are you ready to see “humble” and “Activision” in the same sentence?), remember that it’s not altruism… but it doesn’t need to be.