Indie Royale: My Part In Its Upfall

I’m guessing that a few of you spotted this already, thanks to a few frenzied Tweets from me, but I wanted to introduce (and talk about) something that I’ve been working on for the past few months – Indie Royale.

The folks at IndieGames.com (which is run by the UBM division that I oversee) launched the independent game bundle site on October 26th as a joint venture with Australian game download store Desura. And to say it was a bit of a surprise hit for us is an understatement.

In the few days since we launched, the website has had 200,000 unique visitors, over 30,000 email newsletter signups, been covered on a host of top websites, and most importantly, has sold almost 40,000 independent video game bundles as part of the first, time-limited offer.

And with a new game bundle offer every two weeks (and the next one kicking off on Thursday!), it looks like it’s going to be a force in indie game distribution for a while to come. And to explain Indie Royale itself in more detail, seems like this Wired article written about it is a good way to start:

“The games industry has gained a reputation for experimenting with retail models, and Indie Royale has just come up with a new one. Every fortnight, the site will bundle together four independently-made games and sell them on the cheap. Then, with the flood gates open, a frantic price battle occurs as every purchase can affect the minimum possible price.

Starting immediately, four top games worth about $40 are available to buy together for any price point you wish over $1.99 (£1.25). But if people go in for the lowest possible price that minimum cost will gradually increase. Early adopters get it cheap, but johnny-come-latelies will have to pay more.

However, if you cough up more cash and pay over the current price you can reduce the minimum cost for all future buyers: from a couple of cents to a few dollars. Like a constant tug of war, generous donations can push the price tag back down to £1.25 while misers can keep the price climbing.”

The reason that I’ve been working so hard on Indie Royale alongside IndieGames.com’s Mike Rose and Desura’s Scott Reismanis, the other two key stakeholders in this project, is simple. (Also, a shout-out to Jessica Chan for the site’s v.fetching visual design!)

We wanted to help smaller indies sell more copies of the sometimes underappreciated games that we thought were cool, high quality and worthy. And we realized that you need a targeted pitch to break through the susurrus of digital video game stores – which are all over the Internet right now.

Only a couple of digital storefronts really sell a lot of games, and the rest scrape by. We are storefront agnostic, and allow access to download the games from any one of multiple sources, thereby getting around that issue. And my conceptualization of a playful price algorithm where the buyer can vary the minimum for everyone else seems to have caught the imagination of the public.

And along the way, we thought very carefully about transparency to the visitor/buyer. So on IndieRoyale, there’s a real-time graph of the price, a ‘high score table’ of the top contributors, this inspired by another game sale site Humble Bundle (who are $4.5 million funded, led by Sequoia Capital, by the way!), and even _exactly_ how many copies of the bundle we’d sold.

Obviously, if it had been a bust, making all that information public would have been very embarrassing – which is presumably why not many other people have tried to put something like this together. But because success breeds success (and we picked the right games and business model, hopefully!), our high purchase numbers encouraged people to jump on.

And yes, we were surprised by the speed at which the idea caught fire and sparked around the Internet. We’d pre-briefed in some prominent places, such as at Gawker Media’s Kotaku and Wired, but news quickly spread to Reddit’s front page, and on PC Gamer’s website and on Joystiq, to name but a few.

As a result, our servers got a little bogged down, and there were some issues around redeeming keys to popular download service Steam. But we sorted it all out in good time and people were acceptably forgiving, thankfully.

In any case, Mike Rose did a handy interview with DIYGamer.com that has a bunch more info about Indie Royale, if you’d like to know more. And I’m really excited about the line-up for the Difficult Second Bundle (a joke on the ‘difficult second album’, it’s not actually tricky games, necessarily!) this Thursday.

Not sure where this is going to go in the longer-term, but it’s been a lot of fun so far, give or take server-melting angst and tweaking price algorithms in the grocery store on Saturday mornings. 😉 More, plz…

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