What I Learned From Making an Itch Bundle

This is a repost of a Medium post I made about two years ago. I haven’t used the account then so I’m removing it but thought I would copy this post. Since then I’ve done a zine and more co-op bundles and this is something I’d like to revisit again.

About a week ago a bundle I helped organize, the Locally Sourced Spring Bundle, was launched. I was inspired by the Indiepocalypse series of indie bundles and was trying to think of a way that something similar could be done for Michigan’s indie game development community through Locally Sourced, a group I co-founded to help promote indie game development in Michigan. The bundle started with a tweet in mid-April asking if people would be interested in submitting tiny games for a collaborative bundle on Itch.io and quite a few developers were interested. Developers had about a month and a half to create small games and by the deadline date we had 13 new tiny tabletop and video games by indie developers in Michigan. Product pages were created for each game by their developers and then I created a co-op bundle containing all of the games on Locally Sourced’s Itch page. The bundle was launched at noon on May 15th.

At this time the bundle has sold 53 copies with an average buy price of $15.56, exceeding the $13 price point of the bundle. According to the anonymous feedback form I sent to the developers, the bundle did as well or better than expected and everyone said they would be interested in doing another one, so I consider the bundle a success. At least one developer released their first game, a few more made their first commercial game, and for some others it was their most commercially successful game on Itch. I feel like a big issue in indie games right now is that developers are pressured to make their games free or Pay What You Want so it was nice to see game developers receive some compensation from their work, even if it wasn’t a ton.

Still, I made a few mistakes and learned a lot during the creation of this bundle. Here’s some of the things I learned and hopefully it will be use of you when you make your own:

1. Itch.io is the best place to do bundles with game developers. It also has huge flaws

I went with Itch.io to create this bundle because there really isn’t another place that’s as developer friendly. The co-op bundle feature allows you to easily create bundles by adding games by other developers and quickly launching it once they approve. It’s still tremendously flawed and created the bundle was a frustrating experience.

Ideally I could create a single product page like the Indiepocalypse bundle, and have equal revenue sharing to everyone who submitted a game. Itch does not allow this. If I wanted to have a single product page, I would have to keep doing paypal payments to each developer so they would get the money they are owed.

To avoid this headache, I figured a co-op bundle would allow them to have the money go directly to them, with the bundle being priced that each developer would receive $1 for each bundle sold, so $13 for a bundle with 13 games. Unfortunately this is not how Itch does sharing for their co-op bundles and I didn’t realize this until the day of.

Itch relies on percentages, so if I have 5 games in a bundle then each developer gets 20%, great! There is no way to divide 100 by 13 with whole numbers. Itch doesn’t allow for numbers like 7.69% so most developers were getting 8% and a few were set to 7%. Because I didn’t want the people at 7% to get paid less or to pay them what they were owed out of my own pocket, I added an old game by me to the bundle so everyone could get 7% and I get 9%, and in a couple of weeks I will Paypal each developer an equal percentage of what I get. So I probably could have just done what Indiepocalypse does and I have one product page and pay everyone later, but I wanted people to start getting paid right away and I figured a co-op page is more transparent, which is important to me when some random goofball on the internet is asking people to make new games and submit them for a weird experiment he’s doing online.

With future bundles I’m going to cap the amount of submissions at 10 people so everyone just gets 10 percent and I won’t have to fight with Itch with weird tricks to make sure people get paid.

2. Having a mix of tabletop and video games helped sales

While I don’t have any real proof of it, I think that having a combination of video game and tabletop rpgs helped sales of the bundle. Pulling people in from different communities allows for a much greater reach and led to the bundle being marketed towards video game and tabletop communities. I would strongly encourage you to work with game developers outside of the medium you create in. You’ll be marketing your game to people who normally wouldn’t see it and there’s so many great people making games in different mediums. Having 13 people from multiple game communities, plus the Locally Sourced social media feeds, all yelling about how you should check out a games bundle turned out to be pretty good for sales.

I also liked including tabletop rpgs because I’m so desperate for people to be exposed to TTRPGs that aren’t D&D.

3. Having it be a bundle focused only on Michigan developers also helped sales

While restricting it to only Michigan people maybe limits the pool of people that can submit a game, I think it greatly improved sales as well. This is all probably pretty obvious info but people were excited to support game developers who were local and it meant I could also post about it on places that normally wouldn’t care, like LinkedIn, and get a couple of sales through there and also discover that one or two people I used to work with are now interested in game design. You really shouldn’t just interact with game developers around you just for your own benefit, but it turns out that spending over a year helping out other local game developers and doing community building in your area means that people are happy to help you out when you need it.

If you live in an area that normally isn’t associated with game development, I would strongly encourage you to do that community building. It’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.

4. Having a lot of new little games for a low price was a successful combination

Last fall I used Locally Sourced to create a bundle of 5 games I loved for $15. It sold a total of 5 copies. The games are great so it’s not the fault of those, but I think the price point was too high for people to see it as an impulse buy and the games were already out for a while so most of the people in the Michigan games community probably already had them. By having a bundle that’s a little cheaper and includes a lot more games that are brand new, seemed a lot more eager to pick this one up, even if the games in the bundle were substantially smaller.

What are other things I would do differently?

Ultimately I think the bundle is a success and I’m already planning on how the next one will go with some changes in mind. I made some mistakes like not being specific and telling everyone to price their to be more expensive than the bundle so people will look at that instead. I don’t think it affected sales of the bundle but I should have been more clear. It also sounds like some of the developers wanted a theme, so I might alternate between a theme and not having one, because there’s also people like me who don’t want one. I’ll also be more clear about how developers can collaborate with others in the discord or even just use the channel for testing or to bounce ideas off each other. Most importantly I want people to have more time. It was meant to be a month for a game jam game that would be the size of something created during a weekend jam, but more time is always appreciated by game developers.

I hope this write-up was useful and it inspires you to start a co-op bundle with other game developers.

Favorite Games of 2022

It turns out 2022 was a great year for adventure games and interactive fiction. Typically, they’re genres where you can kinda sorta play all the big ones that come out that year but there was such an overwhelming amount of them that there’s many I’ll have to get to next year like Perfect Tides and Blood Nova. Instead of picking one Game of the Year to rule them all, I just selected four in no order that were my favorites this year. I’m also leaving off a ton of stuff I really liked such as Immortality just because I have to stop somewhere. All four of these games are also discussed on various episodes of the Adventure Game Club podcast, so consider checking that out if you want longer discussions on why I thought these games were so good.

Return to Monkey Island

I never expected it but we got a new Monkey Island this year and we didn’t have to wait too long for it after the surprise announcement on April Fool’s Day. I feel like people have varying opinions on parts of it like the art style and ending but I don’t care, I loved it all. I also thought that mechanically it was one of the best designed adventure games, meaning all the quality-of-life stuff like double click to run, an in-game hint book, item highlighting, and hovering over items to get text on what Guybrush was thinking. Adventure games have had some of these things before but it was still nice seeing all of it executed so well in this game.

NORCO

I loved the writing in this game and will be thinking about it for a long time. The way this game talked about poverty, family members with illnesses, and living in a city that is slowly decaying resonated strongly with me and they’re all things we don’t see discussed enough in games. I thought the art was beautiful, loved the soundtrack enough to buy it on vinyl, and the game continues to improve by getting patches that add features like being able to skip the combat. 

Citizen Sleeper

This was another game I had been waiting a long time for and it did not disappoint. I loved how it was strongly influenced by indie tabletop rpgs to handle how you take actions and I hope we see other video games look at indie ttrpgs for inspiration instead of getting so many games borrowing dated mechanics from D&D. The ending I got was beautiful and made me cry so I guess that means it’s Real Art. I’m also failing to mention everything else about the game that worked for me like the way it handles exploration to come across events, the art, and music, but I thought that was all incredible as well. I’m looking forward to revisiting the game once all of the DLC is out.

He Fucked the Girl Out of Me

If you follow me on social media you’ve probably seen me discuss this game a billion times, including a post I just made a few days ago, so I’ll just briefly say that it’s a fantastic game plus it’s short and free (but leave a tip anyway!) so if you’re ok with the things mentioned in the content warnings then it’s a must play.

Best Old Game – Riven: The Sequel to Myst

I replayed Riven earlier this year for Adventure Game Club and huge surprise, I still think it rules. It still looks great and the world building is incredible. If you’ve never played a Myst game before, please do not start with this one. The new Myst remake is a great place to start. I will never shut up about Myst.

Best New Trend – Indie Game Anthologies

So this isn’t actually new or a trend but it seemed like there were more of them this year than previous years and I’m ok with that. I previously wrote about them here.

Anyway, those are my GOTY awards no one asked for. It turns out video games are pretty neat!

Games You May Have Missed in 2022

I’ll do some sort of GOTY list sometime soon but I thought I would write about various games I enjoyed that people may have missed while all the holiday sales are going on. There’s a ton missing from this since it’s just a list I quickly threw together and I played a lot this year.

He Fucked the Girl Out of Me

If there’s a game on this list where I would do some sort of For Your Consideration Lynch-inspired campaign where I would sit outside with a cow, He Fucked the Girl Out of Me would be it. This is a game about the developer’s experiences doing sex work and the trauma that came from that. It was one of my favorite games this year and I thought the writing was incredible. Making a Game Boy game of something Nintendo would never approve for their platforms was an interesting choice too. The game lists the content warnings so please read those before playing.

Dungeon Lad

Dungeon Lad is an arcade roguelike where you’re constantly on a timer and must quickly move through floors while picking up power ups. Just started playing this after picking it up in the Steam sale that’s going on now and it’s been a lot of fun. 

Mezzanine

Mezzanine is a free adventure game absolutely nails the look and feel of mid-90s Myst clones that I haven’t seen any other indie game do. It’s worth checking out if you’re into Y2K aesthetics.

Cartomancy Anthology

I actually wrote about this one before but Cartomancy Anthology is great. It has games by a lot of developers I like and I loved the tarot theme too. More game anthologies please!

Elsewhere in the Night

Elsewhere in the Night is a short (60 minutes) first-person adventure game with art by Sierra’s Manhunter series. Even though I am a defender of those games, this is vastly more playable and fair but is still very weird. The same developers also released the game Blood Nova a few months ago and I’m excited to play that in the Adventure Game Club

Legend of Etad

I was just really impressed by how they pulled off this dungeon crawler for the Playdate. The community for the handheld is doing a lot of neat stuff and I’m looking forward to what they do next year.

Funny Walk – A Garbage Voyage

I’m a big fan of Graceless Games and it was nice to see them release another game a few months ago. The use of digitized sprites that a lot of adventure games did in the 90s is something I’m extremely into and they have a unique sense of humor that I love.

BOSSGAME: The Final Boss Is My Heart

I don’t know if this game is that obscure because I’ve seen it covered on a few games sites but whatever, I’m going to mention it anyway. BOSSGAME is a mobile game about two girlfriends fighting monsters and it rules. Even if you’re not great at action games, there’s some nice accessibility options in here and it’s worth playing just for the art and writing. I have it on iOS but I’m looking forward to the PC versions that’s coming out in the spring. 

Jennifer Wilde

Jennifer Wilde is a point-and-click adventure about a young French woman in the 1920’s teaming up with the ghost of Oscar Wilde to solve the murder of her father. I discuss it more in my review for Adventure Gamers but I was pleased by how they managed to pull off this absurd sounding concept to tell a queer story with unique puzzle mechanics.

Ten Tales From the Records of the Adamant Gambit

I guess this was technically made at the end of last year but Itch publish date lists this as earlier this year, possibly a revised version, so I’m listing it anyway. This is an anthology of short games made in Bitsy telling stories about the people on a massive starship. I was shocked by how much the developers could do in Bitsy.

Hope you had a nice holiday season and discover a few games from this list that you end up loving!

Indie Game Anthologies

Something I’ve really enjoyed seeing over the last few years has been more game anthologies consisting entirely of games by indie developers. I thought I would write about why I enjoy them so much and list some of my favorites. Consider checking them out or even supporting indie developers by starting your own!

Why are game anthologies cool?

  • They are a fantastic way to discover new games. Every anthology listed here has helped me discover new game developers I wasn’t aware of before.
  • Paid anthologies help game developers make money. Making money as a game developer is a very hard task, especially if you create experimental games that people might hesitate to spend their money on. An anthology helps reduce that risk of their purchase being a dud since if they don’t enjoy one game, there’s plenty of other ones they might be into.
  • They help preserve games! Many of the games in these collections would be forgotten or lost in 10 years without the help of these collections providing another place where these games can exist.

I think I also love game collections and anthologies because they remind me of when I would browse through shareware collections and magazine demo discs in the 90s and try out all sorts of games. If one game wasn’t enjoyable to me then I would just move on to the next one.

Super Rare Games Mixtape

The Super Rare Games Mixtapes are a series of physical game compilations featuring 30 games each and demos on a USB tape cassette with a manual all in a cool little box. The compilations pay the developers to include their games so it was fun seeing the late 90’s freeware game Dink Smallwood in one of the releases. They have a limited print run so some of the early ones are sold out but you can get them here

Indiepocalypse

Indiepocalypse is a monthly anthology of tabletop and video games. Each issue contains ten games as well as a zine. One of my favorite things about Indiepocalypse is how in addition to paying developers to include their games, it also pays royalties to those devs from sales. I also really like how so many of the games are experimental and by developers that don’t have big followings. It even commissions a new game each issue so it’s helping new games get created as well. Indiepocalypse has had a giant influence on me and all my weird little indie game dev projects. I really wish it got more coverage in various outlets. I would strongly encourage you to pick up an issue and check out all the games.

Mangotronics Employment Collection

This is a collection of short games about employment that was organized by the publisher Mangotronics. The collection features nine games, I believe most of them exist elsewhere, but a couple of new games as well. I just really loved how this was a collection that was about a very specific theme. It is available on both Itch.io and Steam.

Hand Eye Society Mixtape

The Hand Eye Society Mixtape is a collection of games by The Hand Eye Society, a Toronto not-for-profit dedicated to supporting and showcasing video games. The purpose of the mixtapes is to showcase the diversity of indie games. The mixtape pays each developer to include their game in the collection and the bundle itself is available for free, but I highly encourage you to pay for it to help fund future bundles if you can afford to. There are currently two mixtapes available here.

HauntedPS1 Demo Disc

HauntedPS1 is a community that started a few years ago that was focused entirely around creating games inspired by horror games that were on the Playstation 1. Over time some of the developers from the community have started experimenting with different aesthetics or genres but the big projects that come from there are still focused on horror games. One of my favorite things they do is the HauntedPS1 Demo Disc. This is a collection inspired by 90s magazine demo discs containing demos of games by folks in the community. The presentation of the demo discs is fantastic as well. The first one is like the magazine demo discs that inspired it, but later ones have a 3D environment for you to explore. Best of all, they’re free!

Locally Sourced

I suppose I can plug my own collection. The first issue of the Locally Sourced zine is a collection of writing and games by people in the state of Michigan in the United States. I basically just copied what Indiepocalypse was doing and made a very local version of it. I had a fantastic time putting it together though and I’m very slowly working on another. If you would like to help more get made, consider picking up a digital or physical copy.

Cartomancy Anthology

Finally, I’d like to give a shout out to the Cartomancy Anthology. It’s a little different than the rest of the collections I’ve talked about here because it’s all new games exclusive to this collection. The collection has a tarot deck theme, with each game being based on a card in the deck. I really enjoyed the presentation and it was nice to see so many game developers I’m a fan of, such as Lowpolis, have a game in the collection. Cartomancy Anthology is available on both Itch.io and Steam.

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