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Interview: Humble Bundle On Humble Bundles

Humbled By It All

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With the astonishing success of the current Humble Origin Bundle, which has so far sold 1.75 million copies, and raised $8.5 million for charities, we grabbed the chance to talk with Humble’s John Graham about how this all feels from their side.

RPS: Even after all the time you’ve been running these Humble Bundles, I bet it’s impossible to have accurate expectations of what’s going to happen with each. The response to the EA bundle has been astonishing – half way through and over 1,600,000 sold, and any moment now $8m. That’s… amazing. How do you as a company even begin to cope with figures this high?

John Graham: Every major bundle in Humble Bundle’s history has felt a bit overwhelming. This promotion is pleasantly no exception.

RPS: Do your accountants ever complain?

John Graham: Only when we demand that they offer us their professional services for pay-what-we-want pricing.

RPS: Although, with this bundle being for charity, did you have expectations of anything close to this?

John Graham: Given the continuing growth of our community, the magnitude of these games and the awesome charities involved, I was guessing the Humble Origin Bundle might rise beyond the 5 million dollar records set by Humble Indie Bundle V and the Humble THQ Bundle. But I was not expecting to be at 8 million dollars already with a week left to go.

RPS: There’s a lot of cynicism regarding EA’s involvement in a bundle. I think, from the perspective of what looks likely to be well over $10m going to various charities, at this point it comes down to a big fat who cares about the motivation, when the results are so amazing. But still, was there a hesitation for you guys when starting to take on some of the biggest publishers in the world? While EA’s non-profit approach certainly earns the “humble” mantle, companies like Deep Silver don’t seem to fit that bill.

John Graham: Our goal is always to make promotions that people want. When we see opportunities to celebrate great content, delight customers with a massive deal and raise tons of money for charity all at once, we have to try. Major credit should be given to Origin and EA for being awesome enough to allow this to happen: not only going the extra mile to offer Steam keys where possible but foregoing a cut in order to raise tons of money for worthy causes. We’ve done many different promotions now that don’t strictly adhere to the original Humble Indie Bundle framework (from eBook bundles to Deep Silver bundles) and have been pretty pleased with everything we’ve tried so far. And rest assured, we are constantly pursuing more Humble Indie Bundles. Opportunities like the Humble Origin Bundle are simply neat things we can do in addition to traditional bundles.

RPS: Do you talk about how much money Humble gets from these bundles?

John Graham: As a rule, we don’t really like to explicitly reveal slider sub splits for fear of causing popularity contests and unhumble earnings comparisons for each participant. Generally, we do find that the slider defaults have inertia and we are very thankful for customers who value what we do and continue to leave us a humble tip.

RPS: On a related note, is there a room in Humble HQ that’s just filled from floor to ceiling with money, into which your employees can swim and roll about? Were there any teething stages, like Scrooge McDuck’s flawed metal money diving choice?

John Graham: Humble Bundle has come a long way from the days Jeff and I launching promotions from our childhood bedrooms of our parents houses because we couldn’t afford an office and this promotion is going to be quite helpful to the company.

RPS: I’m not sure that answers the question. I’m going to assume it’s a “yes”. What were your goals when you started the company? What were the driving forces behind the concept? And how do you think it’s gone realising those?

John Graham: We stumbled across the Humble Bundle concept while working on our ninja rabbit fighting game, Overgrowth, at Wolfire Games. We were trying to layer together all of the cool things we could think of that might create an awesome promotion. Major influences were the “Organic Indie Preorder Pack” we had just successfully launched, which combined Overgrowth and Natural Selection 2 preorders together at a reduced price, and 2D Boy’s pay-what-you-want sale for World of Goo’s birthday.

I feel very fortunate that when I roll out of bed every day that my job is literally to come up with ways to help developers, gamers and charity while growing our humble business at the same time.

RPS: I think a lot of people assumed the Bundle idea would be relatively short lived. That’s certainly proved not to be the case. Did you always have expectations of things lasting?

John Graham: The gaming industry moves fast and it’s surfing on the technology wave at the exponential speed of Moore’s law. I don’t think any business can survive very long by just doing the same thing. Jeff and I didn’t know if the Humble Bundle concept would work in the first place but we had to find out. When it exceeded our expectations grossing 1.2 million dollars in 10 days, we wanted to know what else we might be able to do with our model. Three years later we have evidence that what we thought originally might only apply to indie gaming seems like it may apply to many shapes and sizes of digital content. We’ve now done over 50 million dollars in bundle revenue, raised over 20 million dollars for charity and I think we still have a lot more work left to do.

RPS: And do you have plans in place for when the notion does eventually become replaced by the next new idea?

John Graham: I think we’re a pretty agile group that is likely to come up with additional neat ideas if the bundles stop working. But should the day ever come when Humble Bundle is somehow entirely obsolete, I am quite tempted to go back to working on indie games.

RPS: Do you all discipline yourselves when it comes to watching the success of each bundle? Or do you all obsessive stare at the tickers all fortnight, not getting anything else done?

John Graham: Sorry did you say something? I was staring at humblebundle.com

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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John Walker

Senior Editor

One of the original co-founders of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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