Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Mystery Game Sales: Cool Discovery Tool, or Sign of the Indiepocalypse?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 21, 2016

Lately, it seems that “mystery games” are becoming more popular around popular indie game distribution sites. Pay your money now, find out what you get later. There are a lot of examples, but I’ll point out some big ones:

Humble Bundle is doing this with a subscription service. Random games every month.

GOG.COM has done this as part of their sales.

Green Man Gaming is doing this.

This isn’t really new. It’s actually older than games. But this isn’t done with big-ticket items. It happens when things have become dirt-cheap and commoditized. Oftentimes mystery ‘grab bags’ are offered from a seller which is mostly made up from crap that doesn’t sell, plus some carefully placed decent products to make the gamble sound interesting.

Part of me says, “This is a sign that the Indiepocalypse is in full swing.” People aren’t paying for quality at this point. They don’t care about the titles. They aren’t paying for something great. A game or three, any game, who cares what they are? It’s so cheap it doesn’t matter. If they are lucky, they’ll get something that amuses them for a few minutes. Of course, even though they may know the titles in advance, this description pretty much applies to your average game bundle as well.

Games have become commodities. Utterly replaceable. Like corn chips.


There is a flip side (Boy, is that a dated reference for all but the most die-hard audiophiles, or what?). Maybe a multiple sides.

For one thing: This isn’t necessarily a cause so much as a symptom. It can be a way to adapt to the “Indiepocalypse” – which may really just be “the new normal.” As one example: Customers are increasingly getting used to the “real” price of a game being its lowest sale price. If a game sells for $20 on Steam but I’ve seen it on sale for 75% off, in my mind it becomes a $5 game. Maybe that was a one-time event, but I’m probably going to ignore a 30% off or even 50% off sale for a while on that one. Being a “mystery game” means that you’ve never technically offered it at that discount. It was $5 for a mystery game that happened to be your game that month. It’s a little bit of a way to get the best of both worlds.

It behooves distributors not to use “mystery games” as dumping grounds for worthless games that can’t be sold otherwise. Customers will quickly wise up and treat it as such if that’s the case. So… in some ways a “mystery game” may have to be a decent, quality game at least as often as not, maybe not in a favored genre or maybe something that has trouble getting noticed, but a “mystery game” may be considered as a badge of quality. It has to be an incentive.

And as a customer, assuming the former paragraph is true, this can be a really good thing. Assuming said customer is willing to give these games a chance, they may discover some really great games that for some reason or another were easily overlooked and they might never have discovered otherwise.

So… cool discovery tool or sign of the “Indiepocalypse?” Maybe a little bit of both.

But even within indie games, we’ve seen stuff like this in the casual space, just before the bottom kinda fell out there. And then what happened? Well, the bottom fell out, there was a big consolidation, and a lot of companies went under. And then… well, casual games are still here. It’s not the frenzy it once was, but they are still doing their thing.

As it will be with the rest of indie gaming.

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • Maklak said,

    Gaming magazines have been doing it for a while. Every issue gets a diskette / CD / DVD / whatever with a few demos and occasionally a full version of something unpopular or a hit from a few years back with all patches and expansions. They would advertise the important things on the cover, but people would often get a subscription or otherwise buy the magazine for the articles. Heck, even “Masters of Doom” mentions that Apogee, a company Carmack and Romero worked for berore ID Software, was selling a subscription for random games.

    That said, I didn’t know online retailers started doing it. In any case, I’d prefer getting what I know I want than a surprise.

  • MalcolmM said,

    Games have become so cheap that it’s tempting to think they have become commodities.

    However, for me, the opposite has happened. When games were expensive I would sometimes buy “not so great” games that were bargain priced mostly because of the price and okay gameplay.

    Now that everything other than AAA titles (which I rarely play) are cheap, I am rationing my time more than my money. I can afford to buy any non AAA title I want, but I don’t have the time to play that many, so quality has become paramount.

    I don’t understand the attractiveness of these mystery game bundles. I’m rarely interested in the regular bundles, buying random bundles would be pointless for me.

  • Xian said,

    I have took my chances with GOG a couple times. The first time I was disappointed, receiving a game that I had zero interest in at all, so ended up giving it away. I tried once again the last time they did it and ended up getting Elimage Gothic, at least a title that I would have probably tried at some point anyway.

    The problem I see with the Humble approach is my game collection has grown too large. After the first couple mystery bundles were revealed, I already owned every title that I would have even had the slightest interest in playing.

  • Anon said,

    Groupees is doing this for quite some time now – and their “twist” is that the customer can reserve the whole bundle for a very low price (say $1.50 or so) a day or two in advance.
    After the bundle gets published the price rises but now by very much (twice as much or less, I think). This is still very low but on the other hand the games are often mediocre and like Xian says it just doesn’t make much sense if you already have a large collection.