Dabe Alan

How the Humble Store may challenge Steam: the business of helping indie devs sell games

How the Humble Store may challenge Steam: the business of helping indie devs sell games

Disclosure: One of the charities The Humble Bundle benefits is Child’s Play, the non-profit charity founded by Penny Arcade.

The folks behind the Humble Bundle have become very good at selling, and delivering, digital content.

There were slightly under 400,000 units sold of the Humble Bundle 7, and each bundle contains multiple games, soundtracks, and in some cases movies. It takes time, money, and energy to create a system that allows the Humble Bundle to control the distribution of this content while giving customers agreeable payment options.

The Humble Bundles are only the beginning, however. The team has begun to branch out with something they call the Humble Store; a system that makes it simple for indie developers to sell their games directly to consumers. Many popular games are already using the service, and more are on the way. This is how an experiment in asking gamers to pay what they want for content may continue with the creation of a service that could rival Steam, or at least empower smaller developers to sell their games without the use of digital distribution services like Steam. 

Giving developers control

“The Humble Store is a project of ours designed to utilize Humble Bundle’s easy purchasing system to sell digital stuff,” Joshua Knoles of the Humble Bundle told the Report. “We wanted to create something that would allow developers to easily sell their games through their own web site as well as provide a painless buying experience for purchasers.”

It may sound banal, but finding easy and inexpensive ways to collect payment from customers and then deliver content is neither easy, nor inexpensive. Small teams have enough on their plates when it comes to finishing and releasing games, and in many cases they’re confused by the options available to them when it comes to processing payments. Gamers can also be hesitant to type their credit card information into unfamiliar systems, or amateur-looking virtual storefronts.

When a developer partners with the Humble Store, the Humble Bundle hosts all their content, and they’re given a widget to put onto their web page. The Humble Store handles everything, and gives customers a choice to pay using Google Wallet, Amazon Payments, or Paypal. These are systems many people are using anyway, and most gamers already know and trust the Humble name. Suddenly buying the game is simple and inviting.

The terms are also more than fair. The Humble Store simply collects 5% of each transaction.

“I don’t really want to build web tech, so it’s nice to have them handling it,” Andy Schatz, the creator of Monaco, told the Report. “Also they are nice guys and are pretty responsive to any changes I need.” He admits that it would be nice to keep the extra five percent, but the services he gains are worth the price. “I don’t have the time and manpower to figure all this shit out myself, so they are by far the best option out there for tiny devs like me.”

I’ve talked to a number of independent developers who are selling their games through the Humble Store system, and while some of them have used other billing services in the past, they also praise the Humble Store’s service, ability to tailor the product to fit their game, and knowledge of the world of gaming. The Humble Store actually offers a range of services for developers, and there is nothing quite like it available for smaller teams. The one word used to describe the Humble Store and the people behind it, over and over, was “nice.” They understand gaming, and the needs of indie developers.

“For Subset Games (FTL: Faster Than Light), we were able to help out their highly successful Kickstarter by using the Humble Store to host the content for their various Kickstarter tiers in a way that was easy to manage for Subset Games and also intuitive for the backers to get their content,” Knoles explained. “We’ve also set up several developers (Natural Selection 2, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare, Monaco, and many others) with a clean and easy way to handle pre-orders from their site by using the Humble Store system.”

It’s this level of customization and game-specific features for gaming that makes the Humble Store so unique. “We looked briefly into other services, I can’t recall their names right now but they all pretty much just managed the money management,” Justin Ma, one of the creators of FTL, told the Report. “For nearly the same percentage as Humble Bundle the other services wouldn’t have most of the benefits of Humble Bundle: friendly people who know the industry; customer service and hosting/delivering of the digital goods. I believe the first time we got in contact with them was when I was at GDC. Their store came up and we decided it would be a good fit.”

Buying a game through the Humble Store is also advantageous to gamers. Once you have a Humble account, all your game purchases are kept in one place, just like Steam. Every game, every piece of content, every Kickstarter bonus you downloaded from a developer who uses the Humble Store is kept safe and sound in your account, to be accessed at your leisure. I wasn’t even aware of how many games I had purchased using the Humble Store, or through the Humble Bundle, until I went into my account and saw the long list of games ready and waiting to be downloaded to any of my gaming systems or laptops. It’s all there, ready to go.

Humble for now…

The Humble Store is currently in beta, but an impressive list of games are using the service. Knowles said that they’re hoping for the service to grow, but for the moment they’re going to developers individually to invite them to use the Humble Store. In the future however, the Humble Store could become an option for any indie developer who wants an easy way to sell their game, collect payment, and serve their content.

“As far as overall growth, we would love for the Humble Store to be useful to as many developers as possible,” Knoles said. In many cases they’re able to customize the experience to fit each developer or game, with the inclusion of Kickstarter rewards. The Sportsfriends Kickstarter, in fact, is using the Humble Store to deliver games to backers. Different projects have different needs, and the Humble Store is open to tailoring the product for different developers.

Unlike Steam, there is no virtual storefront. You can’t go to a webpage to browse all the games available via the Humble Store. “For now we’re focusing on simply providing developers the option to have a painless way to sell their games from their site. That could definitely change in the future though!” Knoles said. The Humble Store is simply an easy way for the Humble Bundle to use its know-how and infrastructure to make it easier for independent developers to do business.

It may sound like a simple thing, but a turnkey solution for digital sales and support, offered for 5% of each transaction, is a godsend to teams who may already be stretched too thin. Once you know to look for the widget, you begin to see it everywhere. The Humble Store has quietly become a powerful force in the business of selling indie games, even outside of the already massive influence of the Humble Bundles.

Once more developers use the Humble Store, and gamers become used to seeing the widget in more and more places, who knows where the service might go? For now the Humble Store is helping indie devs make money, they’re providing a service people need, and developers have been universal in their praise for the service. It’s a smart business for everyone involved.