Software Development

Software Bundles, Independent Developers, and More!

Over the weekend, I picked up the Humble Indie Bundle, a pay-what-you-want download for five six games created by independent developers. I love these bundles! I get a bunch of cool software, the developers get a lot of blog coverage/followers/supporters/fans (let’s just call it social capital), and a cut of the proceeds go to a pair of great causes (Child’s Play and the EFF). It’s win-win-win. And it shows one of my favourite things about software:

Software is different.

No other industry can really get away with something like this. Can you imagine if those had been board games instead of computer games? Think of the logistics involved! Impossible. But software can get away with it, because once software has been developed, it costs almost nothing to make copies of and distribute. Different. Which reminds me:

Independent developers are special.

You don’t really see major publishers do this. You could make a case for Valve, because they really have this online-distribution thing figured out, but you’d never see EA partner with Blizzard for a heavily-subsidized package including Dragon Age and Starcraft 2, let alone see them donate the majority of it to charity. Independent developers can do this because they don’t operate under the same rules as major publishers, and they’ve found a loophole in traditional business beliefs that allows them to do something awesome that benefits them, their users and anyone touched by the charities they support. Special.

Now bear with me for a second, and let’s try to think of a market that sells and distributes software with a lot of support for, or even a huge bias towards, independent developers. Wouldn’t that be an ideal platform for more of these bundles? (Don’t cheat and say Valve; I know they’re cool, but that’s praise for another day and we’ve already singled them out above).

The App Store.

Apple’s App Store for iPhone/iPod/iPad contains around 200 000 applications* and is very popular among independent developers (I couldn’t find numbers for this, but polling my iPhone I’m going to wager it’s certainly a majority). With that many applications, developers could really use some extra exposure, and the visibility Apple is able to provide through the App Store is surreal. How long would it take for most iProduct users to hear about a group of independent App Store developers packaging a few apps together for the sake of charity if it was promoted directly through the App Store and/or Apple’s marketing team? Days? It would be a sure-hit.

Users would get more great software in a convenient, affordable, socially-rewarding package. Developers would get more copies of their app out there, and a compounding amount of exposure (word of mouth is big on iProducts). Apple would get some much needed love from their developers and their users (if anyone is hurting for karma right now, it’s Apple). And just think of the fantastic interface Apple’s brilliant designers could craft by integrating bundle-purchasing straight into the App Store!

There is a huge opportunity here.

Am I the only one that sees this? Tell me I’m not crazy.

* They announced at the iPhone OS 4 event back in April that they were over 185 000, so if 200 000 hasn’t been reached yet it’s not far off.

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