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2019: The Bundle year in review

2019: The Bundle year in review

Monday 30 December 2019
By Bundle of Holding founder and operator Allen Varney

When the Bundle of Holding debuted in February 2013, I never imagined I’d eventually prepare more than 420 time-limited offers comprising nearly 3,000 tabletop roleplaying game .PDFs and RPG-related ebooks. This floors me. In my whole life I’m not sure I’ve done anything 420 times that wasn’t strictly biological.

This month the site’s lifetime total sales surpassed 303,000 bundles, purchased by more than 59,000 customers. With three days left in 2019 as I write, you’ve purchased 49,360 bundles this year, down about 7% from 52,922 in 2018. (2017: 51,600; 2016: 37,938; 2015: 37,789; 2014: 41,915.) As always, I thank all of you for your kind support. And a hearty callout to the many customers who buy dozens of offers — to the 194 customers who have bought 100 or more — to the 25 with 200+ — and especially to four longtime supporters who have, incredibly, bought more than 300 offers apiece. I wish you all a long life with enough free time to play all those games.

This year’s first-time contributors to Bundle offers included BTRC (EABA), Brutal Games (Corporation), Design Ministries (Fragged Empire), Intellistories (Seven Worlds), Outland Arts (The Mutant Epoch), Sanguine Games (Ironclaw/Jadeclaw), The Tékumel Foundation, Wonderland Imprints (Castle Oldskull), and others. They joined many returning publishers such as Alderac Entertainment, Arc Dream Publishing, Atlas Games, Bully Pulpit Games, Catalyst Games, Cubicle 7 Entertainment, The Design Mechanism, Evil Hat Productions, Far Future Enterprises, Gallant Knight Games, Goodman Games, Modiphius Entertainment, Mongoose Publishing, Onyx Path Publishing, Palladium Books, Pelgrane Press, R. Talsorian Games, and Ulisses Spiele. Since 2013 over 235 publishers have contributed, and I’m deeply grateful to them.

In “2018: The Bundle year in review” I projected 68 offers in 2019, “of which 50-51 are new and 17-18 are revivals of past successes.” I guessed low, because this year saw a record 75 offers. (2018: 69 offers; 2017: 67; 2016: 69; 2015: 53; 2014: 62.) I was half right, in that 17 were revivals — though one rerun deserves a footnote. In April, to mark the premiere of Season 8 of Game of Thrones on HBO, I presented a new offer of Green Ronin Publishing’s licensed Song of Ice and Fire RPG. Just five weeks later I revived that offer for a five-day encore, timed with the series finale. (I’d say both runs of the SIFRP bundle found more welcome with Thrones fans than did Season 8 itself.)

Other notable offers this year: a double-size collection of Shadowrun Fifth Edition, “The World’s Largest Bundle” (presenting Alderac’s The World’s Largest Dungeon and World’s Largest City), Stars Without Number, Paranoia Red Clearance Edition, Tiny Dungeon, M.A.R. Barker’s world of Tékumel, the Conan RPG from Modiphius, and Legacy: Life Among the Ruins. In May many 1980s Fantasy Hero titles premiered in .PDF in two big offers, and Mekton, Delta Green Operations, and the Catalyst and Colonial Gothic revivals also marked debuts. November’s Indie Cornucopia 7 had perhaps the strongest lineup in Bundle history, with Blades in the Dark, Kids on Bikes, and other stellar releases. And the July Ars Magica World of Magic completed a five-year, five-offer sequence that gathered every title in the Atlas Games Ars Magica Fifth Edition line.

Helping designers in need

This year brought bad news for — well, for practically everybody, but I’m thinking of four RPG designers and the Bundle offers I launched, mostly on a few days’ notice, to help them.

It started mildly enough on April Fools Day, when Modest Medusa webcomic creator Jake Richmond‘s computer crashed. The Yeld Bundle, with Jake’s Magical Land of Yeld and other RPGs, raised US$4,000 to help him buy a replacement.

A busted computer is one thing, but the other three designers faced real calamity:
  • After Gen Con in August, Battlefield Press owner Jonathan Thompson returned to Shreveport, Louisiana to find that a burglar had robbed his home and had then, to hide the burglary, set the house on fire. The Savage Battlefield Bundle helped Jonathan and his family live while they waited to return home.
  • In late October Paul “Wiggy” Wade-Williams, Creative Director of Triple Ace Games, designer of many popular Savage Worlds settings, and longtime Bundle supporter, suffered a debilitating stroke. I hope the Necropolis 2350 Bundle, featuring Wiggy’s grimdark Savage Worlds setting of humanity on the brink of extinction, helped keep him from personal extinction.
  • Saddest for me was the August loss of industry pioneer Rick Loomis, founder of Flying Buffalo, publisher of Tunnels & Trolls, longtime president of GAMA, and creator of the first solitaire RPG adventure, Buffalo Castle. I revived the July 2017 Catalyst Bundle while Rick was in the hospital to help him and his sisters pay enormous medical bills. Rick lived to see the offer launch but died the following day. (Nerdvana’s Rick Loomis obituary.)

Charity in 2019

Leaving aside the four designer benefits I mentioned, ten percent of the revenue (after payment gateway fees) from each Bundle of Holding offer goes to an established charity. At this writing the Bundle’s 2019 charity earnings total nearly US$110,000; lifetime donations (counting those from seven offers in progress, which I’ll send in January) stand at $645K. Frequent beneficiaries this year included the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Ocean Conservancy, Rainforest Trust, and Vision Rescue.

For the three-day Bundle Birthday 2019 that marked the February 20 anniversary of the site’s launch, more than a thousand generous customers paid money for great RPGs that are free downloads elsewhere. Why? Because all proceeds ($3,665 after payment gateway fees) went to the RPG Creators Relief Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity that assists tabletop RPG creators hit by medical emergencies, natural disasters, and other catastrophic situations.

Recently the Bundle of Holding has supported The DOTS RPG Project, a nonprofit founded in 2017 that makes roleplaying games accessible to visually impaired players and other people with disabilities. DOTS has created 3D-printable Braille polyedral dice and Fate dice models, transcribes rulebooks in Braille, and works with publishers to address screen-reader accessibility.

The mysterious mailing list

The Bundle of Holding mailing list, a free (and spam-free) weekly email announcement of new offers, is a puzzle. Its growth is weirdly burst-y.
  • July 2013 – Aug 2014: 7,000 subscribers in the first year, yay!
  • Aug 2014 – Aug 2016: Wait, only 2,000 more names in two years?! Wha’ hoppen?
  • Sept 2016 – July 2019: Some kind of network effect kicks in, or the planets realign, and suddenly ~500 new people join each month, +15,000 in three years, zoooom!
  • July 2019: The list reaches 24,500 addresses and then — stops. Or rather, it churns, with hundreds of subscribes and unsubscribes balancing in steady state.
In all that time I never changed anything. It’s just weird. But anyway, the mailing list remains your best way to learn about new offers, and I don’t sell, rent, or do anything else with your address. It’s free, so please sign up!

You might also follow the Bundle of Holding Facebook page and @BundleHolding Twitter feed. But really, the less time we all spend on social media in 2020, the better we’ll feel.

The year ahead

My 2020 vision for the Bundle site calls for, let’s see, about six dozen offers. In contrast to past years, many of these will be revivals of popular past bundles, including some that haven’t appeared for four or five years. For longtime mailing-list subscribers who might not want to hear about revivals, I plan to set up the options on your Account Settings page so you can choose to receive announcements of all offers, or of new offers only.

Every year I talk about introducing new bundle sites that appeal to different hobby communities. At last, after more than a year of work and huge expense, the Bundle site programmers have finally rewritten the codebase to enable these spinoffs. Next month I hope to launch a new site featuring collections of .PDF sewing, quilting, knitting, cosplay, and fabric arts patterns and ebooks. I’m told there’s a nonzero overlap between gamers and knitters, so if you know someone who might be interested, stay tuned and I’ll let you know when to start spreading the word.

(Your existing Bundle of Holding account login will work on all the spinoff sites too. And on your Account Settings page you’ll be able to subscribe to just the announcements for the sites that interest you.)

For America and the world it’s been a tough run of years, and in 2020 things will grow still worse on many fronts. I hope the Bundle of Holding, at least, can provide a bright spot. Again I thank you all for your interest and support.

(Previous year-in-review posts: 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014)