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2020: The Bundle year in review

2020: The Bundle year in review

Thursday 31 December 2020
By Bundle of Holding founder and operator Allen Varney

In this unmitigated year — this sweeping scythe of a year that laid whole nations waste, when each morning’s news brought fresh hells, each night Poe’s pendulum clicked a notch lower, spirits paled, habits broke, and battered bulwarks cracked or crumbled — the Bundle of Holding did great!

John Harper's new RPG Blades in the Dark launches on Kickstarter in March 2015Though January and February ranked miserably low — for the Bundle business, if not planet Earth — 2020’s sales ultimately finished 7% up from last year. This falls just a bit behind the site’s best year to date, 2018. With a couple of days left in December as I write, you and many of the site’s 67,450 customers have purchased 51,000 bundles — and, since the site launched in February 2013, more than 356,000. Almost 8,000 of you are new this year, a 13% increase from 2019. Welcome! I sincerely thank you, as I thank the many longtime customers who, after eight years, are still buying.

Standout offers this year include Solo Games (March), Star Trek Adventures and Cthulhu Confidential (both in April), May’s Invisible Sun, Girl Genius (October), November’s Spire, and December’s Blades in the Dark Bundle. Blades became the Bundle’s second-bestselling offer ever (after the May 2018 Campaign Cartographer offer), a tribute to the quality of John Harper’s landmark RPG and the enthusiasm of its community. Bolstered by Blades, December’s offers set a one-month sales record for the site.

The September Hero Magazines marked the debut in .PDF of Adventurers Club magazine and the Haymaker APA archives. That month’s Fudge Bundle also debuted new titles. Girl Genius was the site’s first successful comics bundle. One of this year’s “October Horrors,” Night Shade Weird, presenting the Night Shade Books collections of classic fantasy fiction by Clark Ashton Smith and William Hope Hodgson, was easily the site’s most popular fiction bundle. Another Night Shade fiction offer debuts in January.

Among returning publishers this year: longtime Bundle supporters Pelgrane Press, Pinnacle Entertainment, Modiphius, Ulisses Spiele, Monte Cook Games, Catalyst Game Labs, Green Ronin, Far Future Enterprises (Traveller), Cubicle 7, Hero Games, and Palladium Books, as well as Alderac Entertainment, Arion Games, Dream Pod 9, EN Publishing, Flying Buffalo, Free League Publishing, Gallant Knight, Golden Goblin Press, Goodman Games, Kenzer and Company, Legendary, Rogue Genius, Rowan Rook & Decard, Schwalb Entertainment, Sine Nomine, Stygian Fox, and many more. First-time contributors included Dan Coleman (Dungeons on Demand), Necrotic Gnome (Old-School Essentials), Pendelhaven (Fate of the Norns), Studio Foglio (Girl Genius), and WarDrumRPG (Epic Isometric Maps). Six of the eight publishers in the Blades in the Dark lineup are newcomers, as were many contributors to Fudge, Old School Gold, Apocalypse Engine 4, Solo Games, and Indie Cornucopia 8.

CHARITY IN 2020

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 2020 charity earnings total just over US$115,000; lifetime donations (counting those from four offers in progress, which I’ll send in January) stand at $776K.

In past years frequent beneficiaries included the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Human Rights Watch, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Ocean Conservancy, Rainforest Trust, and Vision Rescue. In this benighted year I mostly supported pandemic-related charities such as Heart to Heart International, All Hands and Hearts, Cochrane Reports and, most often, Direct Relief. Direct Relief gets protective gear and critical care medications to health workers, with emergency deliveries to medical facilities across the US and to regional response agencies across the world.

For the two-day 2020 Birthday Bundle offer that marked the February 20 anniversary of the site’s launch, more than 500 generous customers paid money for great RPGs that are free downloads elsewhere. Why? Because all proceeds ($2,327 after gateway fees) went to 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.

HUMBLE DESCENDING

People get this wrong practically every week: No, the Bundle of Holding is not owned by nor associated with Humble Bundle. (After I corrected one guy, he doubled down, telling me no, he was quite sure Humble owned me.) The only relationship, if you call it that, consists of me dodging through the grass blades under the mammoth’s feet. And I field angry customer emails asking why their Humble titles aren’t in their DriveThru Library. Humble probably gets the same customers complaining their Bundle of Holding purchases aren’t in their Humble library.

In years past, Humble presented many successful tabletop RPG offers (Pathfinder, 5E, White Wolf, Warhammer 40,000, Numenera, Adventures in Middle-earth, etc.). This year they had Conan, Star Trek Adventures, lots of Old School titles, and their current Cyberpunk 2020 and Campaign Cartographer deals. I’d previously presented most of these myself, to great success, but now I doubt I can revive my offers; I fear much of the oxygen is gone from those rooms, to say nothing of those publishers. I wish Humble well, and I’m glad new audiences are finding these fine games, but man. Remember this post’s first paragraph? That ever-lowering pendulum?

Still, I take heart: Each Humble RPG offer’s high numbers, an order of magnitude better than mine, show there’s lots of room to grow.

ADVERTISING — OR NOT?

Though I’ve resisted advertising — I personally find ads distracting and unhelpful — I recognize ads can reach a new audience, and sponsorship can help creators doing worthwhile work. I like Dave Thaumavore’s YouTube video reviews for his no-nonsense, high-content approach. I sponsored Dave’s December 20 review of Green Ronin’s The Expanse RPG, a timely and informative tie-in to that month’s Modern AGE & Expanse RPG Bundle. I’m happy to hear your recommendations of other worthy YouTube channels, streamers, and podcasts.

Through business necessity I still maintain the Bundle Twitter and Facebook accounts. Recently I’ve returned to Reddit’s r/rpg community, which has grown vastly in size and sophistication since my early days there. And in November, after months of frustration, I finally succeeded in buying a Reddit ad! You’d think an ad-supported site would make that easy, but Reddit’s advertising demigods are inscrutable and perverse. An entire subreddit, r/redditads, is filled with would-be advertisers trying and failing to buy.

Your best way to hear about new offers remains the free (and spam-free) Bundle of Holding mailing list.

REVIVALS: NO ROOM FOR THE OLD

My estimate in last year’s post of six dozen offers in 2020 turned out precisely right: 72, down from 75 last year. Forty-four offers were new; 28 (39%) were revivals, a jump from 17 revivals in 2019. In each of the last two Januarys I thought, “This year the site might move to mostly revivals,” but new stuff just kept crowding in. And the 2021 schedule, yeesh, it’s almost all new from here to summer.

Of course new offers keep things interesting. But in the last few years thousands of customers have discovered the site, and they might want to see the older bundles. Witness the two collections of Traveller Little Black Books from 2015, revived in December to enthusiastic response. In July I brought back the January 2014 Dying Earth Compleat Bundle for a third time, and it outsold any previous run! There are a dozen pre-2016 offers I’d love to bring back, when and if there’s room. Summer might be the time.

For longtime mailing-list subscribers who might not want to hear about revivals, a new option on your “My account” page lets you choose to receive announcements of all offers, or of new offers only. (When I revive a past offer with a new companion bundle, that announcement counts as “new.”) You can reach “My account” from the three-line “hamburger” menu at the upper right corner of each page on the Bundle site.

THE YEAR AHEAD

In 2021 I hope to present mmmaybe 70 offers? — 71? — of which two dozen could be revivals. Most of the revivals must wait until June or later. Along with a strong slate of RPG lineups, I plan a few more offers of comic books, fiction, and even Old-Time Radio shows. If I can find web design help (my perennial problem), I might launch a storefront, too, with bundles that aren’t time-limited. I need to discuss with publishers how that could work.

Amid the laments for this despicable year, let’s recall: Even without a pandemic, 2020 would have been — was destined from its start to be — a fiasco. Last December I didn’t wish anyone “Happy New Year,” because I saw the year would be ghastly. I wrote, “For America and the world it’s been a tough run of years, and in 2020 things will grow still worse on many fronts.” No, I didn’t expect an epidemic. But broken governance and continental disasters in a world riven by warring realities? Any Torg or Rifts fan knows these make life, uh, lively.

This holiday season I still haven’t said “Happy New Year”; 2021 will also suck. But I end this post as I did last time: “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: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014)