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2021: The Bundle year in review

2021: The Bundle year in review

Saturday 1 January 2022
By Bundle of Holding founder and operator Allen Varney

Each of my last few “Bundle year in review” posts opened the same way: “This year the world kept sliding into deeper trouble, but the Bundle of Holding did great!” Ditto that.

2021 was the Bundle’s top year to date, 10% over the record set in 2018 — although the site’s best year differed little from its worst. Across nine years sales have continued bizarrely steady. Isn’t that odd? I’d expect demand to either rocket upward or go to zero. (Or both in sequence.) But no — every day, 20 new customers discover the Bundle of Holding: 20 yesterday, 20 today, 20 tomorrow, a quotidian quantum. Many stick around for months or years, and they buy multiple offers. Yet every day, simultaneously, at the other end of the pier 20 previous customers wave goodbye. Do they coordinate? Is there a Central Dispatch? Are they on the blockchain?

If data-crunching bores you, skip this paragraph: The site sold its 100,000th bundle in December 2015 (35 months after the February 2013 launch), and the 200,000th bundle in January 2018, 25 months after the 100K mark. A few weeks ago, in December 2021, someone bought Bundle #400,000 — meaning it took 47 months for 272 offers to sell an additional +200K (average 744 copies/offer), versus 60 months for 288 offers to sell the first 200K (average 694 copies/offer). That’s a 50-copy/offer increase (7.2%) across four years. So — yay? Those numbers won’t lure Goldman Sachs, but at least the individual offers still hold appeal.

2021 highlights

There were more sales strictly because there were more offers. In 2021 I launched 78 offers, a record. (2020: 72 offers; 2019: 75; 2018: 69; 2017: 67; 2016: 69; 2015: 53; 2014: 62.) Whew! The new Bundle Store also launched ten ongoing, non-time-limited “Starter Packs” based on past offers. But the year’s blistering pace kept me so busy I had no time to expand the Store. 2022, I hope!

The most popular offers in 2021: Forbidden Lands (Jan); HERO System 6E and Champions 6E (Feb); Hyperborea (March); DCC Lankhmar (April); Mongoose Traveller 2E and Pirates of Drinax (May); The Yellow King RPG (June); Fate Worlds and Toolkits (July); City of Mist (August); Numenera Discovery (Sept); Traveller Imperium Tour, Worldbuilder’s Toolkit 8, and Wyrd Breach (all Nov); and Forged in the Dark (Dec).

The biggest offer, by copies sold (1,767), was January’s Jackie’s Dreaming, featuring White Wolf’s Changeling: The Dreaming. This benefit offer grossed US$43,669, all of which (after payment gateway fees) went to Nicky Rea, partner of the late Changeling contributor Jackie Cassada. I thank White Wolf and DriveThruRPG for kindly forgoing their share of this benefit offer’s revenue. (The GoFundMe campaign to help Nicky Rea, organized by Mage: The Ascension line developer Satyros Phil Brucato, is still running.)

First-time contributors in 2021 included Bloat Games (Dark Places & Demogorgons), Brittannia Games (Chivalry and Sorcery), Fire Ruby Designs (Warlock!), Son of Oak (City of Mist), Just Crunch Games (The Cthulhu Hack), and North Wind Press (Hyperborea). Most of the contributors were new in Old School Cool, 5E Platinum Showcase, Toolkit 8, and Forged in the Dark. They joined returning publishers 0one Games, Ad Infinitum, Alderac, Arc Dream, Catalyst, Cubicle 7, Design Mechanism, Dream Pod 9, Evil Hat, Far Future Enterprises, Free League, Goodman Games, Green Ronin, Hero Games, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, Modiphius, Mongoose, Monte Cook, Pelgrane Press, Palladium, Pinnacle, Runehammer, Wyrd Games, and many more. But it was the last hurrah for Flying Buffalo, whose Tunnels & Trolls 2 and revived Catalyst Bundles (June) marked the last appearance in .PDF of many titles before Buffalo’s new owner, Webbed Sphere, pulled all its ebooks off the market. (If you bought those offers, your purchases are still in your Wizard’s Cabinet and your linked DriveThru Library.)

Unusual offerings in 2021 included fiction (Glen Cook and Mike Resnick novels, Shadowrun Sixth World Stories, and the Night Shade Books Best Horror of the Year anthologies), comics (Atomic Robo), and Old Time Radio drama (Hardboiled Radio). For September’s Streaming Overlays offer, graphic designer Brian Podell of Exploding Dice Studio contributed six all-new image sets that enhance tabletop RPG sessions on streaming services. In June the Black Scrolls Map-Tiles collection of high-res modular maps had the largest aggregate file size in Bundle history, 4.5 gigabytes.

I used a new single-tier, fixed-price format I call “essentials” for three offers (Liminal, Shotguns & Sorcery, and Mutants Power-Up). The essentials format suits smaller lines that might not fit well in the standard two-tier structure. In 2022 I hope to present a dozen essentials offers. One drops this week!

The success of two Kickstarter tie-ins — the spur-of-the-moment Delta Green RPG revivals in August, keyed to Arc Dream Publishing’s DG: The Conspiracy campaign, and Shotguns & Sorcery, keyed to designer Matt Forbeck’s new 5E Shotguns conversion — show the value of a Bundle offer as a crowdfunding promotional tool. Publishers, are you listening?

Charities in 2021

Ten percent of the revenue from every Bundle offer (after gateway fees) goes to a recognized charitable institution. The first 73 completed offers in calendar 2021 generated [EDIT:] $137,276 for charity. When the five offers in progress end in early January, the 2021 charity total will pass $140,000. Across nine years of operation the Bundle of Holding has contributed a total of $920,000 to dozens of charities. [EDIT 11 January 2022: In reporting last year’s charity donation (January through November) as US$176,522, I mistakenly included the $41,632 raised in the January 2021 “Jackie’s Dreaming” benefit offer for the late Jackie Cassada’s partner, Nicky Rea. The correct total for the charity portion of the revenue to that time (Jan-Nov 2021) is $137,276.]

This year, for their individual offers, a few publishers designated charities important to them, including CARE International, BBC Children in Need, the Wildlife Recovery Fund, the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, the Cancer Research Institute, and others. But as in 2020, almost all offers in this pandemic year benefited Direct Relief. Direct Relief sends 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 February’s annual Birthday Bundle benefit, gamers once again willingly paid actual money for indie RPGs they could otherwise download free elsewhere on the web. This year 644 purchasers of Birthday Bundle 2021 contributed $2,681, which (after gateway fees) went to The Roleplaying Game Creators Relief Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity founded to provide financial assistance to tabletop roleplaying game creators suffering hardship due to medical emergencies, natural disasters, and other catastrophic situations.

“Is it legit?”

In spring I once again experimented with advertising, but Twitter proved unexciting and Facebook useless. I’ve come to believe typical commercial advertising is not just unproductive for me but actively harmful to society. That said, I’m interested in sponsoring useful podcasts, videos, newsletters, and other creative efforts.

No advertising moved the needle as much as an unexpected Reddit r/rpg post in August. “Bundle of Holding site, is it legit?” drew 310 upvotes and 95 comments. The number of commenters who said “I’ve been gaming for decades and this is my first time hearing about it” (argh) or “I always assumed it was some kind of Humble Bundle deal” (arrrrrgh) prompted me to create the r/bundleofholding subreddit.

(I need to say this every year: NO, the Bundle of Holding is not owned by nor associated with Humble Bundle.)

The best way to learn about offers remains the free (and spam-free) Bundle of Holding mailing list. In 2021 the list grew slowly (6%) to 28,600 addresses. Occasionally I alert the list to new crowdfunding campaigns by past Bundle contributors, and in early December I passed along links to free Substack roleplaying newsletters. No one has voiced bitter recrimination, so I may keep up these digressions as time permits.

The year ahead

“Time permits”! Hah!

This will be the busiest Bundling year yet. Traditionally I’ve revived one past offer every month. Last year — and the year before, and before that — I hoped to increase the number of revivals, because thousands of new customers might like to see offers they missed. Each year, though, new offers crowded out the reruns. It was frustrating.

2022 is already looking the same, with lots of new offers already queued up. But I’ve decided to grit my teeth, buckle down, double up, and just start reviving everything anyway. That’s right! For the first three months of 2022 I’m presenting a new offer each Monday and also a revival, either Monday or Wednesday. Brace yourself!

For longtime mailing-list subscribers who might not want to hear about revivals, 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.

For 2022 I’ve asked the Bundle site’s contract programmers to add more payment gateways, along with a new permanent page of free downloads — free indie RPGs from past Bundle Birthday charity offers. Beyond that, here in Year Nine the site is finally reaching feature-complete, and it’s about time.

(I haven’t talked about the Bundle’s international contractors. My fellow USian Laura Dean did all the early coding, but for several years the site’s lead programmer has been an Australian expat in Thailand. In 2021 designers in Pakistan and Toronto did frontend work, and I briefly got marketing help from a couple of Londoners. Although I endorse the motto “Think globally, act virtually,” this cosmopolitan lineup grew by accident. For the record, all three American coders I’ve worked with, besides Laura, charged thousands of dollars but delivered nothing useful, sometimes nothing at all.)

It’s been years since I had the stomach to say “Happy New Year.” Each of my last few “Bundle year in review” posts closed the same way: “Next year will be even more hellish for planet Earth, but I hope the Bundle of Holding can provide a bright spot. Thanks to you all for your support.” Ditto that.

(Previous year-in-review posts: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014)