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IndieBox ships limited edition mystery games, aims to stop the "race to the bottom"
by John Polson on 05/20/14 10:42:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


indiebox.jpg"Developers need a new support funnel" to prevent the "race to the bottom," says James Morgan, president of the Orlando, Florida-based IndieBox, a service which days ago shipped its first mystery game to around 10 of the 60 countries it supports.

At around $15 a month plus shipping, consumers essentially invest in the curation of IndieBox to deliver a single quality game, unknown until delivery and packaged in a retro-style Collector's Edition box with various items. May's game, and the company's first, was puzzle platformer Teslagrad from Rain Games, who confirmed their participation with IndieBox. The contents included an OST, buttons, poster, game manual, and USB "cartridge" placed in a Mega Drive-inspired, custom box.

IndieBox started, James says, mainly because he saw that PC indie games have been going down the same "race to the bottom" that games on mobile have. "If your game doesn't appear on bundle or holiday sale, you'll get a launch bump, but sales generally top off. It's unfortunate that we're seen games only get attention when they drop the price down to $1 - $3 when it is truly a $10+ experience. Developers need a new support funnel, and we hope that bringing back physical mediums and unique experiences helps the developer find new fans and get the financial support they need."

IndieBox has several requirements for games to be included in the program: the game must support Windows, Mac OSX, and Linux; the game must have a score of 75/8.0 or better on Steam and/or IndieDB, respectfully; and the game must have been released no more than 6 months from the time the team contacts them.

"We do this because we have to find the best time to feature a specific game and/or have enough time to work with busy developers," says James. "Once we have found a game that satisfies those basic three needs, we reach out to them and begin discussions on what our product is, how they fit in, and our overall vision of the company. From there it's just contract signing and our team jumps on creating the box!"

That IndieBox team is comprised of seven volunteers now. "We started with three people and have had to do some growing in this past month. Almost all of our team has been involved in the games industry, but everyone on the team is a huge fans of 'physical' boxes."

Box creation usually starts a month in advance. "It's a long process with many design revisions and discussions with manufacturers. Once we place the order for all of the components, we then get together and assemble the boxes by hand, including the shrink wrapping."

teslagrad box.jpg

The box for Teslagrad was designed by local artist Dan Jones. "When we started talking about the Megaman style cover, we immediately thought of him and the cover looking incredible. We do not have an exclusivity with Dan, and our developers are always free to bring other artists to the table. We work very closely to ensure they are happy with their collector's edition box," James explained.

After shipping and billing are complete, developers see 50% of the profit, split evenly with IndieBox once all of the materials and shipping costs are covered. "The 50% for IndieBox goes into improving our service, advertising, and maybe getting us off Ramen - one day," James muses.

He shares that the first month shipped to 153 paying subscribers, along with a number of early subscribers. "They helped fund the company enough to get samples created of the first product so we weren't going into it blind. We couldn't have done it without them."

indiebox ships.jpgThe process is manual now, and James isn't sure what it would take to get to a more automated system. "It's hard to say. With the boxing video that we released, you can see we made just over 250 boxes. We did that in the span of one afternoon/night of work (about 12 hours). Once we are on track to hit an unmanageable amount of subscribers, my guess is 1000, we'll be looking into other options besides a 'garage' operation."

Devs interested in being boxed or those interested in subscribing can read more on IndieBox's official website. [Ed. note: My IndieBox was shipped on May 16 and arrived on May 19. I live in the same state as IndieBox. I like shrink wrap, so I used the Internet to verify the content, including the solo box image source, which was shared on reddit.]

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Greg Scheel
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You did not even open the box...

Still, selling maps and minis, and buttons, and some form of 'cartridge' media may seem outdated in the age of digital downloads, but this is marketing, and if it helps sell the game, it's worth it.

Heck, why not include a download key printed on the outside of the box, so the customer can d/l the game, and not have to spoil the pristine shrinkwrap.

John Polson
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I saw enough videos and social media posts that I felt comfortable in posting about the business as legitimate. I also stated that I verified the developer gave permission for this, which seemed important to ask for a brand-new startup.

This wasn't a product review. This was my asking them about the business and production of IndieBox. Yes, I wanted to keep it pristine, too. :-)

Hopefully this will help some devs out that are considering the service to buy or work with. Your suggestion would probably increase production costs a bit, having each box be even more "unique". However, some kind of code could be included in the shipping box to avoid spoiling the shrinkwrap, you're right.

Greg Scheel
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My next thought after I posted, was that a sticker on the outside of the shrinkwrap would be less costly than a unique printing on each box.

I have a feeling that producing a box edition will help sell my games when the time comes, it is totally unnecessary from a production and distribution perspective, but it may be a marketing must have.

And my comment on the unopened package was not meant as a knock, but rather as an observation on customer behavior; there are folks who will buy products as collectors items, which are worth more when unopened.

Your 'first indiebox' is worth more, both as a collectors object, and someday on ebay, because it is both the first ever printing / release, and because it is unopened, and therefore unspoilt. Enjoy!

Josh Neff
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I remember reading in demographic report from ESA, I think, that the majority of gamers would prefer to have a tangible item rather than a digital download. The margin was like 67% in favor of tangibles.

Chris Melby
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This is really cool( The part about the box and content. ), but I absolutely HATE that everything is becoming/wants to be a subscription.

I'd be interested in buying the games they offer directly on an occasion, even if it's at a higher cost. But as is, I would never invest in this do to it being another monthly bill. But on the flips side, at least you own the product they ship.

James Yee
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Interesting. Not for me because I don't want/need the physical items (I have kids who destroy my stuff. :p) but I think it's a nice service and I wish them well.

Jennis Kartens
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I think this is a great idea. I personally would love to put some great indie games on the shelf too.

However the pricing vs. requirements is a bit strange. Why would I subscribe now, with no catalogue in place or even knowing what to expect?

Amir Barak
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intrigue and mystery are fun?

Jennis Kartens
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Not really in this case. Not at all.

Amir Barak
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Why not?

Jennis Kartens
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Because I don't spent my money frequently for "mystery"?!

I care for specific products I like. No surprises.

Amir Barak
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Fair enough. I find it amusing. I also enjoy the anticipation/excitement of the wait for something like that. I wouldn't expect it to always be a "mystery game" type of thing but I think for the first few games (maybe the first six months) it's kinda neat :D had a mystery sale a while ago, that was funny and I enjoyed it as a one-time thing. I wouldn't do it again with them. But as a single experience marketing play it was enjoyable.

IndieBox seems like a different enough experience from the sale so I'm willing to try it again (international shipment is the one thing that is making me wait with my subscription for another couple of weeks before registering).

Jennis Kartens
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It's different here. It might be "fun" with some digital purchases, but box packages for games are a value most people, including me, want specifically and for specific games as a show-off, status, collection addition... everything that goes agains "mystery" and random selections you don't have control over.

I don't think this is a very good model for this product really.

In fact, I already got something like this in a different context and those "boxes" represent games I neither like nor want to stand around in my living area, so they go right into a box in the cellar.
And that is for sure not something I would want if I spent money on it.

Amir Barak
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Again, different strokes for different people I guess. I like the anticipation. I also think the anticipation is magnified by the physicality of the product, ie. waiting for a box to arrive in the mail. I don't think it's a good strategy in the long run obviously. And I think for 15 bucks per game it's quite a deal. If nothing else, isn't stepping out of our normal gaming comfort zone every once in a while a worthwhile endeavor? you never know what you might like until you try it!

Jennis Kartens
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Perhaps, yeah.

The thing is, this is quite a unique opportunity. So far, you could be happy if some smaller publisher picks up long released indie games and make a boxed version out of them. And even then you have to put up with all kind of shit stickers, like age ratings that quite honstely kill off every box art in an instant (especially the German ones)

I just think the target here collides a bit with the business model, since as stated above, boxed editions are stuff for certain people mainly. People who deliberately buy them, even if they may get just the key for that game somewhere for less then the half of the actual price. If you want, it is kind of an "luxury" item today.

I dont mind this model as such, not at all. But I think a "conservative" approach may leads to more success and people like myself actually investing in the service. Mystery, like it or not, is IMO a gimmick and nothing I would want as a basis. Especially given that there are hundreds of thousands of indie games out there, but I personally only like a few (or rather, don't even have the time to get into all of those looking interesting).

Just for explaination :) Of course, obviously, a certain amount of people *do* like it the way its done now.

Amir Barak
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Maybe they should do separate tiers, a cheaper one for the mystery bundles and a normal shelf-like store?