IndieBox is a new subscription-based service that offers monthly releases of hit indie games in unique, loot-filled boxed editions.
The advent of digital distribution has been a tremendous boon for indie game developers, opening up access to markets around the world without any of the costs associated with conventional distribution. It's ridiculously convenient for gamers as well - instead of having to go to the mall and put up with crowds and surly clerks, we can just click, download and play. But all that accessibility and convenience comes at a price: Game boxes, and all the magical stuff they used to contain, are quickly becoming a thing of the past.
That's a void IndieBox hopes to fill with its "retro-style collector's edition boxes" of popular indie games. The program debuted earlier this week with an impressively loaded edition of Teslagrad, which came with a "USB game cartridge," 24-page manual, soundtrack CD, poster, a sticker, four buttons and Teslamancer papercraft. Sadly for fans just hearing about it now, it's too late to get in on the action: It's already sold out, and there won't be any more.
This is where the "program" part of IndieBox comes into play. Rather than a conventional store, it's a subscription-based service; you sign up for a monthly fee, and you get whatever game comes out each month. A single month sign-up costs $16.99, while a six-month plan breaks down to $14.99 per month. IndieBox does maintain a separate store where surplus copies will be sold, but for now it's strictly first-come, first-served, and those who arrive late go home empty-handed.
"Because we are self-funded, we only had about 50 [Teslagrad] boxes left over from our initial order and they sold out pretty quickly," IndieBox President James Morgan explained. "With this next month, we've been fortunate enough to see a 50 percent jump in subscribers and we'll be ordering at least 100 more boxes than we need. We charge a premium for these boxes because people that see THE game they want to have a copy of (but are unsure of the service) are willing to pay extra for it if it saves them the uncertainty of paying $15/mo for something they may not want."
Nostalgia is obviously a big factor here, and Morgan said it's also part of why IndieBox doesn't reveal which games are coming each month. The hope is that the mystery will rekindle the feeling of the pre-internet era, when purchase decisions were made based primarily on the back of the box, rather than a ready overload of promotional trailers, previews and "let's play" videos.
"We want our members to determine the value by the entire experience they receive in the physical goods and the digital. We're in a weird place right now in the games industry that is a 'race to the bottom' in digital stores. Unless games are on some sort of bundle or holiday sale for $1-$5, gamers are starting to feel that they are paying too much. This is a dangerous mindset that has already started seeing its toll on mobile app stores. Developers can't survive with this type of audience mentality," he said. "So, we keep it a mystery so that you are hyped about the game, no matter what it is, by the sheer fact that you now have a REAL box with all the goodies inside that was made for you."
Morgan said the long-term goal is to develop a fully-stocked store with access to past titles, so that latecomers willing to pay the higher price for specific titles will be able to do so without having to be at the head of the line. "It just relies on how well we do and what we can afford," he said. And that higher price for non-subscribers isn't all that terribly high: The Teslagrad box went for a relatively paltry $19.99.
I'm pretty weird about game boxes - I love them, and I love the stuff that comes in them - so I don't think I can really judge whether or not this is a good idea. The jump in subscriber numbers from May to June indicates a certain degree of interest, but is it sustainable, either as a subscription service or a store? I'd happily pay for boxed versions of, say, Legend of Grimrock or Race the Sun, but would you?