Did Humble Indie Bundle Shank Principals for Profit?

Imagine my surprise when, after entering the activation code into Steam for Humble Indie Bundle 4, I was presented with an End User License Agreement from the largest publisher in Western markets, Electronic Arts. Cocking one eyebrow skyward in my best Spock impersonation, I accessed Steam’s store page for the offending title, a game named Shank. I ran headlong into an age gate. It seemed that EA’s EULA was not to be the last of my surprises.

shankShank has been rated M by the ESRB. And not just simply M for Mature, but M for “Blood and Gore, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, and Violence”. The store page proudly hocks Shank as “a graphic novel with the most fluid and violent 2-D animation ever seen in a video game.” Tom McShea’s review of Shank on GameSpot calls it "a savage game that revels in the brutality of street fighting" while GameTrailers likens Shank to “"a savage Saturday morning cartoon filled with blood, boobs, and Berettas.” Hardly the sort of title I would expect to see in a charity bundle of independently created games sandwiched between Super Meat Boy and NightSky without a single mention of either its ESRB rating or adult content. But then again, Shank is not exactly and independently created game.

So what makes an indie game? Wikipedia defines an indie game as “video games created by individuals or small teams without video game publisher financial support.” Hmm. Perhaps the answer lies in the Origin of Shank. It’s not unheard of for an independently produced title to be picked up by a publisher after completion. It is also not the case with Shank.

Shank was originally revealed to the public during the Penny Arcade Expo September 4, 2009. Developer Klei Entertainment signed with EA six months later on March 4, 2010. The game would not be released (on it’s first of 3 major platforms) until August 24, 2010. Hardly a textbook definition of an “indie” title. On the contrary, this is the way the video game industry used to work: Develop a prototype, shop it around to publishers, complete and ship with the marketing and distribution powers of big business.

Furthermore, Shank 2 had been announced in late September 2011 at an EA press conference Las Vegas with an “early 2012” release date. What better way to drum up anticipation for the upcoming release than to get the original game into the hands of an additional four-hundred-thousand-plus gamers as part of a program that continues to set record sales year after year?

The addition of a title from one of the biggest names in video game publishing coincides with another change in Humble Bundle, Inc’s operations: Their decision to drop The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) as a supported charity for the fourth Humble Indie Bundle. eff vs sopa

What exactly is the EFF? Richard Esguerra, a former senior activist with EFF and member of Humble Bundle, Inc. explains in an interview with Nerd-age:

“The Electronic Frontier Foundation works to protect digital civil liberties — like online free speech, privacy, and other rights. For example, the EFF fought to make it legal to jailbreak your smartphone. And they went after Sony for including rootkits in music CDs that compromised consumers’ computers.”

Mr. Esguerra would leave the EFF on September 17, 2011 for a position with Humble Bundle, Inc. Just in time for the ramp-up leading to the launch of Humble Indie Bundle 4 featuring Shank, an ultra-violent game from mega-publisher EA, a company known for its judicious use of DRM, questionable data mining practices, locking unruly forum members out of games they’ve purchased, and sponsoring Internet censorship legislation.

2 comments :

  1. Some valid points and concerns. The Humble Bundle seems to be shifting direction rapidly. One of their main points is "no drm" yet they have gone practically all Steam games. They let you download the game files sure, but I think even a couple of those require activation codes. Which is pretty much DRM

    I'm not really mad at them about it because they have always been solely about the biggest indie games, and all of the biggest games are on Steam. Many require it, especially for multiplayer.

    So it's hard to be mad at them even if some things they do are questionable. And there are at least 10 other indie bundle sites now (they 'all' give to Child's Play, oddly)

    I do hope they bring EFF back though, as I was thinking that they replaced them with Red Cross for Christmas time.

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  2. Yeah, it's hard to be mad at Humble Bundle in light of what they do. It's easy to be disappointed in the way things seem to be going tho. I hope they get back on track. Pulling support for the EFF while they're fighting these Internet censorship bills was unconscionable.

    My earlier take on this topic pointed out Child's Play. I don't know if it is the Penny Arcade connection, ease of use, or if gamers are just that... insular, but every fund raiser remotely tied to gaming is connected to them. I pulled a list of events from their site and nearly every day in December had someone doing a drive for them.

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