May 20, 2014 3:00 PM | John Polson
"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/Genesis-inspired, custom designed 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."
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."
The 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.]