In the latest conflict of interest news, media giant IGN (owned by J2 Global) has acquired charity and game distribution service Humble Bundle today. The terms of the deal were not fully disclosed according to Gamasutra, the site that broke the story first. What does this mean for gamers? Well in the short term, nothing. Humble Bundle will continue to operate as an independent entity with support from IGN. Long term? It certainly raises questions.
Humble Bundle had expanded beyond it’s popular “pay what you want” charity bundle of inexpensive games. As we reported months ago, Humble Bundle began to include subscription-based services. Members received a free game every month in exchange for a monthly fee. In order to accomplish this, the company began to directly commission game developers to write new games for Humble Bundle to distribute to their members. Altogether the company has been successful, raising over $100 million dollars for charity.
In their interview with Gamasutra, Humble cofounder John Graham and IGN VP Mitch Galbraith expressed their desire for each company to continue to operate as they did before the acquisition. Galbraith stated:
“If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. The idea is just to feed them with the resources they need to keep doing what they’re doing.”
Gamasutra went along to also mention that IGN has been on the hunt for such an acquisition for over a year. It also makes perfect sense to let everyone know that the game distribution channel Humble Bundle will continue as usual, but it would be naive to believe IGN will resist the temptation to go about business as usual. The scenarios that could arise represent a significant conflict of interest.
IGN has long been a Triple-A review site, whose coverage focuses on major entertainment titles in everything from consoles to PC games, to movies, TV shows. They now have the majority control in a site that has made millions selling indie games (granted a portion of it flows to charity), and contracting indie developers to make games for them. Let’s say Humble contracts an indie dev to make an arcade platformer title about a ninja hellbent on revenge against armies of the undead. IGN casually places that upcoming title before the millions of readers that visit their site. What will happen to the popularity of Humble’s new ninja title? Will IGN provide the same coverage for legitimate indie developers scraping everything to get their own ninja based indie titles finished? Doubtful.
Humble cofounder John Graham has already said it best, “Because of the shared vision and overlap of our customer bases, there’s going to be a lot of opportunities.” How that overlap and opportunities are capitalized on by media giant IGN and its true effect on the hundreds of thousands of gamers that purchase bundles will remain to be seen. More details on this merger as we come across them.