IndieGala, Mass Effect 2 and the pitfalls of political affiliation
Never mind that the latest IndieGala bundle includes the decidedly non-indie Mass Effect 2; the strangest thing about this latest multi-game, pay-what-you-fancy package is the pledge to divert revenue raised from its sales to the election campaign of Canadian politician Matt Toner.
The former point is easily explained. EA wants you to use Origin, and this version of Mass Effect 2 registers on that very service. Once people have got the platform on their systems, they might just start looking at Mass Effect 3 or even some of the DLC packs. Using a three year old game as a lure costs EA almost nothing, and could have a sizeable payoff. More Origin users, more account data and more sales.
So, that’s why Mass Effect 2 is there.
The debate about whether self-styled ‘Indie’ bundles should be offering games from major publishers already happened when THQ did it over at HumbleBundle. Given how much that package raised, it seems most people either didn’t mind or just forgot that THQ was a major (albeit nearly bankrupt) publisher.
Sure, it does look a bit strange to have an EA game in there. But if you want to take a hard line on this sort of thing then titles like Bastion (definitely an indie studio, but with Microsoft as a publishing partner) should be barred from these offers too. It’s an issue embroiled in the realms of semantics and what ‘feels’ right. Those are always tricky.
But, as stated, that isn’t the strangest thing about IndieGala’s latest promotion. That honour goes to the line of text beneath the payment window which reads “Revenue raised by this bundle will be used to support [British Columbia New Democratic Party candidate Matt Toner’s] campaign.”
Toner is running for office in the Vancouver-False Creek district in British Columbia’s upcoming provincial elections. He’s a New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate and ‘digital media’ veteran whose appear to focus on making sure tech companies stay in Vancouver.
This isn’t really about the NDP, or Toner, or even the British Columbia electoral season (which, you will be shocked to hear, isn’t a specialty subject of mine.) It’s about the curious situation which sees a Rome-based company like IndieGala using a title from a major publisher (EA) that has studios in Vancouver, to raise funds for a political candidate.
IndieGala isn’t trying to hide any of this. It’s right there (if you scroll down a bit and pay attention) on the front page. But the same page is rather vague on the subject of how much revenue will be redirected to Matt Toner’s campaign, and which ‘type’ of user donations (money set aside for “developers” or “Gala tip”) will be going there.
If you very much wanted to donate to Toner, or very much did not want to, it’d be difficult to figure out how. That’s not a great situation.
In case you were wondering, foreign donations are allowed in British Columbia so this deal breaks no electoral rules.
But it does take the concept of ‘Indie Bundles’ to a weird place. Purchasing games to support indie developers is great. Contributing to charity at the same time (something many of these bundles promote) seems fine and dandy too.
This latest IndieGala package is co-supporting an indie developer scholarship program at Launch Academy, an outfit that helps entrepreneurs with their first start-up company. The donation panel has a dedicated slider for this project. That’s clear, open and appropriate use of funds.
Politics is a different, far more divisive subject. People supporting the IndieGala will have a wide range of viewpoints, and to not be entirely transparent about what proportion of raised revenue will go to the Matt Toner campaign (or which donation ‘types’ it’ll come out of,) is a mistake that could set an unwelcome precedent.
IncGamers has asked IndieGala to comment on and clarify their revenue distribution method, but so far we have not received a response (their email system is probably rather busy at present, in all fairness.)
For now, it’s unclear what percentage of the (at the time of writing) $24,000 USD will end up helping the Toner election push. It’s also unclear how many of those who’ve paid for the bundle so far knew that part of their cash was going to a political cause. Others may have known, but, as long as they got some cheap games, barely cared. Not exactly ideal motivation for a political donation.
Update 24 April: IndieGala has confirmed to IncGamers that the initial donation text instructions (shown in the screenshot above) were changed within “6-8 hours” to a clearer paragraph which reads as follows:
Here you decide yourself how your money is split between game developers, Launch Academy and IndieGala. Vancouver developers have come behind Matt Toner and donated their games to show the solidarity behind his campaign. One-third of developer proceeds go to help Matt reverse the negative flow of Vancouver’s Game Industry. Also, if you want to thank IndieGala, who pay the bandwidth and development of web application, with a small tip, it would be very appreciated.