Charitable video game bundles are nothing new, from the well-known Humble Bundle to mega bundles on itch.io (recent examples include a racial justice and equality bundle, and another to aid Ukraine) often offering a pay-what-you-want model, where donations are partially given to a charitable cause. The Queer Games Bundle, however, operates a little differently: Proceeds directly fund the over 400 LGBTQ+ developers contributing the 500+ games, software, and zines to the bundle.
“Imagine what the developers and artists in this bundle could create a year from now if they weren’t worried about starving or how to pay their rent this month,” reads its introduction. The bundle is intentionally priced at $60, which is the price of a typical AAA game in most regions. For those who need it, a second sliding scale “Pay What You Can” bundle is also available, with all the same content, starting at $10.
It’s easy to spot a few well-known indies in this year’s bundle: the award winning conversation-construction narrative We Should Talk, the chaotically bisexual TTRPG Visigoths vs Mall Goths, and the satirical high school drama Raptor Boyfriend: A High School Drama. Equally enticing, however, are some of the games you may not have heard of that stand out with their authenticity or audacity. Lookouts, for example, is a visual novel about two trans masc outlaws finding hope, and each other, in the old west. Conversely, Dating Souls, is described as “the world’s first soulslike dating sim. Probably.” As with all mega bundles, if you don’t want to sift through everything to find hidden gems the old-fashioned way, Bundle Browser helps narrow it down.
Starting last year, the first Queer Games Bundle raised over $112,000 in funds, which was then evenly split between its 195 participating developers. Queer Games Bundle co-founders Taylor McCue and Nilson Carroll came up with the initiative when they recognized that even popular indie developers don’t usually make a living wage off their creations alone. The Queer Games Bundle models direct action, giving money immediately to creators who benefit from it.
“What do you do when the only thing that you want to do is impossible?” The answer, for McCue, was to address it as a systemic problem — to shift things on more than just an individual scale.
“The Queer Games Bundle is a way for queer folks to get some financial aid during the month that is supposed to support them,” Carroll explains. “We want to move as far away from predatory rainbow capitalist practices, get the fuck away from mugs at Walmart with rainbows on them. There’s no middleman, and the bundle isn’t curated. If someone buys the bundle, that money directly goes to queer artists.”
We Should Talk
McCue points to the chronic underfunding of the arts, and highlights that many of the participants in the bundle are unemployed, or make games as a side gig.
“Money is like a river of trust that flows through our communities, determining who gets access to resources,” McCue says. “Artists, especially indie devs, especially queer indie artists, often don’t have that money flowing to them. They don’t get the ability to buy back their time, have equipment, or sometimes even food or housing.”
Carroll points to the fundraising trend of funding the middleman or organization, rather than individuals directly involved. The Queer Bundle is a means of action that puts people first instead.
“A lot of organizations do good work, obviously, but our vision for the Queer Games Bundle is to directly help everyone actually participating in the bundle,” he says.
The hope is that the Queer Games Bundle is something that can return annually, and exist at a scale to meaningfully support queer artists’ survival, but even while it isn’t there yet, its impact has already been significant. While it’s easy to think of the costs of game development in terms of salaried staff and studio overheads, people working on small-scale games are typically paying with their own time, or having to purchase assets or software licenses themselves. Contributors to last year’s bundle spoke to me about how the funds helped them pay rent, reduced the strain of the post-college job search or frequently, helped pay for continuing development costs.
For indie developer Jaime Kaiju Marriage, including two of their projects in the Queer Games Bundle — a demo of their detective game Kaiju Noir along with another short game They Live Here Now — paid for the artists needed to finish Kaiju Noir. “Since my games are all personally funded, with a little community support, it was essential,” Marriage said. This year, they’ve put the full version of Kaiju Noir in the bundle as thanks to those who helped fund it.
Many spoke about the sense of community the bundle helps build, particularly among those who live in regions with social and political tensions around being out as LGBTQ+.
“When I first saw the queer game dev bundle go live last year, my eyes lit up, as if I was finally seeing light in the dark,” says Nami, lead developer on a lesbian visual novel called Zeitz Machz. “There are people out there that care about us and are willing to support us. No single word could describe how grateful I feel toward all the people working on the bundle. I immediately wanted to take part in it and this led me here today.”
Developers from the bundle often spoke about supporting and being supported by each other. Without these other queer creators, Nami says she likely wouldn’t be still making games today. As MidBoss CEO Cade Peterson put it when asked about his contribution to the Queer Games Bundle, “I believe in the old adage, ‘A rising tide lifts all ships.’”
MidBoss is one of the more well-known queer studios, best known for cyberpunk adventure game 2064: Read Only Memories, as well as being the organizer behind the Season of Pride sale events across Steam, that similarly highlight games with positive LGBTQ+ representation, alongside charity streams on Twitch hosted by LGBTQ+ streamers.
In the spirit of rising tides, Peterson contributed one of the more ‘big ticket’ indie games to the Queer Games Bundle in 2064: Read Only Memories to help elevate its visibility, while opting out of his cut of the bundle revenue. “When like-minded people work together to do something cool, it becomes a massively powerful thing that can do so much good,” he says.
The Queer Games Bundle isn’t curated, and for good reason. The primary criteria is that entrants identify as queer and are over the age of 18, which means that the definition of a “queer game” can span from a solo journaling horror RPG about a creepy TV station, to a technical driving simulator with robot boyfriends, to a narrative game about memory manipulation. Multiple contributors cited this as one of the things that drew them to the bundle — a sense that one kind of game, creator, or person, wasn’t being privileged over another.
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“There are no gatekeepers and Taylor [McCue] and Nilson [Carroll] deliberately try not to champion any one group. It’s very equal, it’s beautiful,” says Pete Foley, one half of couple-run indie studio Fuzzy Ghost, whose game Pebble Witch (you play as a witch and talk to pebbles) is included in the bundle.
It all comes back to how the bundle prioritizes being pro-community and anti-competition. “Those words aren’t just words, but values that inform how the bundle is organized,” Carroll says. “We don’t want to create another hierarchy, [and] we don’t want to create a new avenue for folks who are already struggling to have to compete in.”
“I think it could get really scary, really fast if someone decided to impose their views on an entire community of artists and deny them money to survive based on weird criteria,” McCue says. “A queer person could literally make a game called ‘Taylor McCue sucks!!!!!’ and as long as they were over 18 and queer and the game ran, I would just shrug and put it in the bundle. My job is to get people funding, not police the queer community or be a curator.”
McCue believes it’s vital not to show any favoritism or prioritization when it comes to the different developers and games within the bundle.
“Some devs make me squint sometimes but to do good for the world sometimes you have to be gullible and trust people are doing their best and just accept them,” McCue says. “I’d rather let someone scam money out of the bundle than deny an innocent person.”
Even while taking a strong ethical line of inclusion, both organizers carefully moderate every submission in the bundle to ensure creators are all adults, and that every submission functions in the way described in a process that includes playing every game, and messaging hundreds of people.
Raptor Boyfriend: A High School Drama
As submissions increase, the logistics become more complicated. “We want to keep things ethical, and we have to make sure that no one gets left behind. New details keep coming up that we have to think about, but we take this work super seriously and stay as organized as possible,” Carroll says.
The bundle changed in some ways since last year, such as the ability for creators to participate while opting out of taking funds. This is encouraged for anyone who wants to contribute an older game while not actively making games, so the revenue split is greater between active developers. (“Please use good judgment” is the advice given on the now-closed submission page.)
The addition of adult games to this year’s bundle is also a new development. Moderating against under-18s trying to submit their games despite this, and other bad faith submissions was, in McCue’s words, a “nightmare.” “Organizing this bundle is hard, but helping other people is one of the best ways to overcome despair.”
The Queer Games Bundle is currently set to end on July 7, extending Pride month just a little longer. In their own words, both organizers sum up what buying the bundle gets you:
“If you are a person who plays games and is looking for maximum hours per dollar (god help you), this is a pretty good deal,” Carroll says. “You’ll get your money’s worth in ways you’ll never have imagined. There [are] SO many games in here, and so much heart, and so much engagement.”
“[There are] enough queer games that you could play a new game every day for a year and not run out,” McCue says. “More valuably, it buys a future where queer artists aren’t desperate and can live as human beings with the dignity to be able to afford what they need while doing what they love. It buys a future.”