Game maker Valve kicked off a promotion today that allows fans to force the early release of Portal 2 if they buy a bundle of 13 independent games through its online store. It’s an innovative idea, though the execution makes the effort feel a little crass.

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UPDATED. In an apparent attempt to capitalize on interest in the upcoming release of Portal 2, game maker Valve kicked off a promotion Friday that allows fans to force an early release of the game if they buy a bundle of 13 independent games through its online store. It’s an innovative idea, though the execution leaves something to be desired, making the whole effort feel a little crass.

Update: As pointed out by commenters, gamers who already own the games don’t have to buy the bundle or individual games to help prompt an early release of the game. Those who already have the titles can just play the games, and their progress will help speed up the release. People who don’t have any of the titles are encouraged to buy all or some of the bundle.

The promotion, which has the potential to bring in significant revenue for the game bundle, is being met with tough reactions from many gamers, who feel like it was a bad surprise and was pushing them to buy unwanted games. That’s in part because the promotion was the extension of an ongoing alternate reality game marketing campaign by Valve, meant to stoke interest in Portal 2’s April 19 release. The game included a series of clues that suggested the game might be released early: Friday.

Instead, fans found a timer counting down to the April 19 release of Portal 2. The site said it’s recruiting CPUs to initiate a faster reboot of GLaDOS, the evil computer in the original Portal. In order to do that, users are encouraged to buy the Potato Sack bundle of 13 independent games, collectively discounted to $40. So far, none of the games have been bought more than 5,000 times, well short of the apparent threshold for early release. At this point, it’s unclear if enough gamers will jump in to force an early release of the game.

Though the Portal 2 promotion feels like it could use some more thought, it’s another example of how companies and brands are using creative ideas to distribute content. In 2007, Radiohead tried a pay-what-you-want model for its album In Rainbows, which it released directly to fans. Last year, a group of independent game developers banded together to offer the Humble Bundle, allowing gamers to pay what they want for the $80 value, with the money going to developers and a couple of non-profits. With Kickstarter, the crowd funding start-up in New York, there’s also a new way for projects to distribute their work and get paid. In fact, game developer Muse Games used Kickstarter to sell limited editions of its CreaVures title as part of the game’s launch.

Those efforts, though, highlight why the Portal 2 promotion has limited appeal. The fans are open to getting content in different ways if they see value in it. That’s a key part of Kickstarter’s proposition: that projects need to offer supporters some kind of reward for their pledge. With the Portal 2 promotion, it takes up to $40 to do your part to get the title released early — (you can also buy games individually) which is a fair amount to spend on games — so you can have the privilege of spending more money on the game you really want. And there’s no tipping point like in Kickstarter to ensure an investment will pay off in the desired action. People just have to buy up and hope that others join in too. It may be a nice gesture to support indie game developers, but for people who are really just interested in Portal 2, it can be a little too much selling. Finally, the pay off is pretty minimal. It would be nice to get a game early, but with the April 19 release date fast approaching and the threshold for release a ways off, it’s not that much of a benefit to get the game a few days early. A week or more, and that might be cool.

I still like that Valve was trying something new here, but the execution seems off. But done right, we could see similar campaigns work well in generating buzz, driving extra revenue and increasing consumer loyalty to. Right now, Portal 2’s promotion seems to only hitting two out of the three.

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  1. I think your explanation is somewhat off. The release is not based on how many purchases of the game pack, but of how much playtime the various games have. I already have several of the games, and am contributing by playing. I did not have to purchase the bundle.

    1. Thanks for the information. I’ve updated the story. It wasn’t clear at first to me that playing existing games helped speed up the release.

  2. And if you know the original portal game, the whole thing is hilarious and inspired. The first game encourages the players to keep going on the promise of cake. This fits right in, the game eggs you on to play other games for an early launch?!? Folks, isn’t the cake a lie? :D

    Pure genius!

    1. Paula, can you please shut the hell up about the cake is a lie now that Portal has been out for almost five years? Thank you very much. Have a great weekend and try not to run every single joke you hear into the ground

      1. Wow dude don’t be such a jerk.

      2. Thank you, Jimmy.

        Clearly the author of this story didn’t have all the facts straight when he wrote this. He was asking for opinions of the marketing campaign behind the launch of Portal 2. Believe it or not, I’m a gamer and in marketing, so I responded.

        There were also a lot of “outsiders” that were directed to this post. “Social moms” tweeted about it, so a lot of people, even the original poster, weren’t clear on the game, it’s jokes, or even what the intent of Valve was when they began the promo for Portal 2.

        Don’t assume that everyone reading this post has been playing Portal for the last five years. The marketing campaign around the launch is drawing new attention to an old game. Which is good for gamers, for Valve, for anyone who wants to get angry about someone beating a dead horse, I guess.

  3. Way to criticize something without getting it. You aren’t required to buy the games to get the release, just play. I contributed by playing 2 of the games because I already owned them.

  4. You completely missed the crassness of only the PC buyers getting the benefit of early release. I ordered my PS3 copy through Amazon. Do you think it will show up early at my doorstep if I play more Steam games?

    1. Considering how many times I have bought a game on steam, only to have the box copies of the game(either PC or console) in people’s hands before the release date, only for me to have to wait until the middle of the day to even start -downloading- the game, and then not being able to play it until the day after the official launch day…

      Suffice to say, I feel very little sympathy. Kudos to Valve for throwing a bone to people who use their service. Valve made Portal 2, they made Steam, they have the power to distribute the game in any way they see fit, and in this case instead of pushing their own agenda and their own games, they are drumming up sales for indie developers. If that’s crass, we should all be so crass.

  5. You should know better than to copy disinformation off of VentureBeat… as others have said, you just have to play the games that are included in that bundle, many of which have been available for years. (I own several from past mega-sales at Steam.)

    Worst case situation here is, the game launches on its advertised release date.

    No harm, no foul.

  6. Seraphina Brennan Friday, April 15, 2011

    I’m going to echo what the others have said — the information above is false. The meters on GLaDOS’s reboot correspond to the number of users currently (and actively) playing the various indie games on steam. They are not related to the number of times the pack, or a specific game has been purchased.

    The idea here is to get people to play the above games in order to reboot GLaDOS. If you already own the games (and most steam users own at least 1 of the games in the pack, most likely) you can contribute to the cause by simply playing that game. That’s all.

    The idea is to collaborate and work together to play games and get the meters to rise and release portal 2 early. And it’s also awesome to see Indie developers showcased at the front of Portal 2’s launch instead of mainstream games.

  7. People can simply play the games, unless they don’t own them, then they obviously have to buy them in order to accomplish anything for an early release. Either way it’s a pretty ridiculous and unquantified way to get a game a day early (or exactly on time, as the timer predicts).

    Frankly the ARG was great – it encouraged people to buy the games, it prompted a lot of interest in the game and you felt like you got something in return for participating in a pre-lauch publicity stunt. And that’s fine, because I want more people to play this game because I think there should be more games like it out there… and supporting smaller indy games is great too, it’s a nice way to encourage players to branch out, while still getting their monolith production.

    The final “surprise” of the ARG however reduced a highly involved, innovative and truly fun experience into a slap in the face that said: buy and play these other games and in some random amount of time you’ll get Portal 2, most likely a couple hours early or exactly on time on the announced release date – as per the continued timer print out. Thanks for turning one of the best releases and a fun marketing ploy into an outright boring cash cow Valve. I and so many more will remember this.

  8. Valve is letting gamers play successful indie games to help get an early release for Portal 2, there is no need to buy anything. Valve is basically raising awareness for indie developers and letting people play their games for a fun goal. Bad research for more interest to your readers is pathetic.

  9. I agree with some of the recent comments. This article is full of errors and needs to be edited. You do not need to buy the potato sack or any of its games. If you already own any of these indy games (and most people who would be buying portal 2 on steam do) you just have to play them. I’ve been playing audiosurf to help out.

    What disappointed fans is this author referencing anyway?

  10. Or, you know, wait until Tuesday……

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