Interview by Matt S.
How's this for unexpected; when digital download platforms, such as the PlayStation Network, Steam, and Nintendo’s eShop, started to really take off and become a common way for people to play games, the writing seemed to be on the wall for the physical games media. The assumption went that only the biggest of blockbusters would be able to justify the expense in doing a physical run.
And yet, something very different happened. For a start, indie games became very popular. No longer of exclusive interest to the most committed of players, indie games became far more mainstream, and then a demand for physical copies of them grew.
“People want new experiences and AAA just aren’t providing those. Indies are taking risks and people are appreciating and recognising that,” Josh Fairhurst, one of the founders of Limited Run Games, said.
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“People want ownership, basically. In most cases you don’t actually own the digital games you buy. You just own a license to play it that could be revoked when whatever provider you bought it from inevitably shutters. When you own a physical disc like the ones we put out, you actually own what you bought. Your access to your game is controlled by you and only you.”
It’s amazing that this continues to be the perception behind the purchase of physical disc products. It is only perception, because while physical media might last longer, it inevitably has a lifespan of its own, and yet this idea of ‘permanent ownership’ continues to be the compelling selling point for physical media.
And demand has been so substantial that Limited Run Games has been able to form, and build itself up to become a successful business indeed. As the name suggested, this online retailer specialises in taking games that would otherwise be digital-only releases, and create limited run physical releases for them.
Games that Limited Run Games have produced include Octodad, Soldner-X 2: Final Prototype, Saturday Morning RPG, Oddworld: New & Tasty, and Lost Sea. If there’s a common thread among these games, it’s that they’re extremely niche, but each has a significant cult following. You’ll need to be quick to buy these games, as the “Limited” in the retailer’s name means that once they’re sold out of their run – only a couple thousand at a time - they’re no longer available, making them real collector’s pieces.
“There are a few things that really drove me to want to start Limited Run Games,” Fairhurst said.
“First and foremost, I’ve been a game collector all my life. I still have pretty much every game I’ve ever bought from NES onwards - the few times I’ve traded in games, I’ve sorely regretted it. I love the physicality of game collecting and I love that I can always go back and play the games that I enjoyed. I tend to associate a lot of moments in my life with the games I was playing at those times, so it’s comforting to go back to those games - they’re almost like a time machine for me.
"Second, I’m a game developer and have been one for nearly seven years now. I want my games preserved in a way that future generations will be able to easily (and legally) play and own. I feel like having a physical version of my games exist gives them a legacy that they otherwise wouldn’t have as digital games. Collectors will be trading my games for years to come if they exist in the physical realm. If my games had just had a digital release, it’s very easy to imagine them being forgotten in a few years.
“The final thing that really drove me to start Limited Run was the success vBlank had when it published Retro City Rampage on PlayStation 4 by itself. Prior to that release, it was unheard of for an indie to self-publish a physical game. It was ground-breaking and it opened my eyes to the possibility of doing something like Limited Run. With all of those things combined, I decided to test the waters with Breach & Clear - a game I worked on as a designer and programmer at Mighty Rabbit Studios. It sold out way faster than we expected and the rest is history!”
Limited Run Games is a lean, efficient company. Fairhurst and his business partner rely on their respective gut responses to games a great deal in determining what they’d like to publish. “If we enjoy the game, there is a good chance we’ll want to put it out physically,” he said.
“Since we sell directly to customers we cut out all of the crap inherent in releasing a game physically, so we’re able to keep our costs down. There’s no warehousing, no transportation, distributors, or retail stores. It’s just us and the developer. We also don’t have to pay huge sums of money for a physical ESRB rating.”
And, as much as it might sound like a risky business model, to take niche games and produce physical copies of them, in practice Limited Run Games is actually quite risk adverse. For example. it only prints games that have already been produced, and Fairhurst has no interest in spinning the company to become a full publisher.
“Games always miss deadlines - even the best planned ones,” he said. “We don’t have the kind of money needed to play around with missed deadlines or necessary project extensions. It’d be a really risky move when we’re doing pretty well taking existing games and making them physical. We’re trying to take steps to make sure we stay in business for the next decade and beyond so playing it safe when we can is super important.”
It looks like physical game sales are not going anywhere, and with the ability to sell globally from an online store, many of the costs of retail can be stripped out, and we may well see more companies like Limited Run Games pop up. Throw in soundtracks and other collectibles, and independent developers many well have access to a sales channel that they never anticipated for their games into the future.
- Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld