Written By: Erika Haase
The gaming industry seems to be pretty set on digital releases being the wave of the future. There are many arguments for and against this practice, but those who favor it seem to be winning out. While PC gamers have long been accustomed to the idea of games existing only in a digital space, with Steam libraries often full of titles that have yet to be launched, the console community is still adapting. This is with good reason. Even while Microsoft and Sony launched consoles that heavily promoted digitally downloaded content, they did so on gaming platforms that came standardly with 500GB and 1TB hard drives, a portion of which was already taken up by the operating system. To make it worse, Sony has only just now, years after its system launch, allowed for an external hard drive to be used. Sony’s handheld, the Playstation Vita, still relies on proprietary format memory cards that are obscenely over-priced for their storage capacity when a generic micro-SD card would have worked just as well. The Wii U and Nintendo Switch both launched with only 32 GB of internal storage. When people initially were purchasing the Xbox One and Playstation 4 they didn’t seem to grasp why they also needed to invest in a $100 (or more) external HDD, nor should they have. On the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 you could own hundreds of titles and probably still have a few gigs to spare in storage space. Not until a few months later did they start realizing that, once installed, your day-one edition consoles could house about five major AAA titles before you needed to uninstall. If you had downloaded a lot of DLC, it might even be less than that. While representatives assured you that your purchases remained in-tact and you could simply uninstall and reinstall your games, the reality was that upload and download speeds are only ever as good as the servers behind them, and your own personal internet connection speed. In some cases, such as The Witcher 3 or Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, games could easily occupy 100GB a piece, much of it from downloaded content that took hours to make its way to your console. Picking up even a standard, low-space requirement game, such as the newly released Atelier:Firis by Gust and Koei Tecmo, you are still required to have 20GB of free space. A massive open world experience like Horizon:Zero Dawn is launched requiring 40GB of free space if you purchase it digitally, and that number will only rise if any additional content is released. There’s a reason that people protested Microsoft’s initial proposal that the Xbox One not support physical games, and this is that reason.
Looking at it from a developer point of view, however, companies like Best Buy, and most notoriously, Gamestop, are skewing the sales figures of new titles with the sales of used games. In the case of Gamestop, in 2015 used games sales and new game sales were nearly tied for the percentage of sales with the company officially reporting that new game sales made up ~31% of overall revenue with used games making up ~25%. With advertising costs for new software being so costly in big box retailers, and the knowledge that a used copy has been proven to be promoted over a new one at the register, it’s no wonder that developers and publishers are pushing digital services with discounts for PlaystationPlus and XboxLiveGold members, early access promotions, and even free games every month. For many indie developers, however, a hard copy isn’t even on their radar. Happy to even have a publisher, they simply can’t invest in enough places to make physical presence in brick-and-mortar stores a reality.
Therefore, we come to an impasse. Is the additional cost required for external hard drives on top of the purchase price of the game itself something you’re willing to accept as a consumer? Or do you choose to purchase a physical copy and not have to wait for hours to download it from an overloaded server on release day and simply install it off the disc instead. It’s nice to have an option, but again, if you’re an indie title – you don’t even have that. Worse yet, if a company goes out of business, legal mishaps transpire that you’re unaware of, or you get locked out of your Steam account for a myriad of reasons, games can simply disappear into the ether. If your installed copy gets deleted (ala the infamous example of Konami and P.T.) it may simply cease to exist – sometimes both as your purchase and as the game itself. Granted, this is rare, but it’s happened before and will definitely happen again. The amount of control you have over digital ownership has been contested before and is an indicator that “ownership” in the digital world is not nearly as solidified as the disc you can let your friend borrow for the weekend. What’s also being overlooked in these situations is the loss of media for a historical purpose. What record really exists of them?
Enter Limited Run Games. Born out of the development studio Mighty Rabbit Studios in Raleigh, North Carolina, this company has a mission to help bring previously digital only titles into a physical space. Becoming immensely popular for what was seen as a crazy gamble in an increasingly digital marketplace, they’ve now become the first name out of many indie developers lips when talking about the reality of having a hard copy product. (If you caught our interview with Rain World developers James Therrien and Joar Jakobsson, they mentioned Limited Run Games as their probable outlet in going physical for the future) By taking on the process of building hype and printing responsibilities, Limited Run Games has taken on the burden of marketing and creation that wasn’t possible for many developers before that point. Even widely successful games like Mike Bithell’s Thomas Was Alone or Volume or Campo Santo’s award winning Firewatch, weren’t physical until Limited Run Games gave them life. By selling in limited quantities, strictly online, with fairly priced games and prompt shipping and fun extras, Limited Run Games libraries are coveted and highly collectable. If you are in the market for a physical copy of a niche title, chances are this is where you’ll find it.
I wanted to hear it straight from the co-founders themselves on why this mission is so near and dear to their heart. What I didn’t realize was how it almost cost them everything they owned to pursue. Read on for my interview with President and Co-Founder of both Mighty Rabbit Studios and Limited Run Games, Josh Fairhurst and Co-Founder and COO of Limited Run Games, Douglas Bogart as we talk about their mission, what they’re making now, and even their dream projects for the future.
Big Cheshire Grin (/BCG): Thanks very much, first of all, for being here today with Big Cheshire Grin (or BCG for those who prefer abbreviations). I know you’re both coming right off the heels of GDC2017 and PAXEast2017, so welcome back, and welcome to the site!
Limited Run Games (LRG): Thank you for having us!
/BCG: Before we jump right into the questions, first off congrats on your latest announcement as of barely 24 hours ago that Ray Gigant is your next physical title coming to Playstation Vita on April 14th! Secondly, are there any highlights from PAXEast2017 or GDC2017 you’d like to share? Did you meet anyone you were hoping to? Have any interesting moments or observations from the shows that were different than last year?
LRG Doug Bogart: This year was definitely much different than last year. People actually knew who we were! We also had our first booth at PAX East, so it was awesome to connect with fans and developers.
/BCG: Oh wow I didn’t realize this was your first booth year! That’s pretty special. You had a special PAX version of Runner 2, right?
LRG Doug: Yes we brought a special cover variant of Runner 2. We also brought along a few copies of some of our past releases and we held some raffles at our booth!
/BCG: Meet anyone particularly memorable? Shots with Cliffy B over at the LawBreakers booth?
LRG Josh Fairhurst: We met some cool people at GDC – Swery65 (Deadly Premonition) and Justin Roiland (creator of Rick and Morty)
LRG Doug: We are actually located pretty close to Cliffy B, so we get to run into him at local bars.
/BCG: That’s awesome. Tell Swery65 I’m waiting on more Deadly Premonition! He can’t just leave us hanging like that.
LRG Doug: Everyone I met at PAX East would be a spoiler!
/BCG: HA! Fair enough. Alright so moving on to you guys and a little history. Mighty Rabbit Studios was initially created to develop games in 2010. At what point along the line did you also create Limited Run Games? For our readers, can you give a summary of how that time line worked?
LRG Josh: I started Mighty Rabbit in 2010 during my final year of college in order to make a game called Saturday Morning RPG. I managed to find some very light funding that allowed us to start and things kicked off from there. We finally released that game in 2012 and it was a critical success, but failed commercially. From there we were pretty much broke and forced to move into building games for others – thankfully we found a great client in Gun Media (now working on Friday the 13th) to build a turn-based strategy game for them, Breach & Clear.
LRG Josh: We spent a year building Breach & Clear and then moved on to a sequel of sorts, Breach & Clear: Deadline. That project ended up sapping all of our money and by the end of it we were about to go out of business. We had $10K in the bank, enough to cover one last payroll – or to take a stupid gamble and do a physical release of Breach & Clear which we had launched on Vita a few months prior (to no commercial or critical success).
LRG Josh: We chose to take a stupid gamble and release Breach & Clear on a Vita cartridge. It worked out and ended up selling out in 108 minutes. In those 108 minutes, it made 6 times what it had made digitally in five months
/BCG: I bet you were counting every single minute, too.
LRG Josh: Actually, I was so excited about the release after it launched and sales rolled in that I wasn’t paying attention, haha. Bill from Zeboyd Games (Cosmic Star Heroine) counted for me. From there we were able to move into helping other developers do physical releases of their games – clearly there was an audience for this. I’m a collector so I knew this was something I wanted, I just needed to prove out the concept financially
/BCG: That must have been the most amazing/most terrifying day.
LRG Josh: Yeah, it definitely was – I would have lost my home if it hadn’t sold. In order to keep Mighty Rabbit going during the lead up to the physical Breach & Clear launch, I took out a loan, which would have been impossible to pay off had it failed.
/BCG: I think it speaks so much to your mission as both a collector and what you want your company to provide for other developers, however, that you put so much personally on the line for this concept. Aside from being able to prove it financially, which you obviously did, it showed a next level belief in your ability to succeed.
/BCG: Josh – You said this a year ago in an interview with We Got This Covered: “It’s sad to me that even the worst games of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s have more permanence than some of the best games of the late 2000s onward. I really hope to change that with Limited Run Games…If Limited Run Games is not successful, it’s unlikely anyone else will ever bother with this concept.” With your obvious success, do you still feel that’s the case, or do you think your success has inspired others (even if it’s just the major developers/publishers) to start creating more physical copies?
LRG Josh: Yeah, definitely. Other people have popped up who are doing what we’re doing, and I think some of the more traditional publishers are starting to pay more attention to the prospects of indie games at retail. There are still some developers who believe in being fully digital (I can’t say who), and it’s a shame that they feel that way, as it means two of the best digital games out there will be stuck that way.
/BCG: It’s interesting how many big developers still seem like they’re trying to figure it out. Square-Enix is a fantastic example of this. They created I Am Setsuna, which is purely digital, but when they made World Of Final Fantasy, they gave it a physical copy on both PS4 and PSVita.
Edit 3/22/2017: I Am Setsuna does have a physical copy in Japan, however if you’re unwilling to pay import costs, it is still widely unavailable physically. Thanks to a reader for the reminder/pointing this out!
/BCG: Just a quick personal aside that proves Josh’s point about permanence: It’s important to note that assets were lost even when companies went to make HD remakes of major titles from the PS2 era. A glaring example of this is the original Kingdom Hearts. Tetsuya Nomura admitted that the original data was lost, and that’s a massive company with a huge number of assets. Another great example is Silent hill 2 & 3 in which the company that did the remaster, Hijinx, apparently didn’t even have access to high definition assets, hence the terrible remaster/port. Never mind the smaller companies with much smaller budgets.
LRG Doug: I’m still trying to get I Am Setsuna for PS4 physical!
/BCG: Douglas, keep trying! People will buy that up in record time.
LRG Josh: Square is particularly weird to me, because they have an online store already – it would be so, so, easy for them to release physical versions of their digital-only games through their own site and sell direct-to-consumer.
/BCG: Yes, especially when people keep asking for it! Look how long it took them to bring Dragon Quest VII remastered over to the West. That fan base is internationally massive!
LRG Doug: Yeah it includes me. When it finally came out, I was neck deep in other games.
/BCG: Doug, you had mentioned in an interview with Tech Raptor at E3 2016 that you felt like the PS Vita was the Dreamcast of this generation. That’s kind of a perfect comparison given how the Dreamcast got completely overshadowed by the arrival of the PS2 and so many people played Dreamcast titles on bootlegged copies. I don’t know a single person right now who actually still owns their Dreamcast, and I haven’t seen an actual Dreamcast game case in years. Are you afraid this will happen to the PS Vita?
LRG Doug: I think Vita fans will keep their Vitas. I know people who still have their Dreamcasts, but that number has definitely lowered as the years go by. Josh and I will always have ours and some back-ups. I think it would be possible to port games in the future, and I can see a lot of compilations or remasters coming out. They already did it with tons of PS3 games.
/BCG: Will it be technically possible to port a lot of the titles over to a mainline PlayStation console to save them for posterity? Or will we have a PSP issue with games stuck there.
LRG Josh: PSP games are, unfortunately, stuck there – the files used for them are not compatible with Vita physical media. And UMD production halted a few months ago – so yeah. 😦
/BCG: I’m imagining on the tech side, the medium to create for the Vita is more amenable to carrying forward than the PSP was? I know there are really precious few PSP games that have made it to the PSN store.
LRG Doug: I feel like we will see some Vita games make it over to PS4 one day. PSP would have to be a full remaster like they did with Final Fantasy Type-0.
LRG Josh: I think the PSP game most people are worried about is Trails in the Sky SC. That will never see an English language physical release, unfortunately.
/BCG: Speaking of older games – this question is for both of you – I love how you brought up at E32016 potentially working with Koei Tecmo on the Atelier+ games. I love the Atelier series and have played every entry on the PS2/PS3/PS4 released in the West, but I haven’t bought them on Vita because I have no room on my memory card and moving things around has become tedious. In at least two cases, Atelier Meruru and Atelier Ayesha – content was added that fans really wanted and have missed out on. Can you talk more about the status of this potential partnership?
LRG Josh: We’ve been talking to Koei for a while, but the big thing is partnerships with US branches of Japanese companies still have to be approved by the Japanese branch and that stuff all takes a really, really, long time. It’s something we’re still hopeful will happen, but I don’t know when it will happen or how likely it will be. Koei was the first big company to bother discussing things with us, so I really appreciate their dedication to trying to make this happen.
/BCG: Speaking of Japanese gaming genres, and shifting over to another: You have officially partnered with Sekai Project, correct? Can you give a brief summary to people who don’t know – what is Sekai Project and why are you so excited to be a part of it?
LRG Josh: Sekai Project publishes a ton of high-quality Japanese and Eastern Visual Novels. I’m a fan of Visual Novels so being able to partner with a company that has so many great VNs in their library is awesome. We’re currently working with them on Narcissu, World End Economica, Rabi-Ribi, and fault milestone one. We hope to move on to many more after those!
/BCG: Yes, they have many games listed on their website. Are you picking based on demand which come first, or is it licensing, etc.
LRG Josh: It comes down to what is available on Vita/PS4 and what they have the rights to. It’s mostly up to them, honestly.
/BCG: Josh, you’ve mentioned in the past how visual novels are so much better to be played on a handheld. I have the same opinion, like with Hakuoki on the 3DS, for example, originally on PSP. I would never want to sit on a couch. They’re like books that you want to read in bed. The most recent one I played actually, Amnesia, I played exactly like that. To both of you, what’s your most recent visual novel played, and what might you recommend to people who don’t really “get” the genre?
LRG Josh: Most recently it was Steins;Gate 0. For the uninitiated, it’s easiest to get into games like Ace Attorney, Zero Escape, and Danganronpa which break up the VN stuff with puzzle gameplay.
LRG Doug: I agree with what Josh said, I am more into the VNs that break up gameplay with puzzles.
/BCG: Doug, I think I have to agree with you on that one. I love the Zero Escape games. I make for a terrible girl in Visual Novel romances. I have yet to get a guy to like me in Amnesia. They all land up thinking I’m mean. I DO have to play Steins;Gate 0, though.
LRG Doug: It’s a great series! I need to finish Steins;Gate first before I jump into 0. Planes are not a good place for me to play VNs.
/BCG: You mean you don’t want to explain them to the person sitting next to you, haha?
LRG Doug: That, and reading makes me sleepy!
/BCG: I highly recommend you play Dungeon Travelers 2 on a plane next to someone. The art stills are… conversation starters
LRG Doug: I would do it in a heartbeat. I play Senran Kagura on planes!
/BCG: HAHA! Alright back to serious questions that don’t involve fan service, life, and hometown (10 points to people who get that reference) How does it feel to be branching out from indies to working with pretty major developers? Do you prefer the more personal passion of one project over the more corporate environment of another?
/BCG: Both of you have come from some pretty big name backgrounds. Josh, you worked at Epic Games doing game testing, and Douglas, you worked at Ubisoft in tech support and as a Game Manager. Having come from working in such big budget environments, what did you take from it in creating your own development studio and then later Limited Run Games? Is there a constant you feel exists even between giant studios and indie ones?
LRG Doug: For me at the end of the day, we all work in games and can typically find that as common ground. The biggest hang up with bigger developers is there are more lawyers and people that have to approve things.
LRG Josh: Working at a big company made me realize how terrible crunch is in the game industry – don’t get me wrong, working at Epic was incredible – but there is a group mentality regarding crunch where if someone is crunching you’re expected to do it with them. Crunch isn’t a matter of personal accountability – it’s a requirement. When I worked there I was pulling fourteen hour days for seven days a week (while still a full-time college student). It was miserable. [When] starting my own development company, I swore to not bring the group crunch mentality over and to instead champion personal accountability.
LRG Josh: With Limited Run, I’m just very conscious about always helping developers. Mighty Rabbit still exists because Limited Run saved it. I have the power to change the lives of smaller developers and I love that. We’re very developer friendly, and I think our partners have picked up on that, and that’s helped our reputation grow and flourish in the developer community. I am a developer, so I understand their plights. I’m not a suit out to exploit them or their game.
/BCG: That’s a really great way of putting it “crunch mentality.” I’ve seen it first hand when I was working with Take-Two Interactive and saw the exhaustion on the faces of Rockstar employees. I’m very glad that you guys exist to “not be suits,” and to help get that kind of dedication out to the world.
LRG Doug: I do like wearing a suit though…
/BCG: Doug, you can wear a suit, but it has to be a cool suit. So, what is Mighty Rabbit up to now that Limited Run Games is in the spotlight?
LRG Josh: We’re focused on work-for-hire projects. We’re doing some work on a pretty big upcoming indie game. We hope to move into doing another original project at some point in late 2017. It wouldn’t be released until early 2019 at the earliest, though, so it isn’t worth getting excited about yet.
/BCG: Too late. The internet is now excited.
/BCG: You have a major dedication to the PSVita, however, we’re seeing a ton of indie interest in the Nintendo Switch, now that the console is out. Have you already been in contact with developers or with Nintendo about making physical releases for the Switch or is that still wrapped in red tape? One game that comes to mind immediately is Hollow Knight.
LRG Josh: We’re working on getting something set up with Nintendo! Nothing set in stone yet, but fingers crossed that it all works out.
/BCG: You also have The Silver Case coming out on PC physically (which if anyone doesn’t know was the debut game for SUDA51) – and physical PC games are rapidly becoming extinct. Since so many laptops don’t have disc drives anymore, and people are moving towards mobile devices like tablets, the Surface, etc. do you see a real future in printing any more physical PC titles?
LRG Josh: I think there is still a sizable amount of nostalgia for the right PC games. We’ll probably do a few more but it won’t be a case of us releasing PS4, Vita, and PC for everything we do. We’re being really picky about what we’ll do a PC release of – it has to be a really good game or something historically significant. I think the audience that wants physical PC releases wants them done as big box releases like we did for The Silver Case – that’s where a lot of PC physical nostalgia lies. No one else is bothering to do big box PC releases, and I think that’s a mistake. Most target a smaller form factor.
/BCG: It’s true. I was in a Gamestop the other day on line, and a guy was asking if there were any collector’s editions being made for a few upcoming PC titles. There weren’t. So, there definitely is a market out there it’s just about finding it.
/BCG: I actually recently just purchased Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath & Firewatch. Stranger’s Wrath I had a personal connection to because someone actually stole my original copy back in the day, and it’s not an easy game to find. I was overjoyed to not only now have a copy of the game again, but now I have extra merch for it that I didn’t have in the first place, like the map and deck of playing cards! Do you work with the game’s developers to identify what little extras they’d like to include – like who wants a soundtrack, who wants a map, the concept of the postcard that came with Firewatch, etc.?
LRG Doug: Everything we do is based around what the developer wants. Like we said, we are very developer friendly. If there is something they want to pursue we will go above and beyond to find a way for them!
/BCG: Having been through your purchasing process, I think it’s very fairly managed. You give really solid information about exactly what times things will be up for sale, and I think splitting up the time of day to purchase is genius in case, say, someone’s stuck at work. How have you worked on perfecting that process over time? How do you want to perfect it further?
LRG Doug: In terms of how we perfect the sale process and picking different times, we are very transparent with our community and ask for their feedback by having polls and surveys.
LRG Josh: I tend to be very reactive about customer feedback when something goes wrong. I’m always looking to try and improve things for customers so we always do our best to correct any issues that occur. For example, early on we found an exploit that allowed people to add an item to their cart before they should be able to. We worked out a way to prevent that. That made the whole process much more smooth for people.
/BCG: As a follow up to that: How do you feel you’ll maintain the feeling of “exclusivity” or is that less important than your original mission of keeping the media alive for the future? Do you see any reprints in the future for games that are in high demand?
LRG Doug: We won’t personally do any re-prints, but once our version has sold out, the rights revert back to the developers should they want to do a re-print. We just ask that the cover be exclusive to us.
/BCG: You’ve said that for some developers they’ve seen greater profit through physical than digital (especially the indies). Is this because of the way the digital marketplaces work on the console side, or just a lack of marketing budget?
LRG Josh: That’s not necessarily always the case – some of the bigger games we’ve released have likely seen substantially more digitally than physically. But some of the smaller games have likely seen more from us. I know the Mighty Rabbit games definitely made more physically than digitally! I definitely think that releasing through us gives games a bit of a spotlight that they may not have currently digitally. We’re focusing a pretty big marketing effort on each title, so that probably helps drive revenue.
/BCG: Alright as a wrap up question for both of you – Do you have a dream project for the future? And since I land up asking everyone I’ve interviewed so far this question – what is your favorite game? I know everyone has several come to mind, but if you had to pick one, do any stand out?
LRG Doug: Favorite game hands down forever is Phantasy Star Online. Dream project for me is to work with Sega someday
/BCG: That might be the fastest response I’ve ever gotten to that question, Doug, haha.
LRG Josh: My favorite game is also Phantasy Star Online – Douglas and I used to play it together in middle school (we sunk over 1,000 hours into it a piece). My dream games to release are Ace Attorney 5 and 6!
/BCG: Awesome choices. I had no idea you two had known each other that long!
/BCG: Time to wrap this up. It’s been awesome talking to you both. Are there any last shout outs you’d like to make, promote, or teaser information you can leave our readers?
LRG Doug: Not sure how to switch it up for a teaser…
LRG Josh: We’ve got something really big in the works that a lot of people will be very excited about – it’s a partnership with a pretty big company. Hopefully it works out! That’s about the best teaser I can provide.
/BCG: Hey that works! And of course, Runner2 will be up for sale at 10AM EST on March 17th for PS4 and PSVita. Ray Gigant will be coming April 14th to PS Vita as your next, just announced physical release, as well. Thank you so much for taking time out of whirlwind announcements and conferences to talk with us!
Limited Run Games: No problem! Thanks for taking the time to interview us.
You can follow Limited Run Games on Twitter @LimitedRunGames, Facebook, and Instagram to keep up to date with the latest titles they will be publishing. You can also keep tabs on merchandise via their official site www.limitedrungames.com, where you can also participate in their official Forum for discussion. If you want to feel like you’re in the office with the team, you can usually find them on their official Twitch channel Monday thru Friday at 5PM EST.
Disclaimer: I was not subsidized in any way for this interview with Limited Run Games, nor do they share my personal thoughts or opinions. I have received no complimentary merchandise in exchange for positive reviews of their services. I make no money if you click on any of these links. Nobody likes fake news.