Limited Run gives digital games a physical legacy

The future for physical video games looks bleak. Major console hardware makers appear to want to ditch the ways to play discs at all: Leaked Microsoft documents revealed a potential disc-less Xbox Series has a removable disk drive that requires an internet connection to pair with a new console. You can get most games digitally these days, but there are countless stories of people losing access to games they bought when digital stores closed or due to licensing issues or inexplicable bans.

Because of the many issues with digital ownership, Josh Fairhurst, the CEO of physical game maker Limited Run Games, thinks people will still care about physical media. “The moment they see things like games being delisted or access being revoked to things they’ve purchased, I think they’re going to say, ‘I wish I’d never stopped buying physical products. ‘,” he says in an interview. of The edge. “I think this will push people to find a way to get that physicality back.”

That’s part of the reason he founded Limited Run, which partners with game makers to release physical copies of their titles. It all started when he and the team at Mighty Rabbit Studios were working on creating a physical version of the Vita title Infringement and clear in 2015. “I don’t think you’ll ever get to a position where 100 percent of people are okay with not owning anything they buy. I just don’t think there is a reality where everyone is okay with it.”

Since its release Infringement and clearLimited Run has worked on many well-known games. It is in the process of producing physical versions of Person 4 Golden and the Castlevania Advance Collection, to name just a few recent examples. And it’s made games for modern platforms like the Nintendo Switch and PS5, as well as games for retro platforms like the Game Boy and the Sega Genesis.

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The point is that Limited Run has to find a way to convince publishers to get in first, which is sometimes a difficult argument when digital sales can be more profitable. “If you sell a copy of your game at retail, you’ll make about $4 or $5,” says Fairhurst. If you sell the game on a digital platform, “you get the full value of that [sale] minus just the 30 percent that the platforms take on the digital side.”

It’s not just about the economy; the logistics of digital sales can also be simpler. “You don’t have to deal with the supply chain, you don’t have to deal with all these price cuts, you don’t have to deal with the potential of producing too much [copies],” says Fairhurst. And when you buy and download a game on a digital platform, you always get the most up-to-date version, which means the game may include bug fixes and new content that wasn’t in the game when it first launched .

What all that means is that if Limited Run wants to convince a larger publisher to offer a physical version of a game, “you really have to convince them that they’re going to make money on every physical copy sold,” Fairhurst said. “So we have to be very aggressive in convincing them that this opportunity makes sense relative to the resources they would have to commit to making this opportunity a reality.”

To help make that happen, Limited Run is taking on much of the production burden from its partners that comes with actually making a physical product. “They don’t have to do the design, manufacturing, distribution and things like that,” Fairhurst says. The company’s pitch is that “we can take away all the headaches and get you as much, if not more, per unit as you see from a single full-price digital sale.”

That pitch is often enough to start a conversation. When Limited Run signs a game for physical release, the company works with the developer to figure out exactly what they’re looking for and how to make it feasible, Fairhurst says. Limited Run sells a variety of different versions of games. Some are standard copies in a box, but others are editions with extra goodies like collectible pins or awesome posters. The company has an in-house engineer to help Limited Run’s partners with digital-to-disc conversions and created the Carbon Engine to help port older games to new platforms. And Limited Run works with suppliers and production facilities to put together a final product.

“We have made our process as turnkey as possible.”

“We’ve made our process as turnkey as possible,” says Fairhurst. “What we wanted to do is create something that was a no-brainer for people, that they could look at and say, ‘Well, why? should not I do that?'”

That said, the many steps involved in creating the more extensive offering mean that Limited Run has been criticized for taking a while to ship things. The company is now selling on a pre-order basis, which means pre-orders are open for a limited time, and then Limited Run will ship products to anyone who purchases them. Previously, the company sold products as it owned them. Under that model, it could ship things immediately when it went on sale, but it also meant that if something sold out, people who missed the sale would be upset because they couldn’t get it.

He describes the new model as “healthier,” but acknowledges that “because you can’t make things until you get those numbers, it means you have to wait before you get the product.” The company is committed to change and said in a March blog post that it is getting help with things like making booklets. More suppliers, manufacturers and assemblers are also being added, and even a new standardized box is being created for use in future collector’s editions. Ultimately, the company’s goal is that when something comes into the warehouse, it goes right out the door, Fairhurst says.

It seems like Limited Run’s business is in a good place right now (although I should note that it’s owned by Embracer Group, and I’m a little concerned that it could become another Embracer subsidiary to see any changes – but that’s a separate problem). But it feels like there could be a not-too-distant future where new gaming hardware doesn’t offer ways to play physical media. I asked Fairhurst what Limited Run could do if that future becomes a reality. “I think this is a case where we need to focus on which platforms have a physical presence,” he says.

Part of the solution could come from looking to the past. Limited Run has released for retro platforms such as the NES, Game Boy and Sega Genesis. Fairhurst says, “There’s a very strong market for that.” (Newer hardware that can play older games from companies like Analogue and Hyperkin likely helps.) He says the company could make more DRM-free PC releases if new consoles don’t let users play physical games. He even speculated that “it’s only a matter of time” before a company like Analogue builds its own platform that would support more than just retro cartridges.

Limited Run does some really cool work and offers great products for collectors. But the releases also serve a greater purpose: keeping games alive, from lesser-known games such as Thimbleweed Park to modern classics such as Celeste, in a way that can’t be taken away by a new digital store or firmware update. In our interview, Fairhurst talked about how the physical copy of Infringement and clear will have a legacy beyond what it had as a digital product. “Even if there are only a limited number of copies of my game available, they will circulate, change hands and move around until they end up in a landfill somewhere – if that ever happens.”

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