Getting physical: Interview with Limited Run Games

As more and more games get announced through their Twitter account (the latest being Mike Bithell’s “Volume” and
“YIIK: A post-modern RPG”), it seems like there’s no better time than now to get in touch with the people behind some of the most exclusive physical releases of this console generation: Limited Run Games.

We talk to Josh Fairhurst from Limited Run Games / Mighty Rabbit Studios, about how making Vita physical releases work, what they’ve done so far, and the amazing year they have for us ahead.

Can you give us brief history of Mighty Rabbit Studios?

In 2008, I worked as a game tester at Epic Games on Gears of War 2. It was hard work, awesome and fun, but really hard from a mental perspective. For months I had no life outside of Gears of War. That experience left me with a supreme respect for the people who craft AAA games but it taught me that maybe AAA wasn’t the right place for me. I wanted to make games but I wanted to make them on my own terms. In 2010, in my final semester of college, I decided to start Mighty Rabbit Studios with my friend, Nic Allen. We started work on Saturday Morning RPG and things grew from there! The game was initially released for iOS devices and it totally flopped financially. Luckily, we were saved by our friends at Gun Media with some contract work – building Breach & Clear. That game ended up being super successful and the rest is history.

And then, Limited Run was born! But how? And more importantly, why?

I’ve been collecting games as far back as my memory goes – I still have all my childhood NES games. Collecting games is an important part of my life and it is a hobby that has gotten me through some tough times. I’ve always hated the rapidly approaching reality of an all-digital future. In many ways, Limited Run is a response to that. Mostly, Limited Run is just an extension of my passion for collecting games. In the olden days it wasn’t possible to do small print runs of games. Platform holders required thousands upon thousands of copies to be ordered – that all changed when Vblank released Retro City Rampage for PS4. Suddenly, a platform holder was willing to work with an indie. Both Sony and Brian Provinciano (from Vblank) should be commended for blazing the trails that made what we’re doing possible.

“The Vita reminds me a lot of the Dreamcast. It’s a criminally shunned piece of hardware that plays host to a wide swath of games from all genres.”

 – Josh on why he loves Vita.

On a slightly different note, as a developer I really wanted to preserve that games I created in a physical format. I honestly believe that games that do not exist physically will be totally forgotten at some point – oftentimes faster than worse games that were released physically. It pains me to think that someone may remember Putty Squad longer than Bastion. If you really think about it, though, long after the digital services that sell Bastion get shut down – Putty Squad is still going to be exchanging hands from collector to collector. It’s going to persist because it is tangible. It has a very real legacy. I wanted to give my games a legacy and I’m also passionate about trying to help other games achieve that.

Between my obsession with collecting games, the very real possibility of small print physical games through Sony, and my desire for legacy – Limited Run was born!

YIIK and Volume getting physical releases on Vita.
YIIK and Volume getting physical releases on Vita.

What made you decide to work with Vita?

My favorite system of all time is the Dreamcast. Douglas, the other half of Limited Run, is also a Dreamcast fanboy. Our love for the Dreamcast exists for a variety of reasons but one of the big ones is that it had such an eclectic and weird library of fun and engaging games. There wasn’t a ton of games – but the ones that were there were mostly good and even if they weren’t good they always had some redeeming quality. The Vita reminds me a lot of the Dreamcast. It’s a criminally shunned piece of hardware that plays host to a wide swath of games from all genres. There isn’t so much content you’ll drown, but there is enough to enjoy for years and pretty much all of it is unique in some way. I love the Vita and I’ll support it until Sony tells us to stop.

One might be under the impression that Sony own the manufacturing logistics for Vita cartridges. What is the physical production process like for Limited Run games?  

Sony is the sole manufacturer of Vita cartridges. Producing a physical game is a lengthy process that starts at product proposal and ends at us receiving the games. Sony provides templates for all the packaging so there isn’t much juicy stuff to share. We burn a lot of test discs on PS4 to test PlayGo functionality, but there are unfortunately no cool test relics on Vita. All of our marketing has been organic. We’re serving a niche that is being completely ignored (on the console front, at least, as the wonderful Indie Box service has PC gamers covered) – so it has been easy for us to grow naturally.

“It pains me to think that someone may remember Putty Squad longer than Bastion.”

– Josh on the legacy of physical releases.

It’s been known to happen that a game is released at different dates in different regions because of rating issues. Do you have to deal with anything similar? Have you had issues with rating, geographical or any other beaurocratic barrier?

Yeah, Sony requires games to be submitted and approved individually in each region (even if the executables are the exact same). In our case, this has caused a huge delay in releasing Breach & Clear in Europe and a small delay for Saturday Morning RPG. They’re coming soon, though!

How did you gauge the market to make sure the project would be financially viable?

We didn’t think a lot of people would want Breach & Clear for the game itself. It’s a game I made and I’m completely willing to admit it isn’t flawless. Douglas and I made sure to market the first release as a stepping-stone to something bigger (and it was!). I think that messaging really helped move copies because people were very passionate about our plight to release more physical games.

“Vita fans are passionate and loyal. Other publishers are missing out by not serving them!”

– Josh on reception of their games.

Between this message and the strict limit, we were pretty confident we’d get our money back on the release. If we didn’t manage to make any money on the game it would have spelt the end for Mighty Rabbit. Our plan was to steamroll any remaining copies in that situation which would have been for cathartic reasons. It also would have made any people who passed the release up very, very, sad because the few copies that sold would have suddenly become worth a mint.

You’re starting to work with games outside of the Mighty Rabbit umbrella. How do you decide who to work with, and what are the criteria that the game/studio combo needs to meet to be approached by Limited Run?

So far we’ve only opened dialog with a few companies. A ton of companies have been coming to us! I firmly believe that all games deserve a physical release but I do have to be cognizant of whether a game actually has a market. We try to work with games that A) serve a niche, B) have unique qualities, C) have a large fan base, or D) appeal to us personally in any way (fun, visual style, genre, etc.). If a game meets one or more of those, we’ll seriously consider it.

How has the reception been like for Limited Run Vita games?

Overwhelming! I should have expected it from the start but I totally didn’t. Vita fans are passionate and loyal. Other publishers are missing out by not serving them!

Did you have a “eureka” moment, when you knew it would “work” (financially, logistically, etc).

When Breach & Clear sold out in 108 minutes – I knew we were on to something big. We had already committed to do this thing by that point, but I didn’t know if it would really work out.

“For Limited Run, we have a lot of releases – we’ve currently got 13+ slated for Vita alone through the end of this year. That number will surely grow.”

– Josh on what the future holds for Limited Run.

For game devs reading this, what can they do to try and get the Limited Run treatment for their games?

Contact Douglas or I – josh@limitedrungames.com or douglas@limitedrungames.com. We’re always up to discussing what we do with developers.

What can we expect from Mighty Rabbit and Limited Run in the future?

From Mighty Rabbit, we’re hard at work on bringing Breach & Clear: Deadline to consoles. Unfortunately it is a very intense game resource wise, so a Vita version is not possible – but we do have something smaller that we hope to bring to Vita soon!

For Limited Run, we have a lot of releases – we’ve currently got 13+ slated for Vita alone through the end of this year. That number will surely grow. It’s weird to think that by the end of 2016, five to ten percent of the entire physical Western Vita library will be Limited Run games…

Anything else you’d like to say to Vita owners, devs and enthusiasts reading this?

Thank you to anyone who has supported us thus far!

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3 Comments on Getting physical: Interview with Limited Run Games

  1. Fantastic interview as always Marcos. It’s just frustrating for me as an individual that I only recently discovered their first two limited edition releases *after* they had sold out so the only way I am going to get them now is paying the ludicrous eBay prices! I’ve already managed to snag a copy of Retro City Rampage DX and the last few limited edition physical releases from Marvelous (not to mention a pre-order for Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night!), but I certainly don’t want to have these gaps in the physical collection.

    I have to agree with them though, an all-digital future for gaming is a dangerous one. It might be convenient for some and certainly easier to carry large libraries of games on the go or on holiday, but it has no future proofing. I’m sitting here writing this surrounded by thousands of games spanning 30 different systems and the bulk are physical copies, some of which are 35 years old. There’s no risk of server downtime or files being deleted so I can’t access them again – they’re just mine to keep. That’s gaming security that contemporary consoles just doesn’t offer anymore.

    • Thank you, Simon!

      I completely agree! Future-proofing is a danger with digital releases. We can already see that problem with PSP losing access to certain features of the PSN Store. I’m sure PS3 and Vita will follow eventually.

      What will happen then? Will we have to resort to emulation?

      I’m actually working on an article about this, which considers a rather… unusual approach to the conservation of digital goods.

      • Thinking more about future-proofing, would Limited Run consider working with publishers to release compilations of older games to preserve them? For example, collections of FuturLab games or a bundle of all of Team 17’s PS Vita games?

        Knowing their popularity, a collection containing Alien Breed, Worms Revolution Extreme, Superfrog and the upcoming Strength Of The Sword Ultimate could be a massive hit.

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