The Growing Shame of Limited Run Games - A Company Running a Cunning Illusion

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Posted by Pacario (10 posts) -

What? Who would dare hate on Limited Run Games (LRG)? Since 2015, this noble enterprise has served the cause of game preservation by converting digital-only releases, both the popular and obscure, into physical copies perfect for anyone’s dusty collection. Well, almost anyone—the company takes its “limited run” mantle rather seriously, often releasing these gems in scant, two/three thousand-piece allotments, meaning those not paying attention will often miss out. Indeed, even those who camp the site often find themselves losing to other ravenous buyers.

But wailing about the sad realities of limited supply versus demand is not the focus of the following screed. Rather, it’s a testament to everything else LRG does wrong. Listed below are my chief complaints and/or concerns about a company that, some might say, has hit its sophomoric slump.

1. The MisleadingLimited Run” Misnomer: Yep, early on, LRG’s print runs were so meager, many had to resort to eBay to actually nab a copy. But times are a-changin’, with preorders now being the norm. This means anyone who slaps down some cash within a specified period can be assured a copy, and I do mean anyone—per LRG’s loosening standards, there are no limits on these sales, so a single order can feasibly extend into the thousands of units sold. The following LRG disclosure illustrates this perfectly: There is no limit on this item. Orders of 30 copies (or multiples of 30) will ship in factory sealed case packs.

Wow. And if that weren’t enough, big-time retailers like Best Buy also purchase titles to sell in their stores, while some games like Wonder Boy and the Dragon’s Trap have since been re-released by different publishers after their initial run through LRG. Here’s a final example: Oddworld: New ‘N’ Tasty, a long since sold out PS4 title, is being issued again—but this time for the PlayStation 3. A clever loophole, indeed.

Now, many will shrug and say, “So what? Let these companies sell as many copies as possible.” It’s a fair point, to be sure, but it stands in stark contradiction to the “limited run” illusion the company loves to perpetuate. It’s great these games are available, but don’t be fooled, most are hardly rare, and all of them can be published again by other parties at any point in the future.

The “elusive” Wonder Boy was originally released through LRG before seeing rise, again, as a Nicalis title. And yep, it’s still readily available on Amazon.com.
The “elusive” Wonder Boy was originally released through LRG before seeing rise, again, as a Nicalis title. And yep, it’s still readily available on Amazon.com.

2. The Collector Edition Addiction: Ideally, if LRG’s mission was purely about preserving games and serving the art form, patrons would be charged a reasonable amount—usually $25.00 to $35.00—for the privilege of owning a favored title. And this is, indeed, the common rate for standard releases. But LRG, being ever so crafty, prefers exploiting the collector’s fetish by offering pricier “special editions” alongside the vanilla versions. While the casual folk won’t likely care, we all know that many a collector, by the nature of his station, will often feel obligated to spill the extra cash for what is, in actuality, a limited edition of a game already, uh, supposedly limited. Gotta catch ‘em all, right?

Is a collector’s edition—especially one going for $84.99—really necessary for an old game already printed in the millions across multiple systems?
Is a collector’s edition—especially one going for $84.99—really necessary for an old game already printed in the millions across multiple systems?

3. Horrible Hours of Availability: Do you hold a job, have responsibilities, or are otherwise preoccupied between the hours of 8am to 6pm? If so, managing to snag one of LRG’s more enticing titles might prove impossible due to the company’s insistence of selling its wares at two specific times without exception—10am and 6pm Eastern, and always on a Friday. Games offered for preorder bypass this issue, but for holy grails such as Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon for the PlayStation Vita, if you weren’t prepared right when those games dropped, you lost out. Those West Coast folks have it good…

4. Shoddy Shipping: Per LRG’s own procedures—Orders containing Vita games only or 1 PS4/Switch game will be automatically shipped in a bubble mailer. Hmm, doesn’t sound so bad, right? Oh, but it is! For $5.59, the customer gets a flimsy, almost paper-thin bubble mailer to house his “rare,” beloved game. But no worries! For an additional $1.99, the gamer can opt for a cardboard box instead. In other words, for the bargain price of $7.58, gamers can have their itty-bitty Vita purchase sent without worry of damage! This is no exaggeration, either. I recently received a Switch game in one of these meager mailers, and sure enough, the case was cracked on arrival. Worse, LRG wasn’t anxious to replace my item, either, claiming I should have paid extra for the box! After a couple of more e-mails, the company did do right and finally sent me another copy (in yet another bubble mailer, absurdly). But this is one issue that needs to be addressed, pronto.

LRG’s default bubble mailer is too flimsy to offer much more than the most rudimentary of protection. In other words, the company wants you to spend even more on a box...
LRG’s default bubble mailer is too flimsy to offer much more than the most rudimentary of protection. In other words, the company wants you to spend even more on a box...

5. Delays and Long Waits: Not much to add here except, yep, gamers should expect a substantial wait time for any order placed. Some titles arrive quickly, others take months, others are delayed due to shipping issues, problems with the developer, and extra content chosen to be included at the last minute. Some might not mind so long as the game eventually comes, but unpredictability, not consistency, is the operative word here.

To be fair, LRG has shown some recent improvement, from the aforementioned shift toward preorders (itself a double-edged sword), to a one-item restriction on games with extremely thin print runs. But LRG’s growing prominence and influence has ramifications for the entire “niche” industry. As the glut of these “limited,” “rare,” and “obscure” games grow, it undermines other underserved submarkets, especially those of the homebrew variety. Could retro reservoirs like AtariAge begin dwindling in the shadow of LRG and its copycat contemporaries, Strictly Limited Games and Super Rare Games? Hard to say, but an endlessly fragmented market can’t be good in the long term.

Lastly, collectors have reason to be annoyed, too. Despite the excitement of owning copies of their favorite games not tied to on-line servers or temporary licenses, anyone clamoring to, say, assemble the full physical library of the PlayStation Vita are in for a rude awakening. Indeed, with new Vita—or Switch, or PS4—games bubbling up all over the Web’s wild periphery, tracking and procuring every obscure release is becoming a nigh impossibility. Or, at least, a costly reality.

Is the gaming world a better place with the rise of Limited Run Games and its eager competitors? Maybe, maybe not, but one thing’s for sure—collectors and consumers alike could stand some better treatment.

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#1 Edited by jeremyf (411 posts) -

I've only become aware of LRG recently, but I haven't had any complaints so far. Celeste has been delayed a lot, but that's to get the DLC on disc so I understand that. And I think the collector's editions are fun, but nonessential indulgences (like last week's Psychonauts!).

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#2 Edited by Pacario (10 posts) -

@jeremyf: Yeah, if you ignore the "rarity" and "exclusivity" aspects LRG tries to perpetuate and just see the company as another way to buy games, then it isn't so bad. Despite this article, I've used the company's services several times, and 2/3 of the time, everything's been decent enough (if slow). The other times, there have been minor things--delays, that damaged item, etc. Of course, if you count all the times I've missed an item due to LRG's absurd Friday release schedule, the good/bad ratio gets a lot worse! (I'm also waiting on Celeste...)

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#3 Posted by Gundato (333 posts) -

Are we really at the point where folk need to pick fights with tchotchke makers to advertise their shit?

Aside from that: Whatever, its a collector's edition. I think the price people pay for custom funko pops is stupid, but I sure as hell have a glass house when it comes to responsible spending

My only real issue is the continued perpetuation of the idea that physical copies are at all related to digital preservation. Just the other day I was watching a bunch of people lose their shit over the Hollow Knight switch release not having the last DLC and claims that this means they can't play the game in ten years.

Consoles aren't going to last ten years. If Vitas aren't bulging already they will be soon. Xboxes need their caps cut. The switch is a cheap tablet. Even NESes are failing left and right (if you haven't seen it, go watch GrandPooBear VS MitchFlowerPower in Mario 3 last year).

All a physical copy gives you is less of a download. But if you want to play these games in ten years you are either rebuying them on a new platform or "making things better" with the power of the internet.

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#4 Posted by Pacario (10 posts) -

@gundato: Agreed, for the most part. There are multiple reasons people want a physical copy, though--some just want something to display on their library shelf. I'll buy a physical release for this very reason--for display and accessibility purposes. Collector's Editions are a bit trickier--at least in LRG's case--as they don't serve preservation, only profit. To each his own, of course, but it seems absurd for LRG to be peddling "rare" games only to then stack even "rarer" versions of said games for a premium price. And, of course, games like Jak 3 already exist in the millions. You would have to be a huge, HUGE! fan to spend $84.99 on another edition of that title.

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#5 Posted by imhungry (1139 posts) -

The shipping issues seem bad, but everything else that you highlighted comes off as someone ascribing ideals to a company that was formed to fill a gap in demand and make a profit, then being disappointed when the company isn't meeting these ideals that they never professed to in the first place.

It's fine to call collector's editions exploitative to some degree, because they are, but it seems odd to act as if this particular company is doing anything particularly untoward. They're releasing a collector's edition, aimed at collectors. Seems like fairly straightforward reasoning and marketing. At least from that image you posted, all the extras in the collectors edition are, well, extras; it's not providing some different version of a game so I'm not sure what point you're trying to make about game preservation.

I guess I'm just not really sure what point you're trying to make as a whole. Are you concerned about these physical games being too rare or not rare enough, because those are antithetical positions but you seem to be trying to occupy both at once.

Maybe it's just a semantic issue because to me, the moniker 'Limited Run Games' appears to be perfectly descriptive of what they are doing, which is printing limited runs of games. Just because it is a run of a larger amount of copies doesn't mean the run is any less limited because, y'know, there's only the 1 printing run. Sure, they can be published again by other companies but there's no guarantee of that, and it seems odd to lambast a company for seeing a gap in demand and moving to fill it. (And now I'm defending a capitalist company apparently so this is upsetting)

Admittedly, I've heard of this company but never engaged with them past hearing news about them so if their marketing is incredibly deceptive and I'm missing out on that then I apologise but from your post and a cursory glance around their website I don't see anything that's really as misleading as you claim.

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#6 Posted by Pacario (10 posts) -

@imhungry: My job as a blogger is simply to report on what I've noticed and experienced--if the five very different points I made above don't concern you, then great, feel free to shop away.

As for my main point, yes, I do believe the company is being a little disingenuous about its true intentions and goal. Once upon a time, it catered to a niche, collector's market which now, clearly, it wants to outgrow. Nevertheless, the company chooses to have its cake and eat it, too--on the one hand, it still wants to be the boutique provider for companies unable, or unwilling, to be published, while on the other, it wants to be an emporium for all sorts of games of even the most common and popular (again, the Jak games are obvious examples).

I do oppose one point you made, though--that these games are still "limited." They aren't, not by any stretch. As posted, the company now allows people to order an infinite number of copies if they choose, and even Best Buy purchases from the company. This fact makes the company's "exclusive" and "unique" characterization a borderline lie, at least in regards to preorders.

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#7 Posted by aerithlives (37 posts) -

Shipping in bubble envelopes is definitely ridiculous for what is essentially a collector's item. They shouldn't even give the consumer the option. Otherwise, I don't really see an issue. If you're buying these as an investment that's probably a bad idea. It would be smarter to track down games that are already valuable because they're rare, like Saturn games.

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#8 Edited by Pacario (10 posts) -

@aerithlives: Yeah, and I think that is one of my intentions with this post--just a heads up to anyone thinking they're truly getting something rare or valuable here. Sad thing, LRG sent out an e-mail some time ago encouraging people to buy Vita titles because of their tendency to go up in value. As long as people understand these games aren't "limited" and are okay with the company's other stumbles, then fine.

Love your username, by the way!

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#9 Posted by FinalDasa (3233 posts) -

Limited games becoming slightly less limited is absolutely fine. And if you don't preorder it's still limited, you can't go back and buy something once they've run out. Seems weird to complain that more people get to order and receive a thing they want.

Also have no problem with a collector's edition of anything. So long as the consumer buying it feels they are getting value out of their purchase, and as long as they are cheaper ways to buy the game, who cares what companies offer and consumers buy? It's not like Limited Run is the only company providing collector's editions.

As for the hours or the packaging, this just seems like nitpicking. The company runs on normal business hours. It costs money to operate later or for 24/7 and Limited Run just may not have the cash to do that. And if your game arrives safely, then the packaging worked. If it didn't I've heard that Limited Run tries their best to help satisfy any issues.

I get having concerns that Limited Run isn't the nice little company reproducing highly desired physical copies of games. They've grown and evolved in hopes of providing more products to more people, while adding new editions in hopes of making more money. But they are a company hoping to make money. They have to find a way to survive and thrive. I see a company giving consumers what they want, in a capacity where most everyone is happy with the end results.

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#10 Posted by Pacario (10 posts) -

@finaldasa: It's all about appearances--if LRG wants to just become another marketplace/provider, then fine, provided it kills the "scarcity" illusion. Otherwise, at the very least, the company is definitely perpetuating a distorted picture for those unaware of its truer nature.

As I said in another post, this is more a public service announcement. People should know about LRG's true mission and machinations, good or bad, and make up their own minds. I take a more cynical look at the company, but will I use it again myself at some point? Yeah, probably, and then feel like a fool, I suppose, when my order arrives four months late or comes damaged. And, seriously, forcing me to pay even more for a box when the shipping is clearly overpriced already? That ain't nitpicking, that's a valid complaint the company should indeed be called out for.

The collector editions? Doesn't it seem at least a little ironic to be offering a limited edition of a limited edition? That's really my only point--the company is definitely exploiting the collector's station. Some may be overjoyed for a deluxe model, but others will grumble but buy anyway, knowing their "set" won't be complete without the more expensive version. It's just a way of twisting people's arms for more money. It bugs me. It clearly doesn't bug you. But people should still know what they're dealing with before becoming an LRG regular.

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#11 Posted by MerxWorx01 (883 posts) -

Last I checked the company barely breaks even. Every single complaint you have illustrates this. If they decided to stop doing anything you mentioned they will either really pass on the true cost of production or stop making these altogether. There is a very good reason none of the large companies even go through the trouble of making physical goods and you expect this small company to not only buck the trend but also try to keep up with a larger company's standards while also limiting their ability to sell more copies. Not even Nintendo will eat the full cost of higher tier sd cards, they will tack on $10-$15 on top of a game's price if they need to.

If you don't like what they are doing and you aren't willing to budge on any of your complaints just wait a few more years when the company finally decided to stop doing this due to financial reasons so you could take your business to the big publishers and platform holders who are at this moment jumping ship from digital and moving over to streaming then ask them about their plans for physical release of small indie games.

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#12 Posted by Pacario (10 posts) -

@merxworx01: Copycats like Strictly Limited Games and Super Rare Games (both of which I mentioned in the piece) wouldn't be sprouting all over the place if LRG wasn't making money. Indeed, if LRG fails, it's due to its own failings--those mentioned in this piece and otherwise.

Remember, just because a company is fulfilling a desired service doesn't make it automatically virtuous or impeccable. And Limited Run Games isn't perfect. Like it or not, the company has room to improve. And if it doesn't, the marketplace will correct, with Strictly Limited Games and others filling the void.

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#13 Posted by MerxWorx01 (883 posts) -

I hardly consider anything I posted as making a claim that they are perfect or beyond reproach. Only that in what practically amounts to a cottage industry, advocating against it's ability to sustain itself is advocating against it's future.

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#14 Posted by Pacario (10 posts) -

@merxworx01: Duly noted. But I'm not worried. If LRG fails, it'll be due to its own inadequacies. Someone else will take up the "preservationist" fight. In honesty, probably too many will.

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#15 Posted by MerxWorx01 (883 posts) -

I hope so, but don't think many of these companies will be around in two years even if they do try and expand the scope(and price)of special edition content or do re-releases. I hope they are actually seeing an influx of people who want physical games. But I'm not so optimistic to think it will actually happen.

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#16 Posted by SethMode (2061 posts) -

@pacario: This has been an interesting thread, but I think LRG kind of shows that "someone else taking up the preservationist fight" is unlikely. I mean, I k ow you mentioned others that are, but it seems like it is probably only a matter of time before they have to take similar measures to stay afloat. I just don't think that the market is there, outside of the small percentage of people that want them, which is already within a small percentage of people that buy these games.

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#17 Posted by Pacario (10 posts) -

@sethmode: Well, I touch on that, too--LRG, its copycats, plus the homebrew community are all fragmenting the market further and further until, yeah, running a "niche boutique" might not be tenable for anyone. Of course, if LRG ditches the "limited" illusion it loves so much and just becomes more like a traditional (if specialized) publisher, then perhaps these smaller startups who focus more purely on limited collectibles might still succeed.

Again, thoughts to consider.