A Word With Limited Run Games: Japanese Games and Competition

Recently I had a chance to sit down and chat with Douglas Bogart of Limited Run Games.  It’s been a huge year for the company since we got to talk last, and in that time LRG has risen from releasing a handful of titles to being on the verge of clearing fifty releases between the two platforms it currently publishes on, and competition has inevitably sprung up.  The interview ran long, covering a good number of topics, so here’s part two of two (read part one here).  There’s plenty left to discuss so here we go again:

[Hardcore Gamer] When it comes to a game that has been printed in Japan, Asia, whatever, but not the US, do you tend to chase after those much, or no?

[Douglas Bogart] So it depends.  If it’s in Asia and it has an English…this question actually came up with DariusBurst.  DariusBurst was getting a release with Play Asia… well it’s not Play Asia, they’re just getting copies of it.  It’s getting a Japanese release, physically, almost at the same time as ours, and there’s been a discussion of “why should I buy yours when I’ve already picked up the version that came out in Japan?  It’s a shump, it’s already in English pretty much, there’s no reason to buy it again.”  So the flip side of that argument is “Our version will work with the North American DLC store with PlayStation.  The one you buy you’re going to have to create a new account and switch your account over, and then if there’s trophies attached to that then you have to start showing people that you have two trophy sets, and that’s just a pain.”  So with a game like that I would do; if it’s a game like Gundam Breaker 3 that has full translated English in Asia, or Dragon Quest Builders has an Asian release… ok, well that one’s a bad choice, because I would still do that because it’s Square.  In theory I wouldn’t touch it because it’s in English, because it already exists, it’s in English, there’s no real DLC for those.  There is for Gundam Breaker, but I wouldn’t necessarily go after them, but if the developer or publishers did approach me it would be hard for me to say no.  We’re not in the habit of saying no to stuff, especially if it opens the door to more things.

But yeah, I don’t go after games that have a full English release in Asia.  If it’s Japanese, it’s strictly Japanese, I’ll go for it.  If it came out in Asia and there’s no English in it, and it’s not translated I would go after it.  Like a lot of people wanted us to do Dead or Alive Extreme 3 because it never came out here.  I’d probably do that, also just because it seems kind of like one of those crazy things to do.  It would cause a lot of press; I like media buzz.  I wouldn’t go after something that already had a…  Because our whole thing is preservation.  If it already exists physically I don’t really see the point in going after it.  They already did it, why should I go again?

Why reruns?

Yeah, unless it makes sense.  Like for me DariusBurst made sense because now I can download the DLC for it.  And yeah I can’t include the DLC, but that’s a licensing nightmare, that’s why.  There’s like five Japanese companies attached to that and Japan’s a nightmare with that stuff.  It’s amazing that all these companies even talked in the first place.

Now the Japanese companies that you’re working with…  I know you’ve got the visual novel people coming up.

Sekai Project.

Thank you!  Sekai Project, and of course you’ve worked with DariusBurst, and you can’t talk about unannounced stuff…

Playism is there too.  They have the Misturugi game and Astebreed.

But you do have other Japanese developers, publishers in the works, that you’re planning on?

Yes!  We worked with Spike Chunsoft on One Way Heroics.  They just announced some more games that are coming out, like Shibuya Scramble and some other ones.  Those are games we definitely want to see come out physically.  Sega will always be a pie-in-the-sky dream.  Capcom has a lot of stuff I’d like to see.  And then there’s a couple of people that are actually definitely signed that we haven’t announced, and then we’re just like waiting and in the process of getting everything approved.

Big box of DariusBurst and the little ship models inside.

Have you noticed any difference in the market between people buying the Japanese games and the more indie-game focused fans? Because they’re definitely two different markets with two different sets of people that are targeted.

Yeah, I don’t have enough data yet on the Japanese side because we’ve only really done One Way Heroics. When DariusBurst and all the Playism titles we’ve announced come out I’ll kind of know more, but with One Way Heroics it sold really well at first and then it slowed down, especially on the second batch. But the other part of that was we were doing a pretty high run at a time when we weren’t doing high runs, and the only reason for the high run was to make the developer interested. You have to convince a Japanese publisher, it’s like you have to show them “I can make you this much money” and then finally they’ll like pay attention to you. Because if you show them like chump change they’re going to be like “Well it’s going to be a hassle to get all this approved with my lawyers, and I have to mail you an NDA, and why would I want to do this if it’s only for this much money?” and then they’ll basically just shrug you off. So with One Way Heroics it was kind of a big print run, it was 5,000 on each platform, and it sold kind of slow. But the flip side of that argument is that it was at a time when we’d just literally done Dragon Fantasy, and then the next week we asked you to buy Thomas Was Alone and One Way Heroics.

Dragon Fantasy! I remember at the time you said that if Dragon Fantasy 2 did really well the developer would be interested in pulling Dragon Fantasy 1 over to physical as well. Is that still a thing happening?

So I can say that with absolute certainty there’s nothing signed, but it is their intention to do it. That’s all I know, that they’re interested and they want to do it, and it’s their plan to do it, especially because it did so well. But I can say with pretty absolute certainty that there’s nothing official there, but if they do finish making it, or fixing all the things they need to in getting it ready for physical we’ll gladly do it in a heartbeat, because that was a great… So far we’ve had a great relationship with all our developers and publishers, and we’d love to work with all of them again. I think they feel the same way for the most part, I don’t know anybody who’s gone behind us and said we did a bad job. So, we’re trying to keep that going.

A look at the future- Mutant Mudds, Mages of Mystralia, Risk of Rain, and Ys Origins. Not shown- Flinthook, Cosmic Star Heroine, Mutant Throne, Salt & Sanctuary, and many more.

Having said that, now you are finding it a little trickier now that there’s competition out there to get different developers, because there’s more publishers out there doing the smaller press runs?

Well the problem with that is, the only thing we worry about, is we started actually reaching out to a lot of our competitors to try and work things out. Like saying “Hey, if you’re gonna do this why don’t we help you and do like maybe a joint venture thing with it. That way we both help the developer out, or help each other out instead of trying to fight.” Obviously there’s still some people that are direct competition, and the problem with that is yeah, it makes some of the game hunting harder. Our biggest fear, and this is what we hope that we can prevent, is people dropping standards. It’s on our web site, how the percentages work, like what we do. We handle cost of goods, and once that’s paid back it’s like 70/30 in the developer’s favor. The problem that we’re worried about, and we’ve already seen it happen with somebody, is people dropping the percentages, taking even less of a cut. Then it becomes unsustainable; then there’s no reason for me to even bother doing this because it’ll get to the point where I would have to do an extremely high run and risk the fact that it won’t sell out to make the kind of money that I was making to even stay in business.

Looking at the numbers, though, with the other small press physical publishers, it does seem like they’re also pricing their games higher as well to make up for taking the smaller percentage.

Yeah, and I’ve also noticed that they’re not selling out, and they’re selling slowly with our competition.  So I’m not really worried; there’s obviously something we’re still doing right that they’re not doing.  I think another big issue with some of our competition is they do pre-orders, and there’s no sense of urgency with pre-orders.  If it’s up for pre-order it’s like “Aw, I don’t need to pre-order it yet, I’ll wait until it’s closer to the deadline” and then the deadline comes and passes and you’re like “Oh well.”  I’ve done that myself.  If it’s literally “Hey, this is going up at this time; this is the only time you can get it”, it’s a guaranteed sell-out for the most part.  That’s better for the devs because that’s saying like “Hey, instead of promising you this much money over a year, here’s this much money in a weekend.  Get started on your next project.  Pay your employees.  Go on a trip if you want; take ’em out for vacation.”  I’ve seen devs do some crazy stuff with the money we’ve been able to give them.  It’s nice, like they actually get to enjoy… take a break for a bit, or get started on the next original IP instead of just looking for contract work.

With our competition they’re offering crazy terms and saying… It’s very vague on what they offer, like I’ve seen some of the stuff that’s come back.  I don’t agree with it.  The whole way we work is being transparent.  We’re that with our customers, we’re that way with developers, and I think that’s how you should be in the industry.  That’s another reason why we’ve reached out to competitors, even ones that are kind of copying what we do.  Even if their terms are similar, we’re like “Hey, let’s not fight over this.  If you really want this game and you think you can do a good job, why don’t you take it?”  Or “I think it would be better with you.”  Or if there’s a competitor that’s like “I plan on going major retail with this game” and it’s a game we think would actually benefit from it.  For example I really wanted Don’t Starve back in the day; then I heard 505 had reached out and was going to do a full retail release.  Knowing how big Don’t Starve is, that made sense to me.  I was like “You know what, I think Don’t Starve would benefit from having a full retail version.  I have zero problem with that.  That makes sense.”  I would actually rather that happen than I do it.  It hurts on a personal level because I didn’t get to do it, and I’m a huge fan of the game, but I have to not think about myself.  I think what’s better for the dev and what’s better for the customers.

And on that note it was time to give the recorder and Doug’s voice a break.  Since then a few more games have been published and a good-sized pile of announcements have happened, including both Japanese titles like Ys Origins and western indies like Risk of Rain.  There’s still no word on if the Switch will get any attention but seeing as that console is still less than a month old it’s hardly surprising.  While that sorts itself out, though, there’s still plenty of other things to keep Limited Run Games busy for the foreseeable future.