Catching Up with Limited Run Games, 2018 Edition

Limited Run Games is always busy, working in a field where change is an important constant.  Rather than build a library of titles for a stream of dependable revenue, the company shoots out game after game after game, one print run designed to sell out and on to the next, always racing forward and tweaking the system as it goes.  In just the last month it released the first Switch game to the highest print numbers yet, using a new pre-order system instead of the PS4/Vita-standard of having the stock pre-printed or at least the order numbers set in stone.  I got a chance to sit down with Douglas Bogart, going over the latest news and catching up on the year since the last time we chatted.

As a note, there’s a break in the interview where my recorder decided not to bother and dropped about five minutes of good conversation.  Lost topics include the VR exclusive line, which has had a total of one game released in it so far, and announced but late games like Salt & Sanctuary and Cosmic Star Heroine, the latter of which now has a rough target of late May.  Tech is lovely, tech can be a jerk.

[Hardcore Gamer] It’s been a year and a lot has happened.  You’ve started publishing games on Switch and of course there was the fun last fall with the ESRB.  So how’s that been coming along?

[Douglas Bogart]  Switch stuff has been fun.  It’s been a lot of work; we spent the better part of last year getting prepped up and signing our calendar year worth of games.  We also made a lot of new rules, for example we’re going to start slowing down because we kind of realized on Sony we were kind of putting out a lot of games.  It was our fault because we signed so many originally and these developers were just coming out of the woodwork, out of nowhere, saying “Hey, I’m ready to release my game!”, and it’s like “Wow, I haven’t heard from you in like a year, this kind of puts me in a bind.”  So we were putting out so much, so now with Switch we’re going to slow down and it’s always going to be the max two.  One to two games a month, that’s it, and because we did an open pre-order with Thimbleweed Park and it did really well we’re going to continue doing that with standard editions, but we’re still going to limit the collector editions, and the pre-orders are still going to be technically limited because they’re only going to be up for a week or two.  You have a chance to get it then, and if you miss out, we like to think “Well you had your chance this time.”  Especially with the two week one, it helps out people that get paid bi-weekly.  So we’re hoping this does well.  Thimbleweed Park for us did really well; it’s our top selling game right now.

And to segue into ESRB, it’s been really rough.  I’m not a fan, I still think it’s unnecessary but as long as it’s required by the platform holders I’m going to continue to do it.  But yeah, that’s about all I can say on that without sounding angry.

Now the ESRB didn’t used to be required by the platform holders until after Limited Run Games, Special Reserve Games and the other small press publishers.  Do you see the new directive as a direct result of the small press online-order games?

I think they noticed that a lot of people were following suit after us, because even NISA did a release without it; I think it was A Rose in the Twilight (editor’s note- this is correct, the Vita limited edition can be seen here although it’s long sold out), and it kind of showed that a lot of online retailers were starting to shy away from it because it wasn’t always required, and I think the ESRB realized they were losing out on money and they decided to crack down on that, and basically keep the status quo.  Which is upsetting, but I have a feeling that one day it’s going to change again, and maybe people will start realizing it’s not as necessary as it was.  It is funny though that the ESRB thing kinda came into effect after we did Night Trap.  It’s kind of like almost poetic, like it was full circle at that point.

(Gap in recording goes here.  If I remember right the topic switched to the push-back Limited Run Games had been receiving on certain titles it decided to print, such as Kill the Bad Guy, and how LRG was being criticized by some collectors for publishing games they didn’t want to buy.)

Does the team like it?  We have the team play a lot of the games now too.  Apparently you can’t just trust my opinion because there’s a few games that have come out that people are like “Why did you do this?” and me saying “I like it” isn’t enough.

“Because I wanted to” doesn’t really apply?

I co-own the company and I wanted to do it.  That should be enough but it isn’t. (laughs)

Yeah, it’s kind of interesting that a lot of fans do seem to feel that “I have to buy this” as opposed to “A game I don’t care about comes out from a publisher I follow. Oh well, next one.”

I mean, we kind of did it to ourselves by numbering them, so I completely understand why people feel obligated.  I one hundred percent own up to the mistakes that we’ve made; we’re trying to kind of correct that.  For like Switch we’re trying to call less attention to the fact that they’re numbered; it’s much smaller; it’s kind of like hidden, but it’s there for the ones who want to know that they have a series.  But with PlayStation 4 and Vita we are going to slow down so it’s not as hard to keep up, so we’re trying to get down to maybe like four a month, that’s including both, and even less eventually like maybe every other week instead of every week.  It is really rough and it’s rough on us too, because that’s a lot of work we have to do each week to get it ready.  We don’t want to keep expanding the team just to keep up with that because what’s the point of expanding the team if no one’s buying them.  So I don’t want to reach that point so we’re definitely going to try to slow down.

Now are there major differences publishing on Switch over Playstation?  I mean, cartridge versus disk, obviously, but does Nintendo have different requirements?

You have to get everything approved by Nintendo, just like with Sony.  The way manufacturing works is different; I can’t get too into it because of NDAs, but it’s a lot more work on your end versus Sony because Sony would kind of have a one-stop-shop for everything.  Nintendo it’s a little bit more broken up; I have to order pieces from here and there and then kind of assemble it all.  It definitely is a little bit more work; it’s also a little more work for us just because we’re requiring all our developers to have interior or reversible art as well as a manual.  So we want to make each Switch really feel special.

So far you’ve got Thimbleweed Park running (this was early April) and I believe Saturday Morning RPG is your next one?

Saturday Morning RPG has been announced to be in May.  Our next one is going to be Flint Hook and Mercenary Kings; we’re going to do a Tribute day sale so you can get both games, and we’re going to do a collector’s edition that comes with both (ed. note- Collector’s Edition sold out, regular versions have a two-week preorder window currently running at the Limited Run Games site) and a steelbook.

When we talked a year or two ago you said you weren’t super-fond of steelbooks because of the way they looked on the shelf.  The trade dress didn’t really match because of the way the colors print on the steel, but that’s changed?

So again, I can’t always go just based on what I want any more.  I do realize there’s a huge steelbook community and I’ve been getting sent pictures of fans literally own every steelbook, even things that I’m like “Why would you buy this?”  So I don’t know, the steelbook guys have been talking to us a lot and trying to change my opinion.  I am still really big on, if we do steelbooks, I would prefer to have a slipcover so it has the branding that matches up.  Granted that’s not always possible, and I’ve kind of noticed with Switch that’s kind of harder to do because they don’t have a solid branding on the side, kind of like PlayStation does, but I will say when we do our steelbooks on Switch the spine will be labeled.  When I got… it was Xenoblade 2, right…?  When I got that there was literally nothing on the spine; that kind of drove me crazy, so we’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen.  I don’t know, I’ve gotten a little bit more used to steelbooks.  It’s also because more steelbooks have come out and I’ve not really been given a choice so I’ve kind of had to buy them.  Technically yeah, we’re still going to offer the original standard box too, so you can get that and the steelbook so you can kind of choose.

Even with scaling back you’re still doing things like… You’re going to GDC, you’re here at PAX East, so you’re still combing the show floor for new and future titles to release. 

We feel it’s important not only just to go to these shows to look for games but to have a presence and meet our fans and just kind of bond with the community.  There’s a lot of games that start off small and they get huge, like I remember PAX South for example, The Messenger was there, and it was kind of like a smaller booth, and people were like excited about it.  Then next thing you know it’s at GDC, it’s at The Mix, it wins an award, now they have a huge booth, Devolver’s picked it up, and they’re at East; it’s grown so much!  And that’s an example of you can’t always just judge a game off your first look, or like “Oh they have a small booth at this show.”  You never know, they’re presence might increase and they might be a bigger game and suddenly everybody wants it.  That’s why it’s really important for me to go to these shows and just kind of scope out and see what are some of the games coming, and do I see the potential, do I feel like their presence is going to get bigger?  It’s also one of my favorite things to do is not just playing the game but watching other people play.  If I see other people excited that tells me this is something I might want to look into, because there’s clearly interest, because these guys are like begging the developers for the release date, and I even hear people say “Is there going to be a physical version?”  And them I’m lurking around the corner and I’m like “Maybe!”

It’s good for interviews, it’s good just to be here.  I don’t like traveling personally, the travel part.  I like being there, though.  Once they invent teleportation I won’t complain any more, but I sure love being at the conventions just meeting people.  It’s nice.

And that was a nice point to call it good for the year.  After this it was all general chatting, catching up on things that weren’t Limited Run Games interview material and seeing how each other had been doing over the year.  As Doug says, meeting people is nice, even with all the madness of the convention swirling around.