Soapbox: The Trouble With Limited Run Games 1
Image: Zion Grassl / Time Extension

It’s odd to me that we live in a time where a video game getting a physical release is now considered a big deal. As someone who’s probably from the last generation which grew up before the age of digital distribution, I still distinctly remember when physical game releases were the only game releases. If you wanted a video game, you had to either order it online and wait for it to arrive or walk to a brick-and-mortar store.

Acquiring a game today is as simple as hitting the purchase button on a console’s digital storefront and having the title running on your machine in minutes. But for physical media enthusiasts like yours truly, that isn’t enough. We want to truly own our video games in actual disk or cartridge form, display them on our shelves, and keep them for years long after the likes of the Wii Virtual Console or Xbox Live Marketplace have shut down forever.

Unfortunately, an increasing number of publishers don’t see it that way. A game getting a digital release is obviously guaranteed, but whether it goes physical is based on whether it can make enough of a profit to justify the distribution costs involved. This is where boutique companies like Limited Run Games come in with their business of selling lavish physical editions of games to a small but dedicated niche of consumers who are guaranteed to loyally pre-order their products.

For a while, I was one of them. While I obviously did not attempt to buy everything LRG put out, I regularly scanned their email newsletters to see if there was anything I wanted to add to my collection. Owning all the Castlevania collections physically, for example, is something that can only be done through LRG. Yet in the last few years, me and many once-regular customers have soured on the company.

Complaints of absurdly long wait times, poor item quality, and bad customer service are constant posts on the LRG subreddit. Beyond this, LRG is now embroiled in yet another controversy after it was revealed that consumers were being sold games that were burned to CD-Rs instead of being professionally pressed.

I can personally attest to waiting nearly two years for my order of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World to arrive. The wait was supposedly due to delays in manufacturing the vinyl record soundtrack, but the experience only convinced me to never buy non-game items from LRG again. As for the Scott Pilgrim game itself, what I got was a cartridge that still required an update on my Nintendo Switch and a low-quality paper manual with cut-off text.

Soapbox: The Trouble With Limited Run Games 1
Limited Run's reputation has taken some notable hits of late for issues which many customers feel should never have happened – and the company's response has often left much to be desired

Limited Run Games was founded in 2015 with the express purpose of “preserving” digital-only games, but their business model doesn’t really reflect this. Consumers are only given a month or two to pre-order games; once this period is over, that’s it. If you missed the pre-order window, you have to hope that LRG offers the game when they clear out unsold stock. More are likely to turn to places like eBay, where scalpers are reselling the games for well over their original retail price.

A look at the company’s website in 2024 makes it abundantly clear that the LRG is not dedicated to games preservation, but being a business that primarily sells merchandise and expensive limited editions, the latter of which is separate from their in-house line of “officially” numbered games. All of this would be perfectly fine if the quality of their items matched the prices, but more often than not, this isn’t the case. And when some of their games still require connecting to the internet to get all the released content, that completely defeats the purpose of a truly preserved physical copy.

Many of their distributed titles make little sense. When you factor in shipping and taxes, does anyone think $100 for a mediocre Jurassic Park NES game is worth the money? Inflated prices just for a bunch of extra cheap plastic tat in the box? Over $125 for a limited edition copy of Far Cry 3 - Blood Dragon on PC that doesn’t even contain the game on a disk, but via a one-use Steam download card. Yes, you heard me right. A Steam download card! Do I even need to explain what a joke this is coming from a company that has the words “Forever Physical” under its logo?

Soapbox: The Trouble With Limited Run Games 1
Limited Run's site proclaims it is "forever physical", but it has previously send out download cards for some of its titles — Image: Limited Run Games

Yet, despite these flaws, I don’t think that all hope is lost. The company has made some improvements in recent years, such as finally opening an Amazon page which cuts down shipping costs in the U.S. and establishing Super Deluxe Games to release a smattering of its titles here in Japan. The quality of these Japanese limited editions is notably much higher than some LRG items I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on to import from the other side of the world.

Limited Run’s Carbon Engine, which brings old games to modern platforms, is a genuinely fantastic development and is true to the spirit of preservation the company claims to have been founded on. I commend the company for breathing new life into the Shantae series and other games that would likely languish in obscurity without their help.

However, several changes are in order to gain back customer trust. Limited Run needs to drastically cut the fat with its releases. Their current output is a complete mess of pointless collector editions that are overpriced despite being little more than cheap junk, while the obscure indie games they choose for their official numbered releases are often questionable in quality, to say the least. LRG’s business model is heavily based on FOMO, which compels people to buy even their most mediocre titles, and it shouldn’t be this way.

Soapbox: The Trouble With Limited Run Games 1
The Carbon Engine is one of Limited Run's most accomplished contributions to the world of retro gaming — Image: Limited Run Games

Limited Run was bought out by Embracer Group in 2022, so there is clearly more bandwidth for the company to improve the quality of its output than there was when it first started in 2015. Yet, with roughly 70 employees, it’s obvious to me that they are being spread thin with how much work they can take on. This is likely why the quality of products really hasn’t improved as Embracer itself is facing a host of problems.

By keeping their officially numbered titles down to only essential games, cutting back on unnecessary expensive distributed limited editions that no one wants, and having more transparent communication with customers, Limited Run can salvage its declining reputation. Something like the burned CD-R debacle is completely unacceptable, but it could have been avoided.

I fear that the video games industry is heading toward a future where boutique labels will one day be the only way to attain physical releases, but if that’s inevitable, there has to be a better standard of quality than what Limited Run Games currently offers.

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