Limited Run Games Interview
On the last day of E3, I had the opportunity to talk to Josh Fairhurst and Douglas Bogart, the CEO and COO co-founders of Limited Run Games. The company just had its largest E3 ever with its first press conference and the news that it would begin internal development on porting games. We spoke on that subject and the future of the company.
Zack Webster (RPGamer): What has the reaction been to your first press conference?
Douglas Bogart (COO, Limited Run Games): Really good. We were telling devs that wanted to be a part of it that we expected anywhere from seven hundred to a thousand people, but it turned out there was almost one hundred and ten thousand viewers once we tracked how many channels were hosting our [conference] and it was way more than we expected. We were on press websites like Destructoid, and we never expected to get this much traction.
Josh Fairhurst (CEO, Limited Run Games): Ahead of the announcement we really thought we were going to have a couple hundred people and then we ended up doing a little tease on our Twitter thing and the guy on Twitter that does all the big E3 graphs saying when all the press conferences are picked up on that and included us, and from there it just kind of exploded. Press websites starting picking up, Destructoid reported on it, a bunch of other sites picked up on it.
ZW: I bet that felt good.
JF: Yeah, it was a little nerve-wracking, too. We had gone into the press conference thinking it was just going to be a couple hundred people so we were like, “Okay, presentation-wise we can make this kind of goofy or whatever.” We didn’t expect that many people to turn out so we suddenly got really nervous that people would get turned off by the weird aesthetic that we chose for the thing. It was actually one of my employees who chose it. He just loves E3 press conferences and was like, “I have nothing to do for two weeks, can I do this thing? Just kind of my own little project?” and I was like, “Yeah, sure.” and ended up having one hundred and ten thousand people viewing it. Which is crazy, because we weren’t hosted by the main Twitch channel for E3, which is usually where press conferences end up. We’re all kind of self-hosted and we didn’t really do much to promote it —
DB: No, not really.
JF: — and it ended up being this big thing. I think people were bored between Ubisoft and Square so they just showed up at ours. Apparently, Square’s was kind of boring to begin with, so people were looking for anything to get some announcements from so we were just in a good spot.
ZW: You mentioned during the press conference that you have started porting and developing other peoples’ games. How has that process been going so far?
JF: So Douglas can talk about the localization stuff that we’re doing, I can talk about the ports. On the port side at E3 we announced Cosmic Star Heroine, which is the big port that we are doing. We are also doing Night Trap. Cosmic Star Heroine came about because Zeboyd was having trouble getting on Nintendo. They were having trouble getting through and approved. We were already kind of on the platform and once you’re on the platform as a publisher you have kind of an easier channel to get approval from Nintendo for concepts. So we put in our request for Cosmic Star Heroine and it was approved so we moved ahead with it to help Zeboyd bring it to Nintendo and get it out on the platform. I think that’s really cool because Cosmic Star Heroine is an awesome game that I want to see get more exposure. We’ve also started localizing games or at least bringing them over from Japan, we’re not doing the translations.
DB: We’re contracting other people or using pre-existing localizations if they did one on Steam. The game we’re bringing over is The House in Fata Morgana. It’s coming from Japan and the only thing they had over there physically was PC and Vita. So we’re bringing it over for PS4 and Vita. It’s already over on Steam, but that was it, so we’re using the existing localization. Plus, there’s some new chapters and content that we’re doing and we’re contracting some actual people to localize that for us.
JF: It was one of those games where it was on Steam, one of the highest-rated games on Steam if you did one of those “hidden gems” analyzers. That’s one of the games that float onto those lists all the time because it was so highly reviewed but there’s only like fifty reviews, not a lot of people had actually picked it up because it kind of fell under people’s radar and it’s really loved by everybody who has played it.
DB: It was really requested a lot by our fans. There were fake mock-ups for it, people kept trying to get us in contact with the dev and finally [we] went to Japan last year and met them and we really bonded and now we’re really excited to get this out.
JF: Yeah, it kind of just worked out from there.
ZW: So would you say you got into porting games yourself because of Cosmic Star Heroine?
JF: It was a little bit of that but we also kind of saw the same thing with Night Trap, where Nintendo was very hard to get in touch with for the developers, so the developers were having a hard time breaking through. We were just in a position where we could make it easier for people and we also have a development side so it was pretty easy to say, “Like, you know, we can bring this over to Switch for you, make it super easy.” And from both Zeboyd and the Night Trap developer we didn’t take a big cut for doing that. Basically the digital cut that we’re taking is enough to make back the money that we put into porting it and that’s about it. So we’re not taking the kind of cut that a regular publisher would. We’re really just doing this so we can get it over to that platform and then release it physically. So it’s kind of just a means to help our developers out and get them on other platforms. And we hope to do that for more developers too because there’s a lot of games that are kind of in the same boat and they can’t get on Switch.
ZW: And is that where most of your guys’ profits come from, the physical versions of these games?
JF: That’s where all of it is right now. The only digital game right now is the game that I developed internally, which is Saturday Morning RPG, that’s the only thing we’ve released digitally on the Switch. And we did that more as a way of kind of learning the platform and figuring out how easy it was to port a game and then release that physically. So we used that as kind of an analysis tool and from there we were able to jump into Night Trap, Cosmic Star Heroine, and then hopefully more stuff too.
ZW: Do you feel that you guys could move into more original development projects?
JF: I think there’s a possibility. We’ve been kind of silently funding things. There are some projects that have actually released that we funded and we hope to fund more developers and just really help the development community grow. I started the company as a way to help myself out when my company was struggling so I feel a lot of obligation to pay that forward to other developers. So any time I get to help a developer out, any chance I get, I take it.
ZW: I don’t know if you’d be willing to share with me any of the games you’ve been silently funding?
JF: I actually don’t know if we can.
ZW: That’s fair.
DB: I can’t remember off the top of my head.
JF: I don’t know. Our financial guy signed the contract on that and I don’t remember what the terms were on it. But it just recently released and it’s been super highly-acclaimed so we’re pretty excited that that got out there and our terms on it are really simple. It’s basically just recouping our money so we weren’t even doing anything predatory to the developer and a lot of publishers are pretty predatory in terms of funding. Anytime they’re putting a significant amount into a game they get a huge amount back and with us that’s not our primary concern. Our primary concern is making sure that developers we like are taken care of.
ZW: I know you’ve worked on PlayStation 4 and Vita in the past. Are you going to continue to do so with those platforms?
JF: Yeah, and there are also some games that are Switch exclusives that we’re trying to figure out ways to maybe help the developer bring those to PlayStation because they’re looking to move on to their next thing or they just don’t have time for it. So we’re kind of looking to provide services supporting all platforms rather than just focusing on the Switch, which is, you know, what we’ve done so far.
ZW: I was also going to ask will the Switch be your primary platform moving forward?
DB: Yeah, we’re going to share that with Sony.
JF: Yeah, so it’s like the Switch and PS4 are kind of the primary platforms… Vita—
DB: Vita is like a passion—
JF: —passion thing. Like, me and Douglas love the Vita so we’re just going to keep supporting the Vita as long as we possibly can.
ZW: You guys have also supported PC in the past though I can’t imagine there is as much of a market.
JF: Yeah, the collecting scene on PC is weird because there’s no— it’s hard to describe. There’s no “complete” collection on PC, there’s no end goal. So, like, collectors on PC have have nothing to work towards in terms of completing a collection or anything like that. So they tend to focus on, you know, I guess what should matter about buying something like, “Do you love this thing?”. So it means you don’t get a lot of compulsives buying it, you end up just getting kind of a lower turnout for those releases unless it’s something huge. So we plan to do more PC stuff, we’re just trying to find the right titles to do it with.
ZW: Have you considered supporting the Xbox One?
DB: Yeah, the barrier, the entry of trying to get into doing those— it’s a lot higher. So, we’re working on it. We’ve been talking with Microsoft and maybe one day it could happen, but it’s just like I said, not as easy right now. Right now we’re just going to focus on Sony and Nintendo.
ZW: Are there any particular reasons as to why it’s more difficult with Microsoft?
JF: So Microsoft… the minimum order quantities that they have are really high. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing for traditional physical publishers because when you’re talking about traditional retail you have to stock six thousand or seven thousand Walmarts with like, four copies apiece. So with that in mind, a minimum order quantity in the thirty thousands is not that ridiculous or anything like that. But when it comes to us we’ve never sold anything close to thirty thousand units of a game and I don’t know if we will in the future. I can’t think of many games that are the kind of games that would come to us that would sell thirty thousand units. There just hasn’t really been an opportunity to try something on Xbox. But we’re always kind of kicking around in our head like, “Are there titles that could go to traditional retail still that we’re signing?” and if something like that comes up we might consider an Xbox run on it because we would need that many units. But in general that’s not something we want to focus on because the margins at traditional retail are really bad for developers. So it’s kind of like that would only be a situation if the developer was like, “I really want to do Xbox and it’s the right kind of game” so it’s not something that you would see from us frequently, if ever.
ZW: What is the average [print] run for you guys?
JF: On Switch the runs are averaging around like eight thousand to eighty-five hundred across the six games we’ve released, Thimbleweed Park at thirteen thousand five hundred, and then the two Tribute games were nine thousand apiece. The games after that… I think Pixeljunk was seven and Saturday Morning RPG was ten. It kind of averages out, I think, to about eight thousand, eighty-five hundred in general for Switch. On PlayStation we’re much lower. On PS4 we’re around like two thousand to twenty-five hundred for an average run. On Vita it’s always about twenty-three hundred is what we sell. Sometime Vita will exceed that, Cosmic Star Heroine was a game that sold five thousand on Vita, Antiquia Lost from Kemco did around like three thousand, I think—
DB: Three thousand’s a sweet spot on Vita.
JF: Yeah, I can’t remember what the run size was for Antiquia but it was close to three thousand, I think.
ZW: So you get a slightly better return on PlayStation 4 than PlayStation Vita then? Higher numbers?
JF: Generally that was the case. Recently, with the news that’s been circulating about Vita the fan base has gotten passionate about supporting the physical stuff again. So we kind of started seeing a decline on it where Vita wasn’t selling as well as PS4 but now it’s picking up to where Cosmic Star Heroine Vita actually sold better than Cosmic Star Heroine PS4. Same thing with Antiquia Lost.
DB: The Vita version sold out much faster for Antiquia Lost. So that’s been a recent development.
ZW: So your working relationship with platform holders has so far been a positive experience?
JF: Absolutely nothing bad to say about Nintendo or Sony. Both sides have been doing everything very well for us, they’ve been supporting us to the best of their ability, no complaints. They’ve been super keen to let us operate on those platforms, which is nice because it means that they understand the importance of physical media and preserving these games. Because I don’t think that a lot of the levels we’re doing this at that there’s a lot of money for them to make. I mean, if we’re only running — even on Switch — like ten thousand units, I mean that’s not a lot when a regular retail release is running a hundred thousand to one hundred fifty thousand. I think it’s really good that they’ve seen the importance of physical preservation and kind of allow us to operate on the platform. So I think both Nintendo and Sony should be applauded for their willingness to allow this.
DB: I agree. Sony’s been very, very much like a family to us because, I mean, we started with Sony so we’re very close to a lot of people there. Nintendo has been very open to us so it’s been a lot of fun with them as well. It’s also, you know, as a kid something you never would have expected like, “Oh my god, I’m on a Nintendo platform.” It’s pretty insane.
JF: Nintendo’s kind of validating because we grew up with Nintendo. Like, my first game console was a Nintendo so to be on Nintendo, putting out physical Nintendo games, is validating. It’s like, my parents know what Nintendo is so if I tell them like, “Hey, you know, we put out this Nintendo thing,” they’re like, “Oh wow, I used to pay a lot of money for that so you must be doing something good.” They know how much those cost so they say, “Wow, you’re doing real things now.”
ZW: Like seeing something like Axiom Verge on a shelf next to Legend of Zelda?
JF: Yeah, it’s legitimizing for that work.
ZW: You’ve mentioned that the Vita has seen a bit of a resurgence but it’s not going to be around too much longer. So with the PS4 and the Switch kind of being the focus for at least the immediate future, what would be one game you would love to port to those consoles? If you could?
DB: Port to them?
JF: To port to them?
JF: To port to them, on PS4 I’d love to see Golf Story get ported. Because I want to see that game get a wider reach. It’s like, it’s the perfect Nintendo game but it’s been there. I feel like you can reach wider audiences and see more success on other platforms because it’s a really good game. On the Switch side, if I could port anything there, if I could pick any game in the world to port to it with no strings attached it’s the original Phantasy Star Online.
DB: I’m on the same boat.
JF: I mean, I guess I could do that on PS4 as well but I guess Golf Story‘s my feasible one that I’d love to try and make happen. But Phantasy Star Online, without a question the original one. If I could port that to those consoles with free online play I would be all over that.
DB: Port anything from Dreamcast I would be happy. Another Crazy Taxi on a Switch cart.
JF: The original Crazy Taxi?
JF: What if they said you could only do Crazy Taxi 3?
DB: I’d say… I’d still just say yes because I can’t not.
JF: Even though nobody remembers that one.
ZW: As part of that, is the focus going to remain on indie games or do you guys want to try and branch out and start addressing, like you mentioned, anything from the Dreamcast? Something that Sega is sitting on or digital-only games from larger publishers?
JF: Yeah, we’ve always wanted to branch out and go beyond and we have some stuff from larger publishers coming out. It’s some stuff that’s going to be super surprising to people. And we’ve done some in the past like Ray Gigant, which was a Bandai Namco game. It was published here by Acttil so we worked with Bandai Namco by proxy of Acttil but it was still kind of, you know, it was a Bandai Namco game that was coming out through us which was cool.
JF: We worked with Epic Games on Shadow Complex early on in our life and, you know, Epic Games is kind of the behemoth of games right now with Fortnite. I feel like, at this current point in time, there’s not a bigger company to work with than Epic.
DB: It doesn’t exist anymore but we did Lawbreakers, which was arguably a AAA game or at least a high AA.
JF: It was a AAA game that just didn’t catch on.
ZW: It had name recognition behind it and some money behind it, that’s for sure.
DB: Our goal is definitely larger games, definitely heavy hitters, but we still love indie games, smaller ones. [We] want to try and get a couple of those when we can just because that’s where we started.
JF: But I know, like, your ultimate dream is Square Enix—
JF: —you know, to work with them. Well, Sega too. You know, you’ve got Persona 3 and Persona 5 Dancing coming out on Vita. They’re digital only. So something like that kind of like, you know, we could help. We could be here for that, we want to help with those.
DB: Square seems to be doing the right thing right now.
JF: I think Square’s seeing that it’s possible to do that but they still have things like Secret of Mana on Vita come out here but it’s digital only.
DB: Yeah, that was a weird one.
JF: It got a physical [release] in Japan but that’s—
DB: That’s probably GameStop’s fault.
JF: —because GameStop did the physical for the PS4 and there’s not really demand for Vita so they probably just said “Just PS4, please.” or whatever. We hope eventually we’ll be able to work with bigger publishers.
ZW: Have you ever tried approaching Sega?
DB: Oh, of course.
JF: We asked them about Yakuza 5 three years ago before—
ZW: Before the Yakuza hype train came through?
JF: —yeah, and the answer even back then was “No, it’s too difficult, it’s impossible, or—
DB: —we would do it ourselves.”
JF: We talked to them about doing Tembo the Badass Elephant because we thought maybe that would be like a lower target, still didn’t really pan out. So we’re just hoping that one day we’re able to make sure something happens there. I think [we] talked about The Caligula Effect as well.
DB: Yep. That one [got] a little further. But—
JF: But not that much.
DB: It seems we get to work with them by proxy. Like, through old properties that they don’t [produce], they just license now.
JF: Yeah, like Wonder Boy.
ZW: And this is a smaller thing for another question, when will development on Saturday Morning RPG 2 start?
JF: So, we’re actually, we already did some early concept art and—
DB: I started pre-production.
JF: —there’s two new songs that have been done by composer, Vince DiCola.
DB: One of them’s just amazing. They’re both good but one of them is like “Holy crap.”
JF: Yeah, both the songs are cool. They’re going to be on the cassette tape that comes with the Switch Collector’s Edition. With full-scale development I have to figure out when I’ll actually be able to have time in my schedule to devote to daily play-testing, design direction… So I want to make sure that I kind of have a handle on everything that’s going on on it. Because the first game was such a personal thing for me I kind of contributed to almost every component of that game to [the] design, the writing, the everything. It was the first game that I made commercially so it’s kind of a… it’s a special thing for me so I want to make [sure] that if we follow up the game that it has that same passion in it that the first game had because I think that passion is what gave the first game a cult following. Because it shows that somebody cared about what they were making even if the actual implementation or the look of it’s a little rickety and unpolished. People could feel the passion for what it was flowing through. So I want to make sure that comes through in the sequel. But we’ve got… we’ve got kind of top talent working on it because we have better funding this time around thanks to Limited Run.
We’ve got one of the former art directors at Epic Games working on the actual art style and art direction. We’re looking at doing something that’s like a PS1-style like Mega Man Legends, that’s kind of the art style we’re approaching and he’s kind of speccing out the art for that. The music is being done by Vince DiCola again with a wider budget so it’s going to be all-new music and the guy that’s handling production on it is a friend of ours that we’ve known for a very long time — he was actually in Saturday Morning RPG as an NPC, a guy named Randy Greenback — he’s going to be handling production on it. And actually he just came off of working on Friday the 13th, he was the main producer for Friday the 13th: The Game. There were some recent rights issues that kind of halted that game and now he’s looking for something else to work on so he’s probably going to join us on that project — at least, I hope — and help me and lead that project and make it as good as it can possibly be. So I think it’s going to be great.
It’s going to take a while, what we’re looking at is kind of making that next-gen game, kind of targeting like a PS5 or Xbox whatever, I don’t know what they’re going to call that, I don’t even know if it’s going to be called the PS5. I’m just guessing because, I mean, they’re obviously—
ZW: They should really just stick with the numbers so you don’t get a Microsoft Xbox One situation.
JF: Yeah, ’cause that’s weird. And who knows if they’re going to call it the Xbox 2 or the Xbox 180 or whatever and yeah, I have no clue. But that’s kind of the generation we’re going to look out for that, still target the Switch, obviously. We want to make sure that we still have that because I think the Switch is going to go strong for another five years. So I think we’re good in terms of looking at like a two or three year development cycle here on the game.
ZW: Alright, anything else you guys would like to set the record straight on?
JF: I’m good.
DB: Nope, I think I’m good.
ZW: Thank you for coming down to talk to to me.
RPGamer would like to offer its thanks to Josh, Douglas, and Limited Run Games for their time and for answering our questions. Limited Run Games’ releases can be purchased through its official website.