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Questionable Game Publishing Methods

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A friend of mine is always on the lookout for great gaming deals. Recognizing the thrill of the hunt, I too sometimes like rummaging through bins of “last pieces available” when grocery shopping. Last week, I picked up Rayman Legends for the Nintendo Switch at €16, a lovely—and fortunately for me, 2D—platformer with a with a nod to Rayman’s glorious past.

Here’s a picture of the purchase:

The inside is empty.

Say what? Yeah. I bought an empty box. A plastic shell. If you inspect the above photo more carefully, you’ll notice an exclamation mark, and a French/Dutch sentence saying Only downloadcode: no gamecard included! Shit. Regular readers should now by know that I vastly prefer physical editions—in fact, that’s the reason I threw this box in my shopping cart. I could have downloaded it with a few button presses from my lazy couch. The problem was that the price tag partially obfuscated the warning message, and I didn’t pay enough attention to notice this.

More than half of game sales nowadays come from digital purchases. I recognize that the world has moved on from cartridges. Maybe old fossils like me should move on too. Fortunately, companies like Limited Run Games exist to please physical suckers such as myself. For an additional cost, you can purchase physical editions of games that were never intended to be published on a disc/gamecard.

The problem with Limited Run Games is threefold.

  1. It’s an American company, meaning high shipping and import tax rates.
  2. It’s called Limited Run for a reason: they only print a few thousand—if that—copies and then it’s gone, meaning eBay sharks will ask outrageous prices for it afterwards.
  3. Only a tiny portion of the games get selected to print. Additionally, it’s pre-order only, meaning you’ll have to wait at least five months before they start the manufacturing process.

Another example. I’m keen to replay Okami, of which a nice HD remaster version exists, but somehow the publisher only released a physical version in Japan. Why? Who knows. I get that a physical medium is a big impediment and comes with a pricetag, which especially for indie game devs can be too much. But come on, Capcom published Okami—and Rayman Legends is published by Ubisoft, two gargantuan companies who are now further optimizing pocket-filling!

Another example. A compilation of Kingdom Hearts—HD 1.5 + 2.5 ReMIX HD 2.8 + III; who comes up with these names?—was recently announced for Nintendo Switch. It turns out to be a cloud version. That means you buy the game (or card?), but in reality, you haven’t bought anything. You’re hiring a piece of some server where the game runs. The visuals are streamed back to your console, giving you the illusion to be in control. Square apparently didn’t want to invest in properly porting these games, possibly because the Switch is underpowered, although that’s a rumor. Server down? Tough luck. Square pulled the plug? Tough luck.

If I wanted to play cloud versions of games, I would have bought a Google Stadia console, which is entirely engineered around the concept of gaming off-site in Google’s cloud infrastructure. What the hell were they thinking? Of course, many Switch fans are outraged—including me.

Another example. I brought my Switch to a friend’s place to show off some retro games I like to play. When booting up DOOM1 (the classic nineties one, not the reboot from 2016), we were greeted with several error messages regarding a network connection. Wuh? Great job Bethesda—or should I say Microsoft now, since iD software was bought by Bethesda, which was bought by Microsoft. Dismissing the messages allowed us to play in single player mode, but still.

Another example. Take Two Interactive recently announced the Grand Theft Auto Trilogy Definitive Edition. It will contain three classics: GTA III, GTA Vice City, and GTA San Andreas. I was stoked, since I wasted a good amount of time during my university years driving around in those worlds, listening to superb radio stations.

To prepare for launch, we will begin removing existing versions of the classic titles from digital retailers next week.

Wait, what? Why would you pull existing versions of these games? I get that Blizzard doesn’t run classic Warcraft III multiplayer servers anymore after the (really, really bad) remaster: there’s a huge cost accompanied with maintaining these. But these games are single player! So in the near future, I can’t buy the original Vice City to play on my retro Win98 PC? Yet another reason for me to hate the digital distribution system. As you can see, with digital systems, you’re not in control: they are.

The same happened at Good Old Games: suddenly, Ultima Underground—a classic, highly rated, and groundbraking dungeon crawler—disappeared from the store. They did issue out a warning, which caused retro enthusiasts like me to quickly snag it “before it’s gone for good”. Yet another (digital) game added to the backlog.

Another example. Super Mario 3D All Stars, a compilation of three classic 3D Mario adventures, would only be for sale (physically) for a limited amount of time. Of course this caused everyone to run to the stores—again, including me.

I wonder whether this digital evolution isn’t a devolution.


  1. I bought DOOM digitally. It’s not like I completely shun the practice: I buy lots of games digitally to both support small developers and to replay classics on modern machines. Digital or not, a required network connection for a game that has a singleplayer mode still causes alarm bells to ring. ↩︎

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