Heart, Soul, and Loneliness: The Making of Limited Run Retail
Every generation of gamers can tell a different story about meeting the friends they play games with.
For the pioneers, it was in a crowd of college kids clustered around a single tiny monitor next to a buzzing university mainframe. For folks just a little younger, it was the arcades and bars and bowling alleys where the first resonant beeps of the Atari classics blended with the sounds of Thriller piped in through the overhead speakers. For people my age, it was the school playground. In this digital stockyard, we swapped Nintendo tips, cartridges, and monthly gaming magazines. For people a little younger than me, it happened in a massive dorm room Smash Brothers Brawl or in a matchmaking miracle on Xbox Live. And for very many of us across all these ages, it was at our neighborhood gaming stores, a bright haven stuffed with games, staffed by enthusiasts, and haunted by players on the hunt for a good bargain on a slightly-used copy of Final Fantasy VIII. Not that the shopping was always the point—even if you couldn’t afford a new game that day, you had a good chance of finding and joining in on a scintillating argument with friends and frenemies on the merits of Microsoft vs. Nintendo vs. Sony.
The best of these stores served the same sort of purpose that the best modern tabletop game stores and comic shops still do: they were outlets for commerce, but they were just as much, and sometimes more, community centers built to draw together passionate hobbyists who shared a love for the brilliant fusion of toys and art that we call video games. They were places to buy games, and thanks to store events and game station setups, they were also perfect places to play them. Most importantly, thanks to the people hanging around, they were places to celebrate them.
These were the little brick-and-mortar havens where we fell in love with 4:3 demo reel footage for Metal Gear Solid 2 and Resident Evil 4. They were places where we got to know the staff and the clientele, and we learned whose opinion to trust on what was good. They were places we met up for lunch or stopped at before dinner, places we lined up outside on console launch nights not just to get our new hardware but to be there with friends getting theirs. These were where we traded Pokemon cards as kids and screamed through the night at local LAN party tournaments as adults.
They’re a thing we’ve almost lost, and it’s a damn shame. So we’re doing something about it.
This might sound overly sentimental, but one of the things I like about working here is that Limited Run really does try and help give worthwhile things another chance at life: physical games, music on vinyl, and well-constructed books about electronic entertainment. We take stuff in danger of disappearing and bring it back to people in a realistic, sustainable way. That’s what we do with Switch carts and PlayStation discs and collectibles: give customers something to hold onto that remains theirs in a world where more and more entertainment experience is disposable and impermanent.
That’s what’s happening with the store. We probably can’t open hundreds of retail stores nationwide in a world of online console storefronts and Amazon digital deliveries. But we can open one, and maybe two if that first one works out and help keep something alive that we don’t want to forget.
My boss Josh, the CEO of Limited Run, told me that he’s always wanted to run a shop. He got suspended from 5th grade for running a candy store out of his desk at school. His truly enormous collection of games and game merch speaks to a happily-misspent lifetime prowling games stores for bargains and lost classics. That old fascination found new life a couple of years ago when COVID landed.
“This is a weird transition,” Josh told me, “but the pandemic hit me hard early on and made me feel more disconnected from other people than I'd ever felt in my life. I thought about how I could fix that, and I kept coming back to this idea of opening a physical store so I'd have a chance to connect with enthusiastic Limited Run fans. It'd help kill my feelings of isolation, and it'd scratch my lifelong itch to own a store.”
“A few months into the pandemic, I just said, ‘screw it, this is something we really need to do—for my own sanity and because I think it would be awesome.’ I kind of dove headfirst into it at that point, and we started scoping out potential retail space.”
So he started thinking about the kind of store he could run with the proper preparation: what to sell (a treasure trove of Limited Run games and merch leftover from old warehouses), where to put it (in an outdoor mall next door to a gaming pub), what kind of place it should be (a throwback to the old community-centered game stores), and what it should look like. For that one, he looked back to some classics.
“Stores these days are sterile and boring for the most part. Minimalism is in. Every store I go in is just... plain. It just doesn't feel like anyone cares about creating a feeling. I wanted to approach our store differently.”
“My favorite store is an obvious choice,” he said. “Toys R Us. When I was younger, I remember the aisles just overflowing with merchandise. Shelves packed to the brim. I also have a lot of fond memories of buying games off their price slip wall, where they had those pouches filled with tickets. You'd grab a ticket, pay at the register, and then bring the ticket to a "cage" near the exit of the store and pick up your game. When you looked into the cage, you'd see this wall full of games—which to me, as a kid, looked like pure heaven. I wanted to die in that cage.“
Capturing that feeling was important. So, in addition to all the physical carts, discs, books, music, collectibles, and merch available onsite, visitors to the new LRG store will be able to use a similar slip-based ticketing system to pre-order more upcoming games from the store itself as part of their visit.
But Toys R Us purchase slips are only a fraction of the classic inspirations you’ll find in the LRG store. Look for neon lights around the fringe like you used to see at Target, grid wallpaper like Toys R Us had inside their game console case, a CRT video wall you used to see in the teen department at Nordstrom, a carpet that looks pulled straight out of a 90s bowling alley arcade, highlighted staff picks like an old-school video rental store, and a fully custom eight-hour-long soundtrack tailored to evoke memories of like all the soft rock and muzak you passively absorbed while strolling between the shops at your favorite mall. Yes, the store has a custom soundtrack, and yes, you can buy the custom soundtrack at the store.
The degree of geekery going into this place is something to behold. I’ve been with LRG less than six months, yet I’ve witnessed firsthand the mania driving Josh to make this thing an authentic time machine to the golden era of game stores. I’ve seen him toil for hours over ancient display program boxes trying to synchronize a group of old tube TVs into a working video wall. He drops by my office gleefully every couple of days with a new set of obscure collectible card packs from the height of the CCG bubble that he’ll be stacking near the register to sell to the curious—because every good old game store needs packs of adorable trading cards. I’ve walked through the empty store bathed in hot pink light through the filtered window… it’s like stepping behind Max Headroom’s sunglasses. The vibe is a labor of nostalgiac love.
And while you’re walking around admiring all that aesthetic goodness, there is some excellent shopping to be done. At the grand opening, we will have 800+ products on the shelves that will span our entire history from 2015 to 2022. We've had these small amounts of older games floating around our warehouse for years. We haven’t been able to sell them online because there are so few of them; we wouldn't have copies to replace them if they were lost in transit. We’re hoping that helps make the store’s launch day a paradise for people looking to fill in the gaps in their collection with older releases that are rare and long out of print.
After the grand opening, we’re hoping to highlight monthly sales of discounted, damaged, and returned products from our warehouse, host twice yearly video game flea markets, and set regular events where we get a developer or personality out to the store to talk about their experiences and meet with people.
In the end, we always want the store to be a place where folks feel good just rolling in off the street, knowing the staff and their friends will be there to greet them and talk about all things video games past, present, and future. I’ll be there opening day, and I hope to see you, meet and greet you, and maybe play some link cable Tetris if you bring your Game Boy.
Limited Run Games:
is a subsidiary of “Freemode”, an operative group comprised of gaming and entertainment companies owned by Embracer. Limited Run Games is the industry leader in the production and distribution of premium physical video games. Limited Run seeks to celebrate the legacy of gaming through its award-winning collector’s editions. Founded in 2015, they have published over 1,000 physical games, exclusive merch, and collectables. Limited Run is the gold standard in bringing digital games to physical form and now re-releasing retro titles on modern platforms via their proprietary Carbon Engine. Visit limitedrungames.com for the latest offerings and to learn more about Carbon Engine development. Follow the brand on your social media platform of choice for all LRG-related updates:@limitedrungames.