The Nintendo Switch has quickly become a powerhouse for indie games and publishers, alike. Single team developers to major teams have been able to see success on a range of titles. Indie games such as Iconoclasts and rereleases like Darksiders Warmastered can become a high-seller, but there’s still a chance for a few extra dollars that can be made thanks to physical releases. Because of this, the collecting scene on the Switch has grown exponentially, with multiple sites and communities dedicating themselves to obtaining and “preserving” the system’s library.

Companies like Limited Run Games, Super Rare Games, and Strictly Limited Games, just to name a few, have helped contribute to this newfound scene by selling small printings of indie games. These businesses, for better or worse, create a newfound problem with modern-day collecting which is forced rarity. Some aren’t as big offenders, but the problem still remains. There are simply too many with the same business model and, in order to sustain themselves, advertise their small stock as rare in order to sell out quickly. Not only does this hurt collectors but also the market itself.

Forced Rarity

Forced Rarity

Small printings aren’t limited to just Nintendo’s hybrid console; Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Vita have fell victim to the concept. Due to Sony’s lack of support of the Vita, a community that calls, which refers to themselves as Vita Island, has eagerly consumed any and all releases for this system. PlayStation 4, on the other hand, is heavily supported but there are so many lesser known titles on the system that companies have sought to release physically for preservation means. Preservation is a fairly new concept in the gaming industry. With the recent shutdown of WiiWare and other digital marketplaces, it’s inevitable that many games will be lost to time. As a result, many have began trying to create backups of these title so they don’t get lost to time. This is where the small print-companies come into play.

As the Switch and PlayStation collecting scenes continued to grow, more and more companies emerged. Limited Run Games was the first but quickly began to fill their lineup with anything and everything that was able to see a physical release. Others quickly followed suit creating subpar lineups, of course with a few exceptions here and there. These releases appealed mostly to collectors that felt the need to buy everything in an effort to have what could be rare and hard to find in the future. Consequently, as more collectors came on to the scene, they would soon find out that these games are nearly impossible to obtain unless purchased through scalpers and resellers for up to three times the amount. None of the companies, though, have felt any need to do a reprint of their lineup causing a forced rarity. What is that though? A forced rarity is when any company/business creates a limited supply of games in order to be seen as “rare” even though a higher printing could be done. Collectors are much more likely to quickly purchase titles that are deemed as rare, while it also appeals to scalpers hoping to make a profit in reselling once it goes out of print.

Some companies have enjoyed this concept and adopt it as a business model to appeal to collectors. In a recent newsletter to subscribers, Super Rare Games gave the following statement:

“Based on our latest two sales and our massive growth over the last few months, its clear the demand for our products has grown massively recently. To combat this, our next two games are 5,000 unit runs. This will preserve the rare nature of our titles but also ensure that our games don’t sell out too quickly. Rarity is simply a relationship between supply and demand so this will have no effect on the business model we operate on.” (George Perkins, Head of Doing Stuff)

Despite this statement, Super Rare Games still sold out of their recent Earthlock: Festival of Magic in under an hour, including an additional 1,000 copies of the Collector’s Edition offered. Yes, rarity does go hand-in-hand with supply and demand but what about when the demand outnumbers the supply? Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, for example, is currently touted as the rarest game on the Switch fetching prices of up to $500 on eBay even though it’s a popular indie. Would a reprint really be a problem or could it simply hurt their bottom line? Forced rarity is how many of these companies are able to find quick success, yet it can possibly lead to disastrous results for both companies and collectors.

The Curious Case of Poop Slinger

Take the recent case of the physical release for Poop Slinger on the PlayStation 4. Only 84 copies of the game were sold and forced publisher, Limited Rare Games, into bankruptcy. But how did it get to that point? Well for starters, the game was announced for release on April Fool’s Day, while the company’s logo was a direct parody of Limited Run Games. Limited Run would later send a Cease and Desist to them over the confusing logo, prompting Limited Rare to then parody Super Rare Games’ and later Strictly Limited Games’ logos. Once the game went up for sale on the poorly made website, customers were directed to a Paypal screen which would fluctuate the price throughout the day. The remaining 820 copies that weren’t sold were said to have been given back to Russian creditors who helped finance this South Carolina-based company’s venture.

Those 84 who did purchase the game were skeptical but seemed okay with blindly throwing their credit cards at this unknown entity. Luckily, it turned out to not be a scam, yet it shows the glaring problems with collecting in this modern age. Too many companies are tossing their hats into the ring to get a piece of the collector’s pie so much so that it’s beginning to become an oversaturated and unsustainable market. For instance, these are the following companies releasing limited titles on the Switch:

  • Limited Run Games
  • Super Rare Games
  • Strictly Limited Games
  • Play-Asia/eastasiasoft
  • Warned Collectors
  • Red Art Games
  • Dispatch Games
  • Special Reserve Games
  • VBlank
  • iam8bit
  • First Press Games (upcoming)

This brings the current total to 11 different entities publishing limited prints, not including those exclusively doing Collector’s Editions (ie Fangamer). Collectors have no doubt helped contribute to this problem by buying anything that is being shoveled out but these companies are hurting themselves too. There needs to be better handling of releases in order to avoid being the next Limited Rare Games. Yes, preservation is necessary to the gaming industry and many great games need to be saved, however profiting off of this concept is more detrimental to it due to creating an artificial rarity. Poop Slinger may be a worst-case scenario for new companies but if there isn’t some sort of care to what’s being released, this could end up being a normal occurrence.

Forced Rarity

Trying to Counter the Problem

As of writing, Limited Run Games has been the best at countering the problem of a forced rarity in the niche market they helped to create. When they kicked off their line of Nintendo Switch titles with Thimbleweed Park, it was also announced that they would be more nitpicky with what games were being signed, at least for the Switch. Instead of releasing anything willing to release a physical copy, a much more curated lineup was made featuring major titles such as Golf Story, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, and Celeste. Each game on the Switch is also available to purchase in an open pre-order for at least two weeks and sometimes upwards of a month. Not only this, but they have also partnered with Best Buy to release major titles, like those mentioned above, throughout their stores nationwide. These strides help get games into more customers’ hands and make collecting fun rather than stressful, as it should be while also preserving the medium in a complete cartridge.

Other companies have pre-order windows but they aren’t open like Limited Run, where they only order cartridges after the game’s sale period is over so everyone who wants one is able to. Super Rare Games and Warned Collectors have pre-orders that are more along the lines of advanced purchase windows and can still sell out. Anybody who arrives onto the Switch collecting scene is at least able to pick up some titles from Limited Run easily but anything else is out of the question. Companies unwilling to try and accommodate customers may find themselves struggling to keep new collectors coming aboard. If you focus on repeat customers, what will happen once they give up or move to a different system? Fortunately numbered spines help keep that urge for collectors to come back but eventually they’ll move onto something else and that’s when this marketplace is sure to implode.

Forced Rarity

Collecting in the modern-age is problematic thanks to the plethora of low printing publishers on the scene, with new ones popping up nearly every month. More and more want to come and take a slice of the pie that collectors have helped fund. Forced rarity on their parts has lead to high scalping prices and a lack of availability for those late to the scene. Even though these releases are being touted as strides for video game preservation, they lack the ability to be enjoyed by anyone but collectors. Not only this but it is contributing to an oversaturated marketplace that is sure to collapse in the near future, as seen in the case of Poop Slinger. Not all companies can provide high-quality titles, yet why not attempt to release better-received games or more packed in goodies since customers are paying a premium for these?

Video games are meant to be played while collecting is meant to be fun, so why make it hard to do both? Some may not be able to purchase the digital versions of these games due to slow internet or low memory space, so a physical is the only viable option. Limiting these releases to such a small audience without any hope of a reprint or at least a larger print run hurts the entire industry despite it being a “preservation effort.” Along with this, not having a well-curated lineup can lead to serious problems down the line for those unwilling to adjust. Hopefully one day those who want to purchase older limited printings of games can do so for a fair price but until then there’s still a problem that lies within modern-day video game collecting.