Lessons Learned from Quitting Kickstarter as a Creator, Part 2

15 December 2016

Before I bookend this tale of transition that began on Monday, I want to be clear about two things:

  1. I will continue to write about crowdfunding twice a week until I have nothing more to contribute. I haven’t had a live project on Kickstarter for over a year, but I’ve written 100+ articles about crowdfunding during that time. It continues to fascinate me, and hopefully the posts will continue to add value for my fellow creators.
  2. These posts are truly not meant in any way to discourage creators from using Kickstarter. My business wouldn’t exist at all (or in its current form) if I hadn’t used Kickstarter to start and grow Stonemaier. Unlike this article, these posts are geared towards creators who have grown to the point where the reasons I list in Part 1 have become significant concerns.

***

1920_togawa01Let’s start with the story of the Scythe expansion, our first new product for which we didn’t run a crowdfunding or pre-order campaign.

When I decided about 5 months ago that I was going directly to distributors for Invaders from Afar, I quickly realized that it meant two things:

  1. I needed to make a lot of copies to satisfy what I hoped the demand would be (I determined this number to be 30,000 copies).
  2. I needed to only make one version of the expansion, with any add-ons made as promo items sold separately (power dials and metal coins).

I also wanted to have as close to a simultaneous worldwide release as possible, so I reached out to a few distributors in Europe, Asia, and Australia/NZ to see if they would be interested in buying directly from the source–our manufacturer in China. There was plenty of interest, and the remaining copies (a substantial number) were sent to the US in three shipments.

What should have happened was supply would have met demand, with all expansions released by retailers in each region at the same time in late November. Here’s what actually happened in chronological order:

  1. The first shipment arrived in the US around November 10. My broker in the US should have shipped them to distributors the following week, but there was a miscommunication that resulted in hardly any copies being shipped when they should have.
  2. Meanwhile, the European shipment was taking longer than expected. It wouldn’t end up being available to retailers until the first week of December (it’s still arriving at some of those retailers). Asia was fine, and Australia/NZ is still a work in progress.
  3. Back in the US, the second shipment had arrived, and Thanksgiving week was upon us–not a good week for freight shipping. Our broker prepared the shipments for several distributors, but FedEx Freight didn’t pick up anything until the following week.
  4. The freight shipments were finally picked up, one day after another. It was a big shipment, and big shipments take a while. Our broker wasn’t quite equipped for it in terms of manpower, which we talked about and will fix in the future.
  5. I made the mistake of not issuing a release date–I told retailers that they could sell the expansion as soon as they received it. This created an inequity between retailers whose distributors received their games first and retailers who received their games last (our broker can’t send everything simultaneously).
  6. During the week of November 28, our broker shipped all orders to distributors. At that point, because I had listed on our website that the expansion would be available from retailers sometime between December 1 and 8, customers were frantically calling their preferred retailers trying to get copies. But most of those retailers didn’t have copies yet, and their distributors didn’t have any information about them (there seems to be a breakdown in communication between distributors’ purchasers–all of whom knew that their shipments had been sent–and their sales team, who mostly just care when the product has arrived at their warehouse).
  7. In Europe, it was revealed that demand exceeded supply, requiring “allocations” for many retailers (they only receive a portion of their order). The good news is that we still had the third shipment of the expansion en route to the US. The bad news was–and still is–that US customs randomly flagged it. That was 2 weeks ago. They still haven’t even started the inspection of that shipment.

Look at all those layers. With Kickstarter fulfillment, there are many layers–factory to port to ocean freight to customs to freight trucking to fulfillment center to courier to consumer–but there are at least twice as many layers involved in distribution. If one link in that chain is weak, delayed, or unpredictable, it throws everything off.

If you need to go back and read Part 1 now to remind yourself why I’d do this to Stonemaier, feel free.

***

In case it isn’t already clear, the distribution system is when a publisher (like Stonemaier) sells products to a distributor, who handles the logistics and orders to get those products to retailers (online or brick-and-mortar). The retailers sell those products to individual consumers. Also, in our case, we employ the use of a broker to warehouse our games, manage inventory and sell our products to distributors.

For publishers, distributors are super helpful because it means we only need to handle the transactions of a dozen customers (the distributors) a few times a month instead of hundreds of customers every day. The difference in the scope of sales and time is immense, especially considering the worldwide reach of distributors despite the need of a single origin point for us (instead of me managing inventory in 5 different warehouses worldwide).

For retailers, distributors offer the convenience of consolidation. Think of it this way: Say you want to make a pizza from scratch for dinner tonight. You can go to the grocery store and buy tomatos, basil, flour, eggs, pepperoni, cheese, etc all in one place. Super easy. Now, imagine how inconvenient it would be if you had to go to a tomato store, a basil store, a flour store, etc–a different vendor for each item. The amount of time you save is worth the additional cost of consolidation.

***

Okay, here’s where we get to the nitty-gritty: What are the top 10 problems created by shifting from a pre-order model to the distribution system, and how are we addressing them?

  1. Risk in over/under-estimating demand. Kickstarter lets you determine–at least for the first print run–the exact demand for a product. Without it, it’s a huge gamble. We really don’t know how much to make. If you make too little, you can make more, but retailers get frustrated while they wait for something they could be selling to arrive. If you make too much, you’ve tied up a lot of cash in something that isn’t selling. Solution: Poll fans, distributors, and retailers to gauge their interest in a product before the print run begins, and continue to use our future printing request form.
  2. Lack of consumer connection and community: Kickstarter is wonderful because it gives backers the opportunity to build something with creators, and it gives creators a direct line of communication (updates) with those backers throughout the process. It’s a very personal, collaborative process. Solution: Kickstarter or not, I spend a lot of time interacting with people and communicating information about our games on Facebook, Twitter, BoardGameGeek, and our e-newsletter. We don’t quite have something that simulates updates (other than our use of Facebook groups), but we can easily do that using product-specific newsletters. This flies in the face of my “don’t talk about it until we’re ready to release it” strategy, but I can see that evolving over time.
  3. No more Collector’s Editions? It’s arguable that Collector’s Editions are a good thing in the first place. Yes, they’re fun for those who get them, but they’re a huge hassle for everyone else, especially completionists. This is the case even if all the items are available separately afterwards (expensive Collector’s Editions are not tenable for the mass market). However, Kickstarter is a great place for these editions. Solution: Continue to find retailers worldwide who will carry promos and special accessories (like Meeplesource and Board Game Extras), and maybe–maybe–on occasion return to Kickstarter for a Collector’s Edition of a new product.
  4. Bigger barrier to entry for consumers: At least at the point of purchase, Kickstarter is easy. Within 2 clicks, you’ve made a pledge, and unless you forget to update your address, the reward magically shows up at your doorstep a few months later. Without Kickstarter, it requires more effort for a consumer to request a product from a retailer (or track down someone who carries it) and place a purchase. It doesn’t help that Stonemaier has “trained” our fans over time to expect an easy Kickstarter/pre-order system. Solution: I’ve addressed part of the solution by creating a Google Doc of all retailers who are at least aware of how to stock our products (at least, all retailers who have been in contact with me). Ideally this would be a much more robust, dynamic system that could let consumers go to one source and quickly find which retailers have our products in stock, but no such solution exists (to my knowledge).
  5. Multiple layers of potential communication failures: With Kickstarter, there’s one source for all information. But with the distributor system, I have retailers talking to distributors, customers talking to retailers, distributors talking to my broker. I still have a lot of that information, but with such a widespread system, it’s natural for people to come to me less. Solution: I have a mailing list of all retailers who have opted into that list (contact me at jamey@stonemaiergames.com) and I keep them updated once a month or as needed with upcoming releases and any pertinent information. That system does, of course, rely on retailers to opt into that list and read the e-mails, which is tough when Stonemaier is just one of many, many publishers.
  6. Inequity of releases: With Kickstarter, I have full control over when games are released to backers within each region. I mistakenly relinquished that control for the Scythe expansion release, as I didn’t like the idea of making stores hold inventory until an official street date. However, I’ve found that both stores and customers really like a street date, as it gives puts them on a level playing field as everyone else. Solution: Implement a street date for each region for new releases. This date will be heavily padded to accomodate slower distributors and freight delays.
  7. Loss of urgency and buzz: Let’s face it: Kickstarter projects are exciting. Watching the funding total, backer numbers, and stretch goals grow is fun, and it’s all within a confined amount of time. Non-Kickstarter publishers tend to use conventions for big, buzz-worthy releases, but Stonemaier doesn’t use conventions that way. Solution: I think Mechs vs. Minions did a fantastic job at generating a ton of excitement by having a coordinated release (down to the exact minute) for early reviewers, a pre-order date that was just a few weeks later, and a release date that was just a few weeks after that. I think that model can work for us to some extent as well (and use some of these techniques). Also, I think there’s a certain power in knowing how well a game is selling–this could mimic the effect of backers wanting to fund a Kickstarter project because of how well it’s doing. Maybe I could post the total sales for each of our products in a prominent place on our website?
  8. Decreased potential for discovery: Kickstarter has slowly improved its discovery system over time. My hunch is that very few people randomly discover projects on Kickstarter–they usually find out about it from some other source and then search for it–but there are some merits to the element of discovery created from friends and creators you follow. Solution: We intend to advertise on BoardGameGeek and send games to reviewers as we usually do, and I think if people are excited about something, they’re going to share it with their friends. We just might need to worker harder at giving them something fun/playful to share (like the photos of pets with Scythe we had fun with). It helps that we have nearly 25,000 e-newsletter subscribers and over 9,000 Facebook fans, but those are just numbers–it’s important to engage those people in ways that value their time.
  9. Thinner margins for publishers: Distributors typically buy from publishers at a 60% discount off MSRP. Let’s use Scythe as an example to show the difference in margins. Scythe has an $80 MSRP. Scythe costs about $22 to make and ship from China to a distributor. So when a distributor buys it for $32, we make a profit of $10. There was a close equivalent (retail edition plus promos) on Kickstarter for $59. Kickstarter/Stripe take 10%, and the per-unit courier cost subsidy built into that price ended up being around $15. So that puts the total cost around $43 for a total profit of $13. Solution: It’s really not that big of a difference. $3 adds up, but Kickstarter is a one-time thing for a product. Distribution is forever (potentially).
  10. Higher prices for consumers: Because of the direct approach, Kickstarter allows creators to offer backers prices that are lower than their retail equivalents. So I do struggle a bit with the idea that we’re making a choice that hurts our valued customers. Solution: The new system is meant to remove a key cost for customers: shipping. Whether you buy from a local game store or an online game store (over their “free shipping” threshold), you’re more likely to avoid paying the guaranteed shipping cost on Kickstarter (whether it’s built into the cost of the reward or added on). But this is only a partial solution, and I can understand how it may be frustrating for some people.

***

This is going to be a learning process for us. It always has been. But I look forward to the journey–a very well-informed journey, thanks to people like you who offer me their thoughts, ideas, and opinions in constructive ways–just as I look forward to sharing that journey with you on this blog.

 

33 Comments on “Lessons Learned from Quitting Kickstarter as a Creator, Part 2

  1. I’m in Europe, and my FLG just received its first shipment. I pre-ordered Invaders from afar months ago, and reading that there is not enough product, I’m glad I did it! Can’t wait to play it tomorrow night.

    Funny fact, I received the 50 coins 10 days ago from meeple realty. It was faster coming from the US.

  2. Interesting post.

    One thing I’m curious about, which I don’t think either posts addressed, is how you decided that now was the right time, both personally and for the company, to leave Kickstarter, and if there’s signs you can suggest other long term users of Kickstarter look for to know if they’ve grown to a point they might want to start considering leaving the platform.

    1. Stephen: As for the timing, I honestly wouldn’t say I have any answer beyond what I wrote about in Part 1. I was heavily influenced by the Scythe fulfillment and release, so if there’s any element of timing, it’s that.

      I would say if a creator ever reads Part 1 and realizes that it fully resonates with where they are right now as a company, it might be a good time for them to consider doing what we did (if it’s the right choice for them).

  3. Hi Jamey

    Thanks for teaching us so much one more time.

    I felt sad the other day, when I saw the way you felt during scythe´s kickstarter.

    I just want you to know, that you are very important for people like me. You improve us a lot as designers and kickstarter creators.

    We await more news about charterstone :)

    I wish you the best.

    Have a merry christmas and a happy new year!

  4. Hi again Jamey,
    As I’m only preparing for my 1st campaign, I’m quite far from resonating with this issues, but I’m very happy you will continue to write about crowdfunding.

    The moment I saw your Google Doc of retailers, my eyes shined like Gollum’s seeing the One Ring. It’s very handy for (future) creators like me to use it as a contact list database. I would see myself sending them an email like say this:
    “Hi, I did *this* and thought you might be interested into backing the retailer pack, live on KS until *insert date*. Alternatively, if it’s not your policy to back KS games, are you interesting into getting future news from me once I have the game published and in stock?”.

    How do you think the retailers would react? Should we avoid contacting them about live projects and email them only when we have the game in stock?

    A mega-useful thing would be if you could manage in the future to update the doc with a column where each retailer to answer if they are interested into backing live projects or not.

    Thanks for all the shared information and insights!

  5. Jamey, thanks for writing these well thought out and eloquent posts. Extremely interesting to read up on all the behind-the-scenes activity. My appreciation toward your products and processes has been raised.

  6. So, I clicked on your link of promo items sold separately, and it was cool and all, but confusing. There’s no real information about what is needed to bring the promo up to the collector’s (or kickstarter edition).

    I’m one of those folks who likes games to look uniform…

    Might I suggest a “pack” of promos for future games that form a “collector’s edition” equivalent, or an upgrade to collector’s edition level?

    1. Mateusz: I use a broker for warehousing, freight shipping, and to coordinate with the inventory management systems of the various distributors. I can’t discuss the exact costs, but they’re minimal.

  7. That’s the right choice at the right moment. Kickstarter can be a double edged blade. Distributors and sellers will help you focusing on a product that you can market at a fair price maintaining a proper margin, say 30% without risk mitigation. What fails in this industry is excess of product. Too much bad product floods the narket and kickstarter helps that in many ways. A good publisher should solely focus on collecting the best ideas and making a game that is financially viable.

    1. I definitely like that message, Federico, both on and off of Kickstarter. I think a “bad” product is certainly in the eye of the beholder, but there are ways all of us can try harder to filter out games that don’t add something special to this amazing community.

      1. Bad product at times interferes with the proper diffusion of good product. Publishers have a huge role to play into this. Selecting ideas and focusing on making games. Leaving distribution to distributors and keeping a healthy work/life balance will drive growth of good new products that will help keeping the market healthy.

  8. Regarding Collector’s Editions and other promo material, while I would understand if you didn’t want to do them due to wanting to focus on developing other content, I hope you never decide not to do them because of completionists.

    I have backed two current campaigns and one campaign that recently ended in which I wasn’t able to get everything, each for various different reasons.

    The first was the Kingdom Death game. Getting everything requires paying $2000. That pledge level is still available, so I could get it if I was willing to pay for it. But that’s way too much for me to spend on a game.

    The second was the Destiny Aurora game. In this case, all of the gameplay content except for one $12 add-on was part of the core game. The additional add-ons simply upgraded the standees that came with the core game to minis. Getting all of those cost an additional $114. I didn’t want to pay that much extra, so I couldn’t get all of the add-ons. (I decided to focus on updating all of the space-related standees to minis instead.)

    The third was the Constellation Dice campaign. This was probably the one I cared the most about “completing”. In this case, the issue wasn’t price, but availability. The creator had made a version of the dice covering the northern sky for an earlier Indiegogo campaign. When he decided to do a follow-up campaign on Kickstarter for the southern sky (along with various other kinds of astronomy-related dice), he found that the manufacturer he had used to make the earlier dice had made extras in case some had to be discarded due to manufacturing issues. He bought back the extras, and made them available in the new campaign for a limited number of backers.

    The problem was, by the time I found out about the campaign, all of the original dice had been taken. He was manufacturing more Northern Sky dice, but only in one color, and I wanted the dice in the original colors.

    This last Monday, he posted an update revealing that he now had more exact numbers of the original dice, and could make more available to backers. So he created a new backer level available to 10 backers that included some of the original dice. I was excited, and rushed over to the campaign page only to find that all of the slots were already taken.

    But while I was disappointed, I realized that I was no worse off than I had been a moment ago. I still had all of the dice that I had currently pledged for. I didn’t actually lose anything.

    Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I will point out that he opened up additional slots the next day, and I was able to get one of them. But even if I hadn’t been able to, my earlier sentiments would have stayed the same.

    While I understand the disappointment in not being able to have everything, I also don’t think it is fair to pressure creators into only offering a “lowest common denominator” version of their product. People look at Collector’s Editions, promo material, and other add-on content as making things more expensive, but it is actually just the opposite. Without those, either the creator includes all of that content in all of the games, thus making the core games more expensive for everyone, many of whom might not care about the extras, or nobody gets the extra content, and people are where they would have been had they simply not purchased the extras, only now nobody has the option to get them.

    I don’t want any creator to limit what they are offering to others simply because I couldn’t have all of it. Even if I couldn’t have gotten the original Northern Sky dice, I wouldn’t have wanted the creator to throw them out rather than offer them to the limited number of people who could have gotten them. Even though I didn’t end up getting all of the minis, I’m glad the creator of Destiny Aurora offered them to those who were willing to pay. And I wouldn’t want the Kingdom Death team to stop making expansions and other content simply because I personally am not willing to pay for them all. Others should be able to enjoy all of that content even if I can’t.

    1. Joe: Thanks for your detailed comment–this is really helpful. I totally agree that a creator shouldn’t artificially limit what backers can buy simply because everyone can’t have everything. For me, as a publisher, if enough people want something, we’ll make it (and in the meantime, we’ll sell what we have).

      I may be overestimating the challenges involved in selling promo items and special accessories separately. Sure, I’ve heard from a few people that it’s annoying to buy them separately instead of part of a bundle, but since we sell that stuff through Meeplesource (and they sell to other retailers), a person can go to one place and put everything in their cart, and people have responded by the thousands to do this (far outweighing the handful of people who have complained). So it seems like a good system.

      The thing I don’t think works as well for the distribution model are complete Collector’s Editions, just because the price is so high. That’s where margins on Kickstarter make a pretty big difference–I can sell a $99 Collector’s Edition on Kickstarter, but would I sell enough copies of a $150 Collector’s Edition via distribution? Probably not.

      1. …Though ridiculous editions of various well selling games seem to be somewhat viable, depending on the game… (…Though I didn’t see a 3d Edition of Catan in the wild, so to speak…)

        1. Stephen: That’s true. I see them fitting into two categories: Highly-rated games that have been out of print for a while and come back in glorious overproduced form (Space Hulk, War of the Ring) and truly bestselling games that have a special edition to celebrate being on the market for a while (Smallworld, Ticket to Ride 10th). I don’t think we’ll let our games go out of print, so the first may not apply. The second might apply, but those games are selling hundreds of thousands of copies (if not millions)–we’re tiny compared to them.

      2. Jamey, that’s a good point on the Collector’s Edition, particularly since Kickstarter lets you ensure that you have a minimum demand before printing.

        It’s definitely an interesting line between having enough people that shipping becomes a hassle, and distribution would be easier, and not having enough demand, thus making pre-orders the better route to take. And because of pricing, you could end up with a situation such as having the $99 Collector’s Edition become so popular that shipping was a hassle, but the $150 that it would cost via distribution being enough of a limitation on most people’s budgets that you couldn’t sell enough of them to make it worth it.

        I wonder if there is a business opportunity for some of the distributors to also act as fulfillment companies. Perhaps retailers and distributors could form a fulfillment network. In addition to purchasing games, they would also be paid a small fee to take additional games that people could claim via some kind of coupon code. So instead of crowdfunded games being directly shipped to customers, creators would send backers codes that they could then use to claim the games at their local shops. The games would be shipped via the standard distribution channels, and distributors and retailers would have the opportunity to order additional copies for retail from the same print run to be delivered in the same shipments as backer rewards.

        One other potential issue with Collector’s Editions when you aren’t going through crowdfunding or pre-orders is that more people will already have retail copies unless you do the campaign just before the regular editions are available for sale. I got one of the Scythe Collector’s Editions, and it was more than worth the additional money. It is by far my nicest looking game with the highest quality components. But if I had already purchased a regular retail edition, I would have had to think harder about whether I wanted a second copy of the game, even if it would have had a lot of nicer components.

        I mean, even the base game is already nice. So I would have been deciding between an awesome looking copy of the game and an even more awesome looking copy of the game. But I suppose one solution to this might be to offer a “Collector’s Edition upgrade pack” for those who already had the game, and the full game for those who didn’t or who wanted an additional copy.

        Speaking of nice looking components and limited Kickstarter/pre-order runs, I finally got around to going through all the Token Trilogy tokens (to make sure they were all there — they were!), and WOW! They are all amazing, particularly the ones in the Adventure Atlas. Very nicely done.

        Your previous token campaign was how I found out about Stonemaier Games, so you can thank Kickstarter for me being a customer. (Well, at least for me becoming a customer. You can thank yourself for me staying a customer.) At first I wasn’t sure if the tokens were worth the money because I wasn’t sure how good in quality they would be. But after reading many of your Kickstarter blog posts, it convinced me of how passionate you were about producing games, and I was at least assured that you were putting your best effort behind developing the tokens as opposed to simply throwing something cheap out there to make a quick buck.

        Once I received them, not only was my belief in you validated, but I was also pleasantly surprised that they were even better than I had expected. Between the token sets and Scythe, I’m glad I found out about Stonemaier. And even after having seen the first token set and Scythe, the second token set still managed to surprise me in how nice it was. You definitely outdid yourself on that one!

        1. Joe: Thanks for following up. These are some creative ideas.

          “So instead of crowdfunded games being directly shipped to customers, creators would send backers codes that they could then use to claim the games at their local shops.” –Some creators have tried this, but to my knowledge a distributor has not. My biggest concern is that it’s adding another layer of separation between the creator and the backer, which could lead to a bunch of issues if backers don’t get their rewards or move, etc. If I’m working with a great fulfillment center, I know exactly what I have in stock at all times. That wouldn’t be the case if the games are spread out to hundreds of different retailers.

          I totally agree about how there would be only a very small market for people who own the retail game and then want to also buy the Collector’s Edition. The upgrade pack is a good solution, though.

          I’m so glad you like the tokens! :) We tried to go all-out for them. A lot of it is thanks to our awesome sculptor, Scott.

  9. I’m disappointed to hear this. You’ve admitted two really critical flaws in this new strategy: you’re making less (23%!) while your customer pays more in money, time and inconvenience than they would through a pre-order or Kickstarter campaign.

    I understand that you’ve gotten to the place where you must delegate this logistic challenge, and you should… I just find it difficult to accept that traditional distribution is really the best solution, vs insourcing or outsourcing the logistics.

    Or, even going even further, leveraging print-on-demand (POD), and opening the door to new, unheard of levels of customization / legacy-style changes: could you imagine if Charterstone had a play logging site / app to collect certain data points and player-generated details, which could then be plugged into a POD template for subsequent expansions / component upgrades? That would be so cool!

    1. Ian: To be fair, you’re painting some pretty broad strokes over dozens of key points I’ve made in Part 1 and Part 2, many of which benefit the consumer as well as Stonemaier. It’s fine for you to be disappointed, and you don’t have to accept the results, but hopefully you can at least trust that this isn’t a decision we took lightly. I understand that our customers are accustomed to buying from us through Kickstarter, but the incremental cost of time, money, and inconvenience to the consumer is minimal (if anything).

    2. Understanding the business case and the best way forward is what a company like this needs to be doing. It simply comes back to that. I just hope this and other publishers will stay independent. I am much more concened about Asmodee owning 80% of the publishers and CMON owning the remaining 20%. I need to see some of these companies step up and offer alternatives in terms of product AND price point. If you are concerned about the future of the boardgaming industry you should be happy to see a small publisher going to play with the big guys.

  10. In the UK I use boardgameprices.co.uk to check who (online) has a given product in stock. It’s not always perfect, but has helped me track down products that were sold out at most retailers.

    One other downside you didn’t list is competition. Sure, I can go to my retailer of choice (local or online) with the intent of buying your game, but in the process that retailer is going to tell me about a load of other stuff I could buy instead and yes I do want Charterstone but the reviews aren’t out yet and look that new Eldrtich Horror expansion is out maybe I should get that instead…

    Flip side: people may go the other way, increasing visibility on your products.

    1. Dean: That’s a great point about the competition. My hope is that I can have a great relationship with those stores, make fun games and get reviews of my games, and make my games look good on the shelf and online. :)

  11. Thanks for sharing all this incredibly useful information. Your blog has been a really useful resource for me as a newbie creator.

    Re the thinner margins – I make it $16 profit on the kickstarter, not $13 ($59 minus $43); and it’s only that low because you’re setting the kickstarter price a wopping 25% lower than the final MSRP. At a more than 50% higher profit, that already seems huge to me, and if you set the kickstarter price even a small amount higher you could be looking at double. (This seems especially significant when I think about the risks around delivery, which could easily eat into a smaller profit margin if you miscalculate or are unlucky.)

    An important hidden variable, I think, is what percentage of your long-term sales come from distribution as opposed to kickstarter sales. If kickstarter sales only account for 10% of your sales then all that extra profit is relatively insignificant; on the other hand if they’re half your long-term sales then the profit differential seems pretty big. I’d be really interested to know the ballpark figure on that, if you’re willing to share it.

  12. Josh: You’re right, the margins I mentioned here are reflective of Kickstarter prices, which are normally lower than MSRP (creators ask backers to incur a fair amount of risk, and that risk is often mitigated by a low price).

    As for long-term sales from distribution instead of Kickstarter, it depends on the game, and it depends on how long it keeps selling. For Scythe, as of April 2017 (several print runs are currently in production), we’ll have about 100,000 copies in circulation. That’s a little less than a year after we sent 21,000 copies to backers. So just based on a year’s worth of data for Scythe, Kickstarter copies comprise about 20% of the total copies in circulation.

    It’s a little harder to calculate for Viticulture, but here’s a rough estimate: Through the Viticulture and Tuscany Kickstarter campaigns (2012 and 2014), we sold about 12,000 copies of Viticulture. The total number of copies of Viticulture that will be in circulation as of April 2017 will be 45,000. So Kickstarter copies comprise around 27% of the total copies in circulation.

  13. Jamey, you’re one of the smartest guys in this business and I absolutely enjoy reading and following your creations where-ever they take you or, by proxy, me. But reading this post and the previous one I feel like you are trying to convince yourself that one way is better than another even with arguments that are similar to why you preferred Kickstarter in the first place.

    I understand your decision, but I don’t think that it will help you get rid of the stress that is not created by the platform you use for creation and realization of that creation, but your passion into everything you do. You want to build the best product and you want to make everyone happy – neither of which are actually possible, since everything is subjective. Nothing will ever be ‘best’ for everyone, unless this circle of everyone is incredibly small.

    While I completely agree with your reasoning and I am not saying your decision is wrong, I do want to bring out some counterpoints to what you’ve stated:

    – Over/under-estimating will not be solved by a future printing request form. This is a far more complicated topic than that. Once you go retail/online distribution route, passionate fans know that they will still get their product anyway even without using forms like that. And because you are suddenly one step further away between customer and their product (Jamey-distributor-store-customer chain), customer won’t feel as connected.

    – Facebook, Twitter, BGG and newsletters are also not a substitute for good communication. While I don’t have the facts, it is a strong minority that keeps in contact through that channel. Kickstarter updates gave relevant information about customer commitments that they had money tied to, making them more interested in this. If this is not the case anymore (and customer can buy later down the road), then this communication will be less relevant overall.

    – Kickstarter really did lessen the barrier of entry to get your products as they were released. I have had this problem with many companies, including Space Cowboys that is owned by Asmodee. I still have NO IDEA from whom I should order TIME Stories expansion from, thus I have no idea when I can promise the next chapter to be played with my group that is passionately waiting for it. I have to pay attention to multiple stores, calculate shipping options and shipping times and it’s a headache I’d rather not have when something is released that is difficult to get. I’d rather tie my money early on with guaranteed purchase than research and race for it.

    – E-mail newsletters that you release are really great (in fact I found this set of posts from there), but having worked in mass-email-newsletter industry for years as an engineer and analyst of customer behavior, customers are more likely to read thoroughly something that is related to them (such as a Kickstarter update about a product they have ordered), than a newsletter that is sprinkled with information that may or may not be relevant for them.

    – I think that street dates in boardgaming industry are an utter failure that I’ve yet to seen be implemented well in any ‘big’ release. By anyone. I’ve seen efforts by Matagot, Asmodee, Portal Games and a few others and it just has not worked. I think closest I’ve seen is Fantasy Flight X-Wing releases, but even those have stuff slipping through the cracks.

    – I don’t think that discovery is a big problem for Stonemaier Games anymore, but I DO THINK that a large part of success for Scythe was the hype and long discovery campaign of the game. I really don’t think that the game would have been the success it is today without a long-term social media campaign and hype building. Yes hype may be bad, some will say that the game sucks BUT Scythe is already in BGG Top 10. So it’s not the problem of hype, it’s the problem of everything being successful enough being a magnet for detractors that want to bring it down or who are disappointed, thinking that because everybody else seems to like it that they will too – and this is never guaranteed.

    – I actually think that games cost in general more on Kickstarter than in retail. At least everything I’ve backed so far (including Scythe) I have seen at higher cost on store shelves in my country than I did in Kickstarter.

    Anyways, I hope that the decision to abandon Kickstarter works out well for you, but remember that it is your passion and love for the hobby that creates this stress. You want to make everyone happy, but maybe once you understand and accept that this is not possible, it will be smoother for you in the end :)

  14. Thanks Kristo! Just to clarify a few points:

    1. I wouldn’t say I’m driven by making everyone happy. Sure, it’s part of my company’s mission to bring joy to tabletops worldwide, but I know that I can’t please everyone, and by trying to please everyone, I’d end up pleasing no one. You can see in Part 1 where a huge part of the stress came from. It wasn’t from trying to make everyone happy–it was from experiencing an ugly side of human nature that emerged during the Scythe fulfillment process.

    2. Estimating demand is a puzzle whether or not I use Kickstarter. Either way, I have different quantitative ways to gauge demand, but either way, I can also under or over estimate demand.

  15. So how are you planning to handle coins and similar bling? Send two editions to distributors? Make the bling into a separate product containing only bling?

    1. Yooden: It depends on the product and the content. For Charterstone, there will only be one version of the game, and we’ll sell it through distributors. We may make a recharge pack for the game, and if we do, it will also sell through distributors. We’ll continue to use Meeplesource as our retailer and distributor for small promos, and we’ll continue to use Top Shelf as our retailer and distributor for realistic resource tokens.

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