2016 Behind-the-Scenes Stakeholder Report for Stonemaier Games

15 May 2017

The most popular option on my recent poll about upcoming blog posts was for “the current state of Stonemaier Games.” This idea was inspired both by the Tasty Minstrel Games equity crowdfunding project and the Steve Jackson Games stakeholder report.

I particularly like how Steve defines stakeholders as anyone who has an impact on his company and a stake in their success, whether it’s employees, contractors, fans, retailers, distributors, volunteers, artists, designers, backers, readers, etc. I feel the same way.

There’s a lot of information here, and I’ll try to break it down into bite-size chunks. If you’d like me to go into more detail on any of the topics I mention, feel free to ask in the comments.

Big Picture

Stonemaier Games has been in business since August 2012. I (Jamey) own 90% of the company. Since November 2013, I’ve been our only full-time employee working about 80 hours a week, accompanied by Alan and Morten as part-time employees, each working about 7 hours a week.

We’ve produced 5 brands (core products, each with various expansions, promos, accessories, etc), all through Panda Game Manufacturing. To date, including international versions, our total units in print for our 4 games are as follows:

  • Viticulture: 45,000 units (BGG rank [Essential Edition]: 34)
  • Euphoria: 31,000 units (BGG rank: 282)
  • Between Two Cities: 30,000 units (BGG rank: 467)
  • Scythe: 100,000 units (BGG rank: 7)

I’ve excluded our realistic resource tokens from that list because we’ve sold them in different ways. More on that in a bit.

We contract to Greater Than Games in St. Louis for warehousing, as I work out of a home office. Paul at GTG also handles our distribution brokerage for in-stock products.

2016 Metrics and Data

Our total revenue in 2016 was just over $3.5 million. We have no debt, nor did we take any loans in 2016. Some other metrics I track (as of May 14, 2017) are:

  • e-newsletter subscribers: 29,477 (60% open rate)
  • Facebook fans: 10,776
  • Twitter followers: 6,579
  • ambassadors (volunteers): 2,040
  • retailer/distributor mailing list: 469
  • international partners for localized games: 23
  • website Alexa ranking: 131,541 (avg. 6,591 views per day in 2016)
  • Stonemaier Games Design Day attendees: 85
  • funds raised by annual charity auction: $5,295
  • number of cats (full time): 2

New Products and Campaigns in 2016

  • In April I ran a pre-order campaign through our website for the Token Trilogy and metal coins, raising $177,895 from 1,291 backers.
  • We started delivering Scythe to Kickstarter backers in May, and the last few backers received their copies in August (the original estimated delivery month).
  • In July I ran a pre-order campaign for retailers through our website for Tuscany Essential, selling 3,064 copies of the expansion to 84 different retailers and their customers. We shipped it and the Token Trilogy to customers in November.

Biggest Changes in 2016

Here are some of our biggest changes, listed in chronological order of their implementation:

  • New investor: Alan decided to sell some of his shares to an investor who I trusted to have a positive impact on the company.
  • Facebook groups: We basically went from nothing to several robust Facebook groups for each of our brands. I spend a lot of time in those groups.
  • Prototype creation: I outsource a lot of things, but this was the first time I’ve outsourced the creation of playtest prototypes (the actual printing, cutting, sorting, assembling, etc). Josh has been super helpful, particularly with Charterstone.
  • International partners: We significantly increased our focus on partnering with other companies for localized versions of our games, most of which are now available in 14 languages.
  • Future Printing Request Form: I created a way for customers to communicate to us on a simple form if they want us to make something, with the promise that if enough people want it, we’ll make it.
  • Gen Con: While we had attended Gen Con in the past, we never sold games there. Due to Gloomhaven being behind schedule, we asked Isaac at Cephalofair if he could use the extra money of selling 1,000 copies of Scythe through his booth, and we both benefited from that arrangement.
  • Replacement Parts and Ala Carte: We added Mark (UK) and Katy (US) to our replacement-parts team, with Katy also helping with ala carte orders. To date, we have responded to over 5,000 replacement parts requests.
  • Promos and Meeplesource: We partnered with a number of content creators and reviewers to offer special promos on their crowdfunding campaigns. Related to this, we started working consistently with Meeplesource to sell our promos to individual consumers and other retailers.
  • Top Shelf Gamer: We formally partnered with Top Shelf Gamer to continue to make and sell our realistic resource tokens (including new animal tokens), both to individual consumers and to retailers.
  • Quitting Kickstarter: We decided to no longer use crowdfunding or pre-order campaigns for our products, instead focusing on relationships with distributors and retailers.

Biggest Mistakes and Failures in 2016

  • Tax Estimates: As mentioned in detail here, I should have adjusted our quarterly tax estimate payments accordingly instead of solely basing them on the previous year.
  • Euphoria Expansion: I wasn’t involved enough in the development of Euphoria’s expansion, and then when I got involved, I asked for changes that I should have noted much earlier in the process. This set us back quite a bit.
  • Fulfillment Lessons: I learned the hard way that just because a fulfillment center performs well in the past doesn’t mean they’ll perform well in the future. Details here.
  • Emotional Awareness: It took a series of events (including a public overreaction on a deep-discount website) for me to realize the full extent of the emotional toll Scythe’s fulfillment had taken on me.
  • Failed Partnership: As detailed here, I should have seen the red flags of a partner that simply stopped paying us.
  • Customs and Christmas: I should have printed more copies of Scythe earlier, as the fourth printing (and may copies of Invaders from Afar) were stopped–ultimately for no reason at all–at customs for the entire month of December, completely missing holiday sales.
  • Lack of Full-AI Digital Games: While I greatly appreciate having our games on Tabletop Simulator, Tabletopia, and Boardspace.net, it’s time for us to have full-AI digital versions of our games. Both Viticulture and Scythe are in the works, but they’re really behind schedule. This is the one item on this list that I feel somewhat helpless about–I haven’t been able to find a way to speed up the process.
  • The Legacy Impact: I’m really excited about Charterstone, but I spent all of 2016 (plus a few months on either side) designing that game. I enjoyed the challenge, and I hope it brings joy to people, but I need to be more aware of the time commitment involved in certain types of game designs.

Looking Ahead to 2017

Stonemaier Games will stay small and focused. My goal is to release 1-2 new brands each year while supporting existing brands through reprints, expansions, accessories, and occasionally promos.

While some things are too much in flux for me to mention, here’s what I can say:

  • Expansions: First we’ll release Between Two Cities: Capitals in July, followed by Scythe: The Wind Gambit in October/November. Hopefully we’ll finally finish the Euphoria expansion, and work on the third (and likely final) Scythe expansion is underway.
  • New Releases: Charterstone is our featured new game of 2017 (we’re currently eyeing a late October release).
  • In the Works: We’ve signed a game from a new designer; that game is being developed and won’t be ready for release until 2018 at the earliest. I’m also working on a new game, and I’ll probably divide my time between it and several others this year (that’s the perk of not designing legacy games!)
  • No Reviewer Promos: While I like to support reviewers through promos, it’s more important to me that our customers feel valued and respected. I think there’s a fine line in regards to creating so much ongoing content that people feel like they’re never going to be able to track it all down.

***

That’s it! Did I miss anything that you want to know? While I can’t guarantee I’ll feel comfortable answering, it’s fine for you to ask.

40 Comments on “2016 Behind-the-Scenes Stakeholder Report for Stonemaier Games

  1. This is really interesting information. Thanks for sharing it. I am actually glad about your last bullet point. While I’m sure reviewers appreciate your support, as a gamer, it’s frustrating seeing just all the promo cards out there now. It seems like every week there is a new KS campaign with promo cards for games I like. I can’t afford to support them all. Kickstarter has basically killed the completionist in me.

          1. If you gave in to their demands to increase their hourly kibble wage they might be both more productive and more willing to allow you to hire more feline employees. Just a thought.

          2. Alex: Biddy has offered that perspective many, many times. Despite the many charts and graphs I’ve employed, he still doesn’t understand the correlation between his food and his diabetes. :)

  2. I think it’s unfair that you list Walter and Biddy as full time employees and me as part time, since Alan has told me that both of those lazy cats sleep most of the time they’re on the clock. I sleep less than 40% of the time I’m on the clock :-)

  3. With a revenue of 3.5mil, why are you working 80 hours yourself? Burnout seems like a major risk to your company, especially given your experience in Scythe’s fulfillment. Does your margin not permit +1 headcount? Are there 80 hours of tasks a week that cannot be delegated?

  4. Thanks for sharing Jamey – especially for being willing to identify and share your failures and mistakes to help others not just yourself learn from them.

    Good luck with Charterstone – really looking forward to it. Can appreciate how it must have dominated 2016 for you. I started developing a legacy game prototype a while back but soon realised that the amount of development and playtesting needed to do it properly was massive and well beyond my available time – so decided to focus on finishing off other projects first. Would still love to create a legacy game one day but in meantime I’m looking forward to playing other people’s.

    1. Thanks Dave! I’m glad you can relate to the legacy challenge. Ever now and then I hear people talking about a “wave” of legacy games coming in the future, but because of the sheer amount of time required to design them, I think it’s going to be more like a slow trickle. :)

  5. Thanks Jamey. It’s really nice to see a board game company that always refreshes itself, learn from the mistakes and improve. Your 80 hours a week work really shows itself in every way.

    I couldn’t find any information about Viticulture’s video game adaptation (which is nice to hear), can you tell who’s developing it?

    1. Onuralp: Viticulture’s digital adaption is being worked on by a single developer named Dan. I’m going to chat with him at Geekway in a few days to figure out how we can best move forward with it.

      1. Does he have a track record of adapting board games? Is he working on it full time or as a hobbyist? For a time a number of board game publishers seemed to be out-sourcing digital versions of their board games to dedicated companies like Codito. Turning out a good adaption with only a single developer sounds like a pretty tall task, especially if you want to release it on a solid timetable.

        1. Derian: For Viticulture, he doesn’t–this is his first (Scythe is being produced by a studio). For that reason, I’ve been very patient with the process. Because we haven’t tested the digital waters yet, we don’t know the ROI, so our arrangements involve very little up-front investment (rather, they’re back-end heavy deals in favor of the developer). We had opportunities to spend a lot of money up front on development, but I was wary to do that.

  6. Thank you for sharing all of this Jamey. It is a big inspiration to all of us. I really like the biggest mistakes part. You could change that headline to “things I have learned” :D

    Are you planning on hiring more fulltime employers in the future or are you only doing more part time?

    1. Tompet: That’s something I think about from time to time. I would say that it’s something I’m open to if the need arose. I’m certainly not against it in principle; there just hasn’t been a need for it yet.

  7. This is a really great write up about your business.

    I feel Stonemaier is up there as one of the best in the business and this type of write up is exactly what keeps me watching everything you write, create and publish.

  8. Thanks for the update Jamey, I think this has been the most interesting update email I’ve ever read from Stonemaier. As a business undergrad I’m really inspired by what you have accomplished!

    Also interest piqued at third Scythe expansion :O looking forward to seeing how you handled the legacy aspect at the end of the year.

    Also really interested to see a Stonemaier game that’s not a Jamey design, moving into a bit more publishing world?

    1. Thanks Ben! I was an international business undergrad myself. :)

      We actually do have one game (Between Two Cities) that I didn’t design. Since then we’ve accepted submissions but haven’t found the right game…until last December. I’m excited about that one. As long as it’s the right game, I don’t care if it’s my design or someone else’s–either way, I just need to love it enough to spend a significant amount of time on it and maintain the trust we’ve established with our audience.

  9. Congrats on the 3.5 million in total revenue. Something that really stands out to me is how you are able to design games, publish games, and devote a huge chunk of time to social media and Kickstarter- very very impressive. If you had the option, would you design games full-time and leave the business/administration tasks to someone else? I have a feeling you like both worlds. The mention of mistakes is also helpful. Not only do I learn, but it makes me feel better about my own mistakes as a small game company owner.

    – Denny

    1. You’re right, Denny–I enjoy both worlds. :) There are certainly some elements of each that I don’t like as much, and I’ve tried to learn to identify those areas and–especially if I’m not very good at them or they take a disproportionate amount of time–outsource them to others. Like Josh and the prototypes.

  10. Biddy and Walter are 90% property of Jamey? That means Walter’s tail (the “r”) is property of others. You should fix that asap, hiring a kitten.

    Jokes aside, as I try to find the golden ratio between my friends’ needs, I’d advise you to marry to a game enthusiast who also happens to be an accountant with management skills. Personal life+Common Interests+Direct Financial Advice+Schedule Release seems too good a dream..

    (It would be awesome, though..)

  11. Hey Jamey,

    Congratulations, your overview seems generally positive and all the work that you are putting into it seems to be paying off! You made a comment indicating a third and final expansion for Scythe, which got me thinking: Do you think that all games (sucessful games) should have an expansion? If so, is there a specific number of expansions that seems to be appropriate or is there a limit. I see many games, like movies, that seem to never end lol.

    Thanks,

    -MAR

    1. Thanks Austin! That’s a really interesting question. It’s kind of like, “Should every book/movie have a sequel?” Sometimes it’s best for a piece of media to stand alone, like Fight Club.

      I think there are various reasons for a game to get an expansion, but perhaps the most important one is that there’s demand for it. If a significant number of people want more–more variety, more options, more depth, etc–then I would say yes, an expansion is a good idea. If not, maybe not.

      That said, I’m looking forward to The Incredibles 2 either way. :)

  12. […] State of the Company Stonemaier Games released its 2016 Stakeholder Report and some amazing behind-the-scenes business information about the company’s growth, development and current state of operations. Source: https://stonemaiergames.com/2016-behind-the-scenes-stakeholder-report-for-stonemaier-games/ […]

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