2018 Behind-the-Scenes Stakeholder Report for Stonemaier Games

4 March 2019 | 47 Comments

Last year and the year before, inspired by Steve Jackson Games, I released stakeholder reports for Stonemaier Games. It’s time for this year’s report.

A “stakeholder” in Stonemaier Games is anyone who has an impact on our company and a stake in our success, whether it’s employees, contractors, fans, retailers, distributors, volunteers, artists, designers, backers, readers, etc. So if you’re reading this, the report is for you.

2018 Revenue and Personnel

We use the accrual method for accounting (expenses and revenue count in the year when we ship the products to the customer). Last year, 64% of our sales were to distributors, 26% to localization partners, and 10% directly from consumers and partners like Meeplesource, Top Shelf Gamer, and Inked Gaming.

  • Revenue: $9.6 million
  • Full-time employees: 1
  • New games: 2
  • New expansions: 2
  • New accessories: 3
  • Kickstarter campaigns: 0
  • Preorder campaigns: 7

For comparison, revenue was $7.1 million in 2017. While I’m not comfortable discussion profit (arguably the most important number), I will say that it was significantly less than revenue. We consistently reprint almost all of our games, so the majority of our profits are reinvested into reprints.

We have no debt, nor did we take any loans in 2018. Cash flow was very tight at certain times of the year, depending on the gap between when we need to pay Panda (our manufacturer) and when distributors pay us.

I (Jamey) am still our only full-time employee. Alan (our co-founder) works around 5 hours a week, as does Morten (though Morten now runs Automa Factory, a separate company that creates solo modes for our games and others, full time). We work with many independent contractors to accomplish specific tasks (artists, graphic designers, web devs, proofreaders, playtesters, etc). I own 90% of the company, and the rest is divided between a few key parties.

We also continue to contract Greater Than Games (a fellow St. Louis company) to provide warehousing, distribution brokerage, and fulfillment for our products. The addition of Alex Schmidt there has made a hugely positive impact on that relationship. I still run Stonemaier Games out of my home office.

We paid our estimated taxes quarterly. Our sales tax payment will be much higher than previous years due to the new rules for it.

Games in Print

We have a number of different SKUs (expansions, accessories, promos, realistic resources, etc), but our core products are 8 games. The quantities below are the lifetime units in circulation for each game in all languages as of the end of 2018, and the BGG rankings are as of today.

  • Viticulture: 82,280 (BGG rank: 20)
  • Euphoria: 35,000 (BGG rank: 342)
  • Between Two Cities: 39,900 (BGG rank: 507)
  • Scythe: 254,078 (BGG rank: 7)
  • Charterstone: 77,500 (BGG rank: 138)
  • My Little Scythe: 47,500 (BGG rank: 817)
  • Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig: 36,500 (BGG rank: 890)
  • Wingspan: not in print in 2018 (BGG rank: 216)

Scythe continues to be our most lucrative brand, followed by Viticulture.

2018 was the first year that we released more than 1 game, jumping all the way up to 2 total games! Neither My Little Scythe nor Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig were designed by me, though I had a hand in their development.

Our new expansions were Visit from the Rhine Valley and The Rise of Fenris. And the new accessories were the Scythe neoprene playmat, Scythe Encounters, and Scythe metal mechs. We also rereleased the Viticulture wine glasses and (thanks to Print & Play Productions) the Arboriculture and Formaggio modules to Viticulture/Tuscany.

The biggest surprise to me has been Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig. I love this game (it would easily be on my Top 10 list if it were eligible), but it just hasn’t sold as well as I’d hoped and predicted. I still have hope that the game will bring joy to many more people, so I continue to send copies to reviewers and play-and-win sections at conventions. It definitely has made me more cautious about first print runs of new games, though.

Design Day 2018 at Pieces Game Cafe

Social Media and Other Metrics

I added a few types of engagement in 2018. Every Wednesday at 10:00 am CST, I go on Facebook Live via the Stonemaier Games FB page and just talk about Stonemaier Games, discuss random topics, and answer questions. I have a lot of fun with it, and it’s nice that the videos remain on the page for people to watch on their own schedule.

I was really slow to get into Instagram, but I decided to give it a try last year, and I love it. I post a photo (usually with a question or topic) every morning. Most of my posts are about board games I’m playing, and I try to post something Stonemaier related every week or so. My cats also make frequent appearances.

As I discussed recently, the Stonemaier Champion has blossomed well beyond my original projections. Also, every since I added the longer “Sunday Sitdown” videos to my YouTube channel about game design, viewership has skyrocketed. I still post 2 short “my favorite game mechanism” videos each week, but it’s been interesting to see how well people respond to 20-minute videos each Sunday. Apparently shorter doesn’t necessarily mean better!

Biggest Changes, Observations, and Mistakes

  • Preorder campaigns: I ran brief preorder campaigns through our webstore for each new product we released in 2018. This was a huge change from 2017. I think this is a good way for us to serve customers who want to guarantee they’ll get new products upon release. Given that the preorder periods are very short and that we already have the product in stock when we run the preorders (creating a much shorter gap between announcement and retail release than Kickstarter campaigns), my hope is that that the resulting buzz has a dramatically positive impact on long-term retail sales.
  • Shipping expenses and profit: A downside to the preorder campaigns is that our shipping expenses significantly increased in 2018 to over $1.5 million (fulfillment, freight shipping, and warehousing). Even though our margins are better on direct sales than sales to distributors and localization partners, those shipping costs had a big impact on our overall profit.
  • Scythe Digital: Finally, there is a digital version of one of our games! It took a while, but thanks to the efforts of The Knights of Unity and Asmodee Digital, Scythe is available to play on Steam (expansions and other platforms are forthcoming). Time will tell if this has a positive impact on tabletop sales.
  • Game Trayz: With another St. Louis company, Game Trayz, shifting their model to designing trays to be produced with games (instead of as a third-party accessory), we’ve added them to a number of our games. My Little Scythe, Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Wingspan, and the latest reprint of Euphoria all include Game Trayz organizers inside the box.
  • Amazon MAPP: As I detailed in a recent article, we tested a minimum-advertised price policy specific to Amazon and Amazon vendors…and then we ended the experiment. The article explains why we did this, so I won’t go into it here.
  • Video captions for the deaf and hard-of-hearing: Thanks to some key volunteers, especially Andre Ribera, throughout 2018 we added human-generated captions to all Stonemaier-related Watch It Played videos.
  • Stonemaier Fan Channel: For the first time, we started sponsoring another content creator. Dusty Craine hosts a YouTube channel where he posts weekly videos about Stonemaier-specific topics of his choice. He’s not a reviewer, just a fan. If you are too, I highly recommend The Mill.

Looking Ahead to 2019

  • A Game by Jamey Stegmaier: While I think we’ve seen that Stonemaier Games can thrive without games designed by me, I’m curious to see if people value my games differently (more/less/same) than they value any Stonemaier game. We’ll find out later in 2019.
  • No Gen Con: While Stonemaier Games will have a presence at Gen Con thanks to a shared booth run by Meeplesource, I won’t actually be in attendance. Nothing against Gen Con, but I already engage our audience in a variety of ways online, and Gen Con is exhausting and expensive. We honestly don’t know if it’s a good decision, but we like to experiment, so we’re going to try it this year.
  • More Digital Games: Scythe is a start, and Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator are great, but for the reasons mentioned in this article, I’d really like to offer more digital ports of our games. We currently have development partners working on Viticulture, Charterstone, Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, and Wingspan.
  • Better Demand Forecasting: The Wingspan debacle was in 2019, but Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig was actually my first reminder that we need to improve our demand forecasting. Or maybe just print conservative quantities of new products and adjust our approach with distributors and retailers so they have more time to tell us exactly how many copies they want.

***

If you want to express your opinion/desire for anything we’re creating or considering, please fill out our future printing request survey.

I want to continue to learn, make mistakes, experiment, and listen to our stakeholders. Thank you for challenging me in healthy, constructive ways in 2018, and I look forward to experiencing the rest of 2019 with you.

Do you have any thoughts, observations, or questions about this report? Please let me know in the comments.

Also read:

If you gain value from the 100 articles Jamey publishes on his blog each year, please consider championing this content!

47 Comments on “2018 Behind-the-Scenes Stakeholder Report for Stonemaier Games

  1. You’re curious whether or not people still want a Jamey Stegmaier game? This might be the only ridiculous thing you’ve posted. :) Do you need a reminder of your resume, sir? I cannot WAIT for your next game.

    I am disappointed that you learned your lesson about image resizing. I popped out that “Designed by Jamey Stegmaier image, removed the size restriction and only got a marginally larger image. … is that Codename: Clay?” :)

    1. Thanks, Dusty. :) I guess I’m curious to see if people value a Jamey game differently than they value a Stonemaier game–I’ll update the wording to reflect that.

      Yes, I was very careful about the portion of the image I chose. :)

  2. YES – people still want a Jamey Stegmaier game! Our group is eagerly anticipating what the next one will be. In the meantime, we just continue to rack up plays of the other SM games.

  3. Thanks for this excellent report, and congrats on another stellar year! I know we don’t see the expenses (and I think keeping your profit private is a good idea), but I’ve certainly had my share of difficulties this past year, and yet I’m optimistic about the future.

    Regarding B2CoMKL: I wonder if there’s a Venn diagram issue here, where it appeals most to folks who like both games, but for gamers who have only played one of those games or neither, demand drops off sharply? It was certainly an interesting thing to try! I have not yet had the pleasure of trying this game, but I hope I get to in the next few weeks.

    I’ll miss you at Gen Con, but we’ll get to chat at Geekway, hopefully!

      1. A more likely explanation, imo: a product concept has to be SUPER easy to understand up front without specialized background information to have hit potential. Btcomkl doesn’t really have that, imo. A great game is necessary but not sufficient to make a great product. I spend much of my professional life contemplating and working on this gap.

  4. I loved this! Your transparency is bold and inspiring. It’s definitely something we will discuss doing with Dice Throne at the conclusion of 2019.

    Initial sales are incredibly difficult. Even as a “kickstarter company,” we still can’t forecast properly. If you improve this process, I can’t wait to hear how you accomplished it ;)

    Thanks for sharing Jamey!

  5. I also don’t understand the lack of popularity for Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig.

    Here in Zagreb, Croatia our local game store got it a couple of months ago and it has been a hit since! One of the most played light to medium games for large player counts and 100 % of players that I played it with had positive experiences. It makes you feel good no matter the outcome.

    Maybe it’s because we didn’t play Between Two Cities so the partnership mechanism was new to us, but it’s not just about that, it’s also about the variability in scoring the tiles and the weird but also strangely thematic castles which we built. :)

    Nevertheless, since yesterday, one copy of the game sits on my shelf. Hope there’s a plan for expansion(s) regardless of the game’s success.

  6. Hi Jamey –

    I’m curious about your comments on Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig. How do we interpret the “lifetime numbers in circulation”? Because 36,500 certainly seems like a healthy number for a game that just came out last year. If that’s just the number you printed, but haven’t necessarily sold, than I understand – but if that’s the number sold, I’m not sure about the concern. Thanks!

    1. Keith: Well, nearly half of that number are copies made by localization partners. I don’t know exactly how many copies they’ve sold. I know that we still have a decent number (about 25% of the original print run) in our warehouse, which is a lot for us for a game that’s been out for 5 months.

  7. Thank you for always being so open and honest with the gaming community. I really appreciate how you go the extra mile to engage with us, sharing both the good and the bad. Keep up the great work!

    (Also, I will buy the 2019 Jamey-designed game sight unseen given how much I like your other titles.)

  8. I’m also surprised to hear that Between Two Castles isn’t doing as well as you’d like. It’s become a quick favorite of mine and, with the groups that I play with, it’s routinely pretty easy to get it to table.

  9. These articles are another testament to your commitment to transparency and interacting with fans of Stonemaier, and is greatly appreciated.

    Additionally I wanted to express appreciation for your approach to preorder campaigns with Wingspan, I’ve been really enjoying the game and having the opportunity to not have to worry about securing a copy was a really nice privilege. Also very excited for the chance to play more of Stonemaier’s games digitally!

    Thanks again Jamey, and congrats on a great year!

  10. That was very interesting, thank you. I am very excited for the games to come. Open world! Coop! More 🐣!
    The effort and love you put into your games comes through so clearly in all your communications. I also just realized again how beautiful your reveal for wingspan was – the deliberate build op of information and excitement, the beautiful pictures, the excitement, yours and that shared by the community. It was just a joy.

    I’m still waiting for the german release of the game itself so I cannot report on this yet. I the meantime we do enjoy Between to castles a lot though 🙂 – except for the long time it takes to do the scoring because the kids cannot do this themselves yet, so I have to score everything, but that is not the games fault.

    I enjoyed the reveal for Wingspan but I appreciate it even more now because I follow another game with an unusual theme on kickstarter at the moment and I am very tempted but somehow there is a last spark missing that would make me back it. The designer seems to have a lot of passion for the game but it does not come through in the campaign or in the playthrough and I wonder if it is just a question of a) means they have to put into the campaign and b) “personality” as in being able to show/convey the enthusiasm you feel or if this means that the game is not for me after all.
    Sorry this comment got so long, I really just wanted to say: thank you so much for your work and your passion and your games.

  11. Just… WOW! I really love what you do, and how you engage with the audience and following, but this is a total new level.

    I really like the ammount of data you share about how everything works, because it is really eye opening for us new designers trying to get into the market.

    I got to say I really love Charterstone, Viticulture and Scythe, so yes, i’m waiting for another game of yours.

    PS: the data on social media is one that really interested me and that is my most dreaded part of all of this.

    1. Thanks Carlos! I understand that dread. What is your favorite part of social media (personally)? Maybe you could start by focusing on the parts that are fun for you and grow from there.

  12. Thank you for posting so many details about your business on your blog. It really helps small game development businesses put things into perspective. For example, seeing how many games you have in circulation is really awesome and hearing how you have built up your audiences and how strong of an impact that has had on your business over time is really cool. Also, I am super excited to find out more about the “Jamey Stegmaier” game you will be releasing later this year! I did find it curious that you are not going to Gen Con this year. Mostly because I find that as a new developer conferences have been crucial to connecting directly with customers as well as creating connections with fellow game designers It seems you have reached a point where you have tons of these connections already and are able to sustain them online, which is really cool. Although I am curious to follow along and see if, eventually, you find a reason to go back to Gen Con.

  13. I can’t speak for everyone about why Between Two Castles isn’t more popular, but as someone who loves Between Two Cities but has very little interest in Between Two Castles, I have my theories.

    1. Between Two Castles fits a very similar niche to Between Two Cities, as a 1-7 player collaborative/competitive tile drafting game. I already have Between Two Cities, so I just don’t see room in my collection for Between Two Castles to sit alongside it. If I’m wanting something with a little more complexity, I mix in the Capitals expansion. Now, superfans will have no problem owning both, but your average gamer probably will not want to, just like your average gamer will probably not own every possible iteration of Pandemic or Ticket to Ride (though they may own several).

    2. As a mashup of two different games, the target audience is going to be fans of both games. Someone who doesn’t like Between Two Cities, or someone who doesn’t like Castles of Mad King Ludwig, is unlikely to be interested in this game. Just like I wouldn’t expect Munchkin Panic to outsell either Castle Panic or Munchkin, or expect Harry Potter Codenames to outsell the original Codenames, I wouldn’t expect Between Two Castles to outsell either Between Two Cities or Castles of Mad King Ludwig.

    3. This is probably a very minor one, but I really think that the title “Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig” is awkward. I have a hard time picturing someone wandering into a game store and picking that up off of the shelf as an impulse purchase. It’s a mouthful to say, and that’s intimidating. I think that giving it an official name of “Between Two Castles” would have been better, and then adding a snippet somewhere on the box saying that it’s a collaborative effort with the publisher of Castles of Mad King Ludwig.

    Now none of this is to say that Between Two Castles is a bad game. I haven’t played it, so I certainly couldn’t make that judgement call. In fact, I’m sure I’d enjoy it. But I am saying that by its very nature, it was destined to fit a much smaller niche than any other Stonemaier game to date.

  14. First, I’d just like to say I’m loving all your content. I’ve been reading consistently since it was brought to my attention a week or so ago. I appreciate you sharing this with all of us.

    “While I’m not comfortable discussion profit (arguably the most important number), I will say that it was significantly less than revenue. ”

    I wonder why you are uncomfortable talking about profit. Is it because you feel people will focus on that number and take it out of context, or is it something else?

    More than profit, I would love to know what you spend (even rough percentage) on each of your expenses.

    1. Part of it is context, and another part is that I’m worried that people may use that number in ways I can’t even predict that aren’t useful for them or me.

      We have a lot of different expenses, but I’ll name the two biggest: $6.3 million in manufacturing/COGS and $1.5 million in freight shipping, fulfillment, and warehousing.

  15. Regarding demand estimation… has that gotten more or less difficult outside of the Kickstarter ecosystem? Have you considered doing pre-orders before the game is in stock, as a way to pre-qualify the size of an initial run, or are you concerned that would interfere with retailer / distributer expectations?

    With the number of Champions you have, it seems like you could do Kickstarter-style pre-production orders, use that volume to make demand projections for retailers, and coordinate delivery to get a “pop” of reviews / activity just prior to retail release.

    1. Ian: I would say it’s very close to the same level of difficult as when our games were on Kickstarter, as it’s still a big guess as to how the game will do in retail (and how many people will decide they want it after you start printing it).

      When I shifted to the new system, I did consider doing pre-orders before the game is in stock, but for various reasons I thought it would be more effective to cut 4 months out of the waiting period between preorder and availability (see this post: https://stonemaiergames.com/the-secrets-of-mad-king-jamey/

      One way to think about it is that I don’t really feel like I need the permission of our audience (even Champions) to make something I think is awesome. Rather, I can just make it, and when it’s ready, I can offer it to people with full information from reviewers who have the real, final version of the game.

  16. […] As John pointed out in the video, a big issue in our industry is availability of data. This problem is created because companies have no reason to share private data with the rest of the industry, including their competitors. There are exceptions, like the founder of Stonemaier Games, Jamey Stegmaier, who goes so far as to provide his annual stakeholder report publicly. […]

  17. Hi,

    When you look at your BGG ratings you should look at the family games rank as well :) some of your games such as between two cities do much better on this ranking, and is what I look at for buying games for my family and extended family game nights. I’m sure it influences other customers too.

  18. I’m thinking about your shipping costs and I have a question: when I buy a game direct on your site, do you pay part of the shipping cost? For example, if I buy My Little Scythe on your site, I pay $10 to have it shipped to me. Do you pay more on top of that? How much?

    1. Sometimes that may be the case depending on the exact weight and size, but at most it’s off by $1-$2. Overall, I’m not subsidizing shipping costs (except for Champions).

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