2019 Behind-the-Scenes Stakeholder Report for Stonemaier Games

2 March 2020 | 34 Comments

Over the last few years, inspired by Steve Jackson Games, I’ve 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.

2019 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, 43% of our revenue was from distributors, 26% from localization partners, 25% directly from consumers, and 6% from other sources (digital, memberships, etc).

  • Revenue: $12.8 million
  • Full-time employees: 1
  • New games: 2
  • New expansions: 2
  • New accessories: 1
  • Kickstarter campaigns: 0
  • Preorder campaigns: 5

For comparison, revenue was $9.6 million in 2018. 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 2019. As usual, cash flow was tight at certain times of the year due to the gap between when we need to pay Panda (our manufacturer) and when distributors pay us, but we made it work.

Even though I was the only full-time employee at Stonemaier Games in 2019, we hired a Director of Communications last year who started working on January 1, 2020. 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 (Jamey) own 90% of Stonemaier Games. We started 2019 with a few shareholders, and when we were approached by some investors, some of our shareholders decided to sell some of their shares to the new investors (after many internal discussions). The addition of the new shareholders has been very fruitful, especially in terms of their insights and unique perspectives regarding some big decisions. As a result, we’re open to other investors in the future.

We continue to contract Greater Than Games (a fellow St. Louis company) to provide warehousing, distribution brokerage, and fulfillment for our products. I still run Stonemaier Games out of my home office, and Joe works from home as well.

Games in Print

We have a number of different SKUs (expansions, accessories, promos, realistic resources, etc), but our core products are 9 games. The quantities below are the lifetime units in circulation for each game in all languages as of January 2020, and the BGG rankings are as of today.

  • Viticulture: 102,784 units (BGG rank: 21)
  • Euphoria: 35,000 units (BGG rank: 365)
  • Between Two Cities: 39,900 units (BGG rank: 555)
  • Scythe: 308,118 units (BGG rank: 11)
  • Charterstone: 77,500 units (BGG rank: 241)
  • My Little Scythe: 51,500 units (BGG rank: 669)
  • Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig: 43,000 units (BGG rank: 608)
  • Wingspan: 299,841 units (BGG rank: 22)
  • Tapestry: 52,770 units (BGG rank: 268)

Scythe continues to be our most lucrative brand, given its range of expansions and accessories. Wingspan will soon overtake it in terms of core games sold. Some quantities on this list didn’t change at all, as we had enough stock at the beginning of 2019 to last the year.

The new products we introduced in 2019 were Wingspan, Euphoria: Ignorance Is Bliss, the Scythe modular board, Tapestry, and the Wingspan European Expansion.

The biggest–and most pleasant–surprise of 2019 was Wingspan. I knew how much I loved Elizabeth Hargrave’s game, but I wasn’t sure if hobby gamers would give it a chance. Not only did many try it, but it proceeded to invite tens of thousands of non-gamer birders into the gaming world, and it proceeded to win the Kennerspiel des Jahres award.

Social Media and Other Metrics

This data is as of March 1.

You may notice that we have fewer e-newsletter subscribers than last year. The reason is that I did a detailed review of our subscribers last year and found around 10,000 people who subscribe to it but never open it. Mailchimp’s fees depend on total subscribers, so I removed the excess.

Perhaps the most impactful piece of non-game media I created this year was an hour-long video detailing the history of Stonemaier Games. People discover our company all the time, and that video lets them see how we grew from an idea and a small Kickstarter campaign into what we are today.

Biggest Changes, Observations, and Mistakes

  • Personal and Relational Growth: My personal life has long been intertwined with my profession, so it was a major change for me to pursue a romantic relationship for the first time since starting Stonemaier Games. I’m extremely grateful for the experiences and growth I’ve experienced with Megan so far, including a trip to New Zealand that reminded me of how much I love to travel. While I don’t think my previous work/life balance was unhealthy, it’s been fun to recalibrate a bit.
  • Demand Forecasting: Because of our method of announcing and selling new products only after we’ve made them, we have no hard data on how many we need to produce. In 2019, I tried to greatly improve my methods for demand forecasting by creating a focus group of distributors and retailers to whom I provide detailed information about new products well before we lock in first-run quantities.
  • Open Sharing of Card Frames: After helping privately with several engagement proposals involving custom versions of cards from our games, I decided to make the card frames available for the public to use. See here for a collection of special uses of our cards.
  • Selling an IP: 2019 marked the first time we’ve sold an entire IP–our line of realistic resources–to another company. As I detailed here, it allowed us to focus on our core competency while letting that line of products thrive in the talented hands of Top Shelf Gamer.
  • No Gen Con: We experimented with not attending Gen Con, the biggest tabletop game convention in the US, for the first time in 7 years. Instead, Meeplesource did a fantastic job of representing our brand there, taking 150+ hours of planning and attending the convention off my plate (see related post). As a result, we’ll be doing something very similar in 2020.
  • Controversy and Fraud: Amidst all of the good news in 2019 was a string of unfortunate events involving a prolonged series of threats, harassment, attempts at character assassination, and triangulation fraud. These weren’t the types of things I anticipated when I set out pursue a lifelong dream of designing and publishing a board game in 2011, and it was a surprise to experience in an industry where so many people are incredibly supportive of each other. I’ve tried to put my love of our customers and of games first throughout this ordeal, and I’ve chosen to spend my time and energy on the vast majority of people in the industry who do the same.

Looking Ahead to 2020

  • New Employee: As mentioned previously, Joe has joined Stonemaier Games as our Director of Communications. He’s already vastly exceeded my high expectations and had a positive impact on the Stonemaier community and on me.
  • Coronavirus Impact: While factories in China are starting to reopen, I suspect that the coronavirus will continue to impact manufacturing, conventions, the economy, and beyond for quite some time.
  • Digital Games: Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig joined Scythe as full-AI Stonemaier digital games in 2019, and 2020 should include the digital releases of Charterstone, Wingspan, and Viticulture, as all three are well into the beta testing process with their respective developers.
  • Retailers and Distributors: As the industry evolves, we continue to adjust to the changing landscape of retail. I see us trying to improve how we support both the best local retailers and the best online retailers (in fact, we just launched a new version of our retailer locator), while working with distributors to accentuate what they already do well and encourage positive change where it’s needed.
  • New Products: Our lineup for 2020 will likely include one new game and expansions for three different games.

***

I think that’s everything! Hopefully I didn’t forget anything too big. Thanks for joining Stonemaier Games on this journey, and if there’s anything we can do to add joy to your tabletop experiences, please let us know.

Do you have any thoughts, observations, or questions about this report? I want to continue to learn from mistakes and successes, experiment, and listen to our stakeholders in 2020.

Also read:

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

Leave a Comment

34 Comments on “2019 Behind-the-Scenes Stakeholder Report for Stonemaier Games

  1. All other comments have already expressed how inspiring and insightful your annual reports are. As a startup founder, and aspiring game designer, following your opinions throughout the social media teaches me a lot about product, IP and brand development. Thank you very much Jamey.

  2. I just got into the hobby this year, having only played magic in high school, and I was immediately drawn to SM. Not only are the games fun, but you have a clear focus on quality and the customer experience/service. As a tech product manager, I highly appreciate those values, and as an aspiring board game designer, I look up to how you run your business and learn a lot. Thank you for inspiring me.

    Dan

  3. This is the first time I’ve read one of your stakeholder reports – so interesting!! Thank you for putting it together and thank you for all you do for the industry! It’s a funny coincidence that I read this this morning as Wingspan is on the docket for our game group today :) Wishing you continued success in both your professional and personal lives! And waiting so-very-patiently for that Oceania Wingspan expansion.

  4. So happy that you do these reports (and as an auditor, happy that you use the accrual method for your books)!

    It really suck that people feel the need to threaten, harass and defraud you/SMG but that’s what happens when you continue to turn the industry upside down (i.e. have such a devoted customer base, continually have massively successful games etc).Keep doing what you’re doing and forget the “haters”!

    Here’s to a great 2020 and beyond!

  5. It’s wonderful to see someone willing to pull back the curtain a little bit and be transparent about the inner workings of their company. I’ve spent a lifetime in branding and I can tell you, you’ve built a great brand and things like this only make it better. Keep making great games and I’ll keep buying them! :)

  6. Jamie, I’m a management consultant working in London but huge fan of your company and your work. Would love to get some experience in any way possible of the industry and your company. Proof reading / making slides / content. Will send a CV if this is possible!

    Phil

  7. Your transparency is welcome and refreshing for a game company! My wife and I have been huge fans of your games since Charterstone and Scythe is probably our most-played game recently and were happy to purchase Euphoria as well! I hope you guys continue to grow and succeed in such a competitive industry!

  8. Thank you for such transparency in your business! I really enjoy seeing the numbers in any kind of industry. I do have a curious question about the relatively low sales numbers from Euphoria.

    It was one of my first Kickstarter projects that I backed and my first Stonemaier game. I played it frequently at a weekly gaming Meetup for over a year. It’s a little quirky, but we really enjoyed it and found it very quick to play. Why do you think it does not garner as much attention as your more recent titles?

    1. Evan: That’s a good question! I think maybe we waited a little too long to release an expansion for it–games can tend to fade when that happens. But the release of the expansion last year did seem to help sales.

  9. Very happy to see that Charterstone will be digitally released on Nintendo Switch. Sadly my attempt at playing it with a group ended at the halfway point when a couple of players expressed not wanting to continue, which halted the game for the rest of us, so happy to see that I will get a chance to play through it digitally, as I was enjoying it :)

  10. It’s this kind of communication, as much as the consistency quality of the products and focus on customers, that make me happy to be a Champion. Thanks for all you do for the gaming community!

  11. I have a Scythe group that meets 2-3x per month to play together. It’s almost been a year of it. I just wanted to let you know we really appreciate your dedication and thoughtfulness. Good luck! You have fans in all of us :)

  12. I own the digital version of Scythe, and I will definitely be purchasing the Wingspan and Viticulture versions! Thank you!

  13. So cool you share all this info.

    I would be careful pruning the never-opens, many of us enable blocking to keep images from automatically loading in our emails for security reasons, which is how the open rate is calculated. In fact Gmail and many other email clients default to this behavior.

  14. Jamey, I really enjoy seeing the growth of the company. I also agree with you about not discussing profit. I can only see negative reactions from people learning that number. As you said, the money is put back into the company to continue its strong growth. Here’s to a healthy and productive 2020

  15. Thanks so much for the transparency as always Jamey, it’s as refreshing as it is insightful. Excited for what you have in store for 2020!

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