An Open Letter to Gamers from a Growing Publishing Company

16 October 2017 | 42 Comments

Dear gamer,

Thank you for playing games, especially tabletop games. I’ve been playing board games since I was a little kid, well before I realized how important they were for an introvert like me. I’m incredibly fortunate that I now get to play more games than ever and that I’m able to design, develop, and publish games as Stonemaier Games’ one full-time employee.

A few years ago I wrote an article called An Open Letter to Kickstarter Backers from a Tiny Publishing Company. Even though Stonemaier Games no longer uses Kickstarter, that letter is essentially Part 1 to today’s letter, which is about things I think gamers would benefit knowing about publishers based on comments and questions I hear every day.

This letter is predicated on the assumption that you want the gaming industry to survive and thrive. Maybe you don’t love every game, every publisher, or every designer, but in general, you have love for games and want to reap the benefits of having great games, great designers, and great publishers.

In no particular order:

  1. Most publishers have a replacement parts form on their website. Does your game have a broken or missing component? Sometimes packing mistakes happen, especially when a game has a lot of unique components. I see a lot of people posting on social media when they open their game to find a broken or missing piece, but instead of broadcasting an anomaly as a representative image of the company, the solution is super simple: Go to the publisher’s website and fill out their replacement parts form. The form for Stonemaier Games is here, and we’re even fine with you requesting parts that you lost, spilled wine on, or accidentally fed to your dog. (Though sometimes a touch of glue makes a part as good as new!)
  2. Rate games on BoardGameGeek. Game ratings are incredibly helpful for both publishers and gamers. For publishers, even if it’s not a top-notch rating, it demonstrates that people have actually played the game, and it populates the ratings with human scores, which are important for BGG’s formula. For gamers, it’s a useful tool to see what others think about a game.
  3. Let your comments and posts be a force for good. The next time you find yourself writing a negative comment or post, before publishing it, ask yourself, “Can I make this constructive?” Designers and publishers read your opinions all the time–not just designers and publishers of the specific game you’re talking about, but other designers and publishers too. So you have the power to make an impact on future games every time you share your thoughts instead of just spreading hate. Even if you really dislike something, there’s a difference between saying “I hate this game” and “Here’s WHY I hate this game: …”.
  4. If your preferred game store doesn’t have a game you want, ask them to carry it. The only way stores know if you want something is if you ask for it. That helps everyone along the supply chain: you tell the store, the store tells the distributor, and the distributor tells the publisher. And then you get the game.
  5. Fancy inserts, box size, and expansions. Whenever a publisher announces a new games, one of the first things people ask is, “Will the box fit all future expansions?” The truth is that we have absolutely no idea. Most publishers don’t have a 10-year roadmap for all possible expansions before the core game is even released. Instead, we base the size of the game box and the insert design on the known variables, among them (a) core game content, including size requirements for unpunched content vs punched content (b) any future content we’re absolutely sure about, (c) sleeved cards, (d) number of games per carton for freight shipping, and (e) shelf presence.
  6. Consider your audience when welcoming a new gamer. A friend recently told me a story about a game night she attended where most of the attendees were new gamers. The host insisted upon sharing his favorite games with this group, despite them being daunting and confusing. First impressions matter, and every time you have the chance to create new gamer, it may be your only chance. This also applies to using inclusive language when talking to new gamers–don’t use fancy terms and acronyms without explaining what you’re saying.
  7. Designers and publishers are publicly accessible, but tag responsibly. Are you curious about a design decision? Do you have a question about a rule or about future plans? Do you have constructive feedback? Awesome! Tag the designer and/or publisher in a public post or comment so they can respond. Do you have a house rule you haven’t tested? Do you want to declare a mechanism is overpowered after one play or that a game is overhyped? Do you have a purely negative complaint? That’s fine, but don’t tag the designer and/or publisher.
  8. Remember that other gamers may have different priorities than you. Have you ever told a publisher that they should have included a certain promo, component, or expansion in the base game? While it’s fine for you to feel that way, consider the impact on the cost and price. Lots of people might buy a game for $60 that has everything they need, but if you add other stuff to it that drives the price up to $80, suddenly you’re asking people to spend $20 extra on something they may not even want. Often publishers have to make decisions that include the most people while still giving niche gamers the opportunity to get what they want separately.
  9. Most publishers don’t sell on Amazon. I’m not disparaging Amazon, but I think it’s important for gamers to understand this, as I often get questions about when I’m going to release a certain product on Amazon, why I’m pricing something at a certain level on Amazon, or why my product on Amazon won’t ship to their area. The truth is, like most publishers, Stonemaier Games doesn’t sell anything on Amazon. Rather, we sell to distributors who sell to retailers who sometimes sell our products through Amazon.
  10. Don’t harass people. The gaming community can be a wonderfully welcoming place for people of all shapes, sizes, creeds, races, genders, nationalities, sexualities, and ages. The entire industry–gamers, designers, publishers, etc–benefits from this diversity and ever-expanding community. So don’t harass people who are different than you, and when you see harassment happening (in person or online), don’t turn a blind eye.

If any of these thoughts resonate with you, I’d highly recommend reading the spiritual successor to this post, An Open Letter to Kickstarter Backers from a Tiny Publishing Company.

Publishers, is there anything you’d like to add to this list? Gamers, is there any information you’d like to hear from a publisher that would be helpful for you?

Leave a Comment

42 Comments on “An Open Letter to Gamers from a Growing Publishing Company

  1. Enjoyed your letter, especially about knowing your audience. Board games vary in difficulty, obviously, so my wife and I choose to play games with new players that they might find interesting to them. To my surprise 3 families have purchased 4 games after playing them. I wasn’t playing these games to sell or market them but just having some friends over for a nice evening of food and fun. So knowing your audience helps expand the community without even trying.

  2. Jamey:

    For a game aiming to reach beyond the gamer community to members of the public interested in the game theme, and coming with substantial publicity via theme stakeholders and a successful PR company (with Hasbro experience), what would be the advantages and disadvantages of publishing by a growing company like Stonemaier compared to a large company like Z-Games?

    Note: In the next to last paragraph of the blog post, the link leads to a predecessor rather than a successor post.

    1. Dorothy: If you have a game that you think appeals to both hobby gamers and casual gamers, my recommendation is that you find a publisher who has been able to successfully bridge that divide in the past. Most likely this means that they have a presence in places where casual gamers shop for games (Target, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and Amazon).

  3. What allows a game to be published in many different countries? How much of that responsibility is on the designer / publisher relationship?

    1. Kevin: A game can be distributed in any number of countries if the publisher has a relationship with distributors. A game also can be localized (the original publisher sells local-language rights to other publishers). None of the responsibility is on the designer–it’s all on the publisher.

  4. What great points to ponder. Stonemaier Games showed up on my radar last year with the coverage around the release of Scythe.

    I bought Viticulture EE and Tuscany EE this year and am very impressed by the quality of the production of the games and I really love the game play. The graphic design sets the mood of wine country. It is a joy to feel the ease with which the lid slides on and off that box.

    I have read a number of your letters and responses to players on BGG forums, Jamey, and I’ve heard few interviews on podcasts. I have to say, I am impressed by your philosophy and the way it manifests in your company. Keep up the great work.

  5. I wish everyone believed in #10. The world would be a better place.

    I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never rated a game on BGG. I might start doing so now, though, especially since Viticulture and Scythe are a couple of my favorite games.

    P.S. It’s cool that a you’re a fellow St. Louisan! Maybe we’ll run into each other some day.

  6. […] Thanks for playing games Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games writes an open letter thanking you, the gamer! Also with insightful etiquette pointers about communicating with publishers. Source: […]

  7. Great read Jamey. I have loved seeing your company grow from Euphoria to scythe and Charterstone (soon). Very true that designers and publishers are very accessible. It was a big surprise when I started getting in contact. I remember messaging you on Twitter about what Tuscany modules we should add to viticulture. You were very helpful and it has been awesome to get to know you. Thank you for everything Jamey.

  8. Hi Jamey! I’m too busy Monday. Now I have time to read this article.
    Great list! Rate games on BoardGameGeek – it’s a useful tool to see what others think about a game. Posts help me a lot more experience! Thank you. . .

  9. Great list and blog post as always, Jamey! This really brings to mind the differences between being a consumer and a contributor. I know for me, as a gamer and even as a Christian, there’s something to be said for self-awareness. If I make either thing about me, then it will only get me so far and I’ll become “fat” for lack of a better term. Maybe overstuffed is better?? But like you mentioned at the beginning, this is predicated on if someone wants the board gaming community to grow in a healthy way. All valid points for sure, but I think every gamer like myself has some level of responsibility for why or why not growth happens.

    Also, I just have to say I have become a big fan of yours in the past year. Scythe became my first really big endeavor into gaming, and I hope to meet you one day as I, too, live in St. Louis!

  10. Jamey,

    If you’ll permit me…this is coming from a designer/developer and not either as a gamer or publisher. The two items on the list which resonated most with me included “2. Rate games on BoardGameGeek” and “3. Let your comments and posts be a force for good” as I viewed them in the same context. Recently, I checked out the nearly 1,000 reviews for my game on BGG, only to find that a very small percentage even rated it (47, which is < 5%). While that's not particularly helpful, I did find that there were a number of comments. Having studied a bit of statistics (coupled with psychology), when you remove (ignore) the 9s and 10s and the 1s and 2s, you can get some really good information. I found one individual who rated the game an overall rating of "4" which while not great, included a wealth of detailed information that, I, as a designer, absolutely love. I immediately contacted the person via GeekMail and I'm now anxiously awaiting his response. He's exactly the kind of person I want on my team of play-testers and blind playtesters who can articulate what hey like, what they don't like, and why. In short, #2 and #3 were great additions to this list.


  11. Thank you Jamey. Trully good words for everyone. Sharing, being positive and help other grow and improve is the way they can do the same to you.
    Lets make everyone remember why they liked playing, because all did.?

  12. It’s a great post, Jamey, thanks! It is so important to remind people of this, on a regular basis really, as they tend to forget that publishers need active and understanding gamers. Without people wanting to help us, most likely the majority of the publishers would go bust! We are lucky that in BG industry people are relatively supporting publishers.

    Cheers :)

  13. Thanks Jamey for thie letter. I get known to so many different people since playing boardgames. Some of them got good friends. In mid september a game desinger and CEO of a St Louis based boardgame company invited me to his home for his private game nite ;-). This will only happends in the boardgame universe.
    People like you or our friend Nils make this small Universe so unique and special.

    Thanks Jamey, again for this Letter

  14. Well said Jamey, and we look forward to Charterstone. One last question: what prompted the choice of “Stonemaier Games” and not “Stegmaier Games”?

    1. Thanks, Matthew. I cofounded the company with a friend, Alan Stone. From the beginning, I was the lead designer and the person who runs the company, but Alan has been instrumental throughout for playtesting, reviewing submissions, and coordinating our replacement parts team.

  15. Great list! #10, amazing how people still need to be told to behave! #5 amazes me. I never would have guessed that inserts would be available for purchase for games but I believe it’s part of the current renaissance gaming is experiencing. If you told me I could spend $35-$50 on an insert back when I was in the thralls of Axis and Allies (early 90’s) I would have laughed and likely just bought another game. Sign of the times I guess! Keep up the great work Jamey!

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