Damned If I Do, Damned If I Don’t?

9 September 2019 | 138 Comments

This is the ultimate damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario. Jamey got lambasted with Wingspan for “not supporting retailers” because many retailers didn’t get enough copies of the game to fulfill their own pre-orders. Now, Jamey is getting ragged for selling out his own pre-order which is largely due to him allotting a large portion of the print run to retailers instead of keeping them for himself. (–Timothy E, BoardGameGeek comment)

Before I jump into this topic, I want to be abundantly clear that I’m fortunate, grateful, and lucky to be in a position where I can sell thousands of games to consumers and distributors. I don’t take this for granted. I’m writing this post today because I think it’s an interesting predicament that other publishers and creators might relate to or have insights about.

***

Nine months ago, I had 10,000 copies of Wingspan in stock that I could have sold over a 7-day preorder period. I thought at best I’d sell 2,000 of them, and even that seemed optimistic.

We ended up selling 5,000 copies in that timeframe, after which I ended preorders and sold the remaining games to distributors. One of the things I heard from retailers afterwards was that they wish I had set a limit on preordered games. My thinking was that I had a responsibility to any customer who preferred to preorder from me instead of a retailer.

But I’m always seeking to improve upon past shortcomings, so I tried something different with Tapestry: I made 25,000 copies, and I divided them into direct preorder units and distributor units. Distributors got the majority of them (more than half). I also shortened the preorder period to 4 days.

Due to the buzz around Tapestry, as we approached the September 4 preorder launch, I started to caution people that my self-imposed allocation may not last the full 4 days. I hoped it would–or at least get close–but it’s a guessing game.

They lasted 32 hours.

The result was that there were a certain number of customers (a few thousand, if our back-in-stock form is any indication) who were ready to order Tapestry during the advertised 4-day campaign, but they were unable to do so. Some of them contacted me directly with their frustrations, and I apologized and politely referred them to retailers.

But, as you can imagine, it didn’t feel great for me to cut off direct-order consumers 2 days early due to an artificial constraint on supply. Yes, it’s important that I have solid relationships with distributors, retailers, and the many people who buy games from retailers, but is it right to prioritize them over fans who want to order directly from Stonemaier? Especially given how short the preorder period was? I could have just let the 4-day preorder run its course and allocated the remaining games afterwards. I can always make more games for distributors, but there’s only one first-printing preorder for fans.

From a numbers perspective, let’s say that we could have garnered 2000 more orders for Tapestry if I had kept selling it until Saturday night. The preorder price was $79, so that’s $158,000. Distributors pay me $40 per copy of Tapestry, so instead Stonemaier is getting $80,000. That’s a difference of $78,000. Money isn’t everything, but it’s something to consider.

Of course, there’s always a limit to these things. Each print run is finite. Selling out of 25,000 units of a game over a 4-day period is unlikely but not impossible, so I could have found myself in this predicament even without a pre-allocation to distributors.

I have learned, though, that it may be better to allow reviewers to share their reviews a day in advance of the preorder. That’s close enough to accomplish my goal of giving people an immediate action, but it gives consumers a little more time to make an informed choice (though, in fairness, all other information about the game was available several weeks before the preorder date). It’s a little tweak, but hopefully a meaningful one.

What do you think? Should we revert to the Wingspan method (but obviously make a lot more first-run games like we did with Tapestry) or stick with the Tapestry method? And no, Kickstarter isn’t a method I’d seriously consider at this point for reasons mentioned here.

UPDATE: Two solutions have been mentioned in the comments so far that I’d like to consider in the future. The first is the idea of limiting preorders by entirely by quantity and not by time, ideally with a visible countdown to show customers the remaining quantity. The other is to give distributors the option to prepay for the first print run (instead of just reprints) so they’re more comfortable with me using a flexible number of copies for direct-order customers.

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138 Comments on “Damned If I Do, Damned If I Don’t?

  1. Thank you.
    Your communication was quite clear. You can only order so many copies of a game. I don’t believe in any way that you are limiting supply to increase demand. You and your company have a strong track record. Haters gonna hate. I am not sure which way to vote. I am a Canadian Champion to support your ideas and products.
    Thank you again.

  2. I think for a first print run just sell as many as you can directly. I think it makes more sense financially, and it cuts back on consumer confusion on release dates. I think there will be a lot of noise about it being anti-FLGS so that’s a negative.

  3. I understand that you have many customers in this complex sales channel and there is no way to satisfy all of them at the same time. But I do admire your transparency in trying to do the best that you can.

    That said, I am trying to see the problem with what you did for either product, to be honest. You were very forthcoming with the schedule both times, a warning that supplies may or may not be adequate for the entire pre-order period, and you communicated consistently through many channels. What else can people expect ?

    I learned my lesson from Wingspan, which was my fault for not believing it was the game it turned out to be, not yours for underestimating the crazy demand. I ordered early in the Tapestry pre-order so that I wouldn’t miss out on this one.

    Just keep doing what you are doing, sir.

    1. We were the same, we only just received Wingspan on Friday finally…
      We pre-order Tapestry as soon as your pre-order was available, we didn’t want to wait as long as we did for Wingspan.

  4. Maybe a hybrid? I think maybe just being very transparent up front and saying “Introducing Winspanestriculture! We will be making 12,000 copies available for pre-order. Based on past releases, we aren’t confident that 12,000 copies will last the entire pre-order window, so please consider checking out the pre-release media that will be available 24 hours before the pre-order window.” Consider making the game “Available Soon” in the web shop, so even if people can’t buy it they can get a notification when you turn on sales?

    I think this achieves multiple goals. It is back to the transparency that you value. It sets the expectation that the pre-orders could sell out, which was not the early messaging of Tapestry. It allows interested parties to go to Stonemaier’s web shop to click “Notify Me When Available” or whatever. So there is still a) a sense of urgency b) opportunity to be informed prior to sales window opening and c) you set the limit but people are aware there are 12,000 copies or 8,000 or whatever the ceiling is. Let us decide if we can wait 1 or 4? Just a thought.

      1. It seemed to me the frustration I heard was from a couple of things. They thought they’d have plenty of time to look over reviews and originally the message was that there was most likely enough copies to last the window. I think by providing the number of copies and the time in which that number is available would help people decide based on past experiences with Stonemaier Games whether they can afford to wait 3 days to make a decision or whether they better get on it immediately.

        Perhaps the next trial could be, “pre-orders for Codename: Sand are 10,000 copies or 4 days, whichever come first. If we don’t sell out of pre-order, in 4 days the remaining copies will go into retail distribution.”

        If I’m psyched for Codename: Sand, I’m going to make sure that I’m in that day one buying window because of Wingspan’s history. Perhaps you decide between now and then to release what Tapestry’s allotment was. Maybe not. I can go, 10,000 copies is a lot.. but that could sell out in 1 day or 2 days or 3 days.

        Right now I think the regret for the customer is.. “Aw man, I thought I had 4 days.” In my proposal, there is a definitive cut off and I know what it is. If I sleep on it, it feels like I did it to myself by waiting. 4 days “while supplies last” is kind of nebulous and maybe it’s possible to feel like I had the rug pulled out from under me.

        It’s so hard, man. I feel like Timothy E. from BGG here.. you’re sort of damned either way, but giving people more information with which to make a decision seems to be more in line with your values and your history. I don’t think your games need any kind of marketing slight of hand to really encourage customers to click the button. I think the demand is there.

        If you do decide to announce in advance how many copies will be available, I’d ask your webmaster if he can include a stock counter on the shop page, so people aren’t adding 10,000 copies to their shopping cart (creating sold out messages for others) just to see how many copies remain.

        I admire how you’re always striving to learn more about how best to serve your customers. You’re a class act, Jamey.

        1. Jamey…I am in complete agreement with Dusty. You were spot on when you came out and said I’m only going to have pre-orders for 12K copies…but there should not be a time limit. That way…say you sell out in 32 hours you can perhaps adjust a few more copies for an additional pre-order extension timeline…if you choose. All I think you ensure is that the baseline distribution quantity is enough to ensure all retailers can at least get a copy or two. I was honestly impressed that you boosted the number of copies up front for more retailer distribution. That was really great…i hope the distributors will at least give a copy it two to each store though. Also, food for thought…I have to think that a large portion of your champions are in auto buy mode and even more want to jump on your games right away…your pre-order should at least be enough to satisfy all of their demand assuming almost all will pre-order…keep at it. Your approach and response to feedback has been admirable…especially after wingspan. Thanks for being a stand up guy and keep at it…I feel like you are really close to an awesome solution.

          1. I really like this idea of a set amount of copies with no time limit on when they sell out…perhaps just a time limit on the discounted price, at which point it goes up to MSRP and then you’re not undercutting the FLGSs once it’s into distribution channels? (I don’t know the politics here and what that would look like to them, but maybe this is a valid option/viewpoint?)

            At the same time, and this viewpoint may be clouded judgement by someone who already has had his copy delivered, while people who didn’t get a copy are complaining, I’m sitting here wondering why 32 hours before the presale stock sold out wasn’t enough time for people to review even 2 of the review videos (MvM and Rahdo were the two I watched straightaway) and make a decision. Surely somewhere in that 32 hour window people could have found 30 minutes to watch a review or two if it was that important to them?

            As has been stated by other commenters here, thank you, Jamey, for being a class act. Your transparency and your hunger to do right by all your fans, Champions and business partners via distribution channels is admirable. At some point though, it may become critical to just ignore the naysayers and go about your daily business, though. There was zero reason that anyone who caught any of your weekly livestreams, or any of the pre-release marketing campaign in the way of discussions and posts about Tapestry, should have failed to realize that if they wanted a copy then they needed to get on top of it. I, myself, had reminders in my work calendar to notify me when the preorder began and I’m now enjoying some awesome gaming at home, with plans to introduce the family to it this weekend.

          2. Jason, 32 hours might seem like a lot, but realistically if you’re in the US and work normal hours, it’s one evening. Sales opened at the beginning of the workday, and ended around the end of the next workday. That leaves people a few hours, some of which might be filled with family duties. Some events work around this by releasing tickets (or ticket lottery entries) at staggered times to allow for different schedules. This is probably too complicated for a board game, but it’s a known issue.

      2. I know Ares Games has done this for their Anniversary editions, although admittedly, it’s a premium product that isn’t going to necessarily hit retail. Most people, myself included, wouldn’t have an issue if it’s clearly advertised that x number of copies have been allocated to direct pre-orders and when they’re gone, they’re gone. It’s transparent and obvious, and I know that it’s on me to be aware of when the pre order goes live and place my order as soon as I can.

      3. I agree. Though I think you were completely transparent and clear, I bet many people just saw that it would be open for four days and not that it would be limited. Is there a specific purpose to the 4 day window? It seems that saying that there will only be X copies available and acknowledging that the recent pre-orders have sold out within 48 hours might give people more incentive to be prepared for them to not last. Leaving out the time limit would also keep people from only hearing that one part.

        Either way, I really appreciate your transparency here and with everything that has happened prior to this. The way you handle your business really is the model that so many companies strive to work towards. Sure, we all want to make games that are as popular as yours as well, but ultimately, the transparency and honestly you bring forth is so much more important than just chasing after hits.

        1. “Is there a specific purpose to the 4 day window?” The primary reason is that having a hard cutoff is helpful for our various worldwide fulfillment centers, as we can just send them one big batch (and air freight any extra products to them) at a single point in time. The reason for the 4-day period specifically is that it’s short enough to (ideally) not piss off retailers, especially when I offer a discounted price, and long enough (ideally) to give customers time to buy the product given their varied schedules.

      4. You could reasonably have a preorder number determine when production begins and for how many. A sort of Kickstarter-like pre-order gauge. What if you in fact allowed retailers/distributors a pre-order tier and consumers a tier separately. After a determinate time-frame, end the pre-order phase and place the production quantity order based on those numbers. It’s longer time-frame but you just hold-off announcing the release date until then. “Everyone’s” happy. Or not. lol

        1. This had occured to me but it kinda goes against the “immediate action” Jamey’s going for. As is for Wingspan and Tapestry leading up to the preorder period there were design diaries and hint dropping and a ton of hype. Now that preorder is over, most people are only waiting a week or 2 to actually get the game. The hype hasn’t had time to, and won’t have time to die down for a while.

          By offering a Kickstarter-esque preorder, you’d still have the initial hype but it’d inevitably die down by time the print run and distribution was completed, which (I think) would kinda defeat what Jamey is going for.

          1. I’d say don’t set it up for retailers to skip the distributor and order direct as that messes with the retailer/distributor relationship and probably the distributor relationship with Stonemaier. The thing I’m realizing is if you sell to distributors and do direct sales at the same time its no longer a “preorder”… it’s just ordering direct, lol.

          2. You’re right. And I’m not sure that’s going well for him so far. You cut out one issue but create another.

      5. “Supplies limited, so order yours today!” is a time-honored and understood way of selling things. Limited quantities are just that–limited. Order early or miss out.

        Bottom line, people are gonna be mad no matter what you do. You know this now if you didn’t before. So going with models that are already common to other industries and widely and simply understood seems the best method.

    1. I was going to suggest this as well. I think that you are pioneering the how the how to release games without kickstarter and do it successfully. It has been a fun journey to be a part of. I appreciate how you are keeping retail stores in mind partly because I work at one but also because they are representatives of our industry. I think the backlash is coming because of a couple reason. 1st people just love your games and get excited and hyped when a new one comes out. 2nd I think with Wingspan people had spoken with retailers and both them and the retailer thought that they were going to get the game but then didn’t. With Tapestry people thought okay I am going to preorder this game but have 4 days and then they don’t. There is so much more disappointment when people think they are going to acquire something then don’t.

      I think that your openness about trying to figure out the correct solutions is a great and humble way to lead your company and a great example for people in a leadership role! I mean think about it the core issue here is that people are sad that they cannot obtain/play your games and support your company! That’s a good problem.

  5. The goal should always be to maximize your own profit. If that means selling every single copy direct instead of selling to distributors, do so. And I say this as a guy with fifteen years of game retail experience over a 30-year period.

    1. But what maximizes profit? Selling every possible copy to end customers, and potentially cutting off the ‘long tail’ of sales via retailers, or making sure that there are enough copies in the distribution channel to keep retailers involved after the initial rush? As one of those end customers, I know that there have been games that I’ve played that I would have liked to purchase, but since they were effectively preordered games which hadn’t made it to retail yet (aka crowdfunded), I didn’t have the option of even knowing it would be available in a month or so. Would having them available result in two or three times the sales, which would mean it maximizes profit? I don’t know, but it seems to me that if you’re not providing that opportunity, you don’t really have faith in your product, only in FOMO-hype.

    2. I agree here!! Open Pre-Orders for the entire amount of first print run, then after a set period of time cut it off and they rest to distributors. make the most $$ you can, that is what you are in business for. As for retail, make sure the second print run goes to the distributors.

    3. While maximizing profit is often a directive for a publically traded company with shareholders, one of the benefits of keeping his company private is that the only shareholder Jamey has to answer to is (presumably) himself and a few others. So while I agree that it seems unusual to forego the additional profit from selling direct, Stonemaier is free to make that choice if they so choose.

      I agree that selling direct seems to be the way the world is moving though. But supporting FLGSs (and the owners/customers who are just as passionate about games and new/hot releases) is also a good decision – it shows that Stonemaier truely values these people and strives to be inclusive.

  6. Personally I think you should never hamper your ability to sell direct. Sell to distribution only after selling direct. This is how in industry is changing. This isn’t really new. Kickstarter kickstarted this process. You are just doing the same thing without needing kickstarter’s help. That’s awesome!

    I think the way Netflix and now Disney Plus and others are now skipping the middle man “cable and movie theaters” and selling direct to individuals is a great thing. Some don’t like them, but in the long run it is better.

    Keep up the great work. I played Tapestry for the first time this weekend. I’m excited to play it again.

  7. As always Jamey I commend you for your honesty and transparency.

    I wonder if you’re trying to please too many people. You can’t perfectly gauge demand: you’re always going to have too many copies or too few. And when you have too few either retailers are going to be short or you’re going to be short.

    Why not just pick one? It’s okay to try to please everyone but have a priority. Ex. your priority could be your own pre-sales and you’ll send the rest to distributors. And if distributors don’t have enough that’s okay because you followed your priorities.

  8. Interesting how close the poll is currently. I voted “The Tapestry Method” because I believe that maintaining a good relationship with the distribution chain is critical. Getting that extra cash injection from the preorders is nice, but without a limit you risk damaging those relationships.

  9. Jamey – I don’t know how much clearer your communication could have been ahead of this launch. You put A LOT of information out about the game well in advance of the preorder period and I can’t imagine the review embargo changed that many buyers’ decisions. I, for one, ordered within the first ten minutes and really appreciate the opportunity to read the designer’s diaries and rulebook in advance and then get the game a bit ahead of the retail release date. I don’t believe that opportunity needs to be unlimited. You do need to maintain relationships with your business partners, so there’s a balance to maintain. You could have allocated a couple thousand more copies to the preorder or made it unlimited and sold them all. Either way, there would be people who did not manage to order and you’d have a vocal minority lamenting their lost opportunity. I think it’s better to ignore the complaints and simply refer them to the retail release date. Ensuring that a good number of copies will be available on that date allows you to take that approach.

    1. Honestly, I think you should just sell it all direct if you can and just be upfront about that. You owe retailers nothing, you owe distribution nothing.

      And as a retailer, I appreciate if the decision was fully taken out of my hands (ala Monolith) rather than 1. Getting negative reviewed for not having Wingspan, or 2. Being asked if I’ll match the Tapestry preorder discount.

  10. I’ll be honest – I’ve never understood the “duty to retailers” or whatnot.

    Ordering from Stonemaier is open to everyone on the planet. You get the game early (cheaper in most cases) and it arrives to your front door.

    Why not let people order as much as they want from Stonemaier directly? I don’t see myself essentially losing $78k just to support other people’s businesses, especially if it is a clear “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.

    I’d announce the release of the 2nd printing as world-wide release date and let people get the first print months earlier from me.

    “Here – I’ve printed 25k copies for you guys and if you want them, I’m delivering anywhere on the planet for way less than retail price. If you don’t want them – that’s fine, in couple of months there will be plenty all over the world.” (where “plenty” is based on how well the initial preorder sold).

    If (when) there’s someone unhappy they will basically be saying “I need you to lose a huge amount of money, because I don’t want to wait 3 months and even though you’re selling it, I want to buy it from where I tell you!”, which I’d basically ignore.

    TLDR: I think you should be free selling your own product.

  11. The first run should favour customers and the manufacturing company ( stonemaier ). Subsequent runs should treat retailers as equals to customers and allow retailers to reserve orders from the pool.

  12. I felt your communication was quite clear and transparent regarding how Tapestry pre-orders worked.

    I know you like to have pre-orders available close to the release date, but would it be possible to open them way earlier, i.e. before you have to give the numbers to the printer?
    That way you might be able to gauge the demand more accurately and at least get enough games for those people who’ve pre-ordered the game.

    In the end you can’t please everyone…
    Then again, in the grand scheme of things, what’s so bad about having to wait a bit more to buy a certain game?

  13. As long as you’re using both B2B and B2C channels, you’re going to run into this issue. It’s a balancing act, but the one thing you can rest assured of (as indicated by your post title) is that you’re not going to be able to satisfy everyone involved. Honesty, transparency, and empathy are the best ways to mitigate that and you’re already demonstrating all of those.

    Did you consider something exclusive (aside from a discount) for those that ordered directly from SG? E.g. only individually numbered games would be available from SG, or the first x,000 orders include 4 extra sets of dice?

  14. I think that you should sell as a many as you can directly in the preorder. I feel that it would most likely benefit the game and distributors in the long run creating a lot of ambassadors for the game early. And it makes sense economically. Sure if distributors made preorders before you decide your production then you could accept that, but I guess that they wont commit their money so early.

  15. You should not artificially limit preorder sales to please retailers who are going to be sold out very quickly, anyway. Your fan base is huge now. Tainted Grail on kickstarter last month had over 40,000 backers, and that game was more expensive. There is little danger in printing more copies if the games continue to be good, Losing out on all that money limits your ability to take a slight risk and print more copies for initial releases.

  16. Being transparent is probably the best service you can provide to your two markets: retailers and direct. You can’t perfectly satisfy two appetites. I also have two goals: support creators and independent entrepreneurs. You’re both so I prefer to buy direct but if I miss the window, I’m happy to find a local retailer. So, follow the strategy that best supports your ability to make great products.

  17. The reality of living on the Internet today is that things sell out quickly. This is partly due to speculators who buy things to create scarcity and then flip them on eBay for twice what they paid; it’s also due to more people having more information about the exact date something goes on sale than ever before, even in the history of Internet communication itself. I don’t think this is a problem that you can solve without infinite resources.

  18. It’s been a crazy past week so I somehow missed the email that announced the pre-order window was open, and this blog is the first I’ve heard of it. That is somewhat of a bummer.. but if I must, I can wait a bit more for local stores.

    Because I am often distracted with “real life” issues and miss announcements like this for a few days, I voted for the Wingspan method.

  19. I expected something like this might happen after Wingspan. There’s still a ton of demand for Wingspan at the retail level (our last allocation lasted less than two days). Many of those people that missed out (or are still missing out) on Wingspan were inclined to preorder direct for fear of missing out on this game as well.

    We’ve yet to see what the net result will be on copies sold through distribution (we’re still expecting to get heavily allocated), but in the unlikely event it’s widely available, the pendulum will swing back the other way and less people will feel the need to preorder the next game.

  20. I strongly support allowing reviews to be shared day before. Knowing that there might be a run, I backed before getting to seeing the reviews. I am 110% sure I won’t regret that decision, but I think allowing the reviews to be out so that people who are on the fence can see some reviews without feeling like FOMO (for now).

    If you wanted a hybrid on pre-orders, maybe have certain number of days that would be unlimited but day X might not be available if pre-order allocation sells out. This would help people who are asleep during the release as the pre-order is worldwide. Of course this could hurt your supply chain if you sell out at one fulfillment center and don’t have enough for distributors in that region, but do in others.

  21. People fail to recognize the risk and cost of inventory. You can’t just print 50,000 copies paying out of pocket and make everyone happy. Do you get deposits from distributors ahead of time to help pay for production runs? The relationship with distributors is important, but it’s certainly a steep price to pay.

    I think picking a target split for initial runs (e.g, 40/60 direct/distributor) is a good idea, but instead of reserving a set amount for distributors, maybe just let them order however many they want well ahead of time. If they don’t want to pick a number, give them some default you would have given them (as you did with Tapestry). Then you can adjust your production order to match the data you receive. They can’t get mad at you over their own choice, right? (They still will.)

    This has an added benefit of using their market research to supplement your own. Maybe they’ll have a less biased opinion of how your game will fare.

    So for example, maybe you were planning on producing 15k for a first run, 6k direct, 9k for distributors, but after they get their orders in, you realize there’s actually more hype for the game than you thought, and there’s demand for 12k from distributors. So you could print 20k instead and sell 8k directly. Then when you sell directly just say “We have 8k units to sell directly, when they’re gone, they’re gone” as opposed to saying it’s 3 days or whatever.

  22. Upon Seeing that preorders were unavailable, my assumption was that they had a Wingspan-like situation so I called my local retailer and ordered from them. Knowing this now, I’m more frustrated that I did everything right and can’t get a discounted preorder and that I had to scramble because of it when there was enough printed but “retailers have to have their allotment.” I think I’d always rather have a guarenteed window to order and if I miss it, that’s bad on me but to have a cap purely so retailers can get access to numbers from the first printing seems unfair to the consumers who are trying to “play by the rules” and support the game’s publisher.

  23. I’m one of the people who thought the pre-order window was the full 3 days and that their would be enough in those 3 days. I went back after viewing videos and was too late. So obviously the arbitrary limit bit me, but its my own fault. I know I’ll get the game eventually. Thanks for sharing your methods Jamey and cheers on your success.

    P.S. I saw Meeple Source had orders for $10 more right after. I felt that stung right after I missed. Timing wasn’t ideal there, felt odd to see.

  24. I think a big part of the problem is that you are having to guess demand before you even announce the game. I understand that you want to get games to people quickly, but I think you could save yourself a lot of trouble if you spaced things out a little more and used the pre-order period to gauge demand for the retail release. Personally, I think it would make sense to do a pre-order print run, followed by a retail print run.

    For example, let’s say that you opened pre-orders for Tapestry or wingspan about a month before they arrived at warehouses. During that time you learn about quantities ordered and buzz. At this point you call the factory and ask them to produce a certain quantity of games for retail based upon this information. The retail release occurs when these games are manufactured and shipped all over the world. Instead of having a 1-2 month delay between pre-order and retail release it will be a few months longer If the game ends up being a flop, you can divert the unsold pre-order copies to retail, but if it is a huge success you can probably have a second printing on the ocean before the first print run hits store shelves.

  25. That’s a tough call, Jamey. It is further complicated by the fact that you offer a discounted price for those initial pre-orders.

    Wearing my customer hat, it doesn’t feel fair or right that lack of access to a web site on a given day(!) means I can’t purchase a game for the discounted price. Of course, I may not even be able to get a game through a distributor if the game is that popular. As you pointed out, it also hurts you financially to restrict customer pre-orders because you don’t make as much money from distributors as you do from a direct order. Finally, you have back-in-stock demand that can be highly volatile as customers try to find a copy of the game. That volatile demand impacts future forecasting and exposes you as a desirable forgery target.

    Wearing my partner/distributor hat, why should I deal with Stonemaier games if the bulk of the demand will be satisfied prior to my ability to acquire an allotment of games? Tapestry is a high-profile game. Given its expense, a distributor would justifiably want to sell as many games as possible during this early honeymoon period.

    So maybe the answer is to offer unlimited access to customers for lower price point games that might draw an overall higher volume (i.e. if distributors don’t get anything in the first wave of games, there is still likely to be good demand later). Then offer more restricted access to customers for the higher price (and presumably lower volume in the long term) games. I’d think you’d still want a little flexibility on the specific quantity, though, to avoid the “sell out in 24 hours” scenario that you almost hit with Tapestry.

    In short, your assessment is correct – you’re damned if you, damned if you don’t. I suppose it is the price of a successful marketing campaign combined with an overall strong, positive reputation for game quality.

  26. I don’t like voting for Wingspan method personally – it is way expensive to order directly as a Norwegian. However, I agree with others you should focus on personal profits. Maybe prepare a second print run for retailers based on the leftover demand after your own direct preorders?

  27. I agree money isn’t everything, but leaving $78,000 on the table seems kinda insane to me…
    And cutting 2,000-3,000 units across a several distributors can’t hurt them that badly can it?

    401 games in Canada has a massive disclaimer on Tapesty. “DUE TO THE POSSIBILITY OF HEAVY ALLOCATIONS FOR THIS TITLE, PLEASE KNOW YOUR COPY MAY NOT SHIP/BE READY FOR PICKUP WITH THE INITIAL PRINTING(S). ALL ORDERS WILL BE FILLED IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER AS STOCK BECOMES AVAILABLE!”

    My only other thought, that comes from the whole Wingspan ordeal, is to cut copies that are going to the distributor that sells to the big box online retailers like amazon/target that don’t have big pre-orders coming in. I get that not everybody can get to a FLGS, but there is almost no reason somebody who is buying on amazon can’t also buy it from you directly, especially on a $20 discounted first print run.

  28. I feel like there might be something that wasn’t mentioned that could affect people’s decision on the survey – by using the Tapestry method, did retailers know the exact number of copies they were receiving ahead of time? I know that retailers over-selling preorders was a big issue with Wingspan, so would that issue be eliminated (or at least reduced)?

  29. My personal perspective is that you should be able to sell your games the way you want, without worrying about the distributors or retailers say. Everyone has become accustomed to other publishers offering unlimited direct pre-orders to customers via Kickstarter, so why should Stonemaier artificially cap their direct pre-orders when they’re so much more profitable?

    I have no idea if this is financially or logistically feasible, but here’s my proposed idea: You (Stonemaier) come up with a figure that you would like to offer as direct sales as pre-orders. That is your minimum first run print quantity, and that is the number that you communicate to customers as what you have available to sell. However, you also offer the distributors the chance to make a preorder of their own, prior to the first print run ever going to print. So if Distributor A wants to have 5,000 guaranteed copies from the first print run, then they pay for them before they go to print. That reduces your risk of over ordering, and puts the heat on them (instead of you) from retailers if they underestimate the demand. Perhaps you offer them a slightly higher than normal discount for the first print run to incentivize them to pay in advance.

    Again, no idea if distributors would actually agree to this, but it seems fair to me.

      1. That does seem like a plausible solution here. Here’s how I see the situation:

        You’ve decided to weigh the pros of getting a game to buyers ASAP, while the excitement is still up, over an accurate estimate of demand. A fine choice, but if you can’t compromise on speed, how do you decide the number to print?

        You’ve discussed the difficulty in balancing your estimate. If you print too much, you carry the burden of storing these games and eventually selling them at a loss (at least of expected profit). If you print too few, the worst case is that you just do another print run and the games get sold eventually (plus a Wingspan-like PR issue). Naturally you err on the side of too few, but ironically, this undermines your initial axiom that started this problem – that you want people to get their games quickly.

        So let’s push on the opposite lever – the issue with printing too many. I don’t know much about the logistics here, but it sounds like you’re carrying most of the risk and capital investment of overprinting. What if you could push some of this risk and investment onto distributors? If they’re upset over not having enough of your games when the first print run comes around, it sounds like a situation where they’d be willing to take on this risk and investment to ensure they have enough to sell. SM has spent time building itself up to a quality brand where it could make a deal like this that would be a win-win for everyone. Plus, it’s spreading risk onto more parties, who can adjust accordingly for their particular distribution lines. There’s also the Wisdom of the Crowd to consider – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wisdom_of_the_crowd – the sum of distributors estimate of their demand will be better than your single estimate of total demand.

        You of course don’t want to risk your relationship with distributors – it’s important you get your games onto shelves and in the eyesight of LGS-goers – but if they understand what risk they’re taking on and see it as a win-win too, this could be a good middle ground.

  30. I agree with Dusty. Neither of the two options listed here: Instead, have a counter of how many copies are left, and in all pre-release information, make that number as clear as possible. A bit similar to the Claustrophobia reprint campaign (granted it was on kickstarter, but it was practically just a pre-order campaign): By having the number front and center, it doesn’t feel as if anyone is “lied to” as compared to a time limit that may close earlier.

    One more suggestion: I don’t know if these pre-orders were open to outside of the US, but even when considering work hours and time zones, pre-orders can often have a problem where people don’t feel like they get a fair chance to get place an order if the pre-orders open at a difficult time. So, yes the pre-orders were available for 32 hours. But to look at another point of view, people work and sleep. So when they hear that they’ve got 4 days to pre-order, the expectation is that you’re keeping the pre-orders open long enough so that people can have time between work and other responsibilities to put in an order. Staggering the pre-order windows may be something that helps to give people a chance to get their order in. 1000 copies available starting at 10am, followed by an additional 1000 next day at 2pm, followed by an additional 1000 next day at 6pm… etc. Not perfect, but it may be worth considering.

  31. I like the Tapestry method due to the availability from retailers (And I’m saying that as someone who preordered within 5 minutes of availability). It’s unfortunate if it means not enough copies are available for those preorders, but making sure that many friendly local and online game stores get copies can get a few in is great too.

    But I do wonder if it might be good to allow pre-order of the second print run straight after the first ones run out – IIRC that’s the approach that Mechs vs Minions had – 30k were sold, then you could order the ‘2nd run’ after – I liked that because you could get it ordered and know it was coming.

    But then, I’m so used to Kickstarter projects that I don’t worry too much if I don’t get something immediately (despite being earlier to order, or back), so I suspect I’m a little different to most ^^.

  32. Congratulations on the incredible launch of pre-orders Jamey!

    If I were in your shoes I would consider approaching it like a popular events ticketing system (although i wouldn’t refer to it as buying tickets!)

    When I first launched my convention, we sold out of tickets in 7 days. The second year we sold out in under 24 hours. My situation was different to yours, but effectively the same, we had a certain amount of stock to sell and we didn’t know if or when it would sell out prior to a fixed date.

    However, by being transparent with how many tickets were left (having a countdown), rather than giving a timeframe, we had very few complaints when we sold out. No one expected tickets to still be on sale on day 4, equally people could assess how much time they had to think, based on how quickly the number went down.

  33. The thing is, what happens after pre-order? Retailers are your channel then, and getting them angry because you decided to go direct means no after sales. Sure they might carry a copy of Scythe, but no expansions. Heck, retailers are often the ones who recommend games to people.

    I don’t work at a FLGS, but they often get questions on game recommendations. Last thing anyone wants to do is alienate the retailer who will happily recommend something else they would stock. And yes, it happens – Cards Against Humanity is often asked, and until recently they didn’t have a distributor. So when people asked, the store says it’s online only and shows them Crabs Adjust Humidity and Guards Against Insanity, clones of the game.

    You have to remember even in the age of Amazon, games are often impulse buys to play that night. Most games are luxury goods and very fungible (there are substitutes available). If a retailer cannot get a hot game during release, they will likely only order enough to cover pre-orders, knowing one or two people will cancel and that will be their stock. And unless they sell through in a week, retailers will only restock at their own pace. After all, ask them how many copies if My Little Scythe they’re sitting on.

    There will never be any solution. Short of unlimited pre-orders and holding release back until you can satisfy distributor demand as well.

    The publisher distributor and retailer relationship is complex. Add in direct sales and you have a quagmire. Do it wrong and distributors can drop you. Or retailers. Or both. All a retailer has to do is simply demand they will not take any stock of any SG game until they get Wingspan and that will back up the entire channel. Retailers just blame poor distributorship on the publisher and leave it at that. If the customer needs it, they can order online.

    Unless you have product that consistently gives them profit, retailers can and do decide what product to carry. It’s the only reason why Wizards of the Coast can abuse their retailer relationship with direct sales of limited product, or special deal pricing to Amazon. Magic the Gathering product still sells through so retailers will carry despite the abuse.

    FYI, distributors are even more important outside if the US, because online sales will have outrageous shipping fees. A game will have to be really good to get people even willing to ante up a huge chunk of the price in shipping. So unless a publisher wants to discount heavily shipping and eat the cost, foreign sales will be practically nil. I know I have simply not purchased some games because of it. There are dozens more games competing for my group’s time to worry about one game.

    And one final point – people forget. It’s a good thing Wingspan only comes allocated now as people forget they’re on the list and interest has waned so retailers won’t end up with a million unsold copies because everyone who pre-ordered forgot all about it and moved on. Easier to cancel unfulfilled orders with the distributor if they haven’t shipped. Even I forgot all about my pre-order.

  34. Given how euro games often require some longer term planning it surprises me when people don’t consider the impact of cutting out the retailers. Or maybe this is a non-USA perspective where customs charges are a bigger deal. Publishers could do no retail and just sell mail order from their own stores or at conventions. Customers could rely on hype and never get to see a game before they buy it. Publishers could invest in storage facilities. But by relegating retailers to a second-choice channel (over going direct) then eventually the retailers start to disappear and especially if you live outside the US or the EU suddenly you’re selection of available games goes down, and the casual buyers that keep our hobby fed with new blood start to vanish.

    Kudos Jamey for having a strategy that respected the fans and respected the retailers in equal measure.

  35. I would love to see a flipped situation, to what many have right now in 2 ways.

    1. Have limited exclusive/ special B&M Retailer Editions (exclusive/ special items/ box covers/ sleeves etc, that would be different based on the context of the specific game) that would go out to all retailers, to encourage/ drive sales into retail locations. This can be combined with more conscious effort for promos to be developed for each game, that are only offered via retail (and then via cons, once a period of time has passed), that would also drive sales (even those direct sales) into the stores. You games have enough clout for it.

    2. Place an Embargo for retailers, to have copies in hand to sell for a set period of time, before you offer sales direct (not including pre-orders). So you would ship out all preorders as well as retailer/ dist units, and then giving it a 2 week period before opening up full web-store/ direct sales.

    While BOTH methods have their flaws as I have written them, but I wonder if some measure of solution is hidden within these – especially if combining these 2 ideas.

    If in your same situation I, and so would most others (including retailers, if they had their own game to sell), would sell direct everything that we possibly could sell direct. It saves the consumer time and money (shipped to their door) and saves a very considerable margin on wholesaling it out for your company. The more profits your company makes, the more better games can be made in the future, so everyone should support that aspect.
    Obviously the retailer gets hit here, so finding a solution to help serve that important part of the economy is also both smart but also a great gesture. Keep up the great work!

  36. Jamey – what is behind the ~2 months delay between pre-order and the retail release? It is a pretty long window currently, but that means that stretching that out isn’t a crazy psychological delay.

    Could that window be stretched one more month to allow enough time to “correct” for a pre-order frenzy? That is, if Tapestry only sold 3000 games pre-order, you have 22,000 that sit for 3 months until retail. If it sold 15,000, you have 3 months to produce another 25000 so distributors have enough to meet demand for the retail release?

    Currently, if you don’t get it pre-order and really wanted it, you now need to wait 2 month. If you stretch out that gap, it means that you now have to wait 3 months, but fewer people would be in that situation presumably Honestly, I was debating maybe waiting 2 months before getting it from a FLGS – and if you told me it was a 3 months that wouldn’t have changed my calculation. But, if I was psyched to pre-order and thought had a 2 week delay and now its 2 months, that is much more a psychological delay than 2 months to 3 months.

    1. It’s just standard practice for distributors to have at least 2 months after they know the full details about a game to solicit orders from retailers, allocate those games, receive the games, process them, and ship them out. It *could* be longer, but I think that would frustrate retailers.

  37. I can’t vote for either option. I can offer you an alternative. A specific pre-order window with batches. It would be a hybrid method of your two proposed options. Or do a longer lead time between pre-order and delivery so you can manufacture enough product to meet initial demand. I couldn’t pre-order because it was before my pay day, and I wasn’t expecting it. So, between this fiasco and what I’ve read about Wingspan, I’m more likely to wait until your stuff hits the bargain bin from now on. You have some of the best after sale, if not THE best, support in the industry, but up front seems to be lacking. Or I’m just a grumpy have not as the Stonemaier Defenders would say.

  38. I completely understand the desire to learn from past experience and tweak to make things better, but I’ve now preordered BTCoMKL, Wingspan, and Tapestry. The experience was different each time, and I wonder if creating a consistent repeatable process will in the long term be more effective. Over time, there will be no doubt from your consumers (including distributors, retailers, and gamers) what is to be expected. And though no system can make all parties 100% happy, if everyone knows what to expect, then they at least won’t feel burned by the process. Keep up the great work. I imagine the overall majority of people are more than happy with the games coming from St. Louis these days. I know I am.

  39. I personally feel the whole mistake here is opening up for pre-orders for the public at all.

    My view of Stonemaier Games is they support the retail stores. So in my opinion you should just not take pre-orders from the public, but instead open up for pre-orders for retail stores instead. Allow them to do all the work and decisions in how many copies they want in their stores. They could even do pre-orders from customers themselves, and then order.

    Wouldn’t that work?

      1. That’s fine too. Just open up for orders via your site at a later point. Let retail do it’s thing, and once it’s slowed down open up for direct.

  40. My personal opinion is don’t provide friction to customers who want to get the game from you. I personally ordered directly from you so that you would get a higher margin than at distribution. I’m glad I didn’t wait to order (I almost waited another day) I would have been pretty upset if I didn’t get to order it directly from you, discount or not.

    I would definitely go with a mix of the wingspan and tapestry model. Your reveal schedule was great for tapestry, the one improvement you could make which you already brought up is releasing reviews the day before. I think it still captures what you are trying to do.

    To put things in perspective your 30 day unlimited “preorder” for Scythe was about 18k people. Distribution has gotten like 230k of those.

    Wingspan for 7 days unlimited, got about 5k, distribution is going to get like 995k of them ;)

    Tapestry for 4 days got you, lets guess and say 10k, distribution is going to get like 490k of them.

    Distribution and retailers are fine. Letting as many people get it from you as they want isnt even going to be a drop in their bucket.

  41. I am curious if you would consider a champion + subscription service. This would be a level up to Champions that basically approves Stonemeier to automatically send the next game unless a champion + member opts out one month in advance. This would give you a base number for people who are going to get the next game no matter what. Aka “fanboys and proud.”

    Your preorders can focus on the customers who want more time to decide. I do think a preorder count vs time frame makes sense. You will be accused of hype but you are not going to get away from that as some see it as hype and others as community.

      1. I would personally sign up as the weight and design of Stonemeier games fits me well. The only things I have opted out of are Between Castles and My Little Scythe. I like new designs not reskins of older designs. I could have opted out of these and been perfectly happy not to worry about missing preorder windows.

        Let the community you’ve built enjoy knowing they have your games on lock if they want and you have the piece of mind of knowing at least a base number of preorders to work with.

        Those games could even have labels ready to go so on release day they are done and your distributors have one less large group to contend with.

        1. My only concern with this is that Jamey typically didn’t release details that far in advance. I’d *probably* opt in to 99% of the releases but I’d obviously still want to know what I’m opting into. Jamey could release the details early to champions, but that’s a lot of people to keep quiet until preorder time.

      2. Yeah, I’d sign up for a subscription addon to Champion, although I guess it’d be more like an automatic opt-in for pre-order (not charged until X days before the game ships). Give those signed up a cut-off date to opt out. Although I guess in that case, you’d have to release the price earlier than you did with Tapestry.

  42. I’ve got a few thoughts as just a guy that knows very little about business.

    1) I was just about decided to wait on buying a copy for a little while because I have a substantial wall of shame. Then, I read that the first printing would be numbered. I don’t remember my source, so I could be mistaken. So, I made up my mind to buy as soon as it was released. I just realized that numbered first print copies are essentially exclusives.

    I’m aware that Stonemaier Games doesn’t do exclusives, but if its true that the first printing will be numbered (even if its a small number next to the UPC), then Stonemaier Games actually has made exclusives. It certainly had the same effect on me that exclusives do. It convinced me to buy early so that I could get something that won’t be available later.

    I’m not upset or anything. I bought the game. I’m still a big fan. It’s just an observation that’s worth considering.

    2) I see that a lot of people are saying that you should prioritize your own sales and make as much money as you can for yourself. In my opinion, though, you may have a short term surge of capital, but I also believe that the distributors and retailers help your long term success. I don’t know if this adds anything. It’s just my thought.

    3) This is probably going to be an unfavorable idea to a lot of eager customers, but I think it’s possible that allowing orders that ship before the retail release date might be a mistake. I know it seems like a nice thing to do for Champions and other loyal customers, but it may be a big part of what’s causing the rift. If you stick to a strict release date, including direct orders, then you won’t have to deal with the dilemma of prioritizing direct sales customers vs distributors. With the current model of allowing direct customers to get games early, you’re allowing another common Kickstarter mentality: being first. Personally, I usually pay a little more at Stonemaier Games in order to get it early. That and exclusives are my biggest motivation for backing Kickstarters. If I decide I don’t care about time or exclusives, I buy from Miniature Market or Game Nerdz because they’re wonderfully cheap. Again, I don’t necessarily think this is bad, but maybe not everything you’re trying is compatible. Just a thought.

    4) If you’re going to artificially limit the number of units available for order, maybe you should have a time limit and instead, just announce X number of copies until they’re sold out. Many people will latch on to the one thing that gives them an excuse to argue. In this case, it’s that they believe they would have 4 days to buy. You can make an announcement about a possible sell-out 5000 times and mention the order window once, but if that order window doesn’t last, that will be be the only things that matters to those affected. So, I think you should either announce X number of copies until they’re gone or X days with no limit. I think the first-come-first-served model makes more sense without an unlimited supply.

    5) I know you supposedly won’t go back to Kickstarter, but I still think there is some merit to pre-orders that are paid upfront, even if only partially. I don’t know if it’s still this way, but GameStop used to take refundable pre-orders for $5 that go toward the price on delivery. This implies a financial commitment on the part of the customer without making them dish out all of the money so long in advance. There are downsides, I’m sure, but I think they get a good idea about the anticipation for the game, and the pre-order customers get priority on release day.

    6) To me, these orders that are made during the “pre-order window” aren’t really pre-orders. I’ll order the game, and then, it’s shipped to me as soon as possible. To me, that’s not a pre-order, that’s just an order. If you want them to be perceived as a pre-order, then maybe they shouldn’t be shipped until the release day. It’s another type of exclusive. It’s an exclusivity period. Some video game productions are using temporary exclusivity as a marketing tool, and I really kind of hate it. I had to wait for a year to get the latest Tomb Raider game on PlayStation 4. There was no production reason for this, as far as I know. It was only because Microsoft paid a lot of money the exclusivity period. I didn’t want an XBOX just for that game, so I had to wait. That sucked. The impact of changing the terminology would probably be minimal, but I think you should call it what it is: an order or maybe an early-bird order.

    Lastly, amid all that, I think that a strict release date is probably the most fair, even if that means changing the benefits of Champions.

  43. You might also consider chunking your pre-order inventory by the # of presale days. Like you’d do at a convention to ensure your stock lasts. (e.g. 18k units over 4 days = 4500 units available for pre-order each day) When a day sells out, sorry, come back tomorrow! At least that’s an option for folks who are initially on the fence and need a minute to consider whether or not to jump in. You can also gauge demand day-over-day and have a moment to assess and react if sales are stronger/weaker than expected.

    1. The biggest concern here is that unless he staggers the release times, it will favor people in some time zones over others. People around the world were trying to order Tapestry, so while a 10AM CST (or whatever) release time might work for the majority of North America, it’s far less favorable for people in Asia/Australia, or people whose jobs or other obligations prevent them from being able to access the internet during that time. At least with Tapestry, there was a full 24-hour window over which orders were available, so it’s pretty reasonable to say that everyone at least had a chance to place an order.

  44. Definitely there are complications & issues with either method. But if you pare it down to base principals, I would think your greatest responsibility should be to your closest fans/supporters, and that you should run the pre-order for the full length and cater to those customers first, and that distributors should come second.

  45. My confusion is why not accept (and then close) pre-orders before ordering the print run? Yeah, I know there’s a big time gap between starting the print-run and getting the games into peoples hands, but it seems like it’d be an three way win: No individuals would be unable to pre-order directly if they were so inclined. You’d have the money ahead of time as well as (hopefully) a better guage on demand and so would have a better grasp on how many copies to print, and you’d hopefully be able to print enough that retailers aren’t left out in the cold.

    And yes, you might get less pre-orders if folks are going to have to wait 6 months or more for the game … but I’d think in general folks would be a lot less upset knowing that if they didn’t pre-order it’s their own fault.

  46. I missed the preorder by an hour. Am I a little salty? Yeah, admittedly. Life was just really hectic this month, and I forgot to set a calendar alert on my phone. I’m also in the position where I don’t have an FLGS right now because we moved. I chose to call my old Friendly, now not-so-local Game Store and preorder a copy out of their retailer allotment, and they’re shipping it from Kansas to LA in November.

    I don’t really know what that says about me, but it’s what I did.

    Personally, I understand the pain from a retailer standpoint, but also as a direct consumer, it was a little frustrating to hear “four days” and then the items were gone. I think I’d have preferred to not know that the “window” was, because I’m sure that contributed to me not being as vigilant about calendar alerts and being around my personal e-mail and social media to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and instead hear “we have X number of copies for preorder now.”

  47. Sadly, I have too biased of an opinion, take this with a large grain of salt.

    Some LGSes that I have frequented are owned by people who think they’re the universe’s gift to their community. So because of their hubris and reasons below, LGSes, in general, have left a bad taste in my mouth as a consumer. There are some exceptions — Epic Loot in Centerville, Ohio, for example, is a store that every store owner should work to emulate (note: I live hundreds of miles away from this store, it’s not my LGS). But I always recall just how badly my hobby, board games, is really treated, simply because it’s not Magic the Gathering. Preorders going unfulfilled, not because of the distributor, but because they simply forgot to order in time. Games not being available on launch despite many months in advance of being told about it, and the distributor had plenty, but allotted to other stores since mine didn’t order until the last possible moment. Constantly blaming distributors for everything going wrong instead of owning up to making their own mistakes and showing humility. Talking poorly about other stores and store owners in the general area. Of course this is purely anecdotal, it’s been my experience with a number of store owners.

    So, due to my jaded view of some of them, I’m more inclined to suggest that you keep and enhance your direct-to-consumer model mainly because with the advent of the internet, LGSes aren’t quite as necessary for marketing and discovery (they’re still useful, of course, so I understand your wanting to keep in good standing with them). You glean more profit, as you have admitted. And many of us who are “champions” and who feel a huge sense of brand loyalty to you would much prefer to order direct from you. While Kickstarter would give you closer to an exact count of people who would effectively “preorder,” I understand why you choose not to use that platform. Your Shopify-infused store works great and despite any of our shipping angst, you always ship early and consistently. In my opinion, you deserve my money more than my local LGSes because I trust you and I trust myself to make sure that not only do I order the game myself, but it also arrives in good time. I simply have no trust in my LGS (or many in my region) to do that even though it’s one huge purpose for existing.

    (Every time I criticize LGSes in this way, I inevitably get brigaded by LGS owners or LGS advocates. Note: I actually would love to support my LGS or another in my region, but I cannot bring myself to trust them again when I have been burned so often in the past. Times have changed, and in my opinion, game publishers should now be encouraged to directly compete with LGSes because, if anything, it might bring the quality of ownership and business of LGSes to a higher state of being, or it might see some out of business. Thus is the nature of capitalism.)

  48. I’m a Stonemaier fan and the marketing designer for an FLGS. I’m torn on this one. For our customers, I really want to see them get the game from us, but I would have also liked to see Stonemaier make the tens of thousands of dollars that is rightfully theirs by selling preorders all four days. I think what I’d like to see is a compromise. Perhaps just budget two print runs within a month of each other? I don’t know if the manufacturer can handle this but it seems logical to let the games come from a different pool for different customers. I haven’t heard of any of our customers demanding numbered first-run copies of Wingspan or Scythe, etc. This seems like something that would be better to get straight from the publisher. I think the main problem from our end has been the continued heavy allocation of Wingspan. We still can’t put the game on the shelf. It goes straight to customers who put in a special order for it. A customer can’t walk in off the street and say.. “I think it’s time to buy Wingspan!” then take it home. Do we expect to have the same problem from Tapestry? Again, I’m torn. I think the fact that we can’t keep a game on the shelf speaks volumes about the quality and success of Stonemaier. Being a fan, I am glad to see the games go out the door rather than sit on the shelf.

  49. So, another thought. If you do more direct sales that means more money for Stonemaier. If that extra $$$ in your pocket means you can order more copies for the third print run (assuming the second print run has already started) then that money means you can order more product sooner to help accelerate how quickly you can catch up with demand.

    I also like the idea of having distributors order in your first print run. Having them front some cash helps you make the first print run bigger, so it’s not just limited to the cash that Stonemaier games has on hand to place the order.

  50. I originally had voted for the Tapestry method, but now that I’ve read the comments here, I wish I could change my vote. At the end of the day, Stonemaier is your business, and you should do the things that makes the most sense for your business, not someone else’s; in this case, selling direct nets you more cash flow, and from a business standpoint, probably would have been the right thing to do. But I don’t envy you your position: your company is a titan in this industry of ours, and armchair quarterbacking is our national pastime…

  51. In light of a magic crystal ball, I’d have a multi-phase preorder system. First phase is distributors (this would have to be before first print run), adjust print run numbers based on phase 1, second phase is champions (once its crossed the ocean per your kickstarter post) until stock depleted- but also time gated (1 day presale kind of thing), third phase if stock still available is time based preorder direct from SM show stock levels, and remaining 1st print stock goes to distributors. I’d say that if distributors didn’t up front pre order copies then they can’t be too upset about not getting stock and as a small business owner you need to make money when you can, to make up for the times you can’t. I’d wager distributors can float the risk more so than the publisher or FLGS can.

    I’d prefer you to have a real preorder system as I could tell you well out if I’m interested or not, but I understand you don’t like that.

  52. Honestly, i think you handled this just fine (although your thought on lifting the review embargo a day early would be appreciated). Plenty of warning was given, and I don’t don’t if anyone could truly have expected the “Wingspan FOMO Effect” to be so large as to sellout the preorders so quickly. I think there are two major factors that need to be weighed: 1) Financial responsibilities/constraints as a publisher; and 2) the importance/vitality of the FLGS community.

    As far as point #1 and the “just print more” argument, I’ll leave it to an expert, Nathan McNair: https://pandasaurusgames.com/blogs/news/the-business-of-board-games-the-superstar-problem

    Regarding point #2, it comes down to a company’s values or beliefs surrounding how important FLGS is to the board game community at large. If you think it is important and strive to contribute to its vitality, then the “Tapestry option” is the way forward. If you think that it should be every company for themselves, maximize profit at all costs, and let the FLGS be damned, then the “Wingspan option” is the way forward. (To be clear, I am not indicting SM Games for what happened with Wingspan, I’m just using the poll options as labels.)

    Ultimately, this is up to Jamey to decide what to do (and I do not envy him for having to do so), but I support what he did with Tapestry (and voted for that method going forward in the poll).

  53. One question – you’re in an enviable position where I think you’re likely to have a number of people willing to preorder based on info that can be available even prior to production. Could you take pre-production committed orders I. Order to help estimate the scope of demand based on a high-concept document? I realize this would be folly for most, but I think you’ve built up a brand people trust, so you have a tool most developers wouldn’t.

    1. Seppo: That’s possible (and you’re right that it’s an enviable position). I’m just really cautious about betraying that trust, even unintentionally. Also, the further in advance that people place orders, the more uncertainty is added (like uncertainty of timing).

  54. I believe the better option is the Tapestry method. Not quite as friendly to the end consumer that wants to order from you directly, but it is the best for Stonemaier. The 1 day notice for reviews is a great idea and will alleviate some of the complaints. Also, what if pre-orders opened 24 hours early to Champions? I don’t recall if there was any text with the pre-order dates, but maybe just list the opening date for pre-orders and state they will close once the stock sells out or at the end date, whichever comes first.

    What if you set a number of copies aside for distributors, and had them “pre-order” copies ahead of consumer pre-orders? They can order a number they are comfortable with, and if the total amount doesn’t cover the quantity you set aside, there will be more copies available to buy directly from you. This way distributors can get a better judge of the game and not have to prepay before production begins.

    1. Jake: One similar idea that I may consider is simply have distributors prepay for what they think they want before production even begins. They can always add more later (with the risk of being allocated), but at least then they have the choice of getting a guaranteed quantity.

      1. Dealing with both trade and retail at my current job, I understand the difficulty in finding the right balance between the 2 sides. Distributors (brokers in my case) are an extremely valuable asset to have, and as you mentioned in another reply, you have sold far more copies through them than direct. The only other solution I can think of is to not number the first print run, but instead offer some other type of small token. It can be a small printed symbol on the box, a printed certificate, or even a small item.
        There are 2 reasons for this. 1. You can be upfront with the quantity available for direct pre-order while keeping the quantity for distributors private. 2. The first print run still feels special without the exact total number of copies being known.
        Keep up the great work.

  55. Honestly I had a wonderful experience ordering Wingspan as well as Tapestry. But I think the reason is because Ive got my ear to the ground when it comes to Stonemaier. I generally hold you guys at the top of my list of publishers and creators. So if you tell me you’ve got a game on the way and sprinkle me down some info to get me excited and interested, then I’m putting the money aside. I also became a champion because if one loves these games then it makes no sense not to. I know what’s coming, I know if I’m going to enjoy it before preorder, and preorder is easy for champions. So I found no issues either way. I voted for wingspan style because at bare minimum the direct preorders from consumers during the preorder time is I feel more important than the distributor side in the very early days. Preordering is special. It should be. And you should be able to preorder if theirs a date range. After that allocate remaining stock to distributors.

  56. If it were me, I’d sell as many games direct to consumer as I could, selling at full margins.

    Heck, you could even go harder in the direction you went with Wingspan, making your entire first run direct-to-consumer only, with subsequent print runs made specifically for distribution/retail. Is there a reason that would be bad? It seems like it would net you even more direct orders, as people would get those games months ahead of retail, and grow the Stonemaier Champion program even further.

    1. Chad: It could feasibly work, and it’s certainly tempting, though I think it might really anger distributors and retailers. Though at least then distributors could order and receive exactly what they want.

      1. Is it really likely that “angering distributors and retailers” will cause enough of them to buy significantly fewer copies of a very popular game? It seems like irrational and unprofessional behavior on their part. Has that happened to other game companies? You have a large and enthusiastic following now – let us buy directly from you!

        I strongly favor the Wingspan model. Limiting preorders by number of copies would be really annoying to me…there’s no way to tell how quickly they’d sell out. If you have extras you can always sell them through conventional distribution channels. Whatever you decide, I appreciate your transparency.

  57. In regards to releasing reviews early, have considered allowing them to release the day of and then opening preorders midday. That way people have time to become informed and/or hype up counting down the hours without having a night to disengage/forget about it

  58. You’ve got an interesting problem, that I don’t think is a real problem. If someone is upset that they didn’t get a game and now can’t wait for the next print-run, then maybe that person should re-consider their life choices and priorities.

    For me, I learned from the Wingspan experience. I saw Wingspan, thought it looked amazing and would be fun to play with my wife, and pre-ordered. I was surprised with all of the “controversy” about the limited copies and how upset people were about not getting a copy for months. But, from what I see, everyone who gets a copy now usually posts something like “Finally, the wait is over and I am so excited!” They had to wait, but the wait was worth it. They also had to learn a little patience. Probably not a bad lesson.

    I think you have some options.

    Sell only online through your own site. Chip Theory Games does this and from what I can tell they have been successful. This allows you to almost run a just-in-time operation if you wanted and produce as the demand comes in. All the profits go to you. You’d probably have to adjust your message as said in other comments to state when the games are gone, you’ll have to wait for the next print run.

    You can stop selling through your site and sell to distributors. Distributors take on inventory and bear most of the cost of holding inventory and having cash tied up. You lose control of the distribution channels, but then again you’re a designer. This frees up time to focus on designing and building relationships with distributors rather than worry about selling online. But, this removes you from your fan base a bit, and I think communicating with and serving your fans drives you, or at least that’s the sense I get.

    Do exactly what you did, and live with the fact that someone won’t be happy, but eventually they will be when they get the game down the road. People (me included) need a lesson in patience.

    What might help now, is a production schedule. Let people know when the next batch will be produced and try to stick to that timing. Maybe take a pole in a month after the game has socialized and the 25,000 copies have been play tested so you can get a sense of how many you should print on the next print run.

    So, I would empathize with those that didn’t get the game. I would communicate that more are forth-coming. I would NOT apologize for the shortage. And, I would continue being yourself. Just care about getting a product do your fans, and a little less about their reaction that they didn’t get it NOW. This is a problem with this generation (again me included and I am almost 50).

    I think you did OK. So long as I get my copy and my four boxes of metal mechs (that I discovered that morning I could buy so I was out another $200 my wife sends her thanks..) you’re ok. :)

    Mason

  59. I felt like I had plenty of communication and opportunity to preorder even with the narrow time frame, ultimately didn’t. The limited window with reviews did make it tough to make an informed decision so I’ll hold off. But I don’t feel like I was robbed of an opportunity or that Stonemaier did something wrong.

  60. You need to respect your retailers.

    They stock your slow-sellers as sell as your best-sellers. They display demonstration copies. They answer questions from potential customers. They invest huge amounts of money in leases, salaries of employees, and other overhead.

    If you push the “direct sales” concept, you run the risk that retailers will not want to give you prime retail space, if any at all.

    Retailers take chances on games that may not turn out to be best sellers. Retailers already face competition from the Amazons of the world.

    So, you ought to think long and hard about whether you are making your Stonemaier business model depend largely on “blockbuster” games. What if you have some “duds” in the pipeline?

    1. If a game is so popular that a ton of people buy direct, wouldn’t retailers be encouraged by the popularity and stock it? It doesn’t seem like anyone is having any problems selling Wingspan, for example.

      Conversely, if he had duds, why would retailers want to stock the duds?

      There are also examples of successful publishers like Fowers Games and Chip Theory Games that forego retail, and seem to do quite well for themselves. If they changed their mind, I’d wager retailers would still be willing to stock their games, because they’re desirable games.

      Not that I’m advocating cutting retailers out, but it doesn’t seem they’re necessary for everyone. And, at the end of the day, retailers are going to order games that sell if/when those games become available to them, unless they decide to not make money as a “protest”, which only seems self-defeating.

  61. I too wonder if a survey could have helped forecast better direct sales numbers. If you knew that 15000 wanted to order directly from you, you could have adjusted your print run.

    Having said that, I don’t understand the drama. Let’s look at Black Friday. People save money for this day, they know stock is limited, and they know that getting their early matters. Those who really want those deals plan for it. This preorder was advertised much like a Black Friday sale item. I am not a champion and I knew that the quantities were limited. My order was in minutes after the sale started. Stonemeier did their part and was very transparent.

    I loved that Distributors funded their own print run. I hope more do this is the future.

    Finally, does anyone know if Plan B games got as much flack from distributors and retailers for exclusively selling the new Century Golem Eastern Mountains in their online shop and at Conventions? I am curious why it is okay for them to do this and not Stonemeier?

  62. Honestly, I think you should just sell it all direct if you can and just be upfront about that. You owe retailers nothing, you owe distribution nothing.

    And as a retailer, I appreciate if the decision was fully taken out of my hands (ala Monolith) rather than 1. Getting negative reviewed for not having Wingspan, or 2. Being asked if I’ll match the Tapestry preorder discount.

  63. I understand the importance of maintaining distributor relationships, but it appears you’ve sacrificed a significant amount of revenue to keep them placated. You’ve built a strong brand over the last several years and deserve the reap the rewards. Do you think you make up the sacrifice in the long run through increased distributor sales?

  64. I have an entirely different idea.

    Part of the benefit of Kickstarter was having a solid idea as to how many people will be interested in purchasing on a first print run. Why not offer Champions and vendors the option to purchase before the production quantity is specified. I know there are several months where there is a delay between finalizing that number and when the game actually arrives in the hands of players/vendors.

    There are enough people frustrated because they missed the short pre-order window (32 hours instead of 4 days) who would probably be willing to be in that first batch. By requiring Champion status, you are assured they will get the information directly as to when the pre-order is available and you have already vetted the more serious fan base.

    It’s nothing to wait 4-8 months on a kickstarter and your track record shows that people are willing to wait for your games throughout the kickstarter process, so you are essentially taking the best of both worlds. Even the video reviews would not differ from KS. These things aren’t mutually exclusive. Pick what you like from KS and Direct publishing and hybrid them :)

    I know I would be willing to pay months in advance!

    1. I appreciate that idea, Dave. Based on our current methods, the early purchase is possible, but it would be almost entirely blind, as I don’t release information about new products until the games are already produced. I also really don’t want to deal with dozens of people asking me every day if the game is on schedule and why it hasn’t shipped to them–that really got under my skin when I ran Kickstarter campaigns.

  65. Honestly, I think most of the comments that have you frustrated come from a combination of two traits in the people that post them: one – jealousy of you and your games’ successes, and two – ability to dissect your exact print run and distribution numbers. With the numbers available in plain sight, they can construct whatever negative narrative seems to fit the retailer/direct sales ratio. Having hard numbers on anything seems to empower people to argue their stances more fervently as well.

    The more successful any company is, the more the trolls are going to come out. Would it be possible however to just not announce the number of copies being produced in the first print run? I know it goes against your model of transparency, but the less rope you give someone, the less they will try to hang you with it.

    If you predict your next game will be another runaway success, like Tapestry already appears to be, you could theoretically print 30k (or scale it down depending on your research and confidence level). Then you could treat everything like the Tapestry sale except that you only announce that after you have a short period of direct sales, distributors will get at least 10k boxes. This gives your distributors something to work off of for planning purposes. Should you sell the other 20k through direct sales, then great for Stonemaier’s profits and the trolls are none the wiser. If you still have a few thousand unsold, then distributors/retailers end up with more to allocate which should make them happy. Seems like a win/win for you in my mind.

      1. Your transparency is refreshing and the information you share is fascinating. I do tend to agree with Nick. Keep open and engaged with the community like you are, but don’t feel obligated to share the numbers. I would also echo the earlier post about this being a good problem to have. Use your best assessment on any given game to determine the initial print. Also, in my mind you don’t owe anyone explanations or apologies if a game is a huge success. Lastly, it seems that the biggest issue here is simply lack of patience on the consumers’ end. That is nothing you can control.

  66. It’s definitely an interesting problem to have and it’s nearly impossible to make everyone happy.

    I believe that limiting the pre-orders to a definite quantity that you have available is both fair and reasonable. If you only have x number of copies available for pre-order from your site, then the first x people will be able to order from you directly.

    If they miss out because all the games sell out quickly, they can in most cases still get the game from a local retail store.

    I don’t envy your position. My biggest concern if I ever decided to become a publisher would be how many games should I have manufactured that I think I can sell within a reasonable amount of time. If you make too few, people will complain that they can’t find a copy (this success should lead to another print run in the very near future, however, many people seek instant gratification). But if you print too many, you may not make much profit or you may not break even, which can hurt the long-term sustainability of your company.

    Jamey, you’re doing your best to gauge the market demand, satisfy customers, and satisfy retail stores and distributors. No one can predict sales perfectly. Your approach to customer service and transparency is something we should all strive for.

    Don’t let the few complaints outweigh all the many happy Stonemaier fans.

    Keep up the great work!

  67. I apologise if this is a redundant comment. I read many of the previous comments but admittedly didn’t read all. If this were my business, and thankfully it’s not or it would have died long ago, I would approach it this way; how much do I need to earn from the direct to consumer sales and how much from retailers? Those are my baseline numbers and that’s all I advertise as being available. Use the suggested quantity model vs time model for the first group and normal operations with retailers. Hopefully this leaves you with some quantity of flexible units you can allocate either way to respond to the market.

  68. I’ll admit, i was one of those who were disappointed in the way the preorder was handled. Let me begin by saying I am 40 and part of what I call generation D for Disconnect. I work 50 hours a week on the computer, so I do everything I can to spend very limited time on the computer outside of work. I am a parent of 2 active children, 7 & 9, who play sports, music, etc. i have facebook, but don’t use it or read it. My weekly internet time is about 3 hours total… because if it was more, then the amount of time I can spend gaming, which is about 8 hours, would be less.

    Back in August, I saw an AD on BGG for a Preorder Window Sept 4-7. I quickly read the announcement thread. Neither the ad, nor the thread mentioned limited quantities, so I set a reminder on my calendar to remind me in several weeks to watch the review and place a preorder. I listened to the videos by several famous reviewers on youtube during my 9/4 evening commute and planned to order the next morning. By the time I could order the next afternoon, they were gone. Due to reasons mentioned above, I am not a StoneMaier Champion because I don’t read publisher blogs. I don’t watch the stonemaier facebook page. So while people may have been aware of the limited quantitys, selling fast messages, etc… I was not. Point is, that your static advertising needs to have more information, and not expect everyone to be connected and getting frequent updates.

    I think I have an idea to help alleviate the preorder problem: which mostly is twofold… balancing direct sales with distributor sales, and estimating the size of the preorder.

    Lets face it, I chose to preorder because I saw an ad, which said preorder to get the game before retail distribution. So I was 1 of the many unexpected people who simply showed up out of the woodwork to buy, of which you had no idea how to gauge how many would do so.

    Regardless, it is hard to say the below ideas because it is probably contrary to my own self interests, but it would help alleviate confusion and possibly less negativity.
    I believe the solution is that direct preorder early ships should be limited to Champion subscribers only.

    Why do I believe this helps you? 1) it gives you a good upper bound on direct pre-orders. You already know how many Champions exist. 2)It gives you a way to guarantee everyone a pre-ordered copy that wants one, without limited quantities or time restrictions. Even if every single one would buy a copy, this would be your entire allocation for early direct ships, and all the rest would go to distribution. 3) if you get less than your desired quota of preorders, you could always open up a second preorder for non-champions. 4)Non-Champions can still order direct from you if they wish to support you instead of a retailer, but they would have to wait for the general release. 5)It may get you more Champion Subscribers for those who really want your products, and people like me can not stay uninformed.

    It would force me to have to evaluate whether being a Champion is worth it or wait for general retail, but that decision would be mine and not left me or anyone feeling left out.
    This is the only way to have your cake and eat it too.

  69. Random thoughts: Perhaps let the distributors in on the production, let them decide their own risk level by ordering N copies to print, and pre-pay SM for the copies. SM decides how many to print separately e.g. M copies. Print N+M copies. Everyone is happy with their own decision and risk level. There is no question of how many to allocate to each pot. The decision of how to run the preorder (time vs copies) is a separate problem. I’d prefer to see the number of copies and see them drop over time. Preorder period is then just a discount period, and SM stock reverts to retail price after that (or it sold out).

  70. I also agree with Nick G above about complaints being amplified simply because you’ve be nice enough to be transparent with numbers — perhaps it’s best to obscure the exact numbers, including for other fans that are bored with the complaints ;). This could still be done during preorder period by showing a clipped number e.g. “Remaining 1000+”.

  71. Didn’t read all these posts but I saw a couple that alluded to the DVD/video game preorder method where you pay $5 or $10 to hold the preorder slot. Gives you a chance to gauge the interest n everyone a chance to get in on it. Although that may mean a lot less copies at FLGS but I kind of doubt it. The gaming community isn’t that in the know only hardcore fans will keep tabs on these things.
    I really think some of the decisions you’ve made for marketing and sales are game changing to the board game community. Personally I’m sick of kickstarter. By the time I get my game I don’t care that much anymore n there seems to be little effort to encourage buzz once it’s kickstart run is done. I understand that without KS small companies might not be able to make the games but maybe they shouldn’t get made.
    One final words of wisdom. You can NEVER EVER please everyone no matter what you do. I respect n admire your transparency, your marketing plan, and your fantastic customer service. Do you’re best, keep learning n you’ll figure out the formula that works. Of course if you just stopped making great games that would solve all your problems as well. 😉 thanks for all the amazing games! Keep up the great work!!!!

  72. First, the suggesting of limiting it by quantity rather than date is a good first step, as it sets expectations for customers. They don’t expect that they’ll be able to order it on the 4th day necessarily, but is rather dependent on quantity at hand. (This is also the method for the the Geek Up Bit set for Quacks of Quedlinburg at the Board Game Geek Store, and it was limited to 2 orders per individual.)

    After that, I honestly prefer the Tapestry method, as I do think some copies (not necessarily 50%, that amount can be tweaked) should go to distributors/retailers, as not everyone is privileged enough to be able to order it directly on your website.

    Either way, I don’t think there is a perfect solution, as gauging demand is always difficult, especially considering you’re only willing to accept pre-orders for stock on hand (which I think is a good policy).

    1. Also related to the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” is that I expect another round of criticisms when Tapestry hits Retailers, and some will (unfairly) proclaim artificial scarcity if it’s at least half as popular as Wingspan.

  73. I voted for the Wingspan method, but my true preference is the Wingspan method + allow distributors to pay to reserve copies prior to the first print run. (Distributors in turn would allow retailers to do the same with them.) I think that is the most fair to consumers, the retail chain, and Stonemaier Games.

    It is not fair for Stonemaier Games to take all the risk of printing too many copies, while reaping only part of the benefit of it selling well during the pre-order window. At the same time, I think those in the retail chain should be given the opportunity to share some of that risk in order to also reap part of that reward. Even if most don’t take advantage of the option, the very fact that it was offered would invalidate any complaint that they might have about not getting enough copies.

    Distributors wouldn’t even necessarily need to be charged full price up front. Let’s say, for example, that a game cost $10 to manufacture, the MSRP was $50, and distributors were charged $20. Suppose further that the cost was $2 per copy to ship and store for some nominal number of months. If a distributor wanted to guarantee, say, 3000 copies, perhaps they wouldn’t need to pay the full $60000. Instead, an option might be to allow them to only pay for manufacturing + shipping/storage ($12, in this example). So, to guarantee 3000 copies, they would pay $36000. This money would be non-refundable, and they would get 1800 copies for it, with the remaining 1200 copies reserved for them. There would be some deadline to pay for those copies before they got allocated elsewhere.

    If the game was a big hit, then the distributors could claim the rest of their copies. On the other hand, if the game sold poorly, then the distributors could forfeit them. While Stonemaier might be left with extra stock that would need to be unloaded, you wouldn’t be out any money because the distributors would have paid for the manufacturing, shipping, and storage of those games.

    Now, it’s also true you might not make any money either. In the extreme case where you aren’t able to sell any of the forfeited reserved copies, you might end up having zero profit for that particular game. But that’s a risk you are already taking even without allowing manufacturers to reserve copies. As the number of reserved copies increased, you could decrease the number of unreserved that you printed. So the overall risk might balance out, and could even potentially be lower, while also giving you the peace of mind of more people being satisfied with the availability of the games.

  74. I don’t think you handled either Wingspan or Tapestry’s launch poorly. You were beset by ‘a good problem to have’ with Wingspan (underestimating the demand significantly, and you’ve taken steps to improve your demand forecasting, which, well, as far as I can tell demand forecasting in the board game industry is pretty lackluster so you might have the best demand forecasting in the industry now, even if it doesn’t feel it to you since you seemingly underestimated demand for the Tapestry pre-orders, weather or not that translates to overall demand for the first print run), but the pre-order process that some have blamed for the supply shortage allowed you to correct for that issue sooner – getting the second print run ordered 3 months before you’d have known you underestimated supply otherwise.

    I’m not voting in the poll simply because I am entirely neutral on the two methods – Both are perfectly reasonable methods of handling direct pre-orders, neither come across as anti-consumer, and neither come across as anti-retailer to me.

  75. Jamey, once again congrats on your continued success.

    I am one of the ones who missed the preorder through no fault than my own. Although I decided weeks in advance to be a part of the day 1 craze, when the first day of the preorder arrived it coincided with some financial constraints and I simply wasn’t sure I could commit $100+CAD right then.

    Once I had some time to sort things out I then watched the reviews that were posted and I was convinced but by that time it was too late.

    No big deal, I have a huge shelf of shame to get through anyways, I will own Tapestry, I do not need to be the first to own a copy, I simply wanted to show you some support and thanks for all the hours of enjoyment you’ve provided your customers.

    I will support my FLGS when they get it in, do not get frustrated by everyone giving you a hard time about how else to run your business. I voted for the Wingspan method more out of respect for you than any other reason. I know it’s almost criminal to ever say that you want to make money off of selling a board game but you truly respect your fans, you never take advantage of them in any way, you apologize profusely if you ever have to raise prices for any reason, these qualities set you up to perhaps be the first person to openly say that you created a board game, did not lose money doing so, and people will still like you. Honestly I have never seen another business where the fans are so overly critical of the creators actually turning a profit. Fans of Apple love to cite how much more revenue Apple makes compared to rival Samsung. Fans of Marvel celebrate the fact that Endgame is the highest grossing film of all time. But if a board game creator ever said they actually were able to move into a bigger house based on the profits of a game they designed and published themselves, the fans would chastise them for being greedy and overpricing their game. It’s unfair and I wish you the utmost of success.

    Sorry for the rant, lol

  76. Why not just open things up for people? Open up preorders to consumers and distributors at the same time, first come first served until everything is sold out?

  77. I am leaning towards the Idea of a limited quantity vs a limited time.This gives better information to the customer, and a lessens the chance of a bad suprise(its sold out!). It can be hard to balance though, Especially since you fill many roles. As a designer who wants to keep his fans of your games happy and as a publisher that wants to keep retailers happy. In the end do what puts you in the best position to create more games I can enjoy. Because regardless of whether i get it at pre order or later I will play it eventually and it wont kill me to wait a bit. I appreciate this post.

    Keep up the good work

  78. I like the way Jamey thinks. I feel like he is someone I could sit down and talk shop and theory with for days. Not that either us have time for that lol

    Not sure how or what Jamey needs to implement, but its time to start admitting Stonemaier has reached rockstar status. Following “Normal” game publishing ideology will continue to be a disservice to their releases.

  79. You are doing fine Jamey. I agree with giving a total number available instead of a specific time frame. But either way, if a fan is interested in one of your games, they should know by now they better jump on a pre-order quickly.

    Keep doing what you are doing Jamey. You are a bright spot in the industry and an amazing designer. Thank you for what you do, and the transparency you do it with.

  80. Hi Jamey! I think one of the reasons this is such a difficult quandary is because you are putting all of the risk assessment on yourself. Basically, you are trying to estimate:

    1. How many total consumers will be interested in buying your game.
    2. How many of those consumers will be interested in buying it directly from you.
    3. How many will be interested in buying it from their FLGS or other distributor.

    While taking all of this assessment on yourself certainly speaks to your business ethics, I think you can safely mitigate #3 by combining the suggestions of several users:

    When it comes time to give the manufacturer a final order number, share as much information about the game as you feel comfortable with your distributors and ask them to buy their first-print pre-orders upfront. This would require each distributor to estimate the interest level of their own customer base, which seems like a reasonable ask (no one knows more about their own customers than they do!). These pre-purchases could be the full price you charge distributors, or a portion taken as a down payment — I’m guessing some smaller distributors may not want/be able to sit on the full deficit for months on end while the game is being produced, but SM might not be able to either. Either way, you get to set the price you are comfortable with taking, and your distributors get to set the order number they are comfortable paying for upfront (whatever that price may be). Everyone is comfortable!

    Once you have the distributor number, add your own direct pre-order number (maybe share that upfront with distributors so they can adjust their own expectations?), and send the total to the printer, then when they are almost done, follow your roll-out/announcement like you did with Tapestry. No need to try and guess a split between direct sale and distributor allotment; both sides get the number they chose for themselves, and if SM doesn’t sell through its pre-order supply, you can funnel those to distributors who want more after the fact.

    As for the direct pre-orders, I would again follow other readers’ suggestions: Just announce the total available when you open up pre-orders, and ideally have a running countdown of how many copies are left. That way potential consumers can gauge how much time they have to consider ordering directly from you, or if they want to go through another distributor — whatever THEY are comfortable with too. :) It doesn’t have to be a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t scenario if everyone involved gets a chance to make the decision for themselves.

    Finally, (and contrary to some other comments), I would advocate for your continued transparency in terms of sharing printing numbers and the rest of the production process. Your insight isn’t just valuable to other prospective designers — you are informing the entire community of board game fans, and I believe most consumer anger/distrust of companies in any industry comes from general ignorance about how that industry actually works. I also believe your transparency is one of the reasons you have such a large and loyal fan base to begin with, so please keep it up!

  81. I’m curious what your long term distribution numbers are with regards to profits made from sales through distributors vs sales through your own page. At first glance losing 60% in sales by going through distributors seems insane, especially considering the popularity of your games and your name recognition. Do you sell considerably more games via distribution than you would if you did it entirely via your web Store? Maybe it’s time to “buck” the system and negotiate a better deal with distributors. They can have 80% of your first print run at 60% MSRP, or they can wait for the 2nd print run. Bet on yourself, you’ve put the work in and made a name for yourself, you should reap the benefits.

  82. Bruce: The vast majority of sales of our games are to distributors. In the short term it’s a lower percentage, but long term…long term it’s 5-10% direct sales at best. That’s an interesting idea of simply negotiating different terms, though sometimes the result is that the price is increased for the end consumer, which isn’t what I want.

  83. I subscribe to the Champion program for the very reason that (1) I have enjoyed many of the products your company has produced and want to support it directly and (2) I want to be among the first to have your new games. I was fortunate enough to get WIngspan in the first printing and I was fortunate enough to get Tapestry (which should be delivered sometime this week). For me, this early access is an important part of my decision to order directly from the company. With all that said, an artificial limit on the ability to order would be quite off-putting.
    For me, knowing there was some level of artificial allocation made me anxious and I found myself on the page the morning of the pre-order refreshing the page again and again, waiting to get in among the first seconds of the window. I have to say, I did not enjoy that level of anxiety. I know it is self-imposed, and I can’t fault a business for my own quirks, but I wish the order had been such that I did not need to do that.

    If I had my preference, you would offer a champion pre-order before the main pre-order period. For example, maybe allow members of your program to pre-reserve one copy of the game as soon as you announce. I certainly respect your philosophy of not selling games before they are in stock, but perhaps some level of soft-reserve system would be possible. That would have the advantage of allowing you to have some guaranteed sales and also would remove at least some level of the illusion of scarcity at least among the customer base most likely to buy direct.

  84. I know this probably isn’t anything you’d ever consider, but another option is to go direct distribution only. Look at Chip Theory Games. You can’t get their games anywhere except directly from them, or at conventions. And they’re EXPENSIVE games. And yet they’re constantly selling out, and people don’t mind paying that for the quality of their games.

    A Stonemaier game, for me (and judging from the folks I know), has become an insta-buy. Your games are known for your quality. Your marketing approach obviously works. Word of mouth works. As shown by CTG, direct-sales work.

    Both circumstances (Wingspan and Tapestry) seem to stem from pre-order restrictions, and it’s going to be hard to satisfy both aspects of it, unless you do a huge print order. I don’t know what I’m saying, other than maybe you should consider offering your games primarily through your website and make that known to consumers. Your company name, AND your name as a designer, is already enough to probably sell any sort of numbers you consider putting out there.

  85. Use the Wingspan approach and make more money. Seriously, I appreciate your concern for the fans, but you won’t be in a position to make that much from direct sales forever. Make the most of it while you can, and then keep making fantastic games.

  86. Jamey, my career is in the arts and the “direct to consumer” approach has been putting distributors out of business (or at least stifling them) more and more over the past decade in our field. I used to release music with publishers, but the industry standard is that the artist receives 10%-15% of the total profit. This is why I, and many others, have begun to sell our artistry (scores, recordings, etc) direct to the consumer. This is now commonplace in our industry and no one questions it much anymore.

    To be honest, you deserve all of the financial benefits of putting out your own game. Otherwise people are profiting over your intellectual property. If people get cranky with not being able to see it in their local FLGS, then they should understand all of the resources that go into the production of a game and your personal choice on how to do business. Your games have fabulous production value and all the buzz they need. The local FLGS has only mild benefits – you shouldn’t lose nearly $80K on an initial run of a brand new game when people want to buy it directly. They’ll go to the store and buy it – all the same people will have it – and you’re out the difference in the dealer discount.

    I saw one comment on here that makes sense to me actually – perhaps the FLGSs will have it in stock after a period of time when the buzz cools down? Wide spread availability and awareness of the game IS worth something…

    I look forward to getting Tapestry, I was one of the lucky ones to get a copy ;)

  87. Jamey, I have already made a comment about a Champion+ idea but I have given it some more thought and wanted to update what I think a Champion+ program could be.

    In my dream world I would pay Stonemaier games $20 a month (this is an example figure). For that $20 a month, I would be guaranteed shipment of any game or expansion that Stonemaier puts out in the first wave of shipment. If I wanted to opt out of that shipment (game I don’t want or expansion for a game I don’t have), I would be given a credit for what you determine is the value for that game for Stonemaier+ members. The credit could be used in one of two ways.

    1) Used in your storefront for purchase of another game or supplemental items to games (metal mechs, resources, T-shirts, Wine glasses, etc)
    2) I could request that the credit be given to the charity drive the Stonemaier operates each year.

    I don’t think you have to operate on a strict dollar for dollar system. I would expect that some of my funds would go to support your content and I don’t expect that the credit for a game would match the MSRP or even pre order price. You can play with the figures that work best for you.

    As a Champion +, I am subscribing to something akin to a fruit of the month or something along that lines. You have a guaranteed income stream every month. I have piece of mind of knowing I will get your games and my purchases are spread out of the year.

    I would love that option and I think there would be others who do as well. I think you could have a once a year sign up window and then if someone does need to cancel before the year is out, you could have a chart of what the person would receive depending on when they cancelled. If they made it three months they would get “Wingspan” Expansion. If they made 5 months they would get “Wingspan Expansion” and $15 credit to be used as highlighted above.

    1. Jamey, thank you for always being open and taking the feelings of all people involved into account. I have two thoughts.

      1) Could you continue direct sales preorders after you sell out, but only up to the 4 day window, with the clear understanding that after you sell out, all preorders are for the 2nd printing and will be delayed several months?

      2) Could you open up for preorders that get channeled through FLGS simultaneous to direct sales preorders without having distributors or online retailers buy your whole inventory in minutes?

      1. 1) Could you continue direct sales preorders after you sell out, but only up to the 4 day window, with the clear understanding that after you sell out, all preorders are for the 2nd printing and will be delayed several months?

        I could, but we no longer sell things that we haven’t already made. It’s just not worth the hassle.

        2) Could you open up for preorders that get channeled through FLGS simultaneous to direct sales preorders without having distributors or online retailers buy your whole inventory in minutes?

        I could, and I did experiment with that a few years ago.

  88. Supporting local games shops is integral to the industry, IMO. I’d like them to be able to get as reasonable amount of games and make them a priority, but not everyone has easy access to those places. This probably doesn’t work for distribution, which I have ZERO understanding of, but I would like to see games stores get the first copies and have them physically on the shelf for launch/pre-order date. Then people who are able to and want to can buy from them (I am one of the lucky ones who pre-ordered Tapesty in time). No offense, but I want to support my local games shops as much as possible even over individual developers, no matter how amazing those developers are ;)

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