27 January 2017 | 8 Comments
Some of the most defining moments of Stonemaier Games’ history are when partnerships were born: Alan Stone saying he’d like to work on Viticulture with me; One Moment Games asking me if the Chinese-language rights to Viticulture were available; Jakub Rozalski agreeing to partner with me on Scythe.
A partner is distinctly different than client/customer relationship. Neither party is working for the other; rather, in a partnership, you’re working together in mutually beneficial way.
Today I thought I’d talk a little bit about how I pick my partners, highlighting a few key elements that might be relevant to other creators. These people picked Stonemaier and me just as much as I picked them–it’s not like it was some grand altruistic gesture for me to select them. These are roughly in chronological order:
- Alan Stone (business partner): I picked Alan because he was already interested in working with my on Viticulture–I didn’t have to try to sell him on the idea. We had been friends for a while up until that point, so I knew his demeanor: He’s easy-going, he knows games, and he speaks his mind.
- Jakub Rozalski (creative partner): I picked Jakub because he’s incredibly talented, and I really wanted to design a game in his 1920+ world (it would later become Scythe). Jakub had both a clear vision and the flexibility to evolve his world with some input from me as the game designer, which was encouraging. Also, even though he’s from Poland, he communicates very well in English–we exchange a lot of e-mails, so lowering the language barrier is crucial.
- Feuerland (localization partner): Uwe Rosenberg connected me with Frank at Feuerland for the German version of Viticulture. At the time, another partner in Europe had been wishy-washy on printing Viticulture in German for many months, so it was incredibly refreshing for Frank to say, “Let’s make it now.” I stuck with Feuerland because of their excellent reputation, Frank’s superb communication skills, and the hope that Stonemaier might someday get the US rights to a great German game–it’s not just about the present.
- Overworld Games (IP spinoff partner): I picked Overworld Games as our partner for Leaders of Euphoria because large-group games are their area of expertise. They have the design skills, the playtesters, and the market knowledge. Brian and Clayton are two of the smartest, hard-working, most selfless, and ethical people I know. I know a partner is great when I want to be as good of a business owner as they are.
- Craig Moore (investor partner): I picked Craig as an investor for a number of reasons. He’s supported Stonemaier as a backer since the very first campaign–he likes what we make and he believes in our mission. He was available at the right time, and he respected our autonomy while still adding a lot of value through his expertise and advice.
- Tabletop Simulator (digital partner): I picked Tabletop Simulator because of how well they responded when I inquired about an unauthorized version of Euphoria a user had posted on their platform. It seemed like a great opportunity for them to replace that version with an official digital edition. It was neat to see the Kimi clearly loves what she does.
- Top Shelf Gamer (realistic resource partner): Chad and Marlene was the one accessories company that seemed consistently interested in selling small packets of our realistic resource tokens, so when we pivoted to that model, they were the first people I thought to partner with. They respond quickly to e-mails, and they want the collaboration to work as much as I do. I think that’s really important when there’s a high level of co-dependence on a partner.
- Meeplesource (promo partner): I picked Meeplesource to handle the sales of our promo items because they specialize in selling and mailing small items. Cynthia and Chris are extremely responsive, and they give me as much control as I want in terms of exactly when we start selling certain promos. While the promos aren’t super profitable in terms of our bottom line, it’s a key part of our philosophy to make these types of items easily available to people, and Meeplesource was the perfect fit to make that happen.
One pattern you might notice is that in almost every partnership, we had an existing relationship of some sort before the partnership began. That gave us the chance to feel each other out without anything on the line. I had met a few of them face-to-face, but not all of them. Face-to-face is helpful, but most of our communication is going to be over e-mail anyway.
With most of these partnerships, I initiated the first conversation about the potential partnership. The one consistent exception are our localized partners–almost all of them reached out to me to express their interest in a specific game, and the partnerships grew from there.
Last, I’ve learned over time (and I’m still learning) to trust my gut when I’m considering a partnership. I want to work with people whom I genuinely enjoy–I don’t want to be annoyed every time I hear from them (and I’m sure they feel the same). Do they constantly change their mind? Do they ask for special treatment? Do they meet deadlines and pay their bills? Some of those aspects are tough to figure out from a few conversations, so I sometimes check around with their other partners.
I’m sure the creators who read this are involved in some mutually beneficial partnerships. What’s one partner you enjoy working with, and why did you pick them in the first place?
- Kickstarter Lesson #45: Partnership
- Kickstarter Lesson #173: The Hidden Job of Every Kickstarter Creator
- 20 Types of People for Whom I’m Thankful as a Small Business Owner
- Kickstarter Lesson #207: What Should You Do If Someone Won’t Pay?