Kickstarter Lesson #214: How I Pick My Partners

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?

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8 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #214: How I Pick My Partners

  1. Wow! Thanks for the kind words, Jamey! We at Overworld Games picked Stonemaier Games as a partner for many of the same reasons most of you read this blog. Jamey gives up so much of his time helping others and we have incredible respect for that. I personally wanted to continue learning from him and see if we can create more awareness for Euphoria along the way.

    As for other partners, one that I’ll call out is Jeremy Commandeur, who I met by just playing games with him during his extremely welcoming and organized playtesting sessions and game nights. His tireless efforts to refine his prototypes and assist other designers convinced us to publish my favorite game he designed. Then we started podcasting together about the business side of the industry where he keeps teaching me and others how to be a better game designer. Most recently, he has joined Overworld Games part-time to help us find and strengthen our international relationships for localization. I can’t wait to discover more ways for us to continue growing that partnership!

  2. Cool, I’m glad you got so many good people to work with! It’s very important not to be alone in this cruel world.

    My partners, first of all, are pushing me forward, lifting me up when I’m going through tough time, and they motivate me! I’m really grateful for them!

  3. Jamey,

    All of the partnerships you mentioned are obviously fantastic, but I have to tell you, as a solo gamer, I’m ecstatic about your partnership with Morten Pederson and David Studley

    Cheers,
    Joe

    1. Joe: Yeah, I really debated putting the Automa team on the list, because it feels very much like a partnership even though we’re contracting them to make Automas (solo variants) for our games.

  4. I am a recent subscriber and have enjoyed your posts… keep them coming.

    I started out on my own a few years ago and I got some pretty great advice: get a partner. I promptly ignored it and my business flopped. The next time, I am going to listen and follow the rest of his advice on a business partner: establishing a partnership needs to be viewed just like a marriage. I think your advice of starting with a current relationship is a great first step.

  5. Hi Jamey,

    Thanks so much for shedding some light on the subject of forming partnerships. There’s such a fine line between people you can be friends with and those who you can actually trust to help you accomplish goals. I recently decided to split up tasks for managing my gaming group by forming a committee. I already had people in mind for specific roles, but to keep things democratic I opened things up with nominations. The process went so smoothly and I’m really happy with the end result. They’re all great people who are very dedicated and share my passion for promoting gaming in our local community. They’re also people who I respect and get along with pretty well. Great chemistry is something that goes a long way.

    Two of the goals I’ve set for the group, growing our weekly events and organizing conventions, are not projects I can handle alone. I work two jobs and have a family which keeps me very busy. Instead of spreading myself too thin by looking after it all myself I realized that by having a support system, the team we formed, I will avoid my habit of micro-managing and the inevitable exhaustion that comes with it. They also keep me honest and have been giving me invaluable feedback. Finding the right partners at the right time has made a huge difference for me.

    Cheers,

    Brent

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