Labor Day: Fair Wages, Volunteer Compensation, and Job Application Update

3 September 2018

It’s Labor Day in the United States, a day when we celebrate our laborious contributions to society by not working. I’m very fortunate to have a job I love, and part of that job is writing a blog post on Mondays, so here I am!

I have three quick thoughts about labor that I’d like to share today. If labor is on your mind as it relates to crowdfunding, entrepreneurship, or your life, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Fair Wages

Last year on this day, I wrote an article about fair wages. I’d like to summarize an updated version of that article, as I find it to still be quite relevant today:

As a business owner, I have the power to make positive change regardless of what the government says is the lowest amount I can pay someone. In Missouri, the minimum wage is $7.85.

Stonemaier Games doesn’t have employees (other than myself); rather, we have some independent contractors who work as needed, usually around 5-10 hours a week at most. I pay them a minimum of $20/hour. Why $20?

  • Because $20 is the minimum I would want to work on anything for an hour. How could I ask someone else to accept less?
  • Because I don’t spend Stonemaier’s money unless it makes us better. You get what you pay for. I’d rather Stonemaier be $20 better than $7.85 better.
  • Because it feels like the right thing to do. If someone works 40 hours a week making $7.85/hour, that adds up to $16,328/year before taxes. That’s inconceivable.

I love that Kickstarter creators, entrepreneurs, and business owners have the power to make positive change not just with the people who enjoy our content, but also those we employ to help us create that content.

Volunteer Compensation

One of the delightful surprises I discovered during my first tabletop Kickstarter campaign (which was in progress exactly 6 years ago) was that it’s quite common for gamers to take an active role in improving, sustaining, and sharing the games they love.

This happens in many forms: playtesting, proofreading, translating, answering questions online, teaching games at events and conventions, etc.

It has been equally surprising for me to learn that many volunteers are not compensated at all for their time and talent. So while I can’t change how other companies do things, I have control over my actions as they relate to Stonemaier Ambassadors, and I’ve sought to compensate them whenever I commission them with a responsibility.

Just to be clear, I think there is a difference between commissioned and uncommissioned volunteering. If I reach out to you and ask you to translate the Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig rulebook so it can be available for download in 15 different languages the day that we announced it, I’ve commissioned you for a task, and I think it’s my responsibility to compensate you (I pay them, but some companies offer a copy of the game, which seems to work for many people).

Conversely, if I don’t commission a translation from you, but you decide on your own to translate a rulebook and send it to me, I don’t believe that compensation is necessary (at least, it’s not expected). Yes, it’s great that you’ve translated the rulebook, and I appreciate it, but it’s like if I showed up at your house and mowed your lawn without asking. It’s nice, but I shouldn’t expect to be paid (if that was my motivation for doing it, I should have talked to you in advance). That’s uncommissioned volunteering.

Job Application Update

Last October, I posted an article about how Stonemaier Games would start accepting job applications even though we don’t have any open positions. Here’s how I explained it:

We’re currently not actively seeking full-time employees, part-time employees, or independent contractors, but we want to stay open to working with talented people. If you have a specific skill set that can improve Stonemaier Games, please fill out the form below. We’ll read your application right away, and we’ll be in touch if–and only if–we are interested.

The application consists of a simple form asking for your name, email, and the question, “How can you make Stonemaier Games better?”

It’s been an interesting experiment. So far I’ve received 125 applications, and I would say about a dozen of them have resulted in some sort of paid assignment (those that come to mind offhand were for proofreaders and an artist). And there are several applications on the page I would definitely consider if I wanted to split my job into 2 positions, so I’m glad I have it as an ongoing resource.

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That’s it! I’d love to hear your thoughts on these strategies and principles, as well as insights into the methods you use.

Also read: Game Designer Contracts and Stonemaier Games

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

6 Comments on “Labor Day: Fair Wages, Volunteer Compensation, and Job Application Update

  1. There are positions that are not meant to make a living wage. An entry wage position at $8 an hour is meant for those entering the workforce and gaining experience to land them better jobs in the future. Skilled employees are worth paying a livable wage.

    I have student interns that I do not pay, except through invaluable experience that only I have to offer. My interns are often at school paying $20,000 or more a year to learn what I am giving. I am investing my life experience to pay them which they can never obtain monetarily. They invest for their future by making current sacrifices. I wish I had those opportunities as a student. If I see potential, I invest in my intern’s futures with my sacrifices.

    Paying a living wage is an honorable and just action. It doesn’t have to feel good and feelings should not motivate economics. Unfortunately, politicians use feelings that dictate a minimum wage in many cities. This is minimum wage is hurting the local economy. It’s even affecting game stores. Suburban stores cannot compete with the wage hike in the metropolitan areas especially when stores have multiple locations. This artificial manipulation of the market is creating disparity. It will take years to regain balance. In the meantime, inflation and unemployment will increase while a minority few employees will have more money. These statistics have already been demonstrated in cities that artificially regulated a $10 and $15 minimum wage increase. This is done to create short term feelings of doing good rather than logically doing the right thing for the long term.

    A McDonalds hamburger made by an $8 employee is not going to taste better than a $15 employee, but it is costing me more to purchase this same burger. So I spend less at McDonalds and McDonalds has less income to pay their employees, which in turn prevents McDonalds from maintaining their current workforce numbers, which in turn McDonalds does not replace the natural turnover. Compounding that example with the surrounding communities wages and workforce migration only exasperates the economic problems.

    Stonemaier is not McDonalds. You produce designer/boutique games with top-shelf components for a very reasonable MSRP. You should pay employees their worth. But you also are not paying full time employee benefits which makes a $20 employee into a $40. McDonald’s does spend full time benefits on their minimum wage employees which doubles their costs.

    These are not easy or simple economics and there are real world consequences and repercussions.

  2. Surly your artists must have been working more that 10 hours per week?
    It must have taken them at least 1,470 hours to create 147 unique room tiles for Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, 10 hours per tile perhaps.

      1. Also the buying power of $20 is weaker in the more expensive EU countries, but in other countries $10 buying power could be equivalent to $40 purchasing power in the U.S. So someone earning $10 per hour in a low cost country could have a much better standard of living than someone earning $20 per hour in the U.S. or some expensive European countries.

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