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

3 September 2018 | 11 Comments

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.


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!

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

  1. Hey Jamie, great article! I was interested to learn more about how you might recommend that a new self-publisher like me would compensate play testers. I am about 1 month from needing to do blind testing on my board game (Deliverance), and will be sending prototype copies of my game to carefully vetted play testers.

    I have a lot of people volunteering to play test and giving me reasons why they’re a good fit, but I don’t have a system for vetting and also don’t have a depth of understanding for what factors are the most important. I just want the tester to take my expensive prototype, play lots of games with people, and give lots of feedback.

    I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind sharing some greater insight into what sort of incentives you have found that give better results for play testing (more tests, better feedback, games returned to you to save on review copies, etc).

    The section that says you’d like to get $20 better vs $7.85 better was a great point. Now, what I am most eager to learn is what recommendations you would give to a newer self-publisher about selecting and incentivizing play testers. Thanks :D

    1. Thanks Andrew! That’s a great question, and I have a few thoughts.

      The main thing I’ve learned is that it takes a few layers to find truly great playtesters. My first layer is that they’ve signed up for our ambassador program. The second layer is that they’ve passed this “test” with flying colors:

      The third layer is that when I reach out to them to ask if they’re available and interested in a playtest, they say yes and commit to it. Then the last layer is that they actually follow through with that commitment. Only then do I really know for future projects that I have a great playtester.

      So with all that said, I’m not sure there are incentives that are any better than others at inspiring the best testers. Rather, I see compensation as the right thing to do IF those playtesters follow through on their commitment. Currently I pay them $75 to test the game 3 times in a 3-week period, though I could see that changing over time. In the past I offered a free copy of the game instead of payment, which is fine too–that might be a better approach for a newer publisher with a more limited budget.

      1. Excellent answers — this really helps me with direction :)

        I Must have skipped from 235 to 237 when I read your entire website from cover to cover… or my brain was mush around this lesson. The link you provided was very helpful, too!

        My plan will be to develop a questionnaire and “test” my potential pool. Once I have qualified my “short list” of testers, I will ask for a commitment of X games in Y timeframe. If completed with X number of long-form responses, they will be compensated with Z reward (Game or $). Once I get the results, I’ll refine the group for next time!

        One follow-up question: Why do you only ask for 3 games in 3 weeks?

        To clarify – How many testers do you have, for example, for your civilization-type game? Do you have 10 testers giving you 30 games at once, are you running more like 50 testers for 150 games played at once, or do you give to several testers at a time and have them send the games back so you can pass them along to the next group of testers to save prototype $?

        I want to use this information to help me understand what type of budget and “roll-out” I should plan for with the prototype copies for my blind play testers.

        1. Andrew: Why only 3 games in 3 weeks? Basically, I want to present playtesters with an achievable goal. They have lives, families, and other games they want to play. Plus, they need to coordinate with other people to make those playtests happen. Sometimes I ask for a few more, but usually it’s 3-4 games in 3 weeks.

          For Wave 1 of the Civ playtest, I just had 8 lead playtesters. That number will expand a bit as I add in the asymmetric elements, but generally these days I’m more interested in quality over quantity. One great lead playtester is better than having 5-10 subpar lead playtesters. I almost always have the playtesters construct the game from a print-and-play file, after which it’s disposable, as it can change quite a bit from wave to wave.

          1. I would be able to play test a lot cheaper if my testers weren’t afraid of printing a lot of material… For my dungeon crawl, I worry that asking people to do their own PnP might be too much due to the amount of content. A partial PnP is very feasible though for testing purposes.

            Food for thought! Thanks for your response. I appreciate the feedback.

  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.

  3. 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.

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