Lessons Learned from Quitting Kickstarter as a Creator, Part 1

12 December 2016 | 124 Comments

Let me be clear: I love crowdfunding, both as a creator and a backer. And as a writer, for that matter–I wouldn’t have written 207 Kickstarter Lessons about something if I weren’t passionate about it (and I will most certainly continue to write about it). This post is not meant to discourage you from using crowdfunding.

But my team and I decided a few months ago that we were going to move away from using Kickstarter or any kind of pre-order system for the foreseeable future. Instead, we now sell games to distributors, and they sell to retailers, and they sell to consumers.

Today I’ll explore why we made that decision, and later this week I’ll talk about what I’ve learned from our first direct-to-distributor release, Invaders from Afar, including upsides and downsides for not using crowdfunding.

The Top 3 Reasons We Stopped Using Kickstarter and Pre-Orders

If only one or two of these reasons was a concern, we would probably still be using some combination of Kickstarter and pre-orders. But the combination of all 3–plus the other notes below–added up to our decision.

Fulfillment Risk: There were a few fulfillment centers that really let us down during the Scythe fulfillment (full article here). The scary thing was, we had worked with both of those fulfillment centers in the past, and they were fine. This situation make me realize just how precarious the fulfillment system is.

Think about it: You can do almost everything right as a creator, but in the end, if your fulfillment center doesn’t treat your product with care and respect, it can have a huge impact on the project.

In a worst-case scenario, a fulfillment center could simply refuse to send your rewards to backers. On a small level, we had a warehouse do that to us for Scythe near the end of fulfillment, and short of me flying to France, there was nothing I could do.

So we weighed the risk of fulfillment against the rewards, and despite our confidence in a number of fulfillment centers, we decided it wasn’t worth it.

img_5826Time: If I added up all the time I spent on Scythe’s Kickstarter campaign (planning, running, data mining, updating, and fulfilling), it would total about 5 full-time months. That’s a lot of time that I could spend designing and developing games, providing customer service, and doing all of the other elements of project management that already require the bulk of my attention.

Granted, not every project is like Scythe. We did a direct-to-consumer pre-order for the Token Trilogy that took much less time, as well as a retailer pre-order for Tuscany Essential that took even less time. But those strategies are still impacted by the other reasons I’m listing here.

Some people have asked why I don’t just hire someone to plan, run, execute, and fulfill campaigns for Stonemaier. It’s a viable option, but I can’t see myself not getting sucked into it. It’s like chocolate–I know it’s bad for me, but if it’s on my desk, I’m going to eat it. (I write this while staring at a bowl of Hershey’s kisses near my computer.)

In the end, it’s just a lot simpler to sell and send 1,000 games to 10 different distributors than sell 10,000 games to 10,000 unique consumers. It’s really important to me that I treat customers as individuals, not numbers, and I believe I can best do that if I’m freed from managing 10,000 transactions.

Human Nature: We delivered 21,000+ copies of Scythe 1-2 months earlier than originally estimated for 99% of backers (and simply on schedule for the other 1%). I don’t think I’m exaggerating by saying my communication with backers throughout the production and delivery process was frequent, clear, and transparent. I provided all of the information I had at my disposal every step of the way.

I love my backers and an incredibly grateful for their trust, support, and passion. Yet, as I detailed here, I witnessed how that passion can manifest in both the best and worst of human nature (well, not the worst, but subpar). I don’t want to do things that enable that type of behavior.

Here’s an analogy: Say you run a retail store. Last year you held a special Black Friday sale that was financially successful, but it also resulted in a riot, a stampede that injured three children and ten adults, and several knife fights. Would you offer the same sale next year? I wouldn’t. I probably wouldn’t even open the store that day, not if people are going to act like that.

I want Stonemaier Games to do things that bring out the best in people. I believe that people are inherently good. So if Kickstarter has the opposite effect on a significant number of backers, that’s a clear sign that I need to try something new.

The Other Reasons We Stopped Using Kickstarter and Pre-Orders

There are a few more minor reasons that contributed to our decision:

  • Importance of distributor and retailer relationships: For a while I considered our retailer pre-order system (like this one for Tuscany EE) to be a great replacement for crowdfunding and consumer pre-orders. Retailers definitely like it, as do consumers. The problem is, distributors really do not like it because it cuts them out of the first print run. Why do I care about distributors? Because for almost any publisher to be successful in the long run, distributors are necessary for disseminating our products quickly and cost-effectively. Also, it still requires a heavy reliance on regional fulfillment centers.
  • Emotional toll: Sending Scythe to backers should have been an energizing and exciting time for me. But it wasn’t. Nor was the first day of the Scythe Kickstarter campaign. I was just really stressed, sad, and on edge. This wasn’t just hard on me–at times, it also had an impact on our customers. You probably saw the worst version of Jamey Stegmaier in 2016. Kickstarter isn’t at fault, of course, but I’ve realized that the things required to run a Kickstarter campaign don’t bring out the best in me. I need that weight off my shoulders, both for my sake and for yours.
  • Stretch goals: I describe this in detail in my 2016 assessment of stretch goals, but a short version is that stretch goals have created a catch 22 situation for tabletop game projects on Kickstarter. They’re close to a necessity, and backers expect them, but they create entitlement and an unnecessary puzzle for a creator who is simply trying to release the best version of their game. I’m at the point where I just want to make final version of a product and sell it for a fair price, and if I think of any extra special stuff that doesn’t fit into that model, I’ll make the best version of it as a separate product and sell it at a fair price too.
  • Hype: By their nature, Kickstarters and pre-order campaigns happen many months before the product is delivered. The excitement generated by anticipation (“hype”) can result in sky-high expectations. I’d rather go see Rogue One this weekend expecting the worst and hoping for the best, not the opposite. To combat this, I’m trying my best to move to a model where we don’t announce new games until they’re a few weeks away from being released.
  • Kickstarter isn’t the only way to reap the benefits of crowdfunding: We have other ways of building community, gauging demand, marketing our products, funding print runs, and improving our components. Kickstarter is great at all of those things, but as other publishers have shown, it’s certainly not the only way.


I’m really excited about this model. It’s more of an experiment than a permanent decision, and I’m curious to see how it goes for our next new game, Charterstone.

I’d love to hear your thoughts as backers and creators. I’m happy to answer any questions in the comments that aren’t related to what I’ll write about in Part 2, which will focus on the pros and cons of the traditional publishing model based on my recent experiences with Invaders from Afar.

The journey continues months later with Part 2 and Part 3 and Part 4 and Part 5.

Also read: This interview with me on this subject on The Campaigner.

Leave a Comment

124 Comments on “Lessons Learned from Quitting Kickstarter as a Creator, Part 1

  1. I’ve not read all the comments on this one, so sorry if I repeat what has been said but I wanted to say this.

    I honestly admire this decision because it was immensely brave. Sure, we all know now that Stonemaier games is going from strength to strength, but at the time Jamey made this decision he was the king of Kickstarter, it was a place he knew well and could be certain of revenue from and he chose to step away from it. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that point, but if I do I hope I have the nerve to do so also.

    There is a factor that wasn’t included, and I’m curious if Jamey rates it at all. I don’t like the idea of gatekeeping kickstarter, but I do feel like there is an element about its community that expects you to use it because you need it. It lets creators take a lot of liberties, asking for money well ahead of theoretical fulfillment dates and such. Personally I feel that creators take those liberties because they have no other choice, and when companies don’t need to take them but choose to do so I always feel conflicted. Was there any degree, Jamey, to which you decided to leave Kickstarter because you were (not in a bad way, I think you’ve given back as much or more to the Kickstarter community than you ever took) going to be taking possibly unfair advantage of the system by using it?

    1. That’s an interesting theory. I agree, for better and for worse, that Kickstarter allows creators to take certain liberties. I tried to avoid doing so for the majority of my projects, so I don’t think that factored into my decision.

  2. I know this article is old, but I just want to applaud your decision to not do a KS. Not that I am against them, but I like playing games and KS to me likes making me say “There is another one I missed”. I am a gamer and I will try just about any type of game at least once. But my game shops have become Walmart, Target, couple of bookstores, and Amazon. And surprizing what most would think, the bookstores are my primary board game supplier.

    And to be honest I have never heard of Charterstone, or Scythe, Jamey Stegmaier. Or at least not at the time when I picked up a copy of the game off the shelf. And it is not likely that I would not have heard of it, it was in the magazines and getting great reviews. But for my experience, I went into one of the few game shops left in our area saw it proudly displayed on the shelf. Never played a legacy game but had thought about Pandemic as one that I would have tried.

    We sat down, played a round with a bunch of inexperienced gamers (normally play solitaire, or a quick casual game, Sliders, Ticket to Ride), but I like to push for bigger games at times.

    I love the game style and I loved the rounds in the game and how the rules are complex but done in a way that did not scare off everyone when I sat it on the table. Game 1, 3 hours later (alcohol and Charterstone might not go great together), and them getting use to a game in which the rules can change (they had played fluxx), and just getting the feel for the game. The game was a great success, the hours also was due to watching videos, and creating names for our characters and some of the setup and debates on what a card really means.

    I have played games in which the ending termed the phrase THANGRY (tired, hungry and angry). Not so with Charterstone.

    So thanks for the game,

    But with a kickstarter, it seems, by the time we would have gotten around to getting it ordered and hoping for the release date, and playing the game. I find it is just too easy to go to the story, buy the game and play it.

    If this would have been a kickstarter, I doubt that I would have seen this game. I wanted to get Factory Funner, seemed like a different type of game. Did not seem like it had been out that long and the KS has always read sold out, better luck next time.

    I loved Ghostbusters, would have bought Ghostbusters II. And I will be waiting for it to showed up in some store one of these days (probably a used book store) along with other KS games that groups have grown tired of.

    With CharterStone I know have the refill pack in my Amazon wishlist. I have Scythe in that list also and several aspects of it so I do not forget about it. This company is in my bookmarks and on my radar now because of a great game play.

    I am or was looking forward to Batman Gotham City Chronicles. Never played Conan with its KS creation, and with my luck of KS, I doubt that I will be inversting in Batman Gotham City Chronicles when I have a ton of games on the shelf ready to buy and play.

    I doubt that I am the norm in this. And I understand the purpose of the KS that are out there. And I do tell myself that one day I will probably support a KS that jumps out at me.

    But there is also that sadness in me, as one wrote they have the special edition Scythe or limited edition Scythe. It is a flag ship that a person has those versions, but sad that their friends who liked the edition could not get it either. I mean I can buy just about any special version of Monopoly out there. Would I buy a special edition, or would I just replace things in a game with other things. I love the wood figures in Charterstone. But as someone who likes the idea of things I constantly look at that lego minifig on the floor and think, man a little base and I have a great miniature expansion.

    Well….All of that to say that I believe you have a fan of your game because of the choice you have made with your company and I hope that the future games just keep getting better (or even the same at this point).

    1. Corey: Thanks for sharing your perspective! We actually offer everything that was in the special KS versions of Scythe–they’re just sold separately instead of in the box (people can pick and choose what they want). Nothing is exclusive for us, so using your example, if a person has a KS version of Scythe, their friends can get anything that’s in their box: https://stonemaiergames.com/buy-scythe/

  3. You say you like chocolate, but then you mention Hershey kisses… I wouldn’t eat kisses on my desk either. Dove on the other hand, yum!

  4. One of your points is the hassle with Stretch Goals. My campaign for Clans of Caledonia was very successful despite having any major Stretch Goals. I think it is not a necessity, creators just have to be creative how to provide enough value without Stretch Goals.

  5. For the past few days I have been wondering why Stonemaier Games stopped using Kickstarter and found out you have this article here. Thank you for being open to us all and sharing the lessons.

    This comment isn’t that much of a contribution to your article just like other comments but I just want to appreciate how great Stonemaier Games is based on my experience and what I am witnessing.

    I look up to you Jamey, you are an inspiration. I can only wish you and your company well on your future projects.


  6. Cedric: Thanks for sharing your detailed thoughts! I’m a little surprised to hear that about Gloomhaven. I got my copy yesterday, and I thought the packaging was rather clever. I can see how split corners are still a possibility. Fortunately, the integrity of the box doesn’t impact the quality of the gameplay.

    I do like the idea of Kickstarter as a way to start and start to grow a company, but not necessarily to help a company persist (unless it’s truly needed). That’s an interesting example about Mantic, and I’m curious to see if CMON continues to use Kickstarter.

  7. Great article.

    “Think about it: You can do almost everything right as a creator, but in the end, if your fulfillment center doesn’t treat your product with care and respect, it can have a huge impact on the project.”

    Unfortunately, this is happening with Gloomhaven right now, with split corners — and the fulfillment center is Amazon. It’s terrible when someone puts this much work (and gives so much support) to a project, only for this to happen. If this game were purchased retail, Amazon would refund or compensate for the damages. But, because KS was used, all the creator can do is open a help ticket.

    To add to Johnathan’s also great (: response, KS is the only “lose-lose” way to sell a game. Backers lose to risks and increasing shipping costs. Non-backers lose to exclusives and higher prices. Neither have anything to do with the game, but reflect back on it.

    Also, I think it’s a good time to leave KS, customer or otherwise. Shipping costs have risen, and shipping can be over 25% of the cost of the game in the USA alone. The OLGS is still a good competitor against KS, particularly for the non-completionists who only want the base game (sometimes, when on sale, at half the price of the KS plus shipping — and with no complications). KS is still a great way to buy miniatures for, say, painting, but painters know they can’t paint *that* many miniatures, and can only buy so many boardgames that offer 100+ miniatures.

    1. Whoops — Finally, while it’s just a gut reaction, I think KS is better used to actually *Kickstart* a company as an aid, rather than a creator become dependent on it. Even the creator of the 4th-highest KS, Kingdom Death: Monster, says he wants to sell his product through his webstore (?) and not use KS as part of his business model (cf. CMON and Mantic). Reaper Miniatures pulled in 3M in each of its Bones KS, but said that they *needed* KS to produce the number of steel molds that they foresaw customers wanting. (It costs 5K to 15K per miniature for a steel mold, and the Bones KS had 150+ miniatures for the core set alone.)

      Speaking of Mantic, I think KS hurt it. Mantic started as a retail company that produced inexpensive, but still good, miniatures that could be used in Games Workshop games, then created its own well-received miniatures game, Kings of War. But, once they started using KS, I think they spread their resources (you need more than money for a project!) thin, and made too many games, some of which were not supported. They also lost a game designer they had a long history with. CMON is certainly able to do well with KS. Their name is an acronym for “Cool Mini or Not”, and they had experience selling miniatures to the miniature market years before KS. So, with KS being a good platform for selling miniatures to a wider audience, CMON grew to become the name it is. But I’m not clear if CMON’s success is a rule or an exception — hardly any other companies that use KS have the background of miniatures knowledge and small pre-KS audience that CMON had.

  8. Jamey,

    Great post, as always…I’m late to this one having been on the road. I simply wanted to mention that while I certainly agree with many of your points, I’ll simply point out that Stretch Goals are a necessity, when the required funds to create your game may prove far too high. The bar to entry, for example, with our game would have been $69 and $89, and required nearly 1,000 more Backers to produce the game. With the inclusion of Stretch Goals, we significantly lowered the bar to entry and slowly improved the component quality to the point where we had an outstanding looking game…which mirrored the game-play!


  9. Pdubyah: Thanks for your comment! I appreciate you checking out the content I’ve created for people like you.

    I definitely still think Kickstarter is the way to go for a fledgling (or growing) company. In fact, there are many reasons why a fully-grown company would continue to use Kickstarter–gauge demand, build community, make the product better, generate excitement for it, raise funds…these reasons can apply to anyone.

    My company wouldn’t exist without Kickstarter. It’s definitely worth the time and effort. It allows you to learn everything about running a company in an condensed, intense form.

    “Did establishing your company first through KS help land those distribution deals?” I think it played a pretty big role, yes. That said, it’s only part of the equation. Distributors only cared about Viticulture because it had 100+ user ratings for an average of around 8 on BGG–that was before the game was released. A lot of those were from Kickstarter backers who played the PnP. There are other ways to expose your game to people, but Kickstarter is a great way to start.

    1. Thank you for your reply. This is exactly what I was looking for! I will continue to plan for the Kickstarter route and read your stuff to help achieve our goals.

      PS I tried to buy Scythe at my local game store. They can’t keep it on the shelf.

  10. Hey Jamey,

    Thank you so much for this blog. As a guy just starting to put together a gaming company with a couple friends, I have been reading everything I can on how to start out. Your advice and personal trajectory in this business are something that I am aspiring to use and emulate. I’ve backed many a successful Kickstarter and seen what crowdfunding can do. I’ve already ordered your book on Amazon. As we get closer to a Kickstarter release (16 months? Who knows what wrinkles will occur?) I am wondering about this post.
    Do you believe that Kickstarter is still the way to go for a fledgling company? You have clearly outgrown it. Would you do it over again? Is it worth the exposure vs. the time and effort? I’m a teacher so I can easily dedicate the Kickstarter time in the summer, but should we be focused on crowdfunding for our first print run? Is it the only way you could’ve gotten started?
    We still have a ton of networking, “hype” building, meeting other developers and publishers, and all of the other things that you and other successful game creators and publishers have written about. I am aware that this process will take time and we are in no rush to release anything without knowing if people will be receptive to it. That being said, we also have a descent budget to get our company and game off the ground. Your post really rings true about dealing with hundreds or thousands of customers rather than just 10. Did establishing your company first through KS help land those distribution deals?

  11. This could be one of the most-commented pieces you’ve penned, Jamey. I’ll add one thought – I think you’ve grown with Kickstarter and so now you’ve outgrown Kickstarter. This is the natural evolution of things that work as they ought to work, they fill a need that is outgrown through the fulfillment. Initially you needed a way to raise money, you needed a way to create community, you needed a way to gauge how well you were doing as an entrpreneur. You now are part of a company that sustains that community, that can raise money, that can provide feedback and means of growth. In short, you’ve outgrown Kickstarter.

  12. Jamie I think you are a class act and I have every confidence in your instincts. In every situation I have seen you really try to accommodate everyone an impossible as that is.
    I have also seen people on BGG react. Sometimes I am so proud to be a part of that community. Other times I am ashamed at people making irrational assumptions and defame you and others. I think your instincts are spot on and I know you are savvy enough to get going in the right direction if you find a better solution.
    Know that for every one person that complains there are hundreds that stand behind you. All the best.

    1. Thanks Josh, I appreciate that. I agree with the way you phrased this: There are many times when I’m proud to be a part of this community. There are other times I’m a little ashamed of some of the behavior in the community (of myself and others). Fortunately, as you said, I think the good, reasonable, and constructive moments far outweigh the others.

  13. Jamey,
    Thanks for the interesting insights into your game production experience! I’m also a developer of games, but for Apple, and the world of board game production really interests me. I wonder: does the board game industry, as you see it, suffer from economy of scale issues? I ask this based on my experience in software development: in order to develop an iOS game, I need some know-how, some free time, and some good contractors to develop some aspects of the game that I couldn’t do myself (art, graphic design, etc). And with that, I can produce a game that is immediately marketable to millions at a cost to them for next to nothing; typically less than $5.
    When I look at contemporary board games, I see the consumers’ money getting far less; most games retailing at about $50-$100 for what amounts to maybe a dozen sheets of cardboard, some plastic trinkets, and a few good ideas. This is of course a very broad supposition as there are exceptions, but generally speaking, it seems to me that contemporary board games are exorbitantly overpriced for what you get in a box.
    I also see that there are many companies that produce only a few games – I have to assume that the cost to entry as well as the fixed costs to producing a game drive up prices even more. In other words, if it costs $30 to produce one game given a certain amount of components, then it is typically less than $60 to produce two different games (you can use the same supplier, some of the materials can be re-used, etc.). This saves the producer (and in turn, the consumer) money. If one company each produces one game, no cost savings are realized. Add to that, the experience from producing a game that could be passed on within the company during production of the next game; resulting in a better product that is more efficiently produced.
    As to your customer service experiences (trials), I empathize. I have a button in my apps that let’s people provide feedback anonymously – most of the time, I receive a curt “I want X now!”. I don’t know if your experience was similar with Scythe, but I think this is more an aspect of customer service in general and not so much attributable to Kickstarter. After all, we are servants to people in an immediate-gratification / sense-of-self-entitlement / passive-aggressive society and that comes through even more so when one can hide behind the shroud of electronic communication. Combined that with the fact that, no offense, boardgamers aren’t renowned for their social ‘deftness’ ;-)

    Interested to hear your thoughts and thanks again!


    1. Ryan: Thanks for your comment and question. I talk in detail about the economics of making and selling a game to distributors in part 2: https://stonemaiergames.com/lessons-learned-from-quitting-kickstarter-as-a-creator-part-2/

      You’re right that board games could be priced much lower if, like an app, I could just click a few buttons and the game would magically appear. But even putting production costs aside, the cost of freight shipping alone is close to (if not higher than) an app.

      “If it costs $30 to produce one game given a certain amount of components, then it is typically less than $60 to produce two different games (you can use the same supplier, some of the materials can be re-used, etc.)”

      That isn’t quite how it works. For example, I’m currently making producing new print runs of Viticulture and Scythe. From a manufacturing standpoint, those two games are completely independent of each other even though we’re making them at the same factory. The only overlap is in freight shipping.

      “most games retailing at about $50-$100 for what amounts to maybe a dozen sheets of cardboard, some plastic trinkets, and a few good ideas.”

      I think the millions of people who love board games–myself included–would say that this is the exception, not the rule.

      “boardgamers aren’t renowned for their social ‘deftness’”

      That’s a pretty broad stereotype, don’t you think?

  14. As a backer/consumer, I can see the merits of both systems. I’m going to leave aside a moment the longer discussion of whether KS should be used as a pre-order system (CMON and Bezier, I’m looking at you RN) and focus on something SM-specific.

    I really enjoy modifying (e.g. custom boxes and inserts) and upgrading my games/components. I enjoy Kickstarter campaigns because often they allow companies to explore upgraded components and add-ons that they might not otherwise be able to lacking the funding and guaranteed commitment of backers, given things like required minimums for production runs.

    That said, I’m not a fan of the fact that often these things are KS-exclusive. As others have said, I realize WHY this is done, so companies can capitalize on FOMO… but done fairly, the presence of these things in a KS campaign should help drive a print run that can be distributed to retailers rather than just exist a huckleberry to drive pledges. I understand why folks dislike KS campaigns (esp. from established companies) for this reason.

    Just from a consumer’s perspective, having a kind of “one-stop-shop” for these things is nice, as well. I got into the hobby seriously just after the Scythe KS. I love the game, and one of the things that I appreciate about SM (to the earlier point) is that upgrades and add-ons are not exclusive and continue to be made. That said, I still wish I had been around to get a Collector’s Edition of the game because tracking down all of the upgraded bits has been a bit tedious, given how quickly they sell out and the size of the print runs. Whenever I ask about them at my local FLGSs, I get blank, unblinking stares or “oh yeah, we want those too.” Hell, even finding the base game isn’t all that easy and I live near several decently-large cities.

    I would love to just be able to walk into my FLGS and either buy or be able to order these things through them. As it is I’ve had to track them down through Top Shelf, Funagain, Meeplesource, and SM directly. I don’t fault or begrudge anyone that, but it does help me to see how moving ordering and fulfillment to KS weakens FLGSs and can make it harder to deliver such things in the future without continued use of KS.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, James! I can certainly understand that it’s a bit tedious to track down all the special stuff in the Collector’s Edition. That’s why we partnered with Meeplesource so people could have that one-stop shop, and it gives them the flexibility to pick exactly the things that are important to them.

      Overall, we’ve struggled to keep up with demand for Scythe items–that’s my fault (it’s not related to KS), and I’m overestimating on future print runs of Scythe and Scythe accessories to try to avoid it.

      1. Thanks for your reply! FWIW, I hope this isn’t taken as a complaint and more as feedback from a devoted customer.

        Really, I think it was the small runs that made the process… unnecessarily difficult? I realize that I am a niche of a niche market. Most people want to play the game at a minimum entry cost and aren’t into the “bling” aspect of specialty add-ons and promos. So it’s understandable that I’m going to use some initiative and do a bit of extra work to locate them. Once I finally learned the routine of checking the Scythe FAQ for release dates and then setting reminders to check the appropriate sites it got a bit easier, but I had to fumble around in the dark (including missing out a couple of times due to sold out offerings) before I figured it out.

        I think Meeplesource has improved the process a bit themselves by actually including a listing for everything on their Scythe page and offering pre-orders for items not in stock. This wasn’t always the case. I have the expansion addons (coins and dials) already pre-ordered and am happy to wait for them to arrive on my doorstep.

        How practical or useful would it be to offer an “all-in” upgrade packs, even if it’s just something as simple as taking the individual packs and shrink-wrapping them together or tossing them into a big Ziploc bag to sell as a unit? I think this might have helped the completionist types like me who want everything, to not have to hunt for individual things that sell out faster than others.

        1. James: Of course! I didn’t read it as a complaint, but complaints can be helpful too. :)

          I agree that the small runs complicated things. We’ve never had accessories for any product sell like this, so we’re in new territory. But we’re catching up.

          As for bundled items, that’s something we leave to Meeplesource. They might be open to it–like, let people pick and choose, but if they want all the things at a slight discount, they might consider offering that. Though “all the things” is somewhat relative, as we’ll continue to add more promo cards.

  15. Hi Jamie (and other people in smg). I understand your decision to leave KS, let me give you my thoughts as a backer:
    I would probably never have bought scythe at a retail store. In fact I seldom anymore visit retail stores except for supermarket or specific items that I want -FAST-. I pass by the local games shop once in a blue moon to get a random ~10 euro tiny card game just for fun and I look around for nice bigger games. I would have seen scythe probably and I would have loved the artwork but I would not have picked a 120euro game off the counter if i hadn’t been suggested beforehand. Especially one in a big 5kg box that I would risk my wife throwing me out of the house since we have no space.
    I also get very limited chances to play, I have only managed to play Scythe twice, probably have spent way more time reading about it on the internet. So I would not consider myself a hardcore boardgame enthusiast, although I own 40+ games which are not monopoly and cluedo. I haven’t heard of your games or your company before, and I definitely was not on your newsletter, and I wouldn’t have known about scythe either. That said, I saw the KS and I decided to back the AC edition. I joined the hype and enjoyed the whole process. I enjoyed the waiting, the updates, the reviews, the sneak peeks, the community, the fb posts of people unpacking with or without cats. I was already living the game before I got it on my hands. I had one of Jakub’s pictures as my desktop background in the office, and tens of people asked me about it and there were a few that went and bought prints of his work for their houses. So in the end, what you have created through KS and your hard work is a bit more than just another game, you have created a community around it, People have rewarded you by having it now on #6 of the BGG list, which I believe, although it is a brilliant game, this community had much to do about it.
    I understand your frustration and exhaustion from the whole campaign. Scythe is a huge project and was executed flawlessly, so this perfectionism and professionalism that you showed took it’s toll. I want to thank you for that as a customer, for every single comment to the people that wrote to you, this has been an exemplary management of a campaign.
    Especially thank you for not making KS exclusives, other than the number printed on the box. I find it the golden medium between having something for the supporters and not dealbreaking the completionists.
    I want to buy Invaders from Afar, but I don’t even know if it is available on my local shop, so when I pass by I will have a look.
    Scythe wouldn’t have been what it is if it wasn’t for KS, but I get it why you are moving away.

    1. Pantelis: Thanks for sharing! It’s helpful for me to hear your perspective.

      Can you let me know how you heard about Scythe in the first place? Because I bet you’ll be able to hear about our other games in the exact same way in the future. And you’ll also still be able to enjoy the waiting, the updates, the reviews, the sneak peeks, the community, the fb posts of people unpacking with or without cats. :)

      1. It was a post on the fb page of the BGG Greek Guild about the campaign.
        I will be able to hear from now on since I am on the newsletter, but without KS I would have missed Scythe in a jiffy
        It is nice to see your company outgrew KS. Looking forward for the financial reasons you will unveil on the next post.

  16. I can’t applaud your decision enough. It sends a very clear message that behaviors matter. Let’s hope that Kickstarter gets the message and creates a way for the negativity to be abated.

    the Broken Window theory applies here in regard to your choosing to fix something for yourself and in regard to the downward spiral of systems like Kickstarter. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s fascinating.


  17. […] Quitting Kickstarter In a two-part article Jamey Stegmaier of Stonemaier Games explains why the company is moving away from Kickstarter. “I want Stonemaier Games to do things that bring out the best in people. I believe that people are inherently good. So if Kickstarter has the opposite effect on a significant number of backers, that’s a clear sign that I need to try something new.” Source: https://stonemaiergames.com/lessons-learned-from-quitting-kickstarter-as-a-creator-part-1/ […]

  18. Is it not more true to say that Kickstarter has done it’s job for you, and now you are moving on. It’s kickstarted your firm into a position to be able to fund and produce your own products, in your own timescale to you own design choices.

    That I believe is the essence of KS (crowd funding) to enable companies who would never get the green light to pitch to like minded folk, take on their opinion and then produce the said goods.

    Rather then state poor experiences you have had, you should extol the virtues that your business has derived from Kickstarter and similar funding circles.

    I don’t really see the hype etc as an issue, any firm with a solid reputation will have it’s followers, and teasers through the website (bgg/facebook etc) can easily generate the excitement of a KS campaign.

    1. Paul: That may be true for some creators, but the reasons I’m moving on from Kickstarter are as stated in this blog entry.

      As for extolling the virtues of crowdfunding, that’s what this blog is all about–I have hundreds of entries that talk about the benefits of Kickstarter and how creators can implement them. Extolling just isn’t the purpose of this particular blog post (though I do say at the beginning very clearly that I have a deep appreciation of Kickstarter and am not trying to discourage other creators from using it).

  19. Best of luck, sad to see you go but definitely appreciate that wanting to put your efforts into the creative side of things is a noble goal- and certainly helps to have ten customers instead of ten thousand!

    Obviously not great from a consumer point of view, though one point I’ve not seen mentioned- I like on KS that 90% of what I pay goes direct to you. As opposed to just 30-40% of what I pay at retail. It always seemed crazy that I’m paying twice as much to get the game to me as I am for the actual game! But then that’s why this move is interesting- having dine it the other way, you’ve realised that it actually is worth it after all. I still struggle to comprehend how that can be possible but that’s like cognitive dissonance!

    Best of luck in your future endeavours!

    1. Dean: Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and I appreciate what you’re saying about the amount that goes to me. While the breakdown is a bit more nuanced (20% goes to the courier, 5% to freight companies, and 25% to the manufacturer), I’m sure it feels like 90% is going to me, and that’s what matters at the point of purchase.

  20. Hi Jamey,
    I also want to thank you for this article. You always have given us a glimpse behind the curtain and I appreciate that a lot. You make a very good arguement. KS is not the same thing it was when boardgamers first discovered it. It hasn’t been for a couple of years. Your point about stretch goals is so true. Stonemaier has a well-deserved fantastic reputation. I have always supported Stonemaier and look forward to all our future interactions.
    Thanks for all the fun.

  21. Interesting. For me as a recent newcomer to this (where “this” for me is tabletop roleplaying games) I suspect that without the kickstarter hype machine it would be far harder for me to get the attention of potential customers, at least in the same numbers. I also would be taking a huge risk investing in art, layout and printing – kickstarter gives me certainty. I doubt retailers would even have touched my game without some indication it was going to be popular (though I may be completely wrong about that).

    And yet, I could see a future date where that changes. Once your name is established, you have an audience who will always look at your stuff, and distributors are willing to bulk-buy from you with confidence your stuff will sell, yes, I see the attraction.

    1. Rabalias: You’re absolutely right–Kickstarter makes a huge impact for many creators, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone (at least, any creator who is comfortable running a business) from doing it for at least the first few products. After that, creators could consider other methods (like what we’re doing) or hybrid methods of occasional Kickstarters/pre-orders mixed in with more traditional releases.

    2. Actually, though, I have a question / follow up thought. Kickstarter charges something like 8% of what you take, and you pay for shipping the product, possibly via a fulfilment agency. But (in my line of business) retailers expect about a 30% discount on the list price, and distributors more like 50%+. We do business with an online retailer that charges 35% of the take-home money from each item (i.e. after print costs) but that is unusual, and still means we’re effectively paying them double what Kickstarter would charge.

      So that suggests to me that if you sell to the same number of people regardless, you’re potentially earning 8-42% more on whatever you sell through Kickstarter. Or more realistically for the likes of me, I’m having to sell substantially more products before I start to break even and turn a profit.

      I’m curious if there’s some factor (aside from all the ones you list in the OP) which offsets this? Is the stress of it just so huge that the extra money isn’t worth it?

  22. Jamey, all your KS advice has been immensely helpful, will you continue to post about current running Kickstarter campaigns and KS trends on your blog? Also do you have plans to eventually write another book about your experiences with traditional publishing?

  23. Jamey, thank you so much for sharing this.

    I know this couldn’t have been an easy decision for you, given the amount of time and effort you’ve put not only into your own campaigns, but sharing all your lessons learned with the gaming community. None of the big, important decisions are easy.

    I along with a good friend have recently finished designing our first game. It started out with just an idea, but over time became a full-on game that was a lot to create. Once it was at a nearly finished stage, we decided we wanted to share it with the world. We planned to run a Kickstarter campaign from early on and it was only recently that we decided against it, for many of the same reasons you’ve stated.

    We had to ask ourselves whether we wanted to create games or be a publisher (even at a small scale). Hands down our interest was in making games over the business side of things. After reading your post, we feel that our reasons have been strongly validated.

    Thank you again for sharing your insights. I wish you nothing but further success in the new path you have chosen.

    1. Joe: Thanks for your note. I’m glad you made an informed decision and that you identified what’s right for you. I certainly don’t want to deter people from using Kickstarter if it’s right for them–my company wouldn’t exist without it, and it wouldn’t have grown without it. It just happens to be the right time for us to move on. Good luck in the different path you’re taking!

      1. Thanks Jamey! It so great that you’re continuing to write these posts and amazing to see you comment on so many replies! I can tell that you really care about the community.

        I totally hear you. Kickstarter can be a great platform for the right purposes and it has certainly helped you get Stonemaier to where it is today.

        It’s all about doing what’s right in your own situation.

  24. Honesty. Nice Jamey.

    At least that is how I see it. It needed lots of courage to start using Kickstarter, and even more to get away from it.

    I mean, being a creator myself, I felt naked against my backers; they believed in what I visioned and helped realizing it, but the stress still didn’t leave. After every project’s end, I felt relieved from all the support. I cannot imagine leaving (yet) the secure path I once stepped into..

    I admire your confidence, hope to reach your level of creativity one day :)

  25. As a massive fan of your campaigns I’m a bit sad but I do get your point. It’s impossible today to go into a kickstarter comment section without seeing at least 5 comment in 1 page from a rabid “fan” who does nothing but cry and shout and will not stop unless they get their way.

    Glenn Drover Warquest was one. Project Elite was a nightmare, Martians: a story of civilization i haven’t even been onto since just after Essen even though the companu stated that for thoose who liked to pick up their games there they would be able to get early copies forwarded for em and then que the hatestorm when people who didn’t go there didn’t get it at the same time. Should be noted that the company gave this option before the campaign was even over and they allowed people to change it up to two weeks prior to Essen.

    I gave up on the comment section on Scythe too when people gladly posted that they got their game and 10 people (and it’s always the same people in every campaign) starting shouting like it would help them in any way.

    If i ever do a campaign (which is unlikely since i just play games and don’t design) I would gladly single thoose ppl out and make sure that they would be dead last on arrival. Pref after any, if any, replacement had to be send out just to make a point.
    All wrapped up with a nice bow and a card: Manners maketh the man.

    Also cannot wait for the euphoria expansion and the new 3d tokens to be announced.

    1. Kristian: Thanks for your note, and I’m really sorry that some backers (for Scythe and other campaign) have driven you and others away from the comments section. That’s the opposite of the type of community we creators try to nurture.

      Just a quick note at the end, I think we already announced the new realistic resource tokens (the animal tokens)–they’re over on Top Shelf Gamer. :)

  26. Jamey,

    One thing to keep in mind with future releases that didn’t occur with Invaders from Afar would be some sort of coordinated street date. As a retailer, I prefer to lump my preorders in with one or two distributors rather than peppering them across multiple distributors because it’s easier to keep track of. With the release of Invaders, I was put in a position where online retailers had it two weeks before me, the guy down the street had it a week before me, and I had a number of loyal customers asking me daily when we were going to get our hands on them.

    After that comes the calls to my preferred reps that I need to cancel some of my preorders because they can’t give me a release date and my non-preferred reps have it in stock and I have customers chomping at the bit. This creates stressful conversations between me and my customers and between me and my distributors. Having a coordinated “street date” for releases makes it less of a wild-west scenario and makes it easier to manage expectations on multiple levels.


  27. Jamey… Congratulations on building yourself a solid company in Stonemaier Games. Kickstarter, and crowdfunding, was what gave you the original capital to deliver such great games as Viticulture, Euphoria and B2C. Everyone goes through growing pains, whether that be in their personal life or professional life. If something needs to be changed… you need to think things over and do it if it feels right. Now the future must look that much brighter.

    Thinking about it I see Scythe as an unruly mech that just required so much energy to keep it moving forward. Some villages in its path might have been crushed underfoot, but that same energy, and passion that you put in, won you so many new fans. People who might have been on the fence as to whether tabletop gaming was really for them have been impressed enough by Scythe to spend more time (re)discovering the hobby. The loyal fans clearly saw that you put all you could into a great design and in the end it all paid off for you and for us. The key thing is that the experience took its toll on you, but instead of staying stuck you made a clear decision on how to move forward.

    In regards to using a retailer/distributor model… it’s a question of having the freedom to make your game and bring it to market in the usual way, but with an obvious SM twist.

    1. Thanks, Brent! I’m sure we’ll still go through growing pains, and I’ll continue to share them here. But I’m looking forward to the next step. :)

      I like the Scythe analogy, and I’m incredibly grateful for everyone who made that project a reality.

  28. As someone who hopes to start their first kickstarter ~1 year from now, it’s easy to have mixed feelings about this. As a new designer/publisher one is very reliant on following what others have done and what has worked for them, so there’s this gut reaction to be like ‘Kickstarter doesn’t work for Jamey anymore. I need to do something different, too.”

    That doesn’t make any sense, though. Kickstarter at its core is about funding the creation of things through crowdsourcing. Ideally, it should be less effective as you grow as a publisher and much like training wheels slow you down once you know how to ride a bike, it’s a set of complications that take away from the speed of your project… but they put the entire financial burden on your company.

    In short: It makes sense to me that Stonemaier has outgrown Kickstarter after Scythe, but I’m really grateful for having all the written evidence of you going through the process so I can hopefully follow the start of your process and successfully start my game company with Kickstarter like you did. :)

    1. Alex: That’s a great way of putting it. I’ll reinforce this in part 2, because I really do believe that Kickstarter/crowdfunding is one of the best possible ways to start (and start to grow) a business. I hope this post doesn’t discourage anyone from that, though I do hope it helps creators think about about the broader spectrum.

  29. Thanks for another great article Jamey! Do you think a first time new publisher should still start with Kickstarter as a “necessary evil”, or do you think there is a better way for a newcomer to raise funds to get a game available to the market? Or maybe that will be discussed in Part II? ;)

    I’ve never wanted to use Kickstarter, but from what I can tell, it seems like the most viable way for a new company to get on its feet in the game publishing world…

    1. Corey: I think Kickstarter is still fantastic for anyone trying to break into any industry, and I certainly don’t think it’s evil. :) My company wouldn’t exist without Kickstarter. I’m glad you asked, though, because that’s an important point to mention in Part 2.

  30. I am a KS patron who is kicking the habit of funding projects for several of the reasons listed above. As much as I’ve enjoyed being a part of many of the projects I’ve backed, I am not getting the same enjoyment out of the fulfillment. A big part of it is my lifestyle. I have two young toddlers in the house and simply don’t have the time to play all the games I own.

    It is also the point that the spirit of the crowd funding site has evolved into something different than what was intended. It is supposed to be a tool to help get an idea or company off of the ground so it can take flight on its own. It now seems to be used as a crutch and dependency with no thought of how to carry the product / company after the campaign comes to a close.

    I am delighted to hear that Stonemaier Games is moving towards a standard distribution and I wish you the best in doing so. Though it may not be for another year, I will be back in my FLGS supporting small business and picking up a few desired titles from this product line.

  31. TL;DR – Kickstarter can be a real pain sometimes, but the information goes directly to your customers, the standard distribution model breaks the connection between you and your customers which can be hard to recover.

    Disclaimer: I’ve backed 3 projects from KS, One from a well known publishing house for a re-print and two from relatively unknown creators.

    From a “low level” consumer point of view, one of the disadvantages of a KS campaign is the double hype curve that you get, and I’m not sure you perhaps recognise this as a creator (or perhaps you do?). The first is during the campaign whilst it is funding and shortly after. The hype can drive new backers to you and if you miss it, can put it on people’s radar.

    The second hype bump seems to happen when the deliveries start, as people post reviews (either professional or personal) and share plays on social media groups, bgg, et al.

    For non-backers this second hype bump is the most irritating, especially if they are not fortunate enough to know someone to play with. This is the point where you realise that there are likely to be no copies for retail for some time and they will have to wait even longer for a re-print.

    However with a good KS, you should get constant updates on the process (assuming you’re a backer) with reasonable information on timings and the process, this alleviates a lot of the tension from a backers perspective and can calm the nerves (although I appreciate the shipping issue, having just been through the same process for Plague Inc.).

    What I didn’t like about the standard pre-order process (Tuscany EE, Viticulture/Scythe metal coins and Great Western Trail) was the utter lack of information on where we were in the process.

    It is only through your (JS) excellent customer service (here, BGG, Facebook, etc.), that I knew what was going on. When I asked the retailer that I ordered from, they had no clue because their next person in the chain didn’t know, or more likely, didn’t really care about your customers.

    I know you have written about engaging with your customers on many levels, I hope you can find a way to keep the hype AND customer interaction in a positive way.

    1. Stuart: This is an interesting comment. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like there are some contradictions between those two statements:

      “What I didn’t like about the standard pre-order process (Tuscany EE, Viticulture/Scythe metal coins and Great Western Trail) was the utter lack of information on where we were in the process.”


      “It is only through your (JS) excellent customer service (here, BGG, Facebook, etc.), that I knew what was going on.”

      It sounds like the communication between me and the customer is no different than it was than when we were on Kickstarter. I’m still providing all the information I have in a variety of different ways.

      The difference is that there is some information that retailers will have that I don’t. Like, how many copies of our products they ordered. A retailer is never really going to know when they’re getting a product until they actually receive it, though. That should be a question for me, not for them.

      I think the key here is that I’m not going anywhere. All the information you ever had is still available from me. Yes, there is a little more impetus on you, the customer, because you’ll have to order from your retailer instead of me. But is that a bad thing?

      1. I don’t think my post was as coherent as I would have liked :)

        I was trying to draw a (generic) comparison between the contact KS backers have directly with the creator and the standard distribution route and balance it off with how long you would have to wait – longer for KS, shorter for distribution.

        So, KS: Better engagement, longer hype cycle vs distribution channels shorter cycle, less and more disconnected engagement.

        On a personal note, I knew where to reach out to you (facebook) and get an answer to when I could expect Tuscany EE to hit, unlike the retailer which didn’t have a clue other than a vague “October/November”.

        For Great Western Trail, there was no information available from the retailer and I didn’t know where to turn to find that out, so it was just a waiting game until I saw they were starting to appear on social media.

  32. This is perhaps my favorite post ever here, it resonates with me in so many ways even though I am just a backer in the crowdsourcing world, and not a creator.

    First, kudos to you Jamey for a very well-reasoned and articulate post about why Kickstarter/crowdsourcing/preorder systems are no longer right for you. Much of the discussion on topics like these tends to get polarized – you must either love or hate something.You expressed your current state without trying to speak for others.

    I have reached a point where I have decided that crowdfunding is no longer good for me.
    1) FOMO – As shared with many others in the gaming community, I have a completionist streak. Kickstarter projects have gotten really good at playing to that “instinct.” Whether it is availability of the game at all after the campaign, the host of extras and bonus content, or the discounted pricing (either off the expected retail price or versus the secondary market), campaigns play to these points. In many cases, this is just effective marketing as they are trying to drive demand. However, over time, I have realized that these appeals do not bring satisfaction to me. In this manner, crowdsourcing has become a stressful decision for me – should I back, if so for how much, what if I miss out, what if it isn’t available afterwards, what is exclusive and what isn’t, etc. What do I get in exchange for all of this stress? Frankly, very little.

    2) Exclusives – I have grown to dislike exclusives. I get no joy in having something that someone else can’t, or in someone else having something I can’t. Diving a little deeper, many exclusives are “cosmetic” – an upgrade to components or a few extra cards/minis/characters, etc. If these add true depth and meaning to the game, that is great. But all the more reason for them to be available to all. If those extras don’t add anything to the game? Then I do not want to spend money on it nor waste space on it.

    3) Risk aversion – I have been burned on a few projects. Some perhaps I could have vetted better, but some not. Venerable, experienced companies and creators have been brought to their knees by Kickstarter. The wait, fear, and anxiety of will I get something, when do I chargeback, how to resolve, how much communication is too much, etc. all bring me stress. I am supposed to be buying a game to bring some fun to my group. Tracking numerous projects and updates, frankly, does not support that goal.

    4) Waiting and money – I have participated in many projects that execute quickly, on or ahead of schedule, and deliver. Great! I have also participated in projects that fulfilled, albeit YEARS late. I have started to see a clear line with how I prefer to handle my money. In traditional retail, you pay when you get something. In traditional e-commerce, you pay when it ships. In crowdfunding, you pay months or years before you are to receive something. My current feeling is that I am the best steward of my money, and I am not willing to loan it to someone for months or years, especially as I have devalued the “interest” (paying less than retail, getting exclusives, etc.) that I am getting for my loan.

    5) Wild opinion – I will now step in to the world of my wild opinion. I applaud crowdsourcing for giving me access to creators and projects that have greatly broadened and improved my experience. It has been, for me, in many way a renaissance. At the same time, I think crowdsourcing has had negative impacts on the hobby as well. I think there has been some weakening of FLGS. I also feel that hype, FOMO, and speculation are bringing lots of stress and cost in to the hobby, without adding much value. Surely these elements are not due exclusively to crowdsourcing. Overall, I feel there is a trend or trajectory that is pulling the hobby away from some of the elements that make it so important to me.

    Thanks for a very thought provoking post!

    1. Jonathan: Thanks so much for sharing your perspective in such detail. I think other creators could benefit by reading your comment. As for #5, it’s felt really good for me to pivot towards a retailer-focused approach (while still keeping consumer’s best interests at heart)–it just feels right to work with retailers. I’m already seeing how mutually beneficial those relationships can be.

    2. Jonathan, I totally agree that Kickstarter can be difficult for some backers and I myself really try to seriously evaluate a project and creator before I back. I’ve only gotten burned once, but did back a few games I realized either 1. I would never play or 2. It was more likely someone else would bring them to the table. That said, I have created two projects of much smaller scale that are ideal for Kickstarter and wouldn’t have found an audience or funding without it. I do find many gamers have compulsive tendencies (can we write about that Jamey?) and it would be productive for backers like you to find a balance and support the small, but well conceived projects and wait for retail for the rest. My .02

      1. Hi Doug,
        This is a great point. I’m a big Call of Cthulhu fan, and there has been lots of activity related to it on Kickstarter. Many are small projects from established names, they are just looking to publish on their own, as opposed to submitting to Chaosium or one of the other publishers. I think this is super important. First, I want to support and recognize creators who are making great stuff for the game, and second, I think a vibrant, diverse publishing scene is a good thing. I want to find a way to compromise, and I think I will likely to continue to back smaller, independent projects. However, I also expect to vet them better, and likely pledge more modest amounts on riskier projects.

  33. I’m interested in how this plays out and hope it works out well for you Jamey. I’ve been currently revamping the idea of doing a campaign as well, as you said, the distribution guesswork involved can be mind numbing. Add on top of that with my personal situation changing, I’m not sure I’d have the time to do something like this, and definitely cannot produce it myself long term.

    I’ve been working with partnering with someone who is in the laser business business already, a gamer, and had started their own insert system, but is a startup like me, one that isn’t well known by the boardgamegeek community. Falling into the the designer perspective and advocate role, rather than trying to run an entire campaign myself.

    That being said, I do intend on doing a small scale Kickstarter project that is entirely feasible, and not a giant spreadsheet of crazy.

    Seeing as you’re already trying this out with Invaders from afar, and plan on using the model in the future, I do have a few questions/wonderments, some of which I’ll ask Thursday.

    For this one. I’ve embraced the system for Invaders from Afar and preordered through my local Board Game Cafe, happy to give them my business. However as a few others have pointed out, I do’nt know when to expect it, even roughly, beyond whats on Miniature Market.

    Have you thought of doing something similar to https://www.fantasyflightgames.com/en/upcoming/ where just the basic status of announced projects is available? I think a status page would work well with your plans for moving to this model.

    1. Sean: Thanks for sharing that status page! I really like that. I have something kind of similar (but not as all encompassing) here, though the FFG version looks way better: https://stonemaiergames.com/e-newsletter/

      I appreciate you embracing the system we’re trying. I’ll delve into this on Thursday, but part of the difficulty with the system (for me and you) is that I only know a few dates for sure, and I only know them when they happen. I also don’t know where distributors decide to send their stock if demand exceeds supply. So a big part of my goal is to make big enough print runs that supply exceeds demand in the short term.

  34. I can only imagine how painful Kickstarter is for creators especially when the project grows as large as it did with Scythe. My suggestion was to hire help but as you pointed out, if you are really engaged with something you created, you’d just end up engaging anyway even if others were supposed to do that job.

    There’s couple of reasons why I still prefer Kickstarter as a customer, most importantly because it basically guarantees I can actually get the game (unless everything goes horribly wrong) and secondly price/value. It might seem a bit rude even but I don’t really engage with Kickstarter communities anymore unless it’s a smaller project, with bigger projects I just want my product delivered at some point in the future and that’s it.

    Availability of games remains an issue for many people outside of North America / few other major countries. I’ve pre-ordered Invaders but there’s no guarantee I’ll get it within the next few months or.. ever? The retailer only knows what the distributor tells them, that games should arrive by certain date. Who the distributor sends games though, that is where I think the system sometimes fails. Some retailers seem to get plenty of games, others get few copies or none at all. I’ve no idea how or why it works like this but I don’t think it’s working properly in Europe.

    Case in point, I’m still waiting for my Arkham Horror LCG pre-order. The store I pre-ordered from has never received a single game, another store got like 10 games and they sold out in an hour. This is an FFG game, they shouldn’t have distribution issues like this but they almost always do.

    Price is becoming an ever-increasing issue as well. RRP+20% markup doesn’t seem rare anymore (~100 euros for Scythe) – meanwhile games are still sold at way less than RRP in North America where also game availability is much better. Small market issues but it’s also something that is probably fixable to some degree, right? Somehow the system needs to become smarter.

    1. Toni: Thanks for sharing your perspective as a backer. I totally see what you’re saying about guaranteeing that you get something and getting a fair price. The distribution issues you mentioned are something I’ll delve into on Thursday–I experienced that with the expansion release.

  35. Congratulations. It sounds like you’ve leveled up. We will miss you, but I’m glad you left the door open for a return. GTG had a triumphant return for their last Sentinels release, but also made the same choice you did, I suspect for similar reasons. Have you decided what will happen to your Kickstarter Lessons? Will the blog take on a new form?

    1. Doug: That’s a good comparison to GTG (though they still have a big focus on direct pre-orders, which works for them).

      I’ll still keep writing. I mean, I haven’t run a Kickstarter campaign for over a year now, but I think I’ve still had some good things to say about crowdfunding during that time. :)

  36. For those wondering about what happens when you don’t have the hype engine Scythe did (explosive start, long slow production burn gaining momentum, and a billion delivery pictures on social media), look at the MvsM model Riot used. They were able to create a ridiculous amount of buzz in a matter of a few weeks through using NDAs on multiple reviews/podcasts/media sites with a coordinated release date JUST prior to the preorder!

    I’m not sure “hype” is a good thing (as Jamey pointed out), but if you want it, KS certainly isn’t the only way to get it.

  37. Great read as always, Jamey. I have backed @ 40 projects on Kickstarter, including most of yours (missed Tuscany but picked the game up later). Lately I find myself backing far fewer than before due to the ridiculous amount of extras that most games I want have. I am a completist by nature and want everything put out for a game to get the “complete” experience. Now, with so many games having massive costs to get exclusives and expansions I can’t afford it all so I get none. Thus, it is costing the publishers any of my business because I can’t get all of the stuff. And I won’t buy the retail copies because it won’t be a “complete” game. I skipped Massive Darkness, the deep water CMON game, and The Others for this reason.

    In fact, the only many expansion game I did go all in on that I feel was worth it was Cthulhu Wars OS1 and OS2.

    I am glad your projects have not been like that and I am looking forward to your new business model. I have enjoyed all of your games and token sets and will keep buying since I believe they are a good value and I can get the “complete” game for reasonable price and effort.

    1. BrotherJ: I’m glad you mentioned completionism, because that’s something I want to discuss on Thursday. It applies even for games like Scythe where there are no exclusives but lots of promos and accessories, and it’s definitely something on my mind for future releases.

  38. Thanks Jamey, for sharing from your heart on this one.
    Matthew Kelly, a great author, frequently writes about “Becoming the best version of yourself”. I think that’s something you’re striving for, and are making the tough decisions to do that.

  39. Thanks for this Jamey. I’m struggling with something similar. After two relatively successful Kickstarters (for an RPG self-publisher), I found that your #2 (the time) is having a huge impact on my abilities and enthusiasms for running more KS projects.

    RPG writers aren’t in it for the money, but the fact is that most of my time and effort go into project managing my KS project, not writing (something you’ve written on before), and that I’m not really sure it’s worth all the effort I put into it.

    I want to make special products, but the fact is that RPGs just don’t make enough money to warrant the type of high quality product I want to make. Between the time that I spend writing, PMing, and then hand-fulfilling some of the books, running a KS is taking its toll.

    But maybe I can, like you, use KS to build up my business and then grow out of the model. My goal is to eventually just publish fiction, not RPGs, so we’ll see where I get to in my journey. Or maybe I can charge so much for my products that it does become financially worth it to pay myself both as writer AND project manager. We shall see!

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. They have been VERY helpful!

  40. As a consumer, I hate Kickstarter. I hate early bird discounts that make me feel like a chump for paying 25% more than other people because I spent my Thanksgiving holiday with my family instead of refreshing a KS project page. I hate exclusive content that improves the game and therefore anyone who picks up a retail version gets an inferior version of the game. I hate paying 18 months in advance for a game that has only beta rules and a vague concept of the gameplay, so in the end I might end up with a game I do not even like. I hate paying $X for a KS game only to see that game sell for a fraction of $X once it hits retail.

    So as a consumer I have to say: “Bravo Jamey.” I much rather buy a game through traditional product development and distribution methods than put up with all the KS BS.

    1. Chris: I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a rough experience with Kickstarter. While I didn’t have early birds rewards or exclusives, we had plenty of playtesting for a print-ready game before we launched, and a game that sells for much higher than the KS price, I understand that there are projects that don’t work out that way. I just wouldn’t want to say that Kickstarter or its projects are inherently bad–like with anything, some are better than others. :)

    2. I have kickstarted a number of board games and never seen any of that except the “inferior” version issue. But that is less an issue than the benefit of taking the leap on a KS.

      I think Early Bird discounts are not great, I don’t prefer them but I have never seen one be significant enough to complain about.

  41. In a sort of high-level persepective, I see your company, Stonemaier Games, as having been Kickstarted, with it’s share of bumps and bruises, and your company, now mature, is entering distribution, as it were. Your Kickstarter campaign has ended, and we can now be excited for the next phase of Stonemaier.
    (Does that make the retailer pre-order the Pledge Manager?) ;)
    No response is needed – I’m just tossing this parallelism to the wind.

  42. I really enjoy KickStarter but, there have been times when the game I’ve been so excited about launches and I happened to be broke at the time. I often want the really nice version and backing will leave me strapped for the month.

    I’m glad you are moving away from KickStarter for this reason. I can more calmly budget my funds to go a purchase the latest Stonemaier goodness without the stress of missing out on the super good deal or the special edition.

    Also congratulations on growing your company beyond the need for KickStarter.

  43. Jamey – I’d be curious about your view on GMT who has used its P500 system for risk management and has kept its conventional business relationships healthy (seemingly).

    1. Steve: For what I know about it, I think that’s a really nice system! It’s mini-crowdfunding, essentially, so it doesn’t address most of my concerns, but I’m glad it’s working for them.

      1. It’s a weird system to use as a consumer (No indication of where a game is in the system as far as I can tell, but that might be because I’ve only used it once), but from my understanding their system basically saved the company, and some of their games are games that pretty much only GMT can or will publish (or at least, was that way until Kickstarter), so I’m very greatful that they came up with the system even if I haven’t figured it out fully yet.

      2. I think it’s probably more correct to think of it as “crowd-gauging.” They don’t collect a dime until they’re ready to process shipments, a P500 is more of a soft commitment than an active pledge.

        The 500 number (although in reality it’s more like 750) of commitments is more a way for them to gauge potential Interest in products so they can prioritize what to actually produce. Once a play tested concept achieves that number, they’re willing to commit art and production teams to the project – again – prioritized by perceived interest.

        That being said, the audience for their target wargames is so conditioned to go to the manufacturer that the distributor first model wouldn’t work quite right.

        You’ve seen as they have some non traditional projects hit it big (Twilight Struggle, Volko’s COIN games, Chad Jensen’s deep strategy games) they have had real trouble adapting to volume and are having to redo their entire internal system to keep up.

        And they had a real nightmare with Kickstarter fulfillment working well for them and have sworn it off. You won’t find many people overjoyed with the Twilight Struggle Collectors Edition process, and I’m sure that includes Gene and the folks at GMT.

  44. Jamey, I appreciate what you’ve written here, and I hope to wean myself off of the crowdfunding system eventually as well. I’ve always felt that if a business can’t sustain it then they should leave Kickstarter as a venue for those who really need kickstarting. But here’s my question for you: how do you begin to establish those distributor relationships? This is definitely the next level I want our products and brand to attain, but right now I still feel like the little fish in a big pond. how do you get distributors to start noticing and caring about your designs, and who do you talk to?

    1. Geoffrey: Thanks for weighing in as a fellow creator. That’s a great question. The method I’ve used to get into distribution is to work through a broker. If distributors find that your products sell, they’ll buy more. I think it helps if you have even just one product that goes big, even for a short amount of time, because then the distributor hears from a lot of retailers that they want it.

      That’s a challenge that I’ll talk about more on Thursday: I’ve conditioned our customers to get our products directly from us, at least for the first print run. But now I’m having to teach them that if they want something, they need to tell their preferred retailer so their retailer tells their distributors.

  45. Thanks for your constant openess on this subject, Jamie. We only truly learn by trying and doing. And we only make progress by assessing that experience. Sometimes this takes us away from what was once the foundation of our beliefs.

    As one of the more respected creators on the kickstarter platform, your departure may come as a shock to many. Afterall, both your product and the way you approached your campaign, earned you accolades which continue today.

    Scythe was the first campaign I ever followed on Kickstarter, and the way it was presented convinced me of the amazing potential for an idea to be brought to life via crowdfunding. But from the start, the harsh reality of the enormous effort required to run a campaign properly, was starkly apparent. I knew that you ran Stonemaier as a small team, and you personally took on multiple roles (once immediately answering a dumb question from me regarding the rules WHILE I played a game of it) which left me enviously impressed at your ability to manage it all and still come out ‘smelling of roses’. I always wondered how you did it, but your sharing of detailed organisation and business plans made me think that perhaps it WAS possible for a single person to acccomplish what often came across as an impossible undertaking.

    However, the spirit may be willing, but the flesh is weak ( – used in a different context, I know). Either the constant demands on your time and self-control eventually burn you up, or you make a decision to step back from the furnace so that you continue with a different, more self nurturing approach. On a selfish level, this means we can still look forward to more quality designs from Stonemaier, but as a community, we should celebrate your achievements on kickstarter and support you looking after your health, physcial and mental.

    All the best, mate.
    Dave Nagy

    1. Dave: Thanks for your comment–it means a lot. While it has been tough for me to shift away from Kickstarter, I must admit that the biggest feeling I’ve felt is relief. Kickstarter brought me (and hopefully a lot of our backers joy), but there were too many other things getting in the way of that joy. I look forward to the challenge of continuing to find creative ways to bring that joy to people.

  46. Hi Jamey,

    Love this article, and I don’t have time to fully flesh out these thoughts (Christmas decorating and such), but wanted to share first impressions. Everything you said makes sense except for:

    1. Collector’s Editions. I know in Toronto people are jealous of me because I have the Collector’s edition Scythe. I worry that without the stretch goals you will lose the sense of complete and overwhelming awesomeness that is the ultimate version of your games.

    2. The hype. Scythe is what is is and was as popular as it was because it was hyped for a year. It is a masterpiece and will be a top game for a long time. Without a year to build the hype for it, I don’t think you get anywhere near that reaction to it. It would still be a great game, but nowhere near the pop culture sensation that it is. (And a little weirdly, in my head at least, it’s you that’s taught me how important hype is to a game release…)

    1. Andrew: Thanks for your thoughts! I plan to delve into the Collector’s Edition concept on Thursday. Keep in mind that there’s a dark side to Collector’s Editions too, though–yes, they’re nice for those who own them, but they range from mildly annoying to a full dealbreaker for those who can’t get them (even though we offer all of the elements of the Collector’s Edition as separate accessories).

      As for the hype (my least favorite word of 2016), I agree that excitement has a big impact on a game’s success. But as I noted in this post, I think the expectations generated by hype don’t create a healthy environment for gamers and publishers, especially when the product is an X factor. Compare that to the type of hype Terraforming Mars has generated: The people who generated excitement for it were excited *because they had played it, after it was released.* I’d much rather have that type of organic hype than the type of hype that ends up turning off people who aren’t as excited by the thing that other people are excited about.

      1. How does hype and pre-ordering factor into how many copies of a game you will print? Will you just do small batches with multiple print runs to supply the demand? So far all the games you’ve created or published have been hits. Do you ever think that you might make a game that won’t have as much demand/success as your past projects? What I’m getting at is what happens if you create 1,000 copies of a game that no one wants? I know that’s a stretch given your dedication. But what would happen? I’m guessing distributors would probably still be able to see these games to LGS. But has this question come up? How do or will you factor in how much to supply?

        1. James: Lots of great questions here! I’ll break down my answers:

          “How does hype and pre-ordering factor into how many copies of a game you will print?”

          –Sure, if it seems like a lot of people are excited about a game, I need to make more copies of it. Pre-ordering is one quantifiable way of gauging demand, but there are others we can use.

          “Will you just do small batches with multiple print runs to supply the demand?”

          –I’m risk averse, but considering we pretty much only have one new game per year, I’m going to make a lot of copies of that game in the first print run.

          “Do you ever think that you might make a game that won’t have as much demand/success as your past projects?”

          –Oh yes, I worry about this all the time. :) I’ll talk about this more in detail on Thursday.

  47. I’m curious how not announcing things until they’re a few weeks away from release will interact with the standard (non-crowdfunded) press life cycle. BGG has it’s annual most anticipated games list, press coverage focuses on previews around Origins and the Gamma Trade Show, ready for the bulk of releases at Gen Con and Essen, and things going quiet as the media tries to get through the annual mountain of games to review in the lead up to the next year, with stuff being released throughout the year but most big products fall roughly into that model, give or take.

    Especially with your model – you often talk about designs you’ve got coming eventually before they’re even in your newsletter as part and parcel of your, seemingly not to promote them but because they sometimes naturally come up, and I’m trying to work out how calls for public playtests would work without some level of soft announcement, even if without a corresponding BGG page. Heck, you’ve got two expansions who’s titles haven’t been announced that showed up in the most anticipated games of 2017 geeklist despite not having entries on the Geek yet.

    I’m not saying shorter announce -> release cycles is a bad thing, I’m just wondering how not talking about new games until they’re being printed/on the boat (which is what a few weeks prior to release seems to mean for board gaming – not talking about it until towards the end of it’s print run) will fit into how gamers typically talk about upcoming games and how you’ll gather play testers for upcoming titles without at least soft announcing them.

    1. Stephen: I’m curious about that too. Honestly, I find it hard not to talk about things I’m excited about, so I’m only going to fight that urge to a certain degree. :) And I’ve enjoyed the e-newsletter system of letting people know the progress for each product.

      I’m not worried about finding playtesters, though–we have thousands of ambassadors signed up to help out. So at least some of them will know about the game well before it’s released. We just won’t make a public announcement until it’s really close.

      In the end, I might use some kind of a hybrid model like what I’ve done for Charterstone. I announced it in May with minimal details and opened a Facebook group. I’ve chatted with some bloggers and podcasters about it. So people are aware of it, and they have the opportunity to get excited about it, but only to a certain degree because we haven’t said much about it. On the back end, the only date I’ve told people for the release is “2017.” I don’t intend to update that date until we’re a few weeks away from the release.

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