22 January 2018
I always stumble over this question: “What are the biggest challenges you face?”
The “you” refers to Stonemaier Games, and the person who poses the question is usually in the financial field (advisor, accountant, investor, etc).
It’s a great, valid question, and I think it’s one that all creators, entrepreneurs, and publishers should be able to answer. Not only is the answer beneficial to the person who’s asking it, but it’s also helpful for me to look at my company from this perspective.
So today I thought I’d try to fully process and answer this question for Stonemaier Games. My answers may be quite different from yours, but hopefully you’ll derive value from this introspection.
The 2 Biggest Challenges Facing Stonemaier Games
Time is such a precious resource, and there’s never enough of it. This isn’t just about my time, which, given the amount of time I like to work each week, is actually quite abundant. Though there are weeks when I don’t get to spend any time on game design.
Time is also a challenge for all of the independent contractors with whom I work. Every game is dependent on the schedules of the playtesters, proofreaders, artists, and graphic designers. I can encourage, motivate, and incentive, but in the end, I’m at the whim of the many talented people who make our games balanced, clear, and beautiful.
It’s also a challenge for two of the most important companies we rely on: Our manufacturer (Panda) and our freight shipping company (OTX). A game can easily take 3-4 months to print, and then another 1-2 months to freight ship from China to our warehouse. A lot of the decisions I make would be a lot easier if I could push a button and have 1000 copies at our warehouse the next day!
The cash flow cycle for a board game publisher is crazy. We invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a game, and we don’t see any revenue from that game until several months after it’s released. I’m not saying the system is broken, but it means there are times when we’re flush with cash and other times when our bank account is greatly depleted.
This is compounded by the fact that we’re constantly printing more games. You might think that Scythe has been profitable for Stonemaier Games, but really it’s just enabled us to make more Scythe.
By far our biggest expense is manufacturing, followed by freight shipping and taxes. We could make more games–and perhaps we will be more conservative in the future–but if you make fewer games, you also have fewer games to sell, which results in less revenue.
The challenge of money has been a major reason why it’s taken so long for Stonemaier to offer full-AI digital versions of our games. I simply can’t afford to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in a game that might take years to program (and may not ever make back that money). Fortunately we have partners now for Scythe and Viticulture who are able to invest in those games, paying us a small royalty on the back end.
I think some companies solve the cash cycle issue by running Kickstarters, taking on bridge loans, seeking investors, two approaches I respect. We haven’t gotten to the point where either of those methods are necessary, but that may change in the future.
Stonemaier Games faces other challenges, of course, but almost all of them connect back to time and money. There are others too, but as far as I can tell, we’ve already addressed them and found solutions for them.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your profession?