The Big Question: What If This Actually Works?

11 May 2020 | 13 Comments

On Friday I had a great chat with a friend in the book publishing industry. At one point in the conversation we delved into the topic of social media, and he asked why I chose to use “jameystegmaier” as my Instagram name instead of “stonemaiergames”.

My answer, in short, was, “If I knew then what I knew now, I would have chosen differently.”

But that really isn’t a good answer. We never have perfect information about the future. Instead, if I had asked myself a simple question from the start, I could have better prepared myself for a potential future:

What if this actually works?

For Instagram, as detailed here, I started posting on it once a day in 2018 as an experiment. I didn’t know if I would continue using it beyond a few weeks, nor did I know if anyone else would care.

However, if I had stopped to ask myself, “What if this actually works?”, I almost certainly would have used @stonemaiergames as my account name. That’s what people search for, it’s a better name for other people at Stonemaier to use (currently I’m the only one who posts there, but that could change), and it’s much better for the future in case a company wants to buy us.

Why not just change the name now? Well, I could, but I can’t just automatically migrate 24,000+ followers over to “stonemaiergames.” A few months ago I did actually make an account for @stonemaiergames, with the sole post referring people over to @jameystegmaier.

I think this question can help to avoid a number of future issues. To be clear, it’s the asking of the question I think is important–the answer doesn’t necessarily dictate what you do, because there are many possible realities, including those where this doesn’t work out.

Here are some categories and examples for which I wish I had asked myself, “What if this actually works?”:

  • Social media account names: Kickstarter, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube…the list goes on. When I started using each of these accounts for business, I wish I had asked myself the question.
  • Financial accounts: If you run a one-and-done project as a sole proprietor, it’s not a big deal to create separate bank and PayPal accounts. But if there’s the potential for more, it’s a huge deal. Fortunately my accountant made me do this before I got too deep into Stonemaier Games.
  • Fulfillment, stretch goals, and other Kickstarter considerations: Fulfilling 50 rewards requires a very different setup than 500 or 5000. You could barely reach your funding goal or wildly overfund–how does that impact your funding goal and stretch goals?
  • Production quantities: This is a really tricky one, as all of the risk is on you if you have inventory you can’t sell. It’s a classic “plan for the best, prepare for the worst” category. There is no right answer (at least until it’s far too late to change anything), and I’ve been wrong in both directions even when I’ve asked the magic question.
  • Budgeting for art, component quality, etc: In the very first printing of Viticulture in 2012, I chose to use 1mm cardboard for the vineyard mats instead of 1.5mm. At the time, I was well over budget, and the $0.20 or so we saved seemed like a big deal. However, if I had asked myself, “What if this actually works?”, I may have considered the possibility that we might make well over the 2500 units we made in the first print run (we recently made our 100,000th unit of Viticulture), I would have thought twice about using an inferior cardboard depth.

The list could go on–this question can apply to everything. It’s one I ask myself all the time, but I could ask it even more, and I will.

Can you think of a situation where you wish you had asked yourself, “What if this actually works?” Or perhaps a scenario where you did ponder this in advance, and it ended up helping you?

Also read: The 3 Funding Scenarios You Must Plan For

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13 Comments on “The Big Question: What If This Actually Works?

  1. To look at “what if this actually works?” from a different angle, perhaps a good question is “how flexible is my plan?” As you mentioned, even when you have asked yourself that question you’ve been wrong in both directions. Because the truth is nothing happens exactly how you anticipate, as the saying goes “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” or in this case the market. Which isn’t a statement on success or not success, just the plan not accounting for everything that will happen. So thinking through how to bake pivotability into the plan is a good if not necessary exercise for success.

    I’m reminded of Sir Richard Branson, when he started Virgin Airlines he struck a deal with Boeing to lease his first fleet of airplanes that included them buying them back if the business flopped. He accounted for both parts of the plan, failure: Boeing will buy the planes back. Success: he owned an airline fleet. Flexible.

    In terms of the personal brand vs business brand. I think that is actually a design choice. Your personal brand becoming successful has it’s own pros and cons. Many people run successful personal brands as a business. But the question is, what are you designing it for? If you want to sell the company eventually, perhaps personal brand is not the best design choice, as you mentioned. If you want a great lifestyle business, it may be the perfect design choice. In this case the business mission, vision, etc need to be defined before you can easily answer the question “what if this is successful” because there is no universal metric of “success.”

    Just as a final point — an interesting question to ask if your personal branding is tied intimately with the business is “what would happen if I wasn’t here?” Or maybe to put it another way — would you want or care for Stonemaier to carry on without you? Either in the case of “Success” with the sale of the company, or in the more morbid case of your sickness/death/etc. Again, it’s a design choice. Do you want, like Hamilton to build something that leaves a legacy and outlives you, or does that not matter too much? If you do want it to last past you, disentangling yourself from the branding may be the best choice for Stonemaier, as it relies less on Jamey. But again, you’ve made some great games that I imagine will stand the test of time. It’s the choice of are the games the legacy? is the company the legacy (creating an “engine” of creating good games that outlasts you)? Both?

    Success looks different for each of those, business choices look different for each of those. No rights or wrongs. Just design choices.

  2. Have you thought of using both your name and the name of Stonemaier games? It seems to me that distributing content to both groups would reach more people than one of the groups.
    Your post triggers another question as well. How important is the brand of a book publisher, a record company or a gaming company?You and someone like Ignacy from Portal Games are very much at the forefront of your branding. But I think that maybe a casual player of Wingspan more than Scythe, wouldn’t know who you are and might not know what Stonemaier Games is. Especially internationally where the branding of Stonemaier games is mostly replaced with the logo’s of the the local distributor, such as 999 Games in the Netherlands. I think we live in a day and age when a lot of marketing is happening on a global level and as such you deserve more credit with Stonemaier Games on the international product.
    I think the big question who has the priority – the company or the product? Do I listen to an album because it’s on a label from a record company or because it’s from an artist I am familiar with.
    Do I read a book because it’s from a publisher, or because I like the author?
    In case of board gaming I think the question is – Do I play a game because it’s from a publisher? Or from a game designer? Or is the game a brand in itself?

    1. JanWillem: I’ve thought about using both accounts, but I think the content would be the same (based on my social media strategy and preferences), so I’d prefer to avoid the redundance.

      That’s a good question about the branding–I think it depends on the consumer. I would say that the majority of consumers don’t care about the publisher, but a small and important percentage do. You might find my recent article on rebranding to be interesting.

      1. Why not just set one account to auto post to the other? You’ll probably always have less of a follower account on the SG one but over time I bet the numbers will start to even out and eventually you can reclaim your personal one? Just a thought.

  3. I am less excited when Stonemaier Games replies to my posts than when Jamey Stegmaier does. Even though I know you are a one-man show (okay, there’s also full-time Joe and part-time Morten), there is just something more real about a connection from an account using a real first and last name than an account using a registered trademark.

    What you say about how people search might certainly trump any advantages of that, I don’t know. I’m a psychologist, not a businessman. But as a psychologist, I’m going to bet that a big reason this “actually works” (as you say in your title) is because of how much more loyal we are to people than to brands. Sure, we are loyal to brands (like Gatorade), but isn’t it interesting that those brands spend millions and millions to make their brand synonymous with people (LeBron James, Michael Jordan…)? Your brand is synonymous with you (so much so that online you’re occasionally called Jamey Stonemaier, or your company as Stegmaier Games). That just saved you the millions that Gatorade spends…

    1. Steven: I absolutely see what you’re saying. That’s one of the reasons I’ve resisted removing my name from the Stonemaier Games FB avatar–I want people to feel like they’re talking to a person (which they are), not a brand.

  4. Hello Jamey,

    I am not sure I agree with you about your stand on social media handles. About your Instagram name, I think you made the right choice back then.

    Stonemaier Games and Jamey Stegmaier are not the same person. The fact that it is still a smaller company and you are (or not) the sole shareholder does not change the situation. The way I see it, Stegmaier is one of the biggest asset of Stonemaier. Both could have different point of views. Both could have different needs for communication. Acordingly, both should have their own accounts on social medias.

    You know it better than I do. The board gaming industry has it’s on star system. You are part of that. You could very well have your own personnal branding. In addition, like you are asking: who knows what the future is made of? In years to come, your company could be purchased by a major player and after a few years working for them, (after the non compete clause has expired), you could be tempted to start a new project. You will be happy to have your own personnal accounts to communicate directly with the people who already respect your work.

    You are more than that a game designer. You are a young clever person who have views on a wide spectrum of topics. Let’s not confuse you with your company.

    Thanks

    Ben

  5. Working with a lot of new publishers I think a few of them make the mistake of naming their company after the first game that they publish. It’s fine for that first game but all your subsequent games might not make sense to be published by (make up an example because I don’t want to call anyone specifically out, even though I am). Also, when they create their SKU numbers they don’t think about what if this product actually succeeds and their are tons of expansions and accessory items that get created. The SKU numbers don’t make it easy for retailers to search for them.
    For my own business we didn’t consider how confusing things would get as a mixture of a publisher and a consolidator. So many retailers thought the games we were distributing were actually published by us. The actual publishers were upset because they weren’t getting credit for their games due to the confusion. We fixed it by splitting the business into two separate companies but could’ve avoided that in the first place.

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