The Current Impact of the Coronavirus on Stonemaier Games

18 May 2020 | 14 Comments

Two months ago (has it only been two months?!), I wrote an article about how the coronavirus might impact tabletop game publishers, crowdfunding, and entrepreneurs. Today, with the news that Essen Spiel 2020 and Gen Con 2020 are cancelled, I’m going to write about how the pandemic has impacted Stonemaier Games.

I’ll start out with a few ways that we haven’t been impacted:

  • Working from home: I’ve always run Stonemaier Games from my home office, so my daily routine is literally same as pre-pandemic times.
  • Production/manufacturing: Due to China’s swift and comprehensive response to the virus, along with Panda’s employee-first approach, production has been at full capacity for over a month now.
  • Conventions: Our marketing and sales strategy isn’t dependent on conventions. The various cancellations will impact us in some ways, but we’re fortunate that the direct impact from convention cancellations will be minimal.
  • Game scaling: My perception is that more people are playing games solo and with only one other person than ever before due to self-isolation. Fortunately, every Stonemaier Game plays with as few as 2 players, and every game except Between Two Castles also features an intelligent solo mode called “Automa” (the Between Two Castles expansion will add a solo mode).
  • Release and design schedule: We don’t release many new products each year, which puts us in the position of not needing to cut anything in times like these. For example, our 2020 releases include exactly 1 game and 2 or 3 expansions. If we were planning on 10 games and 15 expansions, we’d need to re-evaluate. But with a more focused approach, we’re proceeding as planned with 2020 and our plans for 2021 and 2022.

Here’s how Stonemaier Games has been impacted by the pandemic:

  • Webstore sales are up: Part of this is the success of Wingspan, and maybe a small part is that I’ve discounted many of our core games to better serve customers with tight budgets. But overall, I think more people are buying online. However, I don’t think we’ll continue at this pace as people focus more on essentials and as more local stores adjust to curbside pickup (which I think is great).
  • Fulfillment capacity is down: We work with fulfillment centers in St. Louis, Canada, the UK, and Australia. All of them are following strict social-distancing guidelines, which means that far fewer packages can be shipped every day. We’re trying to address this in the US by working in shifts (which helps us serve customers faster and keep more people employed), but the impact will be the most pronounced when the reprints of Wingspan and Scythe arrive. Fortunately our next new product fulfillment won’t happen until mid-summer, so we have some time for things to improve.
  • Assisting retailers directly: While most retailers don’t seem to have issues getting products from distributors, I was initially worried this would be a problem, so I invited retailers on our mailing list to contact us directly if they couldn’t get access to our in-stock products. We’ve only heard from a few retailers.
  • “Local” playtesting is tedious: I typically playtest once a week with Alan and Joe, along with occasional playtests with other friends, but it isn’t possible to do that in person. We’ve used Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator for a few playtests, and as amazing as those platforms are, they’re still so much more tedious than playtesting in person with tangible components.
  • Blind playtesting is limited to lower player counts: Many people have a fair amount of time on their hands and a need for some extra cash, so we’ve been keeping our lead blind playtesters busy. The one limitation is that, like us, they can’t play with their normal playtesting friends, so we’re getting a lot of 2-player reports and few sessions at higher player counts.
  • Distributor-led holiday reprints: Usually when we reprint a product, I guess how many copies distributors will want, and I proceed to print that amount. That may seem odd, but distributors sell so many products from thousands of publishers that they generally can’t be bothered to anticipate their sales 6 months in the future. However, in these coronavirus times, I can’t risk hundreds of thousands of dollars on blind estimates for the holiday season. So we’ve asked distributors to order from us now, before production begins. They won’t actually pay us until November–I’m trusting them to do so–but it’s through these orders that we’ll be able to guarantee products for participating distributors. There are a few distributors who are running behind on payments, so they won’t be able to participate.
  • Localization partner flexibility: Typically we’re pretty strict about the timing and payment amounts for localization partners: 50% when we start production and 50% when production is completed. However, for any localization partner that requests flexibility–particularly for the timing and amount of the first payment–I’ve tried to accommodate their needs.
  • Limited learning of new-to-me games: As you can tell from my YouTube channel, I play a LOT of different published games. It’s not just because I love games; it’s because I learn so much by playing games by other designers. I still learn and play new games with Megan, but without the ability to meet with my gaming group or Joe, the number of new-to-me games has dramatically decreased. I’ll start to turn more towards Board Game Arena for this–I learned Signorie there thanks to ambassador Charles.
  • Rolling Realms: An unexpected result of the pandemic was that I designed an infinitely scaling roll-and-write game to give people a way to connect with each other in these times of self-isolation. Rolling Realms is now in its 10th iteration, and I’ll be teaching and playing it live on Tuesday at 12:30 CDT on the BoardGameGeekTV Twitch channel.
  • Design Day: We’re proceeding with our annual design day mini-convention in late September, but attendees are aware that we will only have the event if it’s safe for everyone at that time. [Update: We downsized the event and moved it to November.]
  • Freight shipping: There are increased delays at outgoing and incoming ports, many of which are volatile from day to day.
  • Board Game Arena: I’ve come to better appreciate platforms like Board Game Arena that allow people from around the world to play digital versions of games where the rules are programmed into the digital interface. I’d like to get our games on this platform.
  • Freelancer Slowdown: Several of our freelancers have to divide their time between homeschooling and their work. I believe that families come first; it’s just something I’ve had to adjust to for our schedules.

This doesn’t quite fall into either of the above categories, but it was great timing for Charterstone Digital to release in March, and (from what I hear from the developers) both Viticulture Digital and Wingspan Digital are getting close. Those release schedules are entirely out of my hands, but I think now is a great time for digital ports. If you want to know when these games are ready, here’s a notification enewsletter signup.

I’d love to hear about how your business has changed, evolved, and innovated due to the coronavirus! Feel free to share in the comments below.

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14 Comments on “The Current Impact of the Coronavirus on Stonemaier Games

  1. Hello Jamey,
    I would love to attend design day and have been watching to see when tickets are available. When do they usually go on sale? Also, I would like to bring a board-game with me for play testing. How do I get the game on the schedule?

    1. Hi Konstantin! This year’s Design Day is already full. But I’ll add you to the email list for next year! :)

  2. I’m designing a social deduction game right now and we’ve moved playtesting to our slack channel. While it isn’t the same as the normal game, it has highlighted some design flaws that I don’t think I would’ve found otherwise.

    It’s definitely been a lot more difficult to play during this time.

  3. Thanks for writing an article that showcases something that isn’t doom and gloom during these times Jamey. It’s amazing when one puts there mind in the right space you can see opportunity and positivity in any situation.

    For me (Platypus Industries) I chose the time off from my day job to run my Kickstarter campaign. It was great. I had time to spend not only with the backers but untalising my skills as a graphic designer to make lots more promo gear and actively market the product. The campaign finished up amazingly with every stretch goal unlocked. So the Convid effects on my business were all positive.

  4. Jamey,

    As always, I appreciate your transparency and what you share with all of us, whether we’re in the industry or simply gamers in the hobby space.

    For my company, The Professor’s Lab, I’ve been able to perform two essential services for my clients. First, I’ve conducted numerous 2-person playtests as my girlfriend has been with me (down from Philly) for two months now. Additionally, while clunky (I absolutely agree with you), I’ve employed Tabletopia to conduct online playtests with 3-6 individuals over multiple nights. One of my clients is working exclusively on a 2-person game which pits Wolves & Elk in the Rocky Mountains (and he received feedback from Gil a few months ago, so hello Gil!). Second, proofreading and editing. A few months ago, Vampire the Masquerade: Chapters had a successful launch on KS, raising over $1M and as I’m serving on the team as an editor and proofreader, I’m carving out the necessary time now so that when nearly a dozen authors begin churning out their work, I’m ready to begin the editing process.

    I’ve been exceptionally fortunate as my primary job has not been like that of many others with 12-13 hour days, while juggling my professional and personal responsibilities, and trying to educate/entertain a small child (or multiple children) in my home.

    Overall, the crisis has definitely closed a number of doors (i.e. Game Nights) but opened so many more (i.e. many hours of available time to focus on the business).


  5. Jamey,

    As usual, thanks for sharing your thoughts on all things games. I find your blog really insightful and valuable even as I think through my own software company.

    I am curious how I could signup to help in playtesting? I have a family of 6 (4-5 that play games depending on difficulty) as we started getting into playtesting last fall. We’d love to give feedback for some of the higher player counts that you say you’ve been missing if you have the need.


      1. We own Tapestry and Wingspan (including EE). However, I am always looking for a reason to expand my game collection :P

  6. As an aside, and because I thought you might like to know, my Charterstone blog posts, and primarily my comprehensive card list have also received a bump in page views since the launch of Charterstone digital. :-)

  7. This is such a thorough update! I’m seeing a lot of what you’re seeing.

    I’m in the process of releasing my biggest non-expansion game in 4 years, and that’s skewing things for me as much as the virus is! But for me, the big story is that I’m choosing to aggressively pursue digital board game adaptations, and livestreams of those plays. I have some stuff to work through before I can fully implement the plan, but I’m counting on platforms like TTS and Tabletopia to retain a lot of this membership and engagement after the Great Pause has ended.

    This isn’t to say that I’m abandoning in-person gaming entirely! But I don’t foresee attending any conventions for another 12 months or so, and this seems like the best available alternative.

    Digital playtesting isn’t the same as IRL playtesting, but it’s a good-enough approximation that I feel like I’m making progress in my prototypes. Folks playing online, I highly recommend custom camera angles (and in TTS, picture-in-picture) as tools that will dramatically speed up gameplay.

    Glad to hear that you’re moving forward – here’s to successfully adapting to changing times!

  8. We just transitioned to Tabletop Simulator for board games. I thought only big nerds and lesser wimps used it, and that it couldn’t be better than having physical components. We actually play more than before since we don’t have to worry about travel, and setup time is a snap. I wouldn’t be surprised if Tabletop gaming starts to decline permanently even after the pandemic is over. The convenience factor and time savings is huge.

  9. Thanks for the update, its great to hear that there hasn’t been to much of an effect on SM.
    As for my company, the pandemic has been a positive (as sad as that is to say). Since ive been able to work my day job from home, ive saved 2hrs/day commuting which ive been putting to good use.

    Finished rebranding my company to Jellyfish Game Studios, making a ton of progress on getting my first game manufactured. As well as just overall health and happiness have gone up.

    With the extra 2 hours, ive been able to spend more time with my wife (our 1 year anniversary is today), as well as start dedicating some of my time to exercising. When things go back to “normal”, its going to be a tough adjustment as we are living our best lives currently. Though im excited for other people that have actually had huge impacts due to the pandemic to resume a “normal” life.

    The biggest material impacts ive had is playtesting has been almost non existent for me these past few months. And no conventions to help market my first game and our upcoming games. As well as needing to rethink strategy on a really unique game that I signed this year that was going to be very convention sales focused.

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