The Wingspan Preorder: Stats, Mistakes, and Lessons Learned

7 January 2019 | 75 Comments

Well, this went better than expected!

The last time we accepted preorders for a new game, Between Two Castles of Mad King Ludwig, it was a bit of a surprise announcement. The game was well received, and we sold around 600 copies directly to consumers within a 1-week span. The experience set my expectations for what a direct order from Stonemaier Games would be.

Flash forward to today. The Wingspan preorder has been live for 5 days (1 more to go), and we’ve sold over 4700 copies directly to consumers. [Final update: We sold 5105 before ending the 7-day preorder]. Some of those copies have already shipped from fulfillment centers, and the others are in the works. I’m incredibly grateful for the enthusiasm shown by early adopters for this game, and I’m happy for new designer Elizabeth Hargrave to have such a success out of the gate.

Granted, there were a few small differences in the methods I used for Wingspan:

  • Before we started production on Wingspan this past summer, I asked a few distributors if they recommended that we print our normal first-run quantity of 20k for a bird-themed engine-building game versus a more conservative 10k. Across the board, all of those distributors recommended 10k for the first printing.
  • I unveiled information about it slowly over the first few weeks of December. This was nice because it meant that I could post the content at a relaxed pace instead of all at once, and people could consume it over time (or wait until full details were revealed).
  • I offered a 9% discount off MSRP for pre-orders of Wingspan (there was no discount on Castles).
  • I shipped 1 pallet in advance each to fulfillment centers in Canada and the UK. That way, Champion preorders within those regions could be dispatched simultaneously with other preorders (for Castles, we shipped pallets to those areas immediately after the preorder period ended).
  • I had our manufacturer produce the non-printed components for the game along with the localized printing to reduce the time needed for the second printing by about a month.
  • I limited orders of the game to 2 per person, as I heard some rumblings of people trying to pre-order in bulk, supplanting retailers in their area by becoming secondary sellers, which isn’t the intention of the preorder.

Otherwise the process was nearly identical, notably the difference between our preorder fulfillment (within a few weeks) and the retail release date (2 months later). In the long term, the vast majority of these games will be sold by retailers, but it’s very helpful for our cash flow to have some sales up front.

Another noteworthy statistic is the huge increase in Stonemaier Champions in alignment with the Wingspan timeline (Champions are people who support content like this blog and my YouTube channel with an annual contribution of $12, and they get a few perks like free/discounted and early shipping).

For Between Two Castles, we gained about 175 Champions. For Wingspan, over the last 40 days since the soft announcement, we’ve gained 1247 Champions. Provided that I engage those Champions with compelling opportunities over the next year, they could be incredibly helpful in stabilizing our up-and-down finances.

It’s always hard to tell with these things if it’s the strategic differences that resulted in the increase in sales or if it’s more about the product itself. Probably some combination of the two.

Mistakes and Potential Improvements

While the Wingspan preorder has gone well, there certainly have been some hiccups that need addressing for future preorders:

  • Unpredictability and fulfillment centers: As I mentioned, I sent pallets to fulfillment centers in Canada and the UK in advance, but it was a total guessing game as to how many units we actually needed there. The result is that I’ve now dispatched an additional pallet to Canada and 4 more pallets to the UK (to serve Europe). Fortunately, FedEx has really good air freight rates to Europe. I don’t think I’d change much in the future, though, as I’d rather be conservative with advance freight shipments.
  • Australia and Asia: Compounding the previous issue is that we don’t have any copies in Asia or Australia, so customers in those areas are paying really high shipping rates to the US. I’ve worked with fulfillment centers in those areas in the past, and I’m open to doing so in the future, but a pallet each may be too much.
  • Length of “Campaign”: During the preorder period of January 2-8, we offer the $6 discount, a guarantee that you’ll get a copy, and friendly shipping from Canada and the UK. One week doesn’t seem like a long time, but I actually think it might work better if I truncate it to 4 days in the future (Wednesday – Saturday). People can still order after that, but it lets me act faster and more efficiently on bulk order exports and quantity declarations for distributors.
  • Reviewer Embargo: I had a reviewer embargo on Wingspan until January 2 to give advance reviewers plenty of time to play the game and compose their thoughts without feeling like they had to rush to be the first to post. However, I did let the Watch It Played rules video go live in the middle of December, which sent mixed messages to other content creators. I think in the future I’ll just be more relaxed about content creators sharing what the game IS after a specific date, but they’ll still have an embargo to share how they FEEL about the game until the official announcement and preorder date.
  • Tabletopia Timing: I let Tabletopia release a “digital playground” version of Wingspan a few days in advance so people could try it before they bought it. In the future I think I may just hold off until the preorder date for this, because once the game is out there, anyone could technically review it, which defeats the purpose of a review embargo for advance-copy reviewers.
  • Cancellations: One of the nice things about accepting preorders for a product you’re shipping within 1-2 weeks is that the cancellation rate is so much lower than on Kickstarter. However, when someone does cancel, it significantly increases the chances that a miscommunication will happen between me, Shopify, and the fulfillment centers. It’s particularly annoying because many of the cancellations happen immediately after the order is placed, or within a few hours at most. This just creates more work for me and more errors without any positive benefits, but I’m not quite sure what to do about it.
  • Champion Promo Code Issue: I use a Shopify app called Bold for the Champion program, and it basically tags your email in Shopify with the word “Champion”. I then create some promo codes in Shopify that only work if it sees you as a Champion, and that’s how Champions get free/discounted shipping. However, even though Bold sends out a variety of emails to members, it does not have the option to send out a signup confirmation email. Weird, right? The result is that many Champions don’t know the promo code until I tell them, which I’ve done every few days via mass email for new Champions. I’m working with Bold to solve this for the future.
  • Lack of Progress Bar: One of the exciting Kickstarter features missing from preorders like this is the ongoing count of backers and total funding. Wingspan customers don’t know how many copies have sold unless they read something like this article. I bet there’s a Shopify app or line of code that can let us do this, and if not, I could update the corresponding product page on our website once a day with the results.
  • CSV Export Issues: I’ve needed to export a CSV file for Canadian and European orders to send to those fulfillment centers, and each time, addresses in Germany, Portugal, Sweden, and elsewhere end up with garbled text and odd characters. This means I’ve had to spend a few hours manually updating those addresses. Fortunately, this appears to be a solution, though I haven’t tried it yet (and I’m open to suggestions).
  • Different Products to Canada and the UK: As I mentioned, we only shipped Wingspan to the fulfillment centers in Canada and the UK. I told customers in those regions that they couldn’t add other products to their orders, but not everyone reads the newsletters, so there were around a dozen orders of Wingspan plus other products that remain in our warehouse in the US. I see this as the main downside for freight shipping the game in advance instead of waiting until preorders are received and then putting a mix of products corresponding to the orders on pallets and sending them to the fulfillment centers.
  • US Fulfillment: Greater Than Games in St. Louis serves as our distribution broker, warehouse, and fulfillment center. I prepped them in detail for the Wingspan fulfillment, but my main liaison there was out of the office last week, and his team accomplished significantly less than I hoped (and in a seemingly random order), especially given my commitment to ship Champion orders right away. They did ship some orders, though, and they’re catching up this week, but in the future I unfortunately think I’m going to need to micro-manage that process a bit more (and to tell Champions that their orders will ship starting the week after preorders begin, just to add a bit of a buffer).
  • Tighter Timeframe Between Soft and Official Announcement: I started revealing information about Wingspan on November 28, and the preorder began on January 2. I think that worked out for the most part, given that a lot of people weren’t paying as much attention to social media over the holidays. But in the future, I’d like to close that gap a bit but still align it with 2 monthly e-newsletters.

With 1 more day for preorders and several weeks for fulfillment, I’m sure there’s still more to learn. Also, I bet you have some thoughts and observations, and I’d love to hear your opinions.

If you gain value from the 100 articles Jamey publishes on his blog each year, please consider championing this content!

75 Comments on “The Wingspan Preorder: Stats, Mistakes, and Lessons Learned

  1. Yeah, my main (minor) let-down so far has been signing up to be a Champion, and then not having it shipped right away as I imagined it would. I assumed a fulfillment partner, knowing you were launching preorders on the 2nd, combined with the hype the game had been generating, would have had at least a thousand of these things already boxed and ready to slap shipping labels on. The 500/day capacity in fulfilling also seems rather low.

    I also agree that telling people it’ll ship the next week, and then pleasantly surprising them if the games can ship immediately, is a good route.

    1. To be fair, after receiving 2000 orders in the first few hours, there was no way a fulfillment center could ship them out right away.

      But yes, I had told the fulfillment center to pre-package at least a few hundred copies of the game in advance, and it appears they did not do that. Hence the micromanaging I’ll have to employ in the future to make sure my requests are met.

  2. Hi Jamey! For the progress bar, I think it’s pretty easy to have Shopify show how many copies are still in stock, and just start that countdown from 10,000 (or however many you have in the first run). If you mention somewhere in the description that there are 10,000 copies to start, people can do the math to see how many are sold given the remaining copies.

    For the promo code issue, since I know you can show Champions different items once they’re signed in, would it be possible to make a version of the game that costs 8-10 dollars less than even your preorder discount, so that when shipping is added back on at the end, it balances out? That way, Champions get free shipping, but no code is needed for it. I don’t know if psychologically, seeing the super low price and then adding shipping back on at the end works as well as the standard price, and the shipping cost zeroed out. They would amount to the same discount, but it may feel different to consumers. What do you think?

    1. Thanks Josh! I’ll look into that.

      As for having a separate listing, I’ve tried that for other preorders, and I found that it created more issues, as Champions have to be logged in to see the other listing, and a lot of them missed it, resulting in a lot of manual refunds.

      1. Can you do both ? a coupon code that is only good for the full price game and a discounted game that only shows if logged in first

        there would need to be a clear description to make it clear they are 2 ways to get the same and do not stack

  3. I agree with having a review embargo so that all of the reviewers can put together a high-quality review and not race each other. However, I’d prefer to see the embargo end a few days before per-orders open. I think this helps as a last minute marketing campaign, and in the end I didn’t watch many reviews because by the time the reviews were live I had already pre-ordered it.

    Video games review embargoes seem to be used to get people to decide whether to buy without having seen reviews. Your products have been (and I expect will continue to be) high quality, and don’t need to get people to buy without seeing reviews. Is there a different reason to have the embargo end on the same day that ordering is available instead of just before?

    1. I’ve thought about that, and I’m open to tweaking it. But in my internal debates, I keep coming back to this: I want people to be able to take immediate action when they watch a review that compels them to buy the game. If I don’t capture the sale at that moment, I might lose that sale. Hence why I’ve aligned the embargo with the preorder date.

      1. I can understand that, but for this it doesn’t really feel like a “preorder” since it’s shipping to, according to your posts, arrive within this month. Sure it’s “pre” retail release, but for me a real preorder is “order this now but it won’t even ship until a month or longer from now”

        1. Yeah, I’ve used that term because there is at least a few weeks of delay between placing the order and having it shipped for non-Champion customers–that’s why I use the term “preorder.”

          1. Fair enough! I guess I’m so used to preordering something before the place I’m preordering even has their hands on it. So I expect the delay of getting to the warehouse, being processed, then starting to process orders and having it be shipped. Whereas here ordering direct from Stonemaier where you have all of the games on hand it skips that “they still have to GET the games” so it just feels different than a preorder if that makes sense?

  4. Great job managing this, learning from not so effective or efficient processes and improving them. One thing I noticed was the expectation from champion members. It is nice to be first but could their be another benefit besides first to ship. We already get discounter shipping, maybe something else small might eliminate the headaches of shipping champions first and the fallout if a non champion gets it first. Just something I noticed. Great job on this!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Tony! I’m certainly open to rewarding Champions in other ways. I’ve done some things like that in the past (like with the metal mechs), so I’ll evaluate that on a product-by-product basis.

      1. I am curious what you did for the mechs. I was not receiving my Champion emails yet when I ordered the mechs, so curious what it was.

  5. I became a Champion to order Between Two Castles. I also ordered Wingspan the second that I could. I am wondering how these presales direct to consumer are affecting the retail launch and retail sales of a game. Are you seeing less retail support since a large portion of those that want the game already have it?

    1. Chad: I would say that even a very successful preorder like Wingspan indicates just the tip of the iceberg for retail sales. Like, with Scythe, we sold something like 21,000 copies through Kickstarter, but the game has gone on to sell over 250,000 copies. So I think those early-adopter copies are actually a driving force behind long-term sales.

  6. Thanks Jamey! I really enjoyed this release process and look forward to playing Wingspan when it arrives. I agree a tighter timeline would probably be a good thing – but that the holidays made this particular timeline ok. I personally didn’t look online very much the week of Christmas.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the fulfillment time. I’m sure a lot of people communicate their eagerness and impatience, but it makes sense that a product with a lot of excitement will take a little longer to ship.

    I mean – anything you want to do to help improve is always good of course. But I don’t think this particular experience should be considered a failure or anything. Your communication and commitment to the customers is top notch and I appreciate it very much!

    1. Thanks for your understanding and flexibility, Spencer. And I agree, while there are some little tweaks I’d like to make, overall I’m very happy with how this turned out, and hopefully we end up with some enthusiastic fans of Wingspan as a result. :)

    2. I was wondering if the closeness to Christmas and other winter holidays created some issues. I mean your liaison at Greater than Games was out last week, during the holidays and if s/he has kids maybe taking time off with them.

      The other issue, not that it stopped me from buying, is some folks have tighter finances after the holidays (they can wait for retail release) but to dangle a shiny thing in front of them so soon after that could be a tougher financial decision for some.

      So I would consider not doing a January 2nd roll out in the future. If you ever get a Chinese fulfillment center for these pre-orders, skip Chinese New Year’s too. Of course this can lead to issue of what dates don’t fall around a holiday ;)

  7. You mentioned that a pallet of games to Australia/Asia would be too much… Do you mind telling us how many copies that is? With the amount of buzz this announcement was generating in December, I think those down under could rally together to try and get enough people to make it worth it (like a giant group buy!).

    It’d be almost like a social media stretch goal for a Kickstarter campaign. 🙂

    1. For this size of game, it’s 126 games. Honestly, I think we could make it work (I could sell any extras to a distributor down there), but it’s still a bit of a gamble. I’ll try it for the next one! :)

      1. Well I saw that you have two other games planned for 2019. If you have even just a few weeks of teasing/revealing awesome details like you did for Wingspan, you could easily get those kinds of numbers I think. And if you ask people to encourage FLGS’s to try and secure copies, that might also help.

      2. I’m an Australian customer: when I went to preorder I bailed out when I saw the $40 shipping fee in favour of ordering retail. I would suspect a majority of other Australians would have done the same, since shipping is almost as much as the cost of the game. The 126 games in a pallet might not be too far off, especially if you’re gauging demand off the number of Aussies who were willing to pay the high fee this time.

        1. Yes, I too bailed out when I saw the shipping cost. I pre-ordered it from a local retailer and the wait isn’t too long – certainly nowhere near as long as a typical kickstarter campaign. I definitely think a pallet worth of games would sell.

  8. I can agree with shortening the timeframe from announcement to preorder date – but where this fell in line (around the holidays) it made sense to have a slightly longer info drip (instead of dump) to allow people to catch up or follow along depending on where they were for the holidays (really busy or not).

    I think changing the preorder period to be 4 days is only beneficial for you. Some may feel that they missed out (as always), but if it’s easier to manage on your end and makes it feel more “exclusive” like a KS for those preordering, then I think it can only be a good thing.

    Lastly, the tabletopia/watch it played/review embargo thing: I think having the rules come out early lets people consider if they think this game will be for them. I think having tabletopia come out early allows people to test that hypothesis – but I think that the tabletopia and review embargo should be the same date and should be at least two days before the official preorder date open. It allows people to test out the game for themselves before buying (which is great for those who wish to do this) and prevents the “anybody could review this despite the review embargo” issue as you mentioned. Having the release date for these be two days before the official preorder date allows a shorter time from watching/reading a review until potentially preordering the game, allowing hype/excitement to stay high – also if you plan on releasing preorders on Monday/Tuesday it allows the weekend for people to watch videos or read reviews and playtest for themselves if they wish.

    Hope this helps or is at least interesting!

    Looking forward to the game!

    1. Jacob: Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I agree, the truncated pre-order period is partly (largely?) about me, but I also think it remains consumer-focused in the people can still order the game after that. I’ll try it out and see how it goes.

  9. Oh, another compliment to throw Jamey’s way. I absolutely love this preorder system. I am not a fan of KS and I occasionally preorder games from my FLGS but this system is amazing. All the fun of KS and preordering but not the wait! Congrats! Jamey!

  10. I think for me it would be great for Asia, Australia and New Zealand to be able to benefit from the Champion preorders better. Being on a somewhat limited budget, it’s hard to justify half the cost of another game (or *gasps* household bills) on shipping it from the US. As great as the Champions discount is, the shipping is still cripplingly expensive. This I believe is amplified by the fact that the games are produced in China and then make the long trek halfway around the world before having to come back.

    I know you have addressed this and have plans to look into it in the future, but it definitely stings to see people in other parts of the world receiving the game and loving it long before those of us that have to manage our budgets a little more will ever get the chance.

    I love everything Stonemaier Games do and will be here for the long haul, but I do feel saddened at missing out on the excitement that those lucky enough to be living either side of the Atlantic Ocean get to experience.

  11. In my eagerness to order Wingspan, maybe I missed alternative shipping options, but the only one I saw was standard shipping. If any “expedited” shipping options were available, please disregard what follows.

    When the game shipped on January 3rd, I learned that it was coming by FedEx SmartPost, whereby the USPS handles the last leg of the delivery. Unfortunately, the USPS delivery record to my neighborhood is notoriously bad, with many items being misdelivered and never reaching the intended recipients.

    As of now, the package has come 18% of its way, with delivery scheduled for January 14. I would have enthusiastically paid the extra cost for FedEx ground shipping, had this option been available—assuming this would not unduly complicate shipping for Stonemaier.

    1. Dorothy: While the current method we use for shipping won’t allow us to let customers choose their shipping methods, in cases where FedEx or Smartpost is really bad, I can manually customize orders. I’ll make a note on your account so that doesn’t happen again.

  12. I am SO happy to read about the new champions and so many direct sales of the game! I hope this helps you keep doing what you’re doing!

    With our FLGSs selling on very good prices I would have gotten the game WAY cheaper from one of our stores, but decided that I help SM better this way, not sure if I was right, logistically it made sense – skipping some parts of the chain.

    I was also thinking about how the reviewer embargo is working when the game was on tabletopia already (and honestly, when the rulebook was released, but I guess that makes sense).

    On a side note I really hope we’re getting close to something humongous designed by you since you as a company seem to handle huge HYPE (he-he, your favorite) and demand well.. I guess you see that everything you’ve published is amazing, but not a lot of designers will ever live up to the standards Scythe, Viticulture and Charterstone set as a milestone in board gaming. As Dusty Craine said to me in a recent discussion “I guess you’re more of a Stegmaier fan than a Stonemaier one.” :D

    1. Thanks Max! I appreciate you buying from us, though no hard feelings if you buy from a local store either. :)

      It’s been a while since we released a new game designed by me, so I’m curious to see how it does, but in the meantime I’m excited to see talented designers like Elizabeth Hargrave having their moments. :)

  13. Hi, Jamey,

    Thanks for the insight. You are amazingly transparent about what’s going on. Sometimes I buy one of your games just because of the respect I have for you and your company.

    I assume that games are not going out (U.S.) in the order in which the orders were received. I have been a Champion since My Little Scythe, and I ordered within 5 minutes of the Wingspan pre-order going live.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thank you! I appreciate that. As for the order the games are being shipped, I don’t know the exact system our fulfillment center is using. They’re shipping the games as quickly as they can, and that might mean a different organizational system than in exact chronological order (but hopefully it’s pretty close, so Day 1 orders are shipped before Day 2 orders, and so on).

  14. Hey

    I gave some thought to this and a couple of things came to mind.

    Before we started production on Wingspan this past summer, I asked a few distributors if they recommended that we print our normal first-run quantity of 20k for a bird-themed engine-building game versus a more conservative 10k. Across the board, all of those distributors recommended 10k for the first printing.

    I think you missed out on another source of information which may have modified this decision. The reviewers. These are the people who could end up heavily influencing the decision of potential customers.

    Now completely removing the financial side of this decision of which I know nothing about, if you received across the board overwhelming reviews for the game, it might have encouraged you to go against the information of those distributors, or maybe even gone half way.

    The only example I could have given is myself.

    The theme of the game did absolutely nothing for me. This could have been one of your concerns. Now I do buy MOST of your game. The production value and game play are amazing. I trust your talent and your “eye” and I also believe in supporting companies that follow the mantra of “make a good product and the money will follow”. It appears you follow that same line of reasoning.

    Still I was reluctant in this one because it was about birds. I think birds and neat, but that is about it. Like Tom Vassal said when he went bird watching with his father, “hey, its a bird, shrug”.

    Then the reviews came in and the people I trust stated the same. Then we got to game mechanics, production value, and the overall appearance of the game and all that changed. I was sold. Rahdo and Tom both stating the game play was something special.

    Then I actually saw the game and the aesthetic really came out. The game had a feminine vibe to it, with its pastel colors and attention to over the top detail. It was streamlined and minimal where it needed to be. I was sold.

    The reason I am giving you all this information is because I can only assume others felt the same way. Yeah the theme might not mean anything to them, but game play is always king. The “influencers” you sent the review copies to, influenced.

    I do not know if this is something you already track as far as your analytics go, but if not, it should be.

    Just a suggestion. Keep on being awesome and running a company that almost insures I will buy most of the products you release.

    1. Thanks Rick! I wish we could have reviewer insights like that before we even start production, but reviewers want to review the finished version of the game, which isn’t available until after we’re months into production,

  15. I’m curious why you would want a progress bar. For a KS project, that makes sense because there is a clear threshold that the project must cross to fund and then to hit stretch goals. Because you’ve already produced the game, any orders are certain to ship, and there are no “stretch goals”, per se. While a project like Wingspan is exciting to watch because it is a popular game that is selling well, a project that is slower to catch on might suffer as people watch a stagnant progress bar. And the popular projects are popular for other reasons. I don’t see what benefit a progress bar provides in cases like this.

    1. Jason: That’s just feedback I got from a few people who said they missed out on that feeling Kickstarters provide of making you feel like you’re part of something popular, and a progress bar is one possible piece of that puzzle (but there are others).

    2. Hi Jason-

      I’m one of the people who loved to see how well the game was doing. I remember being a part of Scythe and staying up to midnight to see it hit 1 million. It was a great celebration and makes me more attached to Scythe.

      Also, I think it helps to see how many are going out for patience on shipping.

      Jamey, you could also have a pre order limit that you could say 4 days or 5,000 games up front. You would then have more control of shipping amounts and would also let people know there is limited supply.

      1. Thanks, Joy! I actually had some constraints like that for previous preorders, but if I had done the same thing with Wingspan, it would have only been 1000 copies (based on the proportions I typically allocated to distributors). Instead of guessing the demand, I decided to put our preorder customers first and base the quantity on what they wanted, and then send distributors the rest (with the knowledge that the second print run is well in the works).

  16. Not a fan of this approach. I do agree that is it good for Stonemaier as you don’t have to lose a large percent to the distributors. It is not so good for retailers. I had a handful of people walk in last week saying they bought directly from your store vs my store. On top of that, the small print run makes this super hard to sell pre-orders as we don’t know how many we are going to get. Considering you already sold 4,700 of the 10k it doesn’t look good for us. We have pre-orders at the three major distributors and I would assume we will probably only be getting a handful. Now I will probably have to pre-order 100+ games just to get allocated a couple cases.

    I push your games to new people all the time and help foster your community locally and this feels like a slap in the face. If you are looking to get more money quicker I would suggest allowing retailers to order directly from you for the initial run and then send to distributors for subsequent runs.

    1. Thanks for your perspective, Tim! I hope the early buzz for the game results in great long-tail sales at your store for this game, as first-run sales for us are typically a small percentage of lifetime sales. Also, there is a link to retailers like you right next to the pre-order link from us on the Wingspan home page–I’m glad we can help consumers discover retailers like you as they look for a way to buy the game without worrying about shipping.

  17. When I first started to read through your lessons, I was surprised that you kicked kickstarter and were going out on your own. As I have studied dozens of Kickstarter projects in greater detail, I agree with why you left. With having your own release, you have eliminated several of the biggest issues I have identified with KS.

    1. The games category seems to be the toughest of all on Kickstarter. I work in the game show industry designing games and puzzles for TV shows and sometimes work with crazy TV execs. I only have to deal with one or two people like that, I can only imagine having to appease a large mob of them. The execs I deal with are doing this for a living and it seems they are easier to please and less demanding than backers can be. I find it interesting that this doesn’t seem to be the norm for all of KS. While I appreciate the passion that the gaming community has, I wonder if some of the “power” the backers feel they have has gone to their heads.

    2. In several lessons you talk about letting backers have a say in completing the last 5% of a project. While this may important for newer developers, I don’t think this applies to everyone. If you have done your work and tested and talked to the right people, you have already found 99% of the issues your product has. While I will be polling backers for their opinions for addition colors and how many beverage cooling wraps they can buy, I have done all the science and worked on it for almost 4 years. It is a finished product. It feels like you stepped out and did this on your Treasure Chest campaign and have completely broke free with Wingspan. You decided what the finished product was, how it was built and what pieces it should contain. Bravo

    3. I do not like the perceived importance of stretch goals and am glad that almost every other category they aren’t as important. Not only does it seem to bring out negativity in some backers, but I would much rather create a whole complete project and then offer it a fair price. In most product design KS, creators do offer extras when they reach larger orders, I will be using it to improving the smart phone apps. So I will be offering a few “stretch goals” but it has a different feel to it.

    You have found a way that mimics the feel and excitement of a KS campaign for your community but shortened the live portion stress to only a week. This has allowed you to offer what you feel is the best version of the game and completely skip what I believe are some of the biggest headaches and aggravation of KS. It is a step back towards your chaotic kickstarter roots and away from the simpler distributor/retailers route.

    The question is how were you able to pull this off? My answer would be that you have build a reputation for being fair, honest and having quality games. It has taken you years to do that but now you are able to use that trust in an offering like this. All businesses are rapidly evolving today, they need to try new things to keep growing and learning. This hard earned trust allows you to get the larger shot of capital like in a kickstarter and I would argue could creates a bigger wave of excitement for consumers who buy it when it is available in a retail setting like you saw in Scythe.

    The first time doing anything is a learning process. I would expect nothing less than when this is completed, for you to sit back and see what worked and what didn’t. You always seem to have everyone’s best interest in mind so I don’t know why you would change now. Congratulations on the smashing success!!

    How did you feel skipping these issues and offering a completed product? Did you miss making stretch goals and getting quotes on all the different possible options?

    1. Daniel: I think you summed this up perfectly, especially the first 3 points. And I agree that it takes a lot of trust to do something like this (trust that I still feel like I need to try to earn every day).

      I really didn’t miss stretch goals at all–I much preferred to just make as premium of a game as possible up front, and it’s nice to just have one version of the game to sell as we move into future print runs. I think that’s less confusing for customers and better for retailers.

  18. Hey Jamey,

    A few random thoughts from someone who does reviews and also has a couple of board game related clients:

    – I managed to stay off the hype train until the Watch it Played video showed the mechanics. That’s when I knew the game would be up my street and became a Champion there and then.

    – Therefore I think your soft embargo idea is a good one. I suppose you could say the drip feed approach worked as I was tuned in but not fully committed until the full reveal.

    – Similarly with such good components it makes sense for them to be shown off wider imo.

    – I don’t know if there is much you can do about this but in the U.K. the retailers find it hard to manage pre orders due to the way the games are distributed. Sereval retailers in the past haven’t been able to fulfil their preorders due to not receiving the amount they believed they would be. I already hear rumblings about this for Wingspan. Again I know that’s not to do with you and not sure what you can do about it but I feel it impacts negatively on the preorder system when people don’t get the product they have ‘reserved’.

    – it’s absolutely brilliant the way you engage with content that’s out there.

    Anyway I’m super happy with my copy and shall solo today and group play tomorrow :)

    Nick

    1. Thanks Nick! Coincidentally, the UK is one of the areas where retailers have the ability to know exactly how many copies they’re going to get, because we worked privately with certain distributors in Europe to have them order games directly from China. So, for example, Esdevium (Asmodee) knew exactly how many first-run copies they were going to get, though I’m not sure how they communicated this to retailers.

      In the US and Canada, though, that’s definitely an issue.

      1. Yeah I think it’s an Asmodee Uk thing. It frustrates retailers and customers as they can’t get accurate information. So it was brilliant for me to be able to get express delivery at a great price. Also super happy you are using Spiral Galaxy they have been excellent from my end/perspective!

  19. Jamey, thank you for this very informative article. I placed my pre-order on January 4 after watching the positive reviews by Tom Vasel, Richard Hamm (rahdo), Dan King (gameboygeek), and Tom Heath (slickerdrips), and an Automa intro by Dusty Crane (The Mill).

    Regarding the bird theme, I really like it and appreciate that Stonemaier Games was willing to take a chance on it. Although I might be in a minority of board game enthusiasts, I much prefer a noncombative theme over a combative one. The two classes of games that my family and I most enjoy are cooperative games, and competitive games that have sometimes been referred to as “German family games” (Carcassonne being one example). I see Wingspan as fitting into that second class. I am hoping that Wingspan’s theme combined with its easy-to-learn game play and shorter playtime will allow me to introduce this game to a wider audience than usual.

    Also, although I don’t need games to be educational to enjoy them, I think it is a plus that Wingspan indirectly teaches about types of birds. Again, I hope this will give Wingspan a broader appeal to my nongamer friends.

    Overall, I think Stonemaier’s launch has been very successful. Congratulations!

  20. Thanks for your openness and honesty about the way things have gone throughout the preorder process.

    I don’t know if it’s something you started later but I became a champion on the 6th and then ordered Wingspan. When I became a champion there was a screen that came up telling me I can get free shipping by using the promo code. I’m not sure if others missed the screen when they joined or just didn’t remember to use the code but there definitely is something that says you can use the code to get free shipping. I took a screenshot of the screen if you need it.

    1. Thanks James! Indeed, that’s what Champions are supposed to see after they sign up, but it seems that large numbers of them (maybe those who use their phones to sign up) are not being redirected to that page.

  21. Hi Jamey,
    I am a game publisher too and like you, I focus a lot on the traditional distribution system. FLGS and their online department (when they have one) are my (almost) only sales point. I only sell directly to consumers in fairs.

    How do game stores react to this?
    Don’t you have a negative answer from them like “you are stealing sales from us”?

    1. Christian: Thanks for your question. There are certainly a few stores who have expressed their displeasure (see Tim’s comment above), but I think they’re overlooking a few facts:

      1. It’s not Kickstarter. It’s much less visible. In fact, publishers around the world have low-key pre-orders all the time for games they plan to deliver before retailers get them. Some of them advertise, others don’t. Like, Gloomhaven (Cephalofair) is accepting pre-orders for an expansion right now at 25% off MSRP and guaranteed delivery before retail.

      2. I’ve been promoting retailers on the main page for Wingspan on our website right next to the direct pre-order button.

      3. Having a surge of early adopters has proven to have a direct and positive impact on the long-term success of games. In the long term, the vast majority of Wingspan will be sold by retailers.

      4. While I love selling lots of games to distributors and retailers, if that was our only revenue stream, we would not stay in business. If we go out of business, none of those companies makes any money from our games. For my company to be sustainable, 5% of sales need to be direct at direct margins.

      5. Stonemaier Games is not a retailer. I’m just a guy sitting at my computer at a home office. Local and online retailers have so many elements of infrastructure that we don’t have, and I am very happy for them to use those elements to their advantage.

      I could go on, but those are my main points.

  22. Thank you for posting this blog. I became a Champion for Wingspan, so I’m glad I’m not the only one who did so.

    I see that you will be shipping mid January, how will that work exactly? Are you shipping out next week? Wow that is fast.

  23. Jamey –

    I actually liked the release/pre-order window you had. your intuition for the embargo strategy was well thought out, and it worked. Being able to watch gameplay and tutorial videos and then make a decision at a moments notice for near instant gratification was something that I as a consumer, appreciate. A complete opposite experience for a kickstarter game that I had discovered and was unable to get unless I pay an unbelievable amount of cash was frustrating especially since there is no real concrete retail release date other than “soon”.

    I also appreciate the fact that there are no “exclusives” that need to be hunted down for those who buy the game later making you feel like you missed out for reasons of lack of funds or missing the campaign entirely. The game seems to be a complete with a “what you see is what you get” package.

    Never thought I’d be adding a game about collecting birds to my meager shelf, but you guys have sold me.

    What’s the next game theme concept? A Crazy Cat Lady who hoards as many different cats as she can and has to balance cat food, kitty litter resources in the limited space of her one bed room apartment? =)

    1. Thanks Doug! I’m glad we could provide the game for people right away (or within a few weeks for non-champions), and yeah, we don’t do exclusives. :)

      Personally, I’m working on a civ game and an open-world exploration cooperative game.

  24. Hi Jamey,

    Thanks again for your transparency and willingness to communicate openly and swiftly with regards to this pre-order process. Received my copy yesterday, played it a few times already and love it (and the Automa too!). A few remarks on the process from a EU-customer, if I may.

    Initially I felt like Rick S. worded it, and wasn’t really enthusiastic about a bird theme. However your tactic did work for me and as soon as the reviews game in and I actually got to see it played I wanted to have it asap. Added benefit, this is first time in a long time that my non-gamer girlfriend actually remarked ‘oh – that looks pretty, I want to play that’. Which is nothing short of a miracle :)

    Two points from a international buyer’s perspective (EU):

    #1 – Tax. If sent directly from the US or Canada to the Netherlands anything over 25eu is taxed with 21% VAT, anything over 150eu is additionally taxed depending on the type of good. Furthermore, the shipping agent is responsible for collecting these taxes and they will incur a fee for doing so. This means that although board games are generally cheap in the US, it is rarely profitable to order them directly. Now I only found out that you actually ship from the UK, which makes quite a bit of difference for me, AFTER I put in my pre-order. It would be beneficial for me if you make it clear on your site that pre-orders are shipping from the EU, as in the whole thing is EU-friendly (Kickstarter-style). This would surely make the threshold for pre-ordering even lower for me at least. Although I could of course have missed it entirely…

    #2 – Discount. Although clearly stated on the site that international orders get a discount being a Champion, it was never clear to me exactly how much discount I would get. Shipping costs came out at $22,-, but I couldn’t find the exact discount I would get from becoming a Champion. Again with #1, this make the process a bit of a gamble cost-wise, which is a shame.

    Guess the good news is that in spite of #1 and #2 Wingspan seemed like a good enough deal to ignore both and just go ahead and order, well done. Now we just have to wait for Champion-specific promo’s and other benefits :)

    Although to be honest, the discount on shipping alone almost paid for a full year membership, so I think your strategy is solid as the threshold for (pre-)ordering again has been lowered.

    Cheers,

    Joris.

    PS: As an example, if I order Scythe on your site for $90 it would amount to an approx. net cost of 120eu. I recently bought it from a retailer in Belgium doing a discount for 52eu plus shipping.

    1. Thanks Joris! That information about EU-friendly shipping was in our monthly e-newsletter, but not everyone who learns about a preorder is a subscriber, so this is a good reminder to include that information in other places in the future. I think that was the same about the discount, and I’ll consider sharing that in the future too (though I want to make sure people see the Champion program as more than just a way to get a discount).

      1. Obviously, although do not underestimate the power of ‘the other way around’ – people become a Champion because of the discount, and then learn about the quality of your blog and other games (your website does a very good (thematic) job on that). Which is sort-of what I did. Although usually I am reluctant with these things, due to the fact that many benefits aren’t really benefits at all, due to living in Europe.

        After the succes of Wingspan I really wonder what will happen with your next pre-order… Dare to guess how many % of your Champions will pre-order, given a similar quality/reviews release as Wingspan? I know there is a ton of variables you can not account for, but I’m just interested in what you are hoping / guessing at.

        Will you be considering taking your Champions input on the two games you are currently developing or is the answer to this question to be found somewhere on your blog…

        Now if you would excuses me, I have more reading to do :)

        1. That’s a good point about the other way around.

          As for the percentage, I think it will vary widely based on the game.

          As for input, while I do occasionally ask for Champion input about the content I create for this blog and YouTube, I typically keep the game-related content separate. You’ll see soon on your first real Champion update newsletter. :)

  25. Congratulations on a product that’s sure to have wings, or at least a very long tail. The theme in particular will bring non gamers into the fold, which as a publisher I think should be among your higher priorities.

    In a comment upthread you mentioned that for the Wingspan release, you ship 126 boxes on a pallet. Is that universal or is that specifically for overseas shipping? Have you visited any of your products as they are being staged to ship? It seems like that would be visceral and vindicating, maybe even a bit humbling. Thanks for your openness and the quality of your creations and the creations you bring to market.

    1. JB: I’m not sure I’d call it universal, but for my manufacturer and for games of this size, 126 games fit on a pallet. They’re sent directly from China to various fulfillment centers and warehouses, and I’m in St. Louis, so it’s not convenient to visit. :) I do visit the warehouse in St. Louis on occasion, and it’s pretty cool to see all the pallets, games, and organization.

  26. Très agréable de voir un éditeur être aussi transparent et avoir une telle communication sur son travail, et avec “son” public. De plus, le jeu donne vraiment envie.

  27. To follow up from my first post. Here is what we received from our distributor which is what I expected to happen.

    Quoting here:

    “Wave 1 – Expected February/March release – do not expect more than 1 unit. I’ll do my best but the #s simply aren’t there and if 1/10th of my customers pre-order the game there will be several who won’t get a single unit (I have already received allocation #s for this wave)

    Wave 2 – Expected April restock – maybe we’ll be up to 2 units at this time but it’s looking very dicey (I have already received allocation #s for this wave)

    Wave 3 – Expected Summer restock – please let me know if you want to pre-order for this release (this week preferably) as we’ll be conveying #s to STM/GTG.

    Jamey has made a lot of posts in regards to this game on social media so you can delve into what’s happening on that front. It seems like selling direct to consumers is the biggest reason for the abysmal #s being put through distribution.”

    My second distributor said the same and said to really expect to only get games in June. I am waiting to hear from my 3rd and 4th distributors but I expect the same.

    I knew allocation was going to happen so I set my pre-sale numbers to 6 out of the 100+ ordered! I feel sorry for the many people that order from the larger online retailers as I am sure they listed many more than I did for pre-orders. It looks like I have a couple people that I will have to disappoint now as I will only be getting 1 copy from each distributor if I am lucky. This is worse than the Terraforming Mars debacle back from 2016 and I didn’t think it could get any worse.

    Very disappointing for us retailers as there are many customers that simply don’t want to wait and will buy from E-bay or Amazon at inflated prices. We can only hope the hype is still there for this game in summer as many many games sell great for the first few months then when the new shiny game comes around the masses shift focus. Time will tell if this has the staying power.

    1. Which distributor said, “It seems like selling direct to consumers is the biggest reason for the abysmal #s being put through distribution.”? That simply isn’t true. Even if we hadn’t sold a single copy directly, the best that would have done is slightly increase your allocation.

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