9 April 2018
If I had a time machine that I could use to fix mistakes I made when creating and growing Stonemaier Games, it would get a lot of use. But along the way I stumbled into a few things that set a foundation for future success. I’d want to tell my past self to do those things.
In the comments of my recent 2017 stakeholder report, reader Haralampos T. asked an interesting question: “What do you consider were the choices that really made a difference in your early years, that lead to the success of this financial report (being positive in cashflow / having a well recognized company with tons of followers / older games that still impact players)?”
Just to keep things in perspective, Stonemaier Games really is still a tiny company. We only have 5 games and 1 full-time employee. At best, we’re moderately successful, and for each foundational element that led to that success, there are several other mistakes and near-misses.
The following list is roughly in chronological order in terms of when I implemented these elements.
Create a unique product. I’m a little hesitant to start out here, because Viticulture was far from the first worker-placement game, and it wasn’t even the first wine-themed worker-placement game. But I still think this is worth saying, because if your first product gets lost in the crowd, you’re in trouble. I got a little lucky with Viticulture in 2012 because Vinhos had flown under the radar at that point. (read more)
- Find a business partner. I mostly like to work alone, and I like to do as much as possible without relying on others. But there’s no question in my mind that Stonemaier Games wouldn’t be what it is today if I hadn’t partnered with Alan. He keeps me accountable, and it’s incredibly helpful to know that there’s always someone there who will say yes to a playtest at our weekly meeting. (read more)
- Say yes to volunteers. We now have over 2,000 ambassadors who help out in a variety of ways, but when Viticulture launched on Kickstarter, we had 0. Some backers surprised me by saying they wanted to playtest the game, proofread the rulebook, translate the text, etc. I’m so glad I said yes to these generous people and found ways to engage and recognize them as the company grew. (read more)
- Prioritize visuals. I selected Viticulture’s original artist and graphic designer based on budget, not quality. Fortunately I realized this mistake before it was too late, and I brought in Beth Sobel and Christine Santana, each of whom made a significant long-term impact on Viticulture’s success. The tokens in the game also helped–there are tons of custom tokens in Viticulture that could have just been cubes, but table presence matters for any product. (read more)
- Make it personal. I’ve never tried to hide behind a corporate wall in my years at Stonemaier Games. I’m Jamey, and I’m going to talk to you as Jamey. It’s simply the way I express myself in comments, updates, e-newsletters, etc. Yes, there are negatives to having someone as the face of a company, but I think the positive interactions and connections far outweigh the downsides. (read more)
- Don’t quit your day job. One of the most important things I did during the first 2 years of Stonemaier Games was to not quit my day job. That security and regular income was incredibly helpful, and it meant that I didn’t need a single cent of the $400k earned from Euphoria and Viticulture in 2012-2013. (read more)
- Have a home base. It has been integral to our success that we have a hub where people can find us, engage with us, and sign up to get notifications from us. I’m glad I had an e-newsletter from the very beginning and that I started writing this blog soon after that first Kickstarter. (read more)
- Get advice from an outsider. Some of the most pivotal moments in Stonemaier Games history have come from conversations with a friend named Greg S. Greg doesn’t know anything about the board game industry, so he’s able to approach situations with a completely different perspective. It’s Greg who asked me why I wasn’t shipping Viticulture to fulfillment centers around the world–a question that led to the creation of the Stonemaier method of fulfillment, which is now the standards for almost all board game Kickstarter projects–and it was Greg who asked some key financial questions last year that led to us restructuring as an S-corp. (read more)
- Build in a buffer. I realized early on that no matter how precise my budget is or how well I plan a schedule, it has never hurt me to have a buffer in place (and it often comes in handy). So if you think your game will cost $10 to make, assume it’ll actually cost $12. If you think your product will take 5 months to produce and ship, estimate 7 months instead. I used this wiggle room to avoid crashing before we got off the ground.
- Know your limits. This is something I had to learn the hard way before getting it right. During the Viticulture campaign, I didn’t sleep much, and I got really sick at the end. I learned my limit. For a while after Viticulture and Euphoria, I offered private advice to people who asked/paid, but it was taking me away from my core objectives. I learned my limit. Around that same time, I was actively replying to every thread on BoardGameGeek about my games–even threads where I wasn’t welcome–and it was taking a toll on me and not benefiting anyone involved. I learned my limit. The list could go on.
There are, of course, other things–like getting Viticulture into distribution, waiting on Viticulture’s second print run, stopping exclusives post-Euphoria, finding, localization partners–but they’re less universal than the list above.
If you’re a fellow creator, what’s something you did in the short-term that led to long-term success?