Monday, March 12

A lesson in Doing it Right

I noticed in passing Jamey Stegmaier's 2017 Stonemaier Games Stakeholder Report on twitter this week. It's an incredible read. Especially when you compare it to his inspiration, the Steve Jackson Games equivalent. And my earlier admission of failure.

What made it especially interesting to me was comparing it with my first attempt at running a publisher, Reiver Games, and my current self-publishing project Eurydice Games.

Jamey has been fantastically successful. Fantastically. Fair play to him, he's exceptionally good at what he does. Stonemaier have one full-time employee (Jamey) and made $7.1 million in 2017. That's more than double what they made in 2016. Plus, importantly they were profitable.

Their first game (Viticulture) was published just four years earlier. $0 - $7.1 million in turnover in four years. Now that's impressive. For comparison, Reiver Games ran for 5 years, its best turnover was around £22,000 and I never took a salary from it. Clearly Jamey does this way, way better than me.

Reiver Games was founded in 2006 and was just hand-crafted runs until mid-2008. I made the jump to 'professional' publisher then, just before the stock market crash in September 2008 when lots of people's spare cash dried up. I invested a small amount of my own money in it at the beginning, then a fairly large amount of my life insurance payout and then took out a loan. Servicing that loan killed Reiver Games. Stonemaier by comparison have no debt.

Now probably the biggest difference between us is Kickstarter. Kickstarter was founded in 2009 and Jamey has initially released most of his games through it, with great success. Pretty much everyone who is new to publishing (and quite a few old hands) now launch new games through Kickstarter, but it wasn't available in the UK until after Reiver Games had shut down and I'm still uncomfortable with it now. Which probably explains why I'm hand-crafting small print runs again and Jamey is turning over millions of dollars.

In addition to the fantastic success Jamey has deservedly raked in, there's several things in that report that staggered me.

Jamey has been that successful making one new game a year, plus a couple of expansions. When I was running Reiver Games I was convinced the only way to be successful was to have a lot of games on your books like Z-Man or Rio Grande. That was always my aim: get to the point where I had several games coming out a year. Hopefully one of them would be a smash hit, but if not, half a dozen less successful games meant that you could more easily sell to distributors and shops and meant that brand awareness would build as people saw your logo in more and more places. But even in these days, when there are thousands of new games appearing on Kickstarter, Jamey has been hugely successful with one new game a year. That goes to show the quality of the games he's producing, and the fan-base he's built.

The print runs show just how successful he's been. At the time of Reiver Games people talked about 5,000-10,000 copy runs being for very good games, with maybe up to 50-70,000 if the game won Spiel des Jahres or something similar. My 'professional' Reiver Games print runs were 3,000, 2,000 and then 3,000 (for It's Alive!, Carpe Astra and Sumeria respectively). Nowadays I'm hoping that I can find 200 people interested in Zombology (which admittedly is a niche, within a niche, within a niche!). Stonemaier have five games in circulation with between 31,000 and 150,000 copies in the wild. Those are epic print runs, and with such large runs come some huge economies of scale - something I never successfully achieved.

Even with those however, Jamey admits that his margins aren't where he wants them. He's aiming for manufacturing costs to be 14-20% of retail. He's not quite there yet. During my Reiver Games days I was aiming for 20%, but only managed it once. It was nearly 30% for It's Alive!, about 25% for Carpe Astra and finally 20% for Sumeria, for which I did a larger run (so some economies of scale) and bumped up the price to £25. Sadly, with my obsession for small boxes all that meant was my game was the only £25 game on the small box shelf, the rest were all £18-22. Looking really expensive by comparison didn't help me since the vast majority of my sales were through shops and distributors. Now that I'm making games by hand and selling directly I don't need to worry about shops and distributors getting their cuts, so I'm aiming for 50% (it's just under 40% for Zombology and due to the laser cutting and perspex it'll probably be over 60% for FlickFleet :-( ).

The other thing that stood out was the size of Jamey's audience. He's got 33,000 people on his mailing list (I've started from scratch again, so I've only got 60!), 9,000 twitter followers (to my 2,250) and is active on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube where I don't even have accounts. He's clearly doing a lot of things right.

For those of you coming here for advice on getting into game (self-)publishing, you should be going to Jamey. Come here for the cautionary tale instead!

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