It all started with vine, but it needed some 1920s steam battle sechs to launch the turbo. Stonemaier Games developed in a short period of time from a small American indie publisher to an internationally known games company. At the center of attention is Jamey Stegmaier, the founder and kickstarter expert. He is known for listening to his community carefully and taking their feedback seriously. So it comes that the players seldom have much to complain about. The games are always produced on the highest industrial standard and have a high-quality graphic design. How serious the community is to him one can see when looking at the story of Kai Starck, whose idea of an expansion for Scythe was brought out by Jamey (the interview with Kai you can find here…).
With Jamey I talked about the foundation of his publishing house, the rise and why kickstarter for him as a platform is no longer important. And he gives us an outlook on his future projects.
I think we don’t have to introduce you to my audience since you are well known in the boardgame community. But I think you had a life before founding Stonemaier Games. What did you do before running an international well known boardgame company and when was the point you decided to be an entrepreneur in the boardgame industry?
I generally assume that people haven’t heard of me, so I’ll start by saying that my name is Jamey Stegmaier, and I run a small publishing company called Stonemaier Games from my home in St. Louis, Missouri (USA). Before starting this company in 2012, I had two primary post-collegiate jobs: I first worked at a medical textbook company as a project manager, and then I worked as a director of operations at a university. I decided to try to take my game-design hobby to the next level in 2011, when I decided to design a game (Viticulture) with the intent of funding it on Kickstarter.
As far as I know Viticulture was the first game you designed and published. You used Kickstarter to crowdfund the money you needed to produce the game. But in advance the game was nearly completely designed regarding gameplay and graphic design. In 2012 Kickstarter was still a very young platform. When and why did you decide to use it as platform for your company?
Viticulture was the first game I published, though I designed a number of games before that just for fun, starting when I was around 8 years old. And I should clarify that Viticulture’s art and graphic design was very much unfinished when I launched the Kickstarter in August of 2012. Even the gameplay, which I thought was finished, hadn’t gone through any blind playtesting, so backers were hugely instrumental in improving the game.
As for why I used Kickstarter, I was fascinated by the idea of being able to connect one on one with potential customers. While Kickstarter is far from the only way to do this, I liked that it provided a “safe” way to achieve that goal, given its “all or nothing” funding mechanism.
Since your first campaign even from nowadays looks like a perfect ly and Highlight Professionalität planned die campaign, it must have been a lot of work. How long did it take to arrange the game and that first campaign?
I’m kind of embarrassed looking back at that campaign, as I think it pales in comparison in terms of professionalism to my subsequent campaigns (and pretty much any modern Kickstarter board game campaign). It took about a little over a year to design Viticulture, plan and run the Kickstarter, and get the game ready for production.
Kickstarter was really like a kickstart for your company. The first campaign for viticulture brought $66.000 (back in those days a huge success for a boardgame!) and the following campaigns even more (Scythe funded more than 1.5 million Dollar in 2015). Was there any chance you could have gotten were you are right now without Kickstarter in such a short period of time?*
Oh no, my company wouldn’t exist at all without Kickstarter. It’s not just about the funding; it’s the buzz created by those early Kickstarter campaigns, the connection I forged with people during those campaigns, the improvements to the game that happened as a result of backers testing and proofreading Viticulture (as well as stretch goals), and so on.
Perhaps you can give us a little insight on your company Stonemaier Games today. How many people are involved and how do you manage logistics since you are worldwide active? How many partners do you have to cover all the markets? And of course, what are the main threats you have to deal with day by day…
I’m our only full-time employee, though there are a lot of people involved in the company. They range from a few part-time employees, replacement parts helpers, ambassadors, the many people and organizations I outsource to, our international partners, and others. I’m the lynchpin for the entire organization, but Stonemaier wouldn’t exists without all of those people.
A big part of my job is troubleshooting, but the problems vary from day to day. Some days there’s a production issue or a customer service issue; other days it’s something related to an international partner, distributor, retailer, or freight shipping company. Sometimes there are accounting issues; fortunately we haven’t had a legal issue yet.
Listening to your community was always a point you took very serious. As a user of boardgamegeek.com I saw you answering to hundreds of threads and posts. You are also active on twitter, facebook and on your own blogs. Despite all that you wrote a book about your crowdfunding experiences. How do you manage that huge workload beside running your own company?
I consider all of that social media stuff to be part of running my company, not separate. As a result, I do work a lot: 7 days a week, usually 10-12 hours a day, and I very rarely take vacations. I think the key is that I genuinely enjoy working. I love what I do, and I’d usually prefer to be working than doing other things. I’m single, I have no dependents (other than cats), and I work from home. Also, I’m very aware of when I need to take breaks–ranging from a short YouTube break to a longer break–so I don’t burn out.
Taking the community serious can also be a threat when it comes to criticism. I remember your blogpost back in the days when you started the Scythe campaign with a new system for the stretch goals. How did you get along with that situation and when was the point you realized that you have to change the campaign?
It was an odd situation, because I had shared it in the advance with hundreds of ambassadors, and no one indicated that the new system I was testing was an issue. But then it was seen by tens of thousands of people over the next few days, and enough of them seemed distraught enough by it that I changed to it to a more traditional stretch goal system. Those were a stressful couple of days.
After several years of using Kickstarter as a platform, you decided to use more classic ways of marketing and distribution. Other companies like e.g. CMON (former Cool Mini or Not) still use Kickstarter extensively for marketing and financing aspects. What were the reasons to change the strategy especially regarding your huge success and experiences on Kickstarter?
There were three primary reasons I decided to shift Stonemaier Games away from Kickstarter, with one overriding goal: I wanted to maintain the things I loved about Kickstarter (the interactions, the marketing, the level of quality, the communication, the ability to gauge demand, etc) without Kickstarter. The reasons for moving away were the time effectiveness of selling to a handful of distributors instead of coordinating, running, executing, and fulfilling rewards to thousands of individual consumers; the desire to avoid the unsettling human behavior I saw during Scythe’s fulfillment; and the potential risk of relying on fulfillment centers around the world that could completely screw up months of work.
Some month ago I was discussing with the members of a german podcast (Bretterwisser) about crowdfunding. We were convinced that it is nearly impossible to use Kickstarter as a platform if your campaign isn’t nearly perfectly worked out. You can’t show up with a paper prototype of your game and a rough outline of the rules. The game has to be preproduced and you should have a testimonial like Rahdo (sorry Richard 🙂 ) giving a comment on the prototype. What do you think about this development regarding the crowdfunding opportunities for young game designers?
I agree that any product launched on Kickstarter these days needs to be polished and tested for it to succeed. It also needs to have market awareness through a combination of the creator’s personal efforts and people like Rahdo.
As for a perfect campaign, though, there is no such thing. 🙂
Crowdfunding has built a whole industry around this business. There are many companies offering services for surveys and after sales or logistics etc. What do you see as the next development steps for the crowdfunding phenomena regarding boardgames?
That’s a good observation about the industry build around crowdfunding. I think we’re going to see fewer stretch goals, faster production times, and more selective backers.
Let’s switch to your actual line up of games. With Scythe you had a huge worldwide success and two expansions came out so far. Will there be more expansions? This is even more relevant since you just published the Legendary Box for Scythe which should hold all the game components.
Indeed, we’re currently working on the third and final expansion, which I’ll talk about more in detail after we release The Wind Gambit.
Most of your games are more or less worker placement based (except Between Two Cities). With Charterstone you are launching a story based and legacy themed game. Please give us a little insight what we can expect from this game and how gameplay will be affected by the legacy element.
Scythe also isn’t worker placement (it’s action selection), but you’re right–Viticulture, Euphoria, and Charterstone all feature worker placement. I think I enjoy how thematic that mechanism is, as it removes any abstraction of what’s happening: A worker is doing a specific thing for you.
Legacy is the core mechanism to Charterstone–every element of the game is built around that mechanism. For example, Charterstone starts out with a short rulebook. It’s only 4 pages of rules with a number of blank spots for future rules to be unlocked and added later. This is so you can easily start playing your first game of Charterstone. In Charterstone, you’re constructing a village with up to 5 other players, so a big part of what you’re doing is collecting resources to construct permanent buildings in your “charter” (your section of the village). When you do, you’ll remove a sticker from a card and place it in your charter. It becomes an action space for any player to use. Just like real-life villages, the building is still standing the next day (i.e., the next game). There’s also a story element to the 12-game campaign where players choose their own path for the village – this is also permanent. Charterstone is somewhat unique in that it’s designed to be completely replayable even after the campaign ends.
Your first game Viticulture was published last year in Germany by Feuerland Spiele. Will there be more Viticulture for Germany or even completely new expansions? Or do you think this game as well done and finished?
Indeed, I’m very fortunate to work with Feuerland – they’re an excellent partner. I can’t speak for them, but I think they’re looking at publishing Tuscany Essential next year and maybe a small visitor expansion (they already have Moor Visitors).
And what’s next? What are the next projects you are working on? Will we see you on Kickstarter again?
As a designer, I’m working on a few cooperative games (a new challenge for me) and a civilization game. As a developer, I’m helping out with a few game submissions we’ve accepted. I’m also working on the third Scythe expansion and the Euphoria expansion (which isn’t designed by me, but I help out with it).
I don’t want to say “never,” but I think it’s highly unlikely that I’ll return to Kickstarter. I’m so focused on relationships with retailers and distributors that I could really damage those bonds if I Kickstarted something at this point.
One more personal question for my germanspeaking audience… Your name sounds and looks quite European?! Did your ancestors come from Germany, Austria or some other country in Europe?
Indeed, my ancestors are German, Irish, and Polish. Two Stegmaier brothers came over to America from Germany about 200 years ago. One was a brewer, as you can see by the beer glass in one of my photos.
Thanks for answering the questions. I am looking forward seeing a lot of high class games from Stonemaier Games. 🙂
A little supplement concerning Jamey’s ancestors: A quick research revealed that the ancestors in Mutlangen are active brewers. So I found the following beer coaster in the net, referring to a Stegmaier. Jamey told me that Josef Stegmaier was one of the ancestors who emigrated. All the more surprising that he has developed a winegrowing game and not a brewing game. But who knows, maybe that is still to come…