Jamey and Grant Discuss Everything (Pt 1)

Viticulture for Amazon horizontal

When I see a project or designer that interests me, I go bug them for an interview. A few months ago I asked Jamey to participate in an interview and he agreed. A few weeks ago I sent him the questions, but Jamey changed things up a bit and also asked ME questions. A discussion ensued about Viticulture, Euphoria, our processes, reading habits, design, and more. It's one of my favorite things that's ever been on the site. 

As the discussion grew quite long, we decided to split it into 3 parts. Come back tomorrow and Friday to read the second and third parts. 

Jamey's company just launched a Kickstarter for their new game that has funded in under an hour. Check it out here and ask any questions in the comments. You can also read my original interview with Jamey here.

A discussion between Jamey Stegmaier and Grant Rodiek (bold)

HG: Hi Jamey! Can you please refresh us...who are you? What do we need to know about you?

Jamey: Hi Grant! Thanks for having me. The three most important things you need to know about me are:

(1) I am the president, lead designer, logisitics coordinator, playtest organizer, and head of customer relations and marketing for Stonemaier Games, a company I co-founded last year with a friend, Alan Stone, to publish our game, Viticulture.

(2) I write a series of Kickstarter lessons for fellow project creators to use. You can find it over on www.stonemaiergames.com.

(3) I have two cats, Biddy and Walter, one of whom loves to sit in game boxes, and the other of whom is an excellent Tzolk’in player. I have to restrain myself from posting photos of them every day on my personal blog, www.jameystegmaier.com. How about you--what are three things about yourself that you haven’t already shared on your blog?

The tables have turned! Three things I haven’t shared...

1.) It’s my goal to one-day found and manage a board game publishing company. Until that day I lie in the shadows, observing and learning everything I can.

2.) I’m definitely the self-loathing creative type. I’m constantly questioning what I make in the hopes of making it fantastic. It can be very hard sometimes and something I need to work on.

3.) I own a corgi, Peaches, and I love her dearly. I have to restrain myself from posting more pictures than I already do via Twitter and FB. She is endlessly entertaining -- a great companion.

Jamey: Thanks for sharing. #2 is particularly interesting to me. I view that as a good thing...unless it really gets you down when something isn’t perfect. That’s where Peaches comes in.

It never gets me down. It’s who I am. I have friends who accuse me of pushing things too far but I don’t think I’ve done that yet.

JRS7

Let’s talk quickly about Viticulture. Your first game raised $65,000 on Kickstarter and it’ll be sent to backers shortly. What was the single most important thing you learned from Viticulture?

Jamey: Great question. It’s tough to boil down to one thing, as I’ve learned a lot by managing this process. Single most important thing: Okay, I’ve always heard that if you do what you love, it doesn’t feel like work. I have a day job, a very good day job with great employees. I’m very grateful for it. And every day I go home and spent another 4-6 hours working on Stonemaier Games. Added to the time I spend on weekends on the company, it’s easily a second full-time job. But it doesn’t feel like a job at all. Even though I haven’t made a dime off of Viticulture (every cent and then some went into making the game as awesome as possible), I love every second that I spend working on it and our other games and with interacting with all of the people who became connected to use through Kickstarter. Do you feel that way when you’re working on your games?

I often joke that game design is my second job that pays horribly. I used to play video games and do other things in the evenings and weekends. Now, my spare time is spent designing, doing graphic design, writing, and generally trying to take this whole board game thing as seriously as possible.

I love the process. I love writing and reading rules, figuring out the board layout. One of the main reasons I want to become a publisher is I love the development just as much as the initial design, often more so. Like you said, it’s not quite work if you love it.

Jamey: I’m glad this topic came up, because I think some people may see the financial success of our projects and think that we might be able to afford to make game design/publishing a full-time gig. What I’m starting to realize is that the only way that could happen is if a game really takes off post-Kickstarter. The sunk cost of making a great game is rather large--all that art and design, and often moulds and schematics on the printer side. The first copy of a game can cost upwards of $15,000 due to professional art and design. Once you make a second copy, the cost for each of them drops to $7,500. And so on. So if a game enters a second print run, the art and design cost per unit is negligible by that point, and all you’re paying for is the manufacturing cost and shipping. I’m preaching to the choir, Grant--you know all this--but I bring it up so that other game creators on Kickstarter don’t quit their day jobs. :)

I still haven’t broken even on Farmageddon! For better or worse, my royalty hasn’t quite covered the money I spent on 80% of the art, pitching to publishers, and marketing the game. Long term my goal is to start small with a self-financed game, learn the ropes, then go through traditional funding methods to try to take a stab at things “for real.”

Your money-back guarantee garnered a great deal of attention. When so many publishers take the stance of “buyer beware,” you took a different approach. Why did you do this?

weigh-in

Jamey: “Buyer beware” is a cop-out to me. When I buy a gallon of milk from the grocery store, is it my job to research the milk company and the hormone levels of the cows and run the milk through lab tests to make sure it’s good for me? Not at all. Kickstarter is no different. In my opinion, it’s the job of the project creator to clearly explain what the project is and how it’s going every step of the way. It’s their job to price their rewards fairly and deliver amazing value for the people who made their dream come true. It is addition to all of those things that I decided to offer backers a money-back guarantee on Viticulture (and we’ll do the same for our next game, Euphoria). That puts the impetus on me to make a great product. And sure, some people simply are not going to like the game. Some of them might return it. And that’s okay. They gave me the initial capital to create the game in the first place, something I could not have done on my own. Their responsibility ends there. The rest is on me.

That said, I completely respect project creators who aren’t comfortable with that approach--just because they don’t have that level of confidence in their product doesn’t mean that they won’t deliver in the end. What do you think?

I agree with you. It’s what I would want as a customer. One of my biggest fears in self-publishing is that what I’m creating isn’t good enough. It’s not up to the level of the competition, which I consider to be both the established publishers (Z-Man, Fantasy Flight) and new ones you see on Kickstarter. When I sat back and thought “would I give a money-back guarantee on this?” for my own games, my answer wasn’t always “yes.” I think it’s the best way to treat your customers and a great motivator to create amazing games.

Jamey: I like that you asked yourself that. I think that’s a great question for self-publishers to ask themselves, even if they don’t actually do a money-back guarantee. “Would I give a money-back guarantee on this game?” If the answer isn’t yes, figure out why.

What can we expect from Viticulture this year? Anything special? Anything of note?

Jamey: I’m currently wondering the same thing! A lot of it depends on how the game is received by the backers and the general public. If it does well and people want to expand the world of Viticulture, the idea we’ve discussed is to concurrently design 4 expansions that can be played in any combination with the original game and include them in a single box. Have you ever thought about doing a Farmageddon expansion? Why or why not?

Farmageddon raised $25,000 on Kickstarter, which was the level for our main stretch goal -- a full expansion. The expansion is called Livestocked and Loaded and introduces animals, weather, and new Action cards. It’s 99% finished and is awaiting art production, followed by the long, slow manufacturing process. It’ll be shipped free to all backers, then sold in stores.

I’ll keep designing Farmageddon games as long as Phil (the publisher who manages 5th Street Games) wants them.

Jamey: That’s awesome! How has feedback from Farmageddon fans impacted the expansion, if at all?

It’s difficult with a game like Farmageddon. Much of the negative feedback comes from people who don’t like take-thats, don’t like luck, don’t like games this light and silly. I tried to take a step back and think about things that were missing after years of playing it. Put another way -- what are obvious holes I can fill?

My answer was that the game could use some more long-term aspects. This is where animals come in. Whereas crops are very fragile and temporary, the animals can’t be destroyed. Winning an animal is a game-spanning activity that requires a little more strategy.

I also thought the game could use a few more unexpected elements, but not the destructive kind. When you’ve played a simple game like Farmageddon dozens of times, it can (arguably) use a little more pizzazz. This is where weather comes in. Every game, you’ll get 5 randomly selected weather cards (out of 10) that will emerge at different times in the game to present new opportunities and shifts in the game.

Jamey: Both of those concepts (the long-term viability of the animals and the pizzazz of the weather) sound awesome. I tried adding weather into the original version of Viticulture, but I couldn’t get it to work. I look forward to seeing how you made it work.

I must admit it has little to do with the actual relationship of weather to farming. I essentially took an event card system, tied it thematically to weather (and used that as inspiration where possible), and went with it. My goal was to create opportunities, not sew destruction.

Why four expansions? What do you think each of these would entail? A new mechanic per or...? I would love to one-day release a big, epic Farmageddon with lots of expansions and a big tin box.

Jamey: These are all in the brainstorming stage, so don’t hold me to this. But the general idea is that at the beginning of each game of Viticulture, each player will draw a mama card and a papa card (or whatever the Italian words are). They’re your parents. They’ll each give you a special starting resource, an ability to use throughout the game, and the mandate that you follow their passion. Your papa may have an Italian restaurant he needs to pass down to you, or your mama might want you to take over her dairy farm and gelateria. Thus each player will extend their player mat based on those mandates. Each of the expansions will be playable without the mamas and papas, but the mamas and papas would tie them all together.

That’s just one idea. I also have an idea for the game to expand into vineyards around the world, possibly using 7-Wonders like player mats that give players different options based on their region. And I have a Roman gods expansion idea that adds a supernatural element to the game. So we’ll see--it all depends on if people want more Viticulture.

For all our sakes I really hope they do! I’m a huge proponent of the expansion business model. I think it’s a great, lower-risk way to drive additional revenue and a good way to keep your best fans happy. Days of Wonder does this very well. They are a big inspiration for me.

That's it for today! Come back tomorrow to find out about Euphoria, which is on Kickstarter now. Feel free to ask Jamey any questions below.

 

Comments

Thanks Grant! I'm curious what other people think about these questions.

*series of questions
I have no idea how I typed serious and it irks me that I can't edit it. Sorry!

Jaret -- thank you so much for the kind words. It means a lot when people pop up with such nice things to say about the work. It means a great deal to me.

I have pitched to publishers before. Farmageddon, published by 5th Street, was rejected by at least a half dozen publishers before it found its home and went on to become a very successful game. I pitched York to a few publishers and ultimately decided to take the small-scale, self publishing route for now. Long term I hope that somebody, or maybe me, do a full, proper print run for York or something like it based on it. I really like the game and want it to succeed. We'll see what GenCon brings.

Self publishing for me does a few things. I get complete control on the design, the art, price point, components, marketing, and how I deal with customers. I get a MUCH bigger share of profits, but also, almost all of the risk. It also satisfies an entrepreneurial itch I have. I work for corporate America from 9-5. I want to carve something out that's truly mine.

Does that help? Any follow up questions? You can always email me.

good stuff guys!

This is very insightful. I also thought the design study posted prior to this was extremely helpful. In the past 4 or 5 months, I've been designing a game and this site has easily been one of the best resources.

I have a serious of questions for both of you: Why Kickstarter and why self publishing? Have you tried shopping your designs to publishers and found it difficult? Do you enjoy the process? Do you want to keep creative control? I read both the interviews so far and I don't believe it was really discussed. You both do amazing work and I'm curious to hear your reasons.