Report to the Stakeholders for 2014
by Phil Reed
Steve Jackson Games has one stockholder: Steve. But many people have a stake in our success. Our STAKEholders are our employees, our distributors and retailers, and, of course, the people who play our games . . . as well as the freelance artists and designers we work with, the printers who create the finished product, the volunteers who demonstrate our games at conventions and retail stores, and the folks who run game conventions.
We are, I assume the reader knows, a publisher of games. We have been in business since 1980. At the end of 2014 we had 41 full-time staff and contractors, plus several part-timers. Most of our line consists of card games, boardgames, dice games, and RPGs. We sell through hobby distribution, the mass market, and direct sales – both physical products and digital downloads.
A Note on Timing
This was my first shot at the Stakeholders Report, and I am terribly late. This is mostly because so much of my time is spent managing our day-to-day business – especially our mass market sales efforts – but that's a weak excuse and I need to get better at managing my time. I also need to get better at delegating, but that's a skill that will take effort to master.
2014: Executive Summary
2014 was a great year, even though we saw our first decline in revenue since 2005. Gross income was $8.5 million, down $300,000 from 2013. However, almost $1 million of 2013's total was from the Ogre Kickstarter project. If we remove that project from the big picture, our total revenue increased more than $500,000 over 2013. Yes, 2014 was a great year.
What made 2014 so very wonderful? The continued success of our Munchkin games, but also:
- Our translation partners continued to sell lots of our games into their home markets.
- Dice game sales remained strong. Zombie Dice alone accounted for 7.4% of our distribution sales for the year.
- Our Munchkin licensees – Alderac Entertainment, Fireside Games, and USAopoly – all helped the Munchkin brand reach new tables with remarkable new games.
- Everyone at the office got more comfortable in their roles, which led to fewer project delays and more time to focus on work.
2014: The High Points
We released over a dozen new Munchkin titles through distribution, including two expansions for Munchkin Legends (which transitioned from mass market shelves to hobby shelves during the summer). Other wins for Munchkin in 2014 included:
As part of the Ogre Kickstarter project in 2012, we promised to launch a new edition of Car Wars. We took a great step forward by hiring Scott Haring, who many longtime fans will recognize as an autoduel master. (I've personally played the new edition and can report this is an incredible modernization of the original concept).
Scott also helped us prepare and launch Car Wars Classic, which sold out almost instantly. It's great to see there's love for the classic edition in today's world.
Other Great Things
- DeepSouthCon, a Southern regional SF convention, presented Steve with their Phoenix Award.
- We had a little too much fun with the Munchkin Imaginary Friend. Trust me, we get carried away with promotional items.
- Andrew was an Industry Guest of Honor at Gen Con, where he stunned audiences with his awful puns and quick wit.
- The Daily Illuminator turned 20!
- We added DC and Marvel to our advertising channels, allowing us to reach millions of new eyes. (Plus, seeing our ads in Batman comics makes 12-year-old me giggle in delight.)
- We completed – and shipped – new editions of Knightmare Chess and Tile Chess, and both are beautiful. The plastic playing pieces for Tile Chess were a dramatic upgrade over the original edition's thin cardstock, and merging both Knightmare Chess games into a single box made for an attractive chess variant we're proud to see being played in stores.
Miranda Horner, who joined us in 2013 and has been an amazing source of talent and calm, was promoted to Managing Editor and proceeded to kick our deadlines into submission.
Sam Mitschke continued to help in so many different parts of the business (including taking the Mars Attacks dice game from notes to a finished release) that we promoted him to Chief Operating Officer.
Steve rewarded my own years of service as COO with the only fitting punishment: a promotion to Chief Executive Officer. Let's keep my failures in this role (see the date of this report) to ourselves, okay?
Ehhhhh . . .
These were places where we wanted a win and didn't quite get one, or where success and failures were mixed.
Web Store Struggles
As Steve reported in the 2013 report, our online store, Warehouse 23, saw a massive overhaul early in 2014. It's better, but we still see ways to improve the store's performance and overall appearance. We continue to work at it as we have time.
Even though our GURPS team produced several electronic titles in PDF for online sale, including monthly issues of Pyramid, we published zero new GURPS books in 2014. This was not the fault of our GURPS development team, just the result of some hard choices about the best ways to allocate limited resources of time and money.
By the end of 2014, we had exactly one departmental budget for 2015: A marketing budget was prepared and approved. All other departments went without formal budgets, and as in earlier years we got by on experience, financially conservative practices, and some unquantifiable degree of luck. We are finding more and more that this is not a sustainable practice if we intend to continue growing the business.
- Completing (or, more accurately, failing to complete) the Ogre Kickstarter commitments is an emotional and mental drain that hangs over many of us. Future Kickstarter projects will be focused and promise far less, so that we do not devote energy to long-term tasks that draw our attention away from new endeavors.
- We still have too many partially done, nearly done, and never-gonna-happen projects clogging our system. Limited game development time means that the majority of our development assets go to assisting Steve and Andrew with completing Munchkin products. We need to find a better way to complete other games without sacrificing Munchkin support.
- Personally, I relied on Steve's assistance with day-to-day management of the company more than should have been necessary. Our goal is to free more of Steve's time to work on games, playtest games, and enjoy life. Sam's promotion, Miranda's assistance, and the continued support of other senior staff – especially Ross and Andrew – will allow me to nag Steve less often in the future.
State of the Industry
2014 was another up year for the tabletop game industry, with ICv2 reporting sales of $880 million. The big news for the year included:
Shared Goals and Partners
The game business is a network, and the healthier it is, the better for all of us. SJ Games continues to value, and rely on, its hobby-industry partners. These include:
- the hobby game retailers, who provide gamers with space to play our games;
- PSI, our fulfillment agent for most distributor sales;
- Surge, our licensing agent;
- the many overseas publishers who are translating Munchkin and other games;
- the domestic publishers who are licensing characters or mechanics from our games, especially Munchkin;
- Adventure Retail, which represents us at San Diego Comic Con, Gen Con, and other major conventions;
- the convention organizers who showcase our work, and the dedicated hobbyists who serve as Men in Black to demonstrate our games at retail stores and conventions;
- GPI, which does most of our manufacturing;
- and the publishers, small and large, who distribute their digital products through Warehouse 23.
Priorities: 2014 Report Card
We set four priorities for 2014:
- Keep most of the core Munchkin sets, plus Zombie Dice, in print. To control our own inventory and the retailers', we will let some of the slower-moving core sets go out of print for a few months at a time. Done very well. Not perfect, but Andrew and Ross have this very well in-hand.
- Ship a lot of new Munchkin releases in a variety of formats. Done and then some! On our side we released the Munchkin Messenger Bag, Munchkin Legends Deluxe, the Munchkin Halloween Pack, a few tuckbox expansions, new Munchkin boosters, and a variety of other goodies. Our licensees created several T-shirts, Munchkin Panic, Munchkin Loot Letter, and a vinyl toy. (The comic book from Boom! also got a lot of attention; the first issue shipped in January of 2015.)
- Debug Warehouse 23 and work on other site improvements. Eh. The worst of the bugs have been eliminated, but overall our web presence is weak and needs serious attention. Our store isn't performing as well as we would have liked, even after the consolidation and upgrades, while our main website – over 20 years old – needs a dramatic overhaul to replace legacy code and modernize the entire design and architecture. Its last major update was over a decade ago; most corporate websites refresh every couple of years or so.
- Meet our remaining Kickstarter commitments for Ogre support. That includes serious progress on Car Wars. Great progress on Car Wars (and we sold through the first printing of Car Wars Classic in less than a week!). We continue to move forward on the remaining Ogre projects.
Priorities for 2015
Here is what we decided to do in 2015. This was written in early January. Since the year is almost over, I'll report how we've done so far this year in parentheses after each one.
NOTE: In previous years our first priority has been to keep our core games – the Munchkin line and Zombie Dice – in print. Because of the work Andrew and Ross have put into watching inventory levels, we believe that we have this under control and no longer have to actively make keeping these in stock a company priority.
- Give Steve all of the time he needs to work on completely new game ideas and, maybe, finish some older games that have been in need of a serious stretch of "Steve's working on games now" time. If resting and vacation happen around (or, at times, instead of) game design, then that's fantastic! (I'm calling this one a failure. Steve has been in the office frequently throughout 2015, and many times he has been asked to help with deadline crunches and last-minute editing.)
- Support Munchkin by improving direct communications to everyone involved in the game: fans, retailers, distributors, and Munchkin licensees.
(Another failure. We brought back Alain Dawson this summer to assist with licensee communications, and that is going well, but our engagement with fans, distributors, and retailers has not measurably improved. In general I feel our 2015 marketing efforts were weak and disorganized, but I believe we are making changes to at least achieve a passing grade in 2016.)
- Licensees: Increase the number of calls and meetings with each partner, and possibly group meetings to explore crossover opportunities.
- Distributors: Find time to better support Ross with materials and, where necessary, increase frequency of communications between our Austin offices and each distributors' sales staff.
- Retailers: Improve our monthly retailer-focused newsletter, create more in-store promotional materials, and devote more of Randy's time to direct calls to retailers.
- Fans: Be more responsive to questions through Twitter, Facebook, and our forums, and launch a Munchkin email newsletter before the end of the year.
- Continue supporting Munchkin by releasing at least one new Munchkin core set, two to three new tuckbox expansions, and bringing some hard-to-find cards back into print in a new package. (A partial success here. Munchkin Hidden Treasures brought back some very tough-to-find cards, but failure to properly promote the expansion has caused troubles. We released Munchkin Oz at Target and Star Munchkin 3 through the regular hobby channels, but most of our focus this year was on boosters, not larger products. USAopoly has taken up some of that slack, but we should be doing better.)
- Provide GURPS players with new support in the form of two new hardcovers (one, GURPS Discworld, you know of; the other is still a secret) and by reprinting GURPS Characters and GURPS Campaigns early enough that the supply is uninterrupted. PDF support will, of course, continue. (A total failure, and not the fault of our GURPS team. The failure here is one of marketing and sales; right now, we cannot profitably bring the two new hardcovers to print. We are exploring options.)
- Continue Ogre and Car Wars work as best we can without Steve's full-time involvement in either. This includes publishing one support product for Car Wars Classic as development work continues on Car Wars Sixth Edition. Set the stage for CW6e to launch in 2016 . . . the 35th anniversary of the game! (Partial success, mostly failure. Many of the Ogre commitments remain unfinished and some have seen no significant work at all. Scott has made strong progress on the new edition of Car Wars and I believe we will see the project launched in 2016.)
Everything else is a non-priority, something to do if the priorities are under control.
As 2015 comes to a close (again, please don't remind me how late I am with this report), we're already hard at work on games that will ship in mid-2016. The first quarter projects are completed and at print, and we're planning announcements for new Munchkin games, something new for Ogre, and the new edition of Car Wars. As always, please watch the Daily Illuminator for our latest news and feel free to provide feedback through Facebook, Twitter, or our forums.
Thank you, everyone, for your continued support.
– Phil Reed
|Top 40 Products by Dollar Volume|
|3.||Zombie Dice||23.||Munchkin 7 – Cheat With Both Hands|
|4.||Munchkin Zombies||24.||Munchkin 8 – Half Horse, Will Travel|
|5.||Munchkin Legends||25.||Munchkin Treasure Hunt|
|6.||Munchkin Mass Market||26.||Munchkin Apocalypse 2 – Sheep Impact|
|7.||Munchkin 2 – Unnatural Axe||27.||Munchkin 6 – Demented Dungeons|
|8.||Munchkin Pathfinder||28.||Munchkin Bites!|
|9.||Munchkin Apocalypse||29.||Munchkin Messenger Bag|
|10.||Munchkin Quest||30.||Munchkin Level Playing Field|
|11.||Star Munchkin||31.||Munchkin Zombies 2 – Armed and Dangerous|
|12.||Munchkin 3 – Clerical Errors||32.||Zombie Dice 3 – School Bus|
|13.||Munchkin Cthulhu||33.||Mars Attacks: The Dice Game|
|14.||Munchkin Legends Deluxe||34.||Munchkin Fu|
|15.||Munchkin 4 – The Need for Steed||35.||The Good, the Bad, and the Munchkin|
|16.||Munchkin Zombies Deluxe||36.||Munchkin Game Changers|
|17.||Munchkin Booty||37.||Munchkin Tuckbox Display|
|18.||Zombie Dice Deluxe||38.||Chez Geek: House Party Edition|
|19.||Munchkin 5 – De-Ranged||39.||Munchkin Holidazed|
|20.||Munchkin Pathfinder Deluxe||40.||Munchkin Apocalypse – Mars Attacks!|
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