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 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 2019, we had 29 full-time staff and contractors, plus a few 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 (Warehouse 23, our online store, has been online for two decades) – both physical products and digital downloads.
2019 was another year of keeping up with deadlines and balancing the need to print against the need to not be overstocked. Our small team managed to release over two dozen new print products in 2019, as well as a lot of reprints. On top of that, a good chunk of our creative staff was focused on Car Wars Sixth Edition for a lot of the year, a game we will not officially ship to distributors until the Car Wars 40th anniversary in 2021.
Gross income was roughly $4.4 million, down a little less than one million from 2018. Our cautious approach to the market and our print runs meant more out-of-stock times for our top-selling titles, which had a negative impact on overall revenue. Fortunately, our caution also helped us when it came to inventory levels, so we managed to show a small profit for the year.
Predicting the current market is proving to be a serious challenge. For some titles, where we were conservative in our print runs – such as Deadly Doodles and several different Munchkin reprints – we didn't have enough inventory to cover demand, which meant we left money on the table. The danger with a quick reprint is that by the time the next printing reaches the warehouse – which could take anywhere from three to five months – there's a chance that the demand has vanished, especially in a market flooded with new titles every week, and then we're stuck with inventory. We'll try to forecast demand better this year, but we will continue to err on the side of caution.
Generating over $450,000 in funding in 2018 (between the Kickstarter campaign and BackerKit survey), The Fantasy Trip Legacy Edition shipped in March of 2019, and we released the game to distributors later in the spring. The finished product turned out great, and many of the project backers were stunned at the size and value of the completed package.
We continued supporting The Fantasy Trip in 2019 with four Kickstarter campaigns: Adventures, Hexagram #1, Decks of Destiny, and Hexagram #3. All four of these have shipped to backers, and the Decks of Destiny box set was just as massive and incredible as the Legacy Edition game.
The Fantasy Trip has been a success for us. We will continue to support the game with new releases in 2020.
Our top-selling game line had another fabulous year, with new core sets, several expansions, and even two crowdfunding campaigns. Here are a few of the year's highlights:
Munchkin Warhammer 40,000: We first announced this collaboration in 2018. We shipped the core game to distributors early in 2019 . . . and then immediately ordered the first reprint! We published two expansions and two accessories in 2019 and this line did so well that we have another expansion reaching stores later this year. We also negotiated with our partners at Games Workshop for a companion line, Munchkin Warhammer Age of Sigmar, with the base game coming out last October, followed by expansions and accessories throughout 2020.
Munchkin 6 – Double Dungeons: To simplify the base fantasy Munchkin line, we collapsed the previous Munchkin 6 and Munchkin 6.5 expansions into a single box, the same size and price as the other numbered Munchkin expansions. This should make it easier for retailers to display this expansion and for gamers to track down the core releases.
Munchkin Mini-Expansions: A Kickstarter campaign to create new 30-card expansions for Munchkin Cthulhu, Munchkin Zombies, and Star Munchkin was a great success. All three of the expansions are shipping to distributors early this year.
In 2019, we successfully shifted a greater percentage of our efforts to crowdfunding. Our campaigns in 2019 generated over $1,000,000 in funding across all platforms and accounts, an increase of roughly 30% over 2018. Best of all, that number does not include the $600,000+ that backers pledged to the Car Wars Sixth Edition campaign on Kickstarter that launched in 2019 and closed in 2020!
We closed a total of 12 crowdfunding campaigns in 2019, across three different accounts (Steve Jackson Games Kickstarter, Warehouse 23 Kickstarter, and Steve Jackson Games Indiegogo). So far:
Seven of the Warehouse 23 Kickstarter projects have been delivered (or are being delivered now) to project supporters.
One Warehouse 23 Kickstarter project is on the boat and expected in the warehouse in early March.
All three Steve Jackson Games Kickstarter projects have been delivered (or are being delivered now) to backers.
When it comes to crowdfunding, we still have one significant weakness that requires attention: international fulfillment. We're a small company, with limited resources, and we continue to investigate options for shipping rewards outside the United States that reduce the cost to backers and give us more control as games move from our hands to yours. We've made improvements in this area, but we would very much like to get even better at delivering international rewards.
We will continue to make crowdfunding an important part of our operations in 2020. With that in mind, our three crowdfunding accounts (and the purpose for each) are:
Steve Jackson Games on Kickstarter, where we run projects that we plan to eventually take into distribution.
Steve Jackson Games on Indiegogo, where we run Ogre campaigns that are not scheduled for distribution release.
Illuminati. The game continues to be a strong seller, and the new edition (released in 2018) was reprinted in 2019. Watch for the first expansion to the new edition later this year!
Deadly Doodles. Our top-selling new release at Gen Con last year, this family-friendly dungeon-scrawling game features the art of Katie Cook and has already been reprinted. The expansion, Deadly Doodles 2, was successfully crowdfunded in 2019 and is set for distribution release in June.
Dice. After several years of saying "we should make dice," we made dice! We reprinted Bullet Dice earlier this year, and we have expanded our dice offerings with an assortment of new dice bags. The dice bags were created after requests from retailers; we went with high-quality bags that are satin-lined, double-stitched, and able to hold over 100 assorted dice each.
FnordCon. We've wanted to run our own convention for several years, and we finally took the leap in 2019 with FnordCon in Austin. The show was a success and gave us the chance to show new games – Car Wars Sixth Edition got a lot of play – as well as meet fans and support some of our classic titles with table time. It was so much fun that we're doing it again, and you're invited!
Munchkin Quacked Quest. The new digital Munchkin-themed game from Asmodée Digital was launched in November. We're very happy with the game the team has developed, and so far the gameplay, art, and humor are getting great reviews.
These were places where we wanted a win and didn't quite get one, or where success and failure were mixed.
Pocket Box Project. Generating over $350,000 in revenue (between the Kickstarter campaign and BackerKit survey), this project started our year off strong. Unfortunately, despite the tests we ran the previous year, the actual scanning and cleanup work needed to prepare three dozen reprint titles took far more time than we expected. The project was three months late shipping out to backers, which is frustrating for the supporters and a drain on our team. The next time we tackle a retro reprint project, we'll allow ourselves more time for the behind-the-scenes work to prepare the material for manufacturing.
Dungeon Fantasy Magic Items 2. We brought the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game back into print in 2019, thanks to the support of GURPS fans and Kickstarter, and we tried an experiment where we produced a new book that was not offered to those outside of the United States. The first stage went well: we ran a short Kickstarter campaign and delivered the printed books to backers within weeks of the close of the campaign. The second stage, making the book available to the world as a part of the GURPS On Demand program, ran into some snags and took longer to clean up than we expected. We think we now know how to manage this and we're currently trying with another new GURPS book, the Dungeon Fantasy Companion 2.
Munchkin Pathfinder 3 fulfillment, direct from Hong Kong. (The expansion is excellent and not a failure. It's the fulfillment experiment that failed.) We continue to experiment with ways to improve our use of the Kickstarter platform. Last year, we ran a short campaign for a new Munchkin Pathfinder expansion and planned to ship all of the new titles produced direct to backers from Hong Kong, cutting weeks off the delivery time. We saved some time, yes, but not enough to make the expense worth the effort.
International Kickstarter fulfillment. Wow, shipping items can be a real nightmare at times. Kickstarter is a significant part of the market (see State of the Industry, below) and we have been looking for ways to improve our fulfillment to supporters outside the United States. Everything we try leads to headaches on our side, frustrates the project supporters, and is very expensive. We haven't given up yet, but there may come a day where we simply cannot offer physical rewards to those outside the United States. This is NOT because we don't want to ship to those of you outside the U.S., because we very much do, but expensive and lengthy shipping is a reality of today's world. We welcome emails from anyone who has successfully navigated this nightmare and wishes to share their secrets with us.
Our creative staff continues to work hard, producing new games and expansions that are the most important part of our business. Our production department gets a special mention here for their efforts; they are often asked to complete projects quickly and they manage to maintain the quality we demand while delivering their work on (or ahead!) of schedule. Of particular note is Sabrina Gonzalez, our production manager, who personally checks 99% of the printer samples and works long hours making sure everything is as close to perfect as it can be.
Our business office, under the guidance of Lisa Villaire, is in better shape than ever. Lisa joined us in 2018 and has become an invaluable member of the team. As an example of "the game industry is a small club," Lisa came our way thanks to a recommendation from our friends at Cryptozoic. Thank you, Crypto, for helping us to add someone who has made such dramatic changes – for the better! – to our operations.
For now, our staff is lean and we're looking to keep things that way. We prefer to produce fewer games and stay small in today's market. At times, some of our team are asked to pitch in on tasks outside of their department, everyone is always ready to help the others as best they can.
Just when you think "the onslaught of games has to be slowing," you find yourself buried under the next wave. There have never been so many great games available at once. We're living in a golden age for boardgame fans; no one has a shortage of options when it comes to the question of "What should we play next?"
Kickstarter is a major force in the market. We knew that, especially when we look at how many hot sellers today started as Kickstarter campaigns. The Kickstarter team released numbers last year showing that backers pledged over $900 million in the first decade of the site's existence, and 2018 was a record-breaking year. Not surprisingly, Kickstarter's games category grew in 2019. They report over 1,000,000 users supported game projects on their site last year.
Funko acquired Forrest-Pruzan Creative, the studio responsible for several games, including Disney Villainous and Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, and entered the strategy-game market late in the year with Funkoverse.
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:
hobby-game retailers, who provide gamers with space to meet each other and play our games;
PSI, our fulfillment agent for most distributor sales;
Surge, our licensing agent, and our licensing partners;
the many overseas publishers who are translating Munchkin and other games;
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.
Complete and deliver all Kickstarter projects, as close to on schedule as we can manage, while maintaining clear and constant communication with the project backers. One of our largest Kickstarters this year, the Pocket Box campaign, is moving forward quickly because of what we've done here and what the factory is doing on their end: scanning and preparing all of the titles for manufacturing. It's incredibly hard, time-consuming work and they're doing an amazing job. Mixed success. Many of the projects were delivered to U.S. backers on schedule or even ahead of schedule, but international fulfillment continues to be a struggle. Additionally, the Pocket Box project was late. It was bigger and more complicated than we expected, but we did keep in constant communication with the backers so that they knew about the delays and how we were resolving the issues. If it's a choice between getting it on time and getting it right, we'll always choose to get it right – but both would be better!
Bring the Munchkin Warhammer 40,000 game and expansions to retail release on schedule and support the line with new promos, events, and convention demos. A success! The game shipped, the two expansions and two accessories were released on schedule, and the game did very well in the market. It is proving difficult to keep it in stock, but we're working on keeping the reprints flowing.
Continue to improve on our Kickstarter efforts by successfully launching Car Wars Sixth Edition (which is still moving forward), support for The Fantasy Trip with new adventures and expansions, some small Munchkin projects, new coins, a second GURPS project (following the first of the year, Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2, that is now up for preorder on BackerKit), as well as some other ideas that we're not yet ready to reveal. Very much a success! The Car Wars Sixth Edition campaign was launched before the end of the year (and closed in January). We didn't run a second coins campaign in 2019, but we did produce the Cthulhu Coins and released them on Warehouse 23. We even managed to run a second GURPS campaign following the success of the Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2 project.
While our performance on the 2019 priorities was mixed, we were successful overall and we certainly learned a lot from the areas where we weren't as on top of things as we would have liked. With that in mind, we're setting only three priorities for this year:
Complete and deliver Car Wars Sixth Edition. The Kickstarter campaign was a success, and now it is our job to build on that success by delivering the completed project on schedule. Sam, Randy, Sabrina, Gabby, and Ben are carrying the greatest amount of the load, and everything is still on track. We will post regular updates to the Kickstarter page throughout the year; that way, backers are kept informed of our progress and we can minimize any surprises that may pop up.
Support Munchkin. After more than 18 years, this is still our top-selling game and the line that demands the most attention. We plan to release two new core sets in 2020, one of which is already at print, as well as more expansions for Munchkin Warhammer 40,000 and Munchkin Warhammer Age of Sigmar and some other surprises later this year. We also plan to run at least two Kickstarter campaigns for Munchkin in 2020; we just have to find the bandwidth to make these happen.
Support The Fantasy Trip. Steve shared a status report on the line at thefantasytrip.game last month, and his report is your best roadmap to our 2020 plans for The Fantasy Trip. This year, we'll aim for as many Kickstarter campaigns for the game as we ran in 2019 (four), though each will be a smaller project – nothing the size of the Legacy Edition or Decks of Destiny. Instead, this will be a year of new books and fewer counters, cards, playmats, and other accessories.
2020 marks the 40th anniversary of Steve Jackson Games, making it the perfect year for projects like the Pocket Box and Car Wars Sixth Edition to reach our long-time fans. As part of the celebration of forty years, we're also planning to keep GURPS support humming along, as well as to start preparing for 2021 and the 20th anniversary of our top-selling game line, Munchkin!
|Top 40 Products by Dollar Volume|
|1.||Munchkin Deluxe||21.||Munchkin Steampunk Deluxe|
|2.||Munchkin Warhammer 40,000||22.||GURPS Basic Set: Characters|
|4.||The Fantasy Trip: I Want It All Box||24.||Deadly Doodles|
|5.||The Fantasy Trip Legacy Edition||25.||Illuminati Coins|
|6.||Zombie Dice||26.||Conspiracy Theory|
|7.||Ogre Battlefields||27.||Wood or Wood Not?|
|8.||Munchkin 2 – Unnatural Axe||28.||Munchkin 9 - Jurassic Snark|
|9.||Munchkin Steampunk: Girl Genius||29.||Munchkin 5 – De-Ranged|
|10.||Munchkin Warhammer Age of Sigmar||30.||Munchkin Cthulhu|
|11.||Munchkin Warhammer 40,000: Faith and Firepower||31.||Munchkin 6 - Double Dungeons|
|12.||Munchkin 3 – Clerical Errors||32.||Munchkin Unicorns and Friends|
|13.||The Fantasy Trip Adventures||33.||Ogre Playmat M4|
|14.||Munchkin Warhammer 40,000: Savagery and Sorcery||34.||Star Munchkin|
|15.||Illuminati Second Edition||35.||Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 2|
|16.||Munchkin 4 – The Need For Steed||36.||Munchkin 7 – Cheat With Both Hands|
|17.||Munchkin Mass Market Edition||37.||SPANC|
|18.||Dungeon Fantasy RPG Box Set||38.||The Fantasy Trip: Melee & Wizard Pocket Box|
|19.||The Good, The Bad, and the Munchkin (Complete Edition)||39.||Munchkin Warhammer 40,000 Retail Kit|
|20.||Zombie Dice Horde Edition||40.||Ogre Battle Box|