A few inappropriate blogs from his past and some recent tweets have brought a lot of internet hate down on the founder of Stonemaier Games. He sat down with Going Analog and really opened up about everything that's happened.
The man behind Stonemaier Games didn’t have all the answers for our interview -- at least not right away. You might even say he was confused at times. Not by our questions. Not by the recent wave of internet backlash he’s received. But by some of his own past actions as we asked him to reflect upon them.
For a time, Jamey Stegmaier could do no wrong. (Yes, “Stegmaier” founded “Stonemaier.”) He created Scythe, which raised over $1.8 million on Kickstarter. He has four games in BoardGameGeek’s top 300, including two in the top 25 (Scythe is #11 as of this writing). He blogs and vlogs, actively and unselfishly promoting other designers’ (and potentially competing) products. He even made a free print-and-play game to help people connect during these quarantine times.
But “wrong” is all the core tabletop gaming community seems to associate with Stegmaier these days. Some public missteps and old personal blog posts are currently haunting him (more details in the interview below). That likely only a small portion of his overall, more mainstream customer base is even aware of the recent drama seems to provide no comfort to the industry veteran.
Below is our interview with Stegmaier, transcribed from a video call, to better understand what all happened, where things went wrong, and, not necessarily every “why,” but at least how he feels about everything now.
Note: We edited the interview for clarity, and the footnote at the bottom of the article provides all disclosures on our professional relationship with Stonemaier Games.
GOING ANALOG: You sure seem to be stepping in it a lot lately. As of now, when we're talking here on August 10, which way is “Jamey Stegmaier” stock trending?
Jamey Stegmaier: That's a good question. I would say...my perception of public perception of me right now is very low. Down -- the stock is trending down. Deservedly so.
GOING ANALOG: Let's start with some recent events on Twitter. You recently tweeted at Our Family Plays Games, a content creator, a reminder of when you'd like a review for your upcoming Pendulum game. It didn't go over well with those who were following along. [Editor's note: OFPG's review did go live after that Twitter exchange, in time for the game's pre-order campaign.]
Were you initially surprised by the reaction?
Okay! Though advance copy reviewers have been able to talk about the game since July 29, as the preorder starts tomorrow. I think people would have been interested to hear your thoughts leading up to the preorder so they could make an informed decision.— Stonemaier Games (@stonemaiergames) August 4, 2020
Stegmaier: Yes, I was. I sent the tweet...I think on an evening. I didn't think much would come of it at all. And then I woke up to a very strongly negative reaction to that tweet.
GOING ANALOG: You list out embargoes for content creators. But clearly you have business goals and would like reviews to go out before a certain time, which you don’t really state upfront for these reviewers. How would you normally strike this balance between letting independent content creators do their own thing versus what you need in terms of your pre-orders or sales needs?
Stegmaier: I think we should talk about this in two different respects...maybe talk about advanced review copies, because I consider those different from ongoing review copies, which we send out all the time on an ongoing basis.
For advanced review copies, we get around 10 or 12 copies, air-mailed from our manufacturer in China. And for those copies, the intent is to have content creators post their unbiased opinions and playthrough videos -- whatever content they want to post -- in a timely fashion. [This way] people who want to pre-order the game can have some information to base that buying decision on.
There is no deadline for those advanced copy reviewers, but I send out an invitation. I say, hey, I have these copies; this is the intent behind them. If you'd like to participate, let me know, and I will send you one of these copies.
Bad form— Hunter Shelburne (@WGTabletop) August 5, 2020
GOING ANALOG: But your tweet at Our Family Plays Games sounded like a strongly worded hint, like, “Hey, by the way, it'd be great if you can have your review out at this time.” You subsequently apologized, but moving forward, how will you communicate your expectations for coverage with reviewers?
Stegmaier: I know two things. One, I know that I shouldn't have sent that tweet. I don't think it was an aggressively worded tweet...but I do think it was unnecessary. I don't think I should ever call out a reviewer for not posting content at all or on my schedule.
If a reviewer doesn't post content -- like, if I send out a review copy and the reviewer never posts a review of it -- at most, I should maybe just not send something to that reviewer again in the future.
[My] email doesn't put a lot of pressure on those advanced copy reviewers, but I don't love the idea that one of the 10 advanced copies that I could send out could go to a reviewer who simply doesn't do anything with it. That could have gone to a reviewer who would have done something with it to benefit both us and our audience, and also benefit them.
Our advanced review copies get a lot of exposure for those reviewers. I often send them to smaller reviewers, and I'd love that exposure to be provided for a reviewer.
I find this extremely passive-aggressive comment terribly, terribly disappointing, Jamie :-(— Slivers (@Tykwinski) August 5, 2020
GOING ANALOG: Is part of the problem that you think a lot of your businessy thoughts out loud on Twitter, as opposed to keeping them to yourself or just having a direct conversation with the people involved?
Stegmaier: I do, yeah. I share [on social media] a lot of my thoughts about how I run Stonemaier Games. What I think about games. I talk a lot about game design, and I share a lot of my thoughts and questions and ponderings on the Stonemaier Games blog.
For this particular instance: It wasn't personal by any means, but there was a bit of an emotional side to it. Basically what happened in that Twitter thread is that Rodney Smith posted his Watch It Played video. And I saw that Our Family Plays Games replied to it with a tweet -- and this was on August 4th, like [one day] before the pre-order -- that sounded like they hadn't even played the game yet.
My emotional response was...I was dismayed a little bit. I was like, I sent you this game 45 days ago; I understand if you don't post about it on my timeline, but I'm surprised that you haven't even played it yet. I don't know that for sure.
The tweet sounded that way, but I should have just felt that dismay and not tweeted anything. As I said, I regret it, I shouldn't have said it, I feel really bad about it, and I'm sorry that I did it.
GOING ANALOG: With the benefit of hindsight, what would you have done differently?
Stegmaier: I wouldn't have said anything to them privately or publicly. And I probably wouldn't [send] them a review copy in the future -- or at least not an advance review copy.
GOING ANALOG: Speaking of thinking out loud, let's switch gears a little bit and talk about your personal blog. You wrote some stuff a while back that has come back to haunt you. For example, a couple of blogs were about what you find attractive in women, including some really superficial qualities. [Editor's note: Since these blogs were taken down, we did not feel it was appropriate to take other people's screenshots of them to share here. But we discuss some of the content below.]
You’ve recently stated that you were young and immature at the time, you’ve made mistakes, and you really don't think that way anymore. Do you remember writing these before they were recently dug up?
Stegmaier: I have written this blog for over 13 years on an almost daily basis about a variety of topics. And 13 years ago, I was what? I'm 39 now, so I was around 26, 27, 28 when I was starting to write it.
And I was dating a lot [back then]. I was not trying to date a lot, but I was going on a lot of dates, trying to find someone who I really would connect with. And during that dating process...I was thinking a lot about relationships and about women. And I wrote some of those thoughts on the blog. Honestly, I did not realize how misogynist many of those posts were.
I didn't think about those posts a lot. But if I had looked back, I would have been incredibly ashamed as I am now that I had those thoughts and decided that it was appropriate to write about them. But I did.
There weren't a lot of those posts. I would say there were maybe 10 such posts. And over the last couple years, whenever I've stumbled upon one of them, I've just been horrified by it. And I've often deleted them because I don't like that this side of myself existed.
GOING ANALOG: Why didn’t you delete all of them, then?
Stegmaier: [Long pause] Um...that's a great question. I don't know if I have a full answer to it.
I think part of it is that I saw this evolution. I saw it in a way as who I was when I was younger. And while I didn't like that side of myself, I kind of acknowledged, OK, that's who I was. This is buried somewhere on the internet. And at the time, I guess it didn't feel right to erase it. I don't know why. I probably should have.
I don't know if I have a great answer to that. I don't know. What would you have done if you had? Do you have any content from 10 to 15 years ago that you weren't proud of? And what do you do with that content?
GOING ANALOG: Nothing quite like that, that personal. If I'm not proud of it, it's because I've evolved as a writer or as a critic, and my ability to write has grown since then. But my content usually belongs to someone else, at the outlet I was working for -- a website or a magazine -- so it's not something I can just easily remove.
Take us through your thought process. Because you just said that you looked at some of these blogs, and you thought, well, this is a part of who I was. Then was it the recent public pressure that told you that you finally needed to remove this content?
Stegmaier: I think there needs to be a little bit of a clarification because I deleted maybe...five to six posts around this time last year. At the time I was having an interview, not unlike this one, with a content creator about a completely different topic. I don't want to say who it was because, well, I appreciate what they did.
At the end of the conversation, they said, “Jamey, I was stumbling around on your blog. And I happened to see a few posts that just surprised me. They don't seem like who I think you are today or who you seem to be today.” This was actually back in September or October last year before there was any public pressure at all.
At that time I went back and I looked at those posts. I don't think I deleted all of them but a few of them that I found. I mean, there are thousands of posts on my blog. That's part of it -- me just even being able to find these posts because most of them are about movies I like or books that I've read -- things like that. But I did find some of the posts then and removed them.
There is some truth in what you just said, that there has been [public pressure]. Some posts that have come to light more publicly, more recently. Some of them were posts that I didn't think about as being misogynist or sexist, which is not excusable either if they actually are misogynist and sexist.
And so when they were called out, I was like, oh, that's right. That's a post that I'm not glad is out there. I don't want that out there anymore.
The one post I think that got the most traction was one that was not just misogynist but also racially insensitive. It was a post about my Roomba vacuum, and it was a terrible post that I wrote seven years ago. That's another one that I deleted but that someone had taken a screenshot of and started posting about a month ago.
GOING ANALOG: Take us back into the head of young Jamey Stegmaier. Why did you write some of these things to begin with? What were you trying to achieve in letting the world know that you're drawn to women’s cleavage, for example?
Stegmaier: This sounds terrible to say now because I look back, and I'm like, this was not funny. This was never funny. But I thought at times I was being funny. I think a lot of it is poor attempts at juvenile humor.
And I think maybe part of it is the people who read my blog back then seemed to enjoy those types of posts. And so it kind of fed itself to a certain extent. Inexcusable but I think a lot of it stemmed from that.
GOING ANALOG: You recently hosted a guest post from Wingspan designer Elizabeth Hargrave that talks about inclusion and diversity. And you posted yourself some thoughts about Black Lives Matter along with an apology for a past blog.
What do you say to your critics who don't believe that you can change this much or who think that this is all PR and damage control?
Stegmaier: That's been one of the tougher parts...because it's somewhat difficult to convince a complete stranger that you are genuine or sincere in your desire to change. I don't know if I can do that. It feels a little helpless to do that.
I wrote a post called “Atonement” on my personal blog, and it wasn't a PR stunt by any means. I really felt bad about those things when I wrote that post. And I don't know how to convince someone otherwise. That's something that I've really struggled with. I don't know.
Part of it is because I don't know if I can convince anyone that I'd rather focus on actually just being a better person than trying to convince someone that I'm a better person. I think it's more important that I am actually a better person today than I was yesterday, a week ago, a month ago, seven years ago, and 10 years ago than it is for me to convince someone of that truth.
GOING ANALOG: When your fans start defending you, does it feel good or does it make things worse in a way?
Stegmaier: I don't want anyone to defend the indefensible. No, I wouldn't say I really feel good when that happens.
I would say the only thing that feels [bad] to me is if someone posts something that is objectively false or that leaves out important information. For example, when someone tweeted the screenshot of the blog post from 2013, they didn't post that it was a blog post from 2013.
I don't think it excuses the post, but I think the date is important there. So I appreciate when someone chimes into those threads and, not defend it, but says that was a post from 2013.
GOING ANALOG: Do you feel like you've become a bigger personality in the industry and thus drawing more attention than perhaps you're ready for?
Stegmaier: I've felt that way since the first day my company came into existence on Kickstarter. I've kind of stumbled through the last eight years...often making a mistake and learning from that mistake and then moving forward.
GOING ANALOG: If there's one thing you could change about all these recent events, what would that be?
Stegmaier: Just one thing? Do I have to boil it down to one thing?
GOING ANALOG: Well, it's up to you how you want to answer this. I can't stop you if you want to list multiple things.
Stegmaier: I mean, because there are divergent lessons here. One is the idea of really expressing how much I value and respect other content creators and reviewers in the industry. And I don't think some of my recent behavior did that. That's one side of it.
I think the whole other side of it is...I could say the lesson here is to not be misogynistic, but I learned that years ago, and I'm still learning every day to be less misogynistic and to treat women better and people better.
But that isn't a new lesson that I learned today [or from] being called out in public for something I wrote a long time ago or even from recent behaviors related to the Black Lives Matter movement. I don't know. This is not a one-thing answer, I guess. I've learned lots of little pockets or big pockets of different things related to various important topics.
[Editor’s note: Stegmaier emailed these comments to us after the interview was over]
The question that will perhaps leave me the most stumped was why I didn’t delete the handful of misogynistic older personal blog posts. I think perhaps one of the biggest reasons is that I simply don’t actively think about posts I wrote that long ago (or even just a few years ago). I looked at my blog post count after the interview, and I’ve written 2,945 blog personal posts over the last 13 years. I barely remember what I wrote a few months ago, much less years ago.
I think maybe another reason is that I look at my blog as a published version of my brain, an archive of thoughts. I rarely read old entries, but if I wanted to, I could go back in time and see what Jamey was thinking about in 2007. I may not like what I find, but I like having the option. I would wager that if most people could look back at everything they thought about 13 years ago (or 10, or 5), they might find some of those thoughts shameful and regrettable today. It doesn’t excuse those thoughts in any way, though, especially since I chose to share them with other people and to leave them on the internet for so long.
* Full disclosures: For our past video reviews series, Stonemaier provided us a media copy of Between Two Cities: Capitals and upgraded our pre-purchase of the retail edition of Scythe to the Collector’s Edition. Before this interview, Stonemaier invited us to partner up for a fall charity event, which we have accepted.