Steve Smith runs Wargame Vault. I’m sure most wargamers have browsed the Wargame Vault website if not made a purchase or two or five or ten.. For those who don’t know Wargame Vault it’s rather unusual for a wargame online store. They deal mainly with rulebooks for miniature wargames or print old classic wargames long out of print in their original boxed format. Take the classic Upfront, a game many consider the greatest board wargame ever released. The actual game can be bought in separate parts, so the games card sets are separate purchases as is the rulebook which can be bought in either a PDF version or printed. I purchased Upfront from them myself but at the time the rulebook was PDF only, however recently they have released a printed version which I jumped at. The best way for you to understand how they work is to go visit the website yourself. Whilst there I’m sure you’ll find something that takes your fancy. So with that in mind in another expertly carried out covert operation we managed to kidnap Steve Smith, take him to a secure location and start out interrogation!
The following is a transcript of our "chat" with Mr Smith, recorded on our special ACME interrogation recording device.
First we will fire a round of quick fire questions at you…what the wires..lie detector of course.. Pardon…funny that last one sat there said there was no need for all this aswell, but we will be the judge of that!! Now remember no lies..oh and we have ways of making your talk!!
Name? Steve Smith
Current whereabouts? Northern Indiana, USA
Favourite TV program? Archer
Favourite Music genre? Metal/Rock
Favourite band\musician? Many! Metallica, Judas Priest, Queensryche to Static X and 5 Finger Death Punch!
Favourite Film? Dune
Favourite period of history? WWII
Favourite Superhero? Deadpool
Favourite colour? Blue
Favourite animal? Dogs
Lucky number? 26
Spitfire or P51? P51
Panther or T34? Panther
BF 109 or FW 190? FW 190
Patton or Rommel? Patton
Interesting, very interesting. Now be good, answer the questions and all will go well!
What was your profession pre Wargame Vault and what year did you start up the business?
Well, like many folks in the wargame business I have a day job as well as a job in the hobby. I know most wargamers think us guys in the wargame business live like rock stars, but sadly it's not true! I am a machinist in my day job.
As mentioned in the introduction Wargame Vault is pretty unique in the way it runs compared to other wargame shops on the net. I’d love to know what sparked the initial idea and how you went about setting it all up to become the successful business it is today. So could you give us a run down on how you came by the initial idea and then turned that idea into a viable business, including the highs and lows of the process and if there were any hurdles you had to overcome?
Well, it actually wasn't my idea, I just fell into it! Wargame Vault is actually an offshoot of DriveThruRPG/RPGNow. These sites were owned by and run by several guys including Steve Weick, Mike Todd and James Mathe. They had been successfully running digital download sites since 2001 for RPG rules and such, way before downloading anything was cool. As time went on they were getting more and more wargaming material loaded up, and being mainly RPG/Larp folks they weren't familiar with the material, manufacturers or the unique genre that wargaming is.
At the time (2007) Sean Patrick Fannon was employed as Publisher Relations for RPGNow. Sean and I had worked together for GAMA running the GAMA Trade Show and the Origins Game Convention, and he knew that I had been into wargaming for many years. So, when they decided that they needed a separate site for Wargame downloads they needed someone who knew the ground, and Sean brought up my name. They offered me the job and I took it! Nine years later it's still the best job I've ever had.
Starting out was a bit rough at first, selling wargame authors and publishers on the idea of selling games without printing them! We acquired Mongoose's Wargame Downloads website at the launch and gained a good number of titles, and when we kept sending out royalties checks to publishers every month others began to take notice. Also, downloading content became more commonplace, even among grognards! Our goal has always been to have every wargame ever made to be available on our site, so I just kept bugging authors and publishers thru emails and at shows and conventions and we eventually became the largest digital wargame publisher on the net.
If someone was thinking about starting up an online wargame store what advice would you give and is there anything they really need to watch out for?
Do you have any pointers that might set them in the right direction? I would say get the best IT/Technical people you can. If your site doesn't work right nobody will use it. We have been very fortunate in having some great folks on staff writing code for us and fixing technical issues, guys like Mike Todd, Chuck Childers and others who really know what they're doing. Also, customer service is incredibly important, as is knowing what you're selling.
My introduction was a rather poor attempt to explain how Wargame Vault works. So what’s best is if you could explain what Wargame Vault does and how it works including who can use it and what the costs and terms are etc?
How we work is really very simple. Authors and publishers make an account and upload their titles to their "storefront" on our site. They can use about any format they like, but PDF works best. They can also set up titles to be printed on demand and sent to customers anywhere in the world thru our print houses in the U.S. and U.K.
We can handle about anything, books, cards, cardstock terrain and minis, board games, 3-D printing files, audio books, PC games, etc. The authors set their own prices and margin and what they choose to offer on the site. There are no out-of-pocket costs, as we engage in revenue sharing. We only make money if a title sells. When a title sells the publisher gets 70% or 65% depending on whether they are an exclusive digital publisher with us or not. We get the remainder.
We handle the storefront, site upkeep, digital storage, security watermarking on pdf's, real-time bookkeeping, tax forms, limited advertising, printing and shipping for printed titles and royalty payout thru Paypal or check. We also can digitize products for folks who have a hard copy but not a digital copy of a work, which is great for long out of print titles made before electronic means were available. We pretty much handle everything except the actual creation of the title.
How does your service work for the publishers?
Probably the best part of our service for publishers is the ease of use. Once titles are loaded they really just need to cash out thru Paypal! For publishers and authors that use our print service, they do away with minimum orders thru traditional printers, no warehousing, no shipping and no cost to sell their products. Customers place their order, we print it and ship it, the author gets paid royalties. Simple!
Where are you based?
We are truly a "virtual" office. I'm in Indiana, our servers and tech folks are in Georgia, Florida and I don't know all where, our Publisher Relations folks are in Illinois, Wisconsin, Georgia, the boss lives in Canada! We all work from home, wherever that may be. I've worked with some people for almost a decade and never actually met them. Publishing has changed over the years!
What formats do you support?
pdf, jpg, epub, mobi, html, stl, audio, video, print
How do you pay royalties?
We pay royalties by Paypal that can be cashed out at any time or at the end of the month automatically, or by check at the end of the month.
What options do publishers and authors have on our site?
Publishers can be as active as they wish. They can spruce up their storefronts in any number of ways, run sales, update rule sets, load new ones, remove others, advertise on the site using our virtual currency, or use us for crowd-funding fulfilments. Or not. They are in control of how they want to use our service and offer their products.
What’s been the most popular rule set\product you’ve sold?
We've had lots of great selling publishers. Rottenlead has sold well, Ivan at Nordic Weasel cranks out great stuff all the time, Admiralty Trilogy Group, Amarillo Design Bureau, Dave Graffam Models, Ganesha Games, MicroMark Army Lists, Mongoose, Steel Dreadnought Games, Osprey and many others have sold very well. But likely the best seller recently has been the one you mentioned earlier, the previously out of print Avalon Hill game Up Front and it's expansions released by Wizards of the Coast. We will continue to try to bring back old AH products in print format as we are able.
What era is the most popular?
From WWII to the present has been the most popular, but then there are a lot of WWII games out there too!
What era is the least?
The War of Jenkin's Ear doesn't sell particularly well.
Do you have a favourite rule set? If so which one is it and what makes it stand out for you?
I don't really have a favorite, I'll play anything!
What’s your favourite era to game?
WWII and ancients.
Do you play digital wargames? If so any favourites?
Rarely play digital games, but I have played a bit of Hegemony which I think is a great game.
As some will already know it’s not just Wargame Vault but you also have DriveThruRPG as well. DriveThruRPG runs exactly the same way. So if you enjoy your RPG’s as well then there’s double the reason to go check out the website!
And not just the RPG sites! We do have DriveThruRPG and RPGNow, but also DriveThruCards, DriveThruFiction, DriveThruComics, and DNDClassics. If it's gaming or Geek related we want to offer it!
You’ve been very cooperative! I see a very successful future for you!
Thank you for the opportunity, and I wish the same for you!
[Bob, tell me that’s not sirens…well what is it then…what!..you said it wasn’t sirens…aaarrghh..Steve we shall contact you soon about recruitment into our organisation..but first we have to run..Bob..run Bob run!!] (sounds of someone running into something, loud clattering sounds, faint cursing..tape ends)