Patrick Leder is an emerging leader in an upticking board game industry that is largely overlooked amid the glare of electronic gaming.
Leder, 44, is also an IT refugee.
In 2016, Leder resigned from his data business analyst job at Macalester College. He had other things on his mind.
“There was an understanding and I quit my day job,” Leder recalled last week. “I wasn’t into it anymore. They knew that and thought I should get going. I wanted to publish board games.”
And things are going pretty well.
Leder Games, based in St. Paul’s Midway, expects revenue approaching $7 million this year from popular games Leder financed with several million bucks raised on Kickstarter.
Leder this month raised more than $1 million from supporters on the crowdfunding platform, the latest of several offerings, to support production-and-distribution of what appears to be the latest hit: Oath.
Conceived and developed since 2018, Oath is a game about generational power struggles.
That was preceded by growing commercial successes, including Vast: the Crystal Caverns, about knights and dragons; and Root, which won the 2018 Golden Geek Board Game of the Year.
“The board game industry is booming,” said Stephen Charles McArthur, a Los Angeles attorney who represents board game clients, including Leder. “Patrick Leder has caught lightning in a bottle. The games he announces are routinely crowdfunded for $1 million from eager fans.
“Entertainment companies and video game companies have been eager to negotiate deals with Patrick to license his board game intellectual property for various forms of media and entertainment other than tabletop.”
The St. Paul office of Leder Games is a jumble of dice, poker chips, colored cubes, miniature figures, maps and cards, my colleague Richard Chin wrote last year for a feature on the Twin Cities board game industry.
“When we’re in a hot development stage here, we can play a game three or four times a day for weeks,” said Cole Wehrle, a game designer and developer.
Vast and Root, the most popular games to date, share a common theme, McArthur said: “They have the artwork and themes of a game that may be considered cute and playful, but their game mechanics are viciously competitive.”
Leder is an irreverent, open-minded, brainy guy who earned degrees in English and psychology at Hamline University. He was studying for a third major in four years, in computer science, when he took his first IT job, at Hamline. He later did accounting and other software work for small businesses before he joined Macalester for a 10-year run in 2005.
Leder started noodling with board games in 2001 in his free time. During a period of unemployment in the early 2000s, he started designing a prototype.
“My brother once said that whatever you find yourself doing after three or four months of unemployment is what you should do for the rest of your life,” Leder recalled. “But I had to find another job. I hadn’t developed the right skills yet and my salesmanship skills were horrible.”
At age 9, Leder moved from California with his family to Owatonna. In the winter, he played board games.
And 35 years later, 12,000-plus Kickstarter supporters would pledge an implied average of nearly $90 to get an original copy of Oath. Kickstarter can be a lucrative way to finance a business. Leder has to concede about 9% of the $1.06 million for credit card fees and Kickstarter’s cut. About $350,000 goes toward final design of the game, printing and shipping. That leaves about $600,000 to reinvest in “people, salary and benefits.”
Leder makes a lot less per game when distributed by a wholesaler and sold through a retailer.
“Kickstarter is such a good marketing tool and it’s better for me to sell direct. I have to sell four or five games through a distributor to make as much as one I sell through Kickstarter. And getting the money up front diminishes our risk.”
Nicole Cutler, operations manager at Pandasaurus Games in Austin, Texas, another center of the industry, said: “In an industry that’s typically driven by the cult of the new, most publishers … release half a dozen or more games each year. Leder Games has found incredible success with a business model that focuses on bigger splashes with fewer releases.
“While this is an inherently riskier approach … their titles, such as Root, are often considered some of the most anticipated games of the year. I’m looking forward to seeing what Leder Games continue to bring to the table for years to come.”
The Leder model also has enabled Patrick Leder to eschew the contract-worker model of many game companies in favor of building his own team of well-paid employees with good benefits.
He recently wrote a public memo to the Leder crew thanking people, by name, for doing a great job while he was on paternity leave for a couple of months.
“We try to own as much of our commercial and creative infrastructure as possible and to create sustainable jobs,” he wrote. “Each individual here is expected to own the work they do and we are all enfranchised in each other’s success. The Oath campaign offered a test of the strength of the model.’’
Leder has an aspiration to continue to be a great creative, productive shop and a good employer.
“My dream is to continue to build out to 15 employees and to release two large hobby games a year, and one smaller game,” Leder said. “I think we’re going to be $7 million in sales this year. That’s sustainable.”
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at nstanthony@startribune.Com.