Tangent: Kambanchi and Buystarter

So in an effort to try and become more organized and structured in my game design life, I’ve recently started using Google Keep as my web homepage, encouraging me to finally keep to-do lists and such. While I’ve theoretically had a to-do list as a recurring Outlook reminder, and Outlook has a great Task functionality, a recent spate of listening to the Board Game Design Lab podcasts (fantastic website and series, btw!) encouraged me to not only do this, but to use a psychology trick in the process: putting lots of small, almost effortless tasks on the list, so tackling the occasional big object feels like a continuation of my momentum rather than trying to roll the boulder up the hill from scratch.


It is sooo much easier to complete the last task on a list of 20, then to complete that task all by itself. True story.

Outlook’s Task functionality is nice, but it auto-hides completed tasks, and in any case I tend to default back to my browser homepage, which used to be my typically-empty Gmail inbox. Now, however, I have a task list facing me, and it’s increasingly easy to tackle a given item on the list rather than looking for the list and then restarting that momentum after a possible-extensive search.

The Joy of Kambanchi

In addition to that, I’ve also started using Kambanchi, a plugin for Google Drive that combines Keep, to-do lists, and if you shell out $10/month for it, the ability to convert your to-do list into Gantt charts.


See this cool thing? This cost an extra $120/year…

Needless to say, I can’t afford the Gantt chart functionality, but I’m also not currently feeling like I’m in a pressing-enough place to make such a thing a necessity. Maybe way the heck down the road, but not today at least.

However, that said, the rest of the functionality is a fantastic organizer, and I’ve already begun chunking some of my current projects into it:


“But what are Hornguard and The Fifth Cataclysm?” I hear you say? More details next week!

Anyhow, enough with that, and moving onto my thoughts regarding the idea of a Buystarter campaign.

Buystarter: An Introduction

In a nutshell, a Buystarter game is one that when you buy the game upon release, you get full access to all future iterations of the game. The more people who buy the game, the more funds are collected and used to improve the game, but the cost of the game also increases for future backers as well. At its core, Buystarter behaves like Patreon and Kickstarter had a baby, and it was adopted by Drive-Thru RPG.

To the best of my knowledge, only three games or game products have used Buystarter thus far: Under the Waterless Sea and The Price of Evil, both by author Zzarchov Kowolski, and Burlesque House Siege by Kiel Chenier. Needless to say, information is a bit scarce on the ground, even with Zzarchov’s quick guide to good Buystarter campaign practices.

Instead, I’m going to touch on what I see as the good, bad, and ugly of the advantages/disadvantages of running a Buystarter versus a Kickstarter, as seen by an outside observer.

Buystarters: The Good

Firstoff, the low and immediate payoff to a potential investor. For Kickstarters, you get your product at the end of the campaign at the earliest, but often it can be months or even years (*cough*KingdomDeath*cough*) before the product arrives on your doorstop or in your inbox. Here, the product is available immediately, and it also rolls into the benefit of consistent Kickstarter updates to backers, in that updates in this case literally improve the product as well.

Another bonus is the lower pressure the above provides. While you probably always want to improve your product, if it only sells a minuscule handful of copies, you won’t be facing a “1% Funded” Kickstarter value that would drive away potential backers, and the premise of Buystarter comes with the understanding that if it’s not highly purchased, it won’t be highly worked-on either.

Above is an image of a Kickstarter backer expressing their frustration with the game designer

Lastly, the revenue stream is more like traditional sales, rather than the feast-or-famine of Kickstarters. This has its downsides, of course, but it means sales are relatively predictable, instead of trying to judge future print runs or future interest based on a set of backers that might evaporate come your next campaign. There are ways to avoid backer attrition, of course, but the point still remains. It also means the funding doesn’t have a thirty-day window your sales need to occur within, and while this will result in the loss of that “Oh man, what a bargain!” impulse-buy you get in the final 48 hours of most Kickstarters, the gradual price increases to a Buystarter should presumably have a similar effect.

Buystarters: The Bad

A reversal to the first point in the above section, a Buystarter means your product needs to be done immediately upon release. While this isn’t as harsh as it sounds at first, as every piece of Kickstarter advice I can find for board games says to have the game done (and reviewed by reviewers) before you even hit go on the Kickstarter, it does mean you can’t toss up a loose idea, or something that’s buggy or problematic in its execution. The mechanics need to be sound, and you probably need some degree of art within, even if it’s not as much or as polished as you hoped for.

Another downside is the nature of Buystarter updating the core product is that it can’t be a physical product. This isn’t too bad of a hurdle, but it does mean that a Buystarter can’t (or probably can’t, at least) ship waves of new or updated models with each funding goal hit. However, now that I mention it, I do wonder if a Buystarter that has 3D-printable models might be an option, as the insane successes of various 3D terrain Kickstarters shows a market is clearly present…

Finally, one huge drawback is the money. While you generally get a healthy chortle if you say you expect to become a millionaire by making tabletop games, a Kickstarter offers a flush of money all at once to fund a game, while Buystarter will see those funds trickle in over weeks or months or even years.

Buystarters: The Ugly

There’s no two ways to hash this: Buystarter has no website, and is more of an informal gentleman’s agreement rather than a true website with specific policies it enforces. There’s no slick website, no streamlined forms to fill out with backing levels, none of that. The other downside is that because you’re hosting it on your own website or in the howling sea of other products that is Drive-Thru RPG, it’s going to be very rough getting attention and interest. While these are the core reasons for the low monetary returns as mentioned above, it also means you will be fighting an uphill battle all the way when trying to build a player community. For some games that need continual player interest, this can be a deathblow.

However, I think I might have a possible solution to the ugly problem above:

Buystarter: The Kickstarter!

“Kids love it!”

So, this is going to rely on using/exploiting a feature I occasionally see used on Kickstarters:

Early-bird pledges.

Jamey Stegmaier has a great post about these guys, but I think those apply more for a “The game costs $10, but buy it now for $8!” type of deals. Instead, we’re going to use Kickstarter and pledge-tier limits in order to achieve a Buystarter campaign effect.

So let’s say we have a starting cost to publish the game of $500, including Kickstarter cuts and all of that. We set the lowest pledge level to $1 (the “I want to see where this goes!” level, with no rewards other than a thank-you credit usually), and then the second-lowest to $10, for a full copy of the game including all stretch goals and such. This means we need 50 backers to both get 100% funded (important, because oftentimes this is what makes the difference for someone browsing the sea of board games on Kickstarter in deciding to click on our fictional campaign). That means the second $10 tier is locked to 50 people.

However, once we get funded, the first “stretch goal” applies, adding art or somesuch. The content isn’t as important for this idea as the goal value: An increase in cost is set in stone (ie, the new art will cost $600), and the next tier of backers, tier 3, cost $15 per person. $600/15=40, so the next tier caps out at 40 people.

Rinse and repeat, trying to avoid stretching them too far apart, until you hit the final end tier of $40, with no # cap. From that point forward, further stretch goals become structured like normal Kickstarter ones, but the really low funding goal to hit to start with means you can achieve a buystarter effect using Kickstarter, while benefiting from the publicity and high traffic on Kickstarter.

The first of the two primary downsides here is the risk of not getting those 50 backers, but that goal and backer # can be shifted downwards, within reason. You might piss people off if you make it low enough that you and your immediate family pitching in gets it funded, but 50 or so would probably be fine.

The other primary drawback is the expectation from Kickstarter of having a completed product to give to folks. However, the advantage of this model is that you can release the base product to everyone, the essentially tier-2 product, but then you can update said PDF product as you increase. I don’t think posting it simultaneously on Drive-Thru RPG is a viable option until you get all the content in it that the highest-level backers would have, and then from that point forward it goes to normal Buystarter model of more content once enough funding is hit.

Closing Thoughts

I think I’m going to use this setup for The Fifth Cataclysm: Mistgore, since it hits all of the goals I wanted to achieve via Patreon and Kickstarter, but would have had difficulty with barring a complete and super-polished/expensive starting product to woo people in.

There’s still a long, long ways to go before Fifth Cataclysm is ready for Buystarter via Kickstarter, but I have high hopes for what this model will be able to achieve. Let me know in the comments and reblogs below what you think of this model idea!

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