The Art of the Buffer (KS Lesson #259)

17 December 2018 | 18 Comments

Throughout my time running Stonemaier Games, I’ve really come to appreciate the utility of buffers. Having a padded budget or schedule has saved me a number of times. And when things go well–like recently when Wingspan arrived at our warehouse in early December–it’s reassuring to know that sometimes things go as planned.

I’ve talked about the buffer on a few different posts, but I’ve never focused an article solely on this topic. So I asked Petter Schanke Olsen, creator of two Kickstarter projects, to write about the topic. Thank you, Petter!


One of my golden rules as a Kickstarter creator is to be cautious and careful in all aspects of the journey. That rule is active all the way from the moment the game idea pops into my head and to the game is in the hands of the backers.

There are so many things that can go wrong in the process and most likely something will go wrong during a project. And when it does, it’s my job to be prepared. One of my best weapons in project planning is the buffer.

For example, when I try to estimate the delivery date for my board game projects, I always add lots of buffer time. For my latest project, Donning the Purple, I added one month of buffer for each stage of the project. When the game funded at the end of this March, I sent this project timeline to my backers.

  • APRIL: Receive funds from KS and finalize print files.
  • MAY: Send files to manufacturer. Make adjustments.
  • JUNE: Back and forth with the manufacturer.
  • AUGUST: Production Start
  • SEPTEMBER: Production finished
  • NOVEMBER: Bulk shipping to fulfillment centers
  • DECEMBER: Bulk shipping to fulfillment centers
  • FEBRUARY: Fulfillment starts
  • MARCH: Fulfillment ends.

As you can see, there are a lot of buffers here. So many campaigns these days deliver too late and I did not want to be part of that statistic.

Luckily the production process went pretty smoothly and no big problems appeared. Most of my backers received their games by the end of November, and fulfillment will be completely done in December. That means the project delivered 6-7 months earlier than estimated, depending on where the backers live in the world.

Buffers are also useful in my budgets. I have lots of buffers in my budget. Almost in every post. At least 10%.

  • I always budget with higher production costs than the factory quote.
  • When I estimate the currency exchange I always budget with an exchange rate that is way worse than it is today.
  • I always expect to receive less money than I actually do. The percentage of dropped pledges can vary quite a bit on each project and a distributor might not buy your games after all.

Doing that helps creators like me be prepared for for unexpected things like Brexit and trade tariffs.

As a creator, I hope to under promise and over deliver. I have been able to do that on both of my projects so far. My backers seem to be pretty happy with the results, so I’m glad I had buffers in place to increase my chances of achieving that goal.


When Petter and I were talking about this topic, we mainly focused on schedule and budget buffers. But I’m sure there are others that creators can implement, so I’d love to hear your examples in the comments. And thanks to Petter for writing this!

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18 Comments on “The Art of the Buffer (KS Lesson #259)

    1. Jamey, thanks for this blog. I’ve been trying to build a spreadsheet to accurately assess costs (to then build a buffer around). I’ve just teased out all (I hope) the line items I need to consider (from your blog and Gabe Barrett’s Kickstarter book and the quotes I’ve received from manufacturers, fulfillment partners, insurers and safety testing, etc. including “burn rate” and other non-production costs). I’m hoping to get this spreadsheet with formulas completed and share it freely. I have 2 questions: 1) do you know if a spreadsheet like this exists and I missed it? 2) If not, I do plan to send it around for “testing” by existing publishers before posting publicly. Would you be interested in being a tester?

      FWIW, currently, when I plug my own numbers in, the spreadsheet proves that any money to be made is from a second run of my game. And, even then, the money to be made there is hardly enough to cover business start up costs, R&D materials, marketing and time, let alone any salary or benefits for 2 co-designers.

      Having this view has made me rapidly reconsider the “upgrades” I’d hoped to include in our first game, and to be realistic about scale and how much to risk on this endeavor.

      Thanks for the help this far via your openness.

      1. Lori: Thanks for asking about this. I’m sure there are other spreadsheets like this out there–you might find something in the comments of my Funding Goal article, and you might want to post in some of the tabletop game publisher Facebook groups to see. Feel free to send me a link to the Google Spreadsheet at when it’s getting close and I’ll see if any revisions jump out.

        1. Hi Jamey, thanks for your quick reply. I figured there was a spreadsheet out there… but haven’t found one (despite looking for a while)! I’m going to do what you suggest (before I recreate the wheel!) and if I don’t find one, I’ll perfect and email you the one I have. Thanks again!! -Lori

          1. Thanks, Jamey! Your nudge in the right direction led me to this resource for a business’s financial planning – a YouTube video that shows a spreadsheet which includes business “burn rate” cost considerations as well as Kickstarter goals and costs:
            Hope others find it helpful as well.

  1. I love the idea of “under promise and over deliver.” That seems to be an ongoing theme on this blog and something to keep in mind whether it’s game design, stretch goals or simply connecting with your audience!

  2. Hello all. New here but have really enjoyed it and learned a lot, and continue to. I have done two small KS’s that funded but still have much to learn. I am reminded of the old saying “The more I learn, the dumber I feel”!
    Moving on, I think buffers are important in any business, not just crowdfunding/gaming. My still full time job is in sales and marketing at a chemical plant. We often set up the trucks for our customers. These would be the “18 wheelers” that haul from 5000-6000 gal of material. Freight charges can change day to day, up or down but usually up. Often the time from taking the order to setting up a truck can be a week or more.

    Also, you can have other unexpected problems, truck can’t make pick up on time, delays in off loading that cause demerge charges, etc, etc, etc. The point is I agree because, well, life happens. So I would tell anyone, regardless of what business they are in, running or starting, always put in some “fat”! Hope to be more helpful with comments in the future! Happy gaming all!

  3. Hello all. I am new to the blog. I am a new game designer and still have much to learn. In fact I often think of the old saying “The more I learn, the dumber I feel!”. I have done two small KS projects that funded but from what I am learning here I have no doubt that if I had read Jamey’s book(I am now) and read this blog

  4. Oh yeah, buffers have saved us so many times. It seems to be the most useful on schedules for artistic endeavors like illustrations and video production. Those seem to always take way longer than expected.

    I would say that the newer you are to being a creator, the more buffers you should use. The longer you do it, the less surprises there will be.

  5. Honestly wish we’d have had more of a buffer. Despite doing over $1 million in pre-orders, we’ll only just be breaking even after metal price hikes, Trump tariffs and shipping mishaps. Lessons learned for next time for sure.

  6. Backer buffers, that is copies of game. Though that is a negative one, be prepared for 350 backers and a minimum print run of 500-1000 rather than a typical 3000. So get quotes for the least you can print, there are times a quote varies for more than 1000-2000-3000 units, aim for the 500s.

    Interesting topic today :)

    1. Well said, Harry–I’m glad you brought that up. There’s also the flip side, which is if you have 1000 backers for a deluxe version, you need more than 1000 copies to account for units that get lost or damaged.

      1. It varies, a deluxe edition could mean laminated box, UV spot letters (I think it is called that), heavier cardboard, OR just some minis and metal coins/wooden components. In the latter the factory prepares same stuff and fills in according to demand, but in the first one, there 2 different productions. So a whole new logistics to be considered.

  7. Buffers are super important! Even if they are internal buffers like with a publisher and designer. My first game I will be publishing I told the designer when I signed it in December that we should be able to do the KS in October, I did not account for me switching jobs and moving cities which really cut into about 2 months worth of being able to work on the game.

    Then development not going as smoothly as I imagined and getting hung up on the games scoring for about 3 months which delayed me getting all the KS page stuff going as this was a vital part of the game which I finally solved mid-October.

    So now we set our sites on a January launch, then my day job has gotten extremely busy causing me to work 50-60 hours some weeks and then combine that with all of the holidays and that means I haven’t gotten a much done.

    So now we are probably looking at a March KS, which because of all of this have set back the development on the other 2 games that I have signed.

    Buffers, buffers, buffers. Even if they are internal.

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