ChipWIN-tern Spotlight: Battle of the Bits

- Posted April 6th, 2016 by

If there’s one thing all of us at the blog stand for, it’s making sure that the chiptune community stays healthy and happy and continues to grow.

And baked goods. We stand for a happy, healthy, growing community and baked goods.

And dank memes. …alright look, so among the things we stand for are a happy, healthy, growing community, baked goods and dank memes. [Hoodie’s note: and beer. Don’t forget beer. Beer > memes tbh.] But while we share a lot about the last few, sometimes we neglect to take the time to report on happenings going on in and around the greater chip community outside of our general purview (i.e. outside of ChipWIN in general, as damn, there’s a lot going on there as is!).

And thus I’d like to take a moment to chat with you about Battle of the Bits.

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Battle of the Bits is another fantastic chipmusic community that has been around for over a decade – it’s a place where chipartists and fans can come together and submit their work in regular competition aka “battles” against others. It is all at once an MMO, a series of music compilations, and a place to showcase your work and obtain regular feedback. It’s really cool place!

On that note, BotB’s creator, Langel Bookbinder AKA Baron Knoxbury/b-knox, recently unveiled a Kickstarter to better allow him the time to implement various updates, upgrades and new features to their community, something he’s wanted to do for quite sometime now.

To get a bit more information on both the BotB Kickstarter and community, check out the brief, yet informative conversation that I was fortunate enough to have with the Baron about it all!


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Langel Bookbinder AKA Baron Knoxbury/b-knox

Adam: I know in your Kickstarter video you go into the origins of the website itself, but how did you come up with the idea of turning the whole demo party-styled sample contest and turn that into an RPG?

b-knox: My buddy Mike Blank was doing the local events about twice a year. When the website was first conceived it was built to match the criteria for his type of battle: 25 samples and 48 hours. But I added the ability for participants to submit copyright-free samples and let everyone vote on them. For the RPG elements, well, it just seemed a like no brainer. A battle already has game mechanics and I knew if I was participating with a system that a growing profile would make me more likely to be invested in my account. There was also a lot of inspiration pulled from my negative experiences with chiptune battles in the early 2000’s. They usually took place in forums where I didn’t know anyone and felt very disposable as the compo (battle) files usually disappeared from their hosts making broken links in the forum threads. BotB was mostly built with my own use in mind. We didn’t really start to gain internet strangers until we did Winter Chip I. Adding a multi-format chiptune battle really increased signups and participation. I had no idea I would still be running BotB almost 11 years later which makes me so glad that the RPG elements exist. The old school BotBrs have really set a precedent for content and activity through their display of points and levels achieved.

Adam: Battle of the Bits is arguably one of the most successful chiptune communities around, having both preceded and/or outlasted several online chip communities. Why do you think that BotB has had such staying power?

b-knox: There’s a few reasons why I think BotB has attained such staying power. I have to admit, when 8bitcollective appeared I was totally flabbergasted. BotB had been doing it’s thing for a few years and BOOM this chiptune site pops up with a huge user base. It was a very early decision of mine that content could only be generated by battles. The common first question asked by a new BotBr is “where do I upload my music?” This restraint, however, has been, I think, a godsend. If anyone is truly invested in a battle that means they will listen and vote on all the tracks. So not only does this cut down on the space used by the system, it also helps regular users keep up with said content. While I agree that augmenting a forum engine to support media uploads and likes of those uploads is very accessible, the forefront is a forum after all and musicians have huge personalities that can sometimes clash. I don’t want to get into drama of other communities, but I think keeping things as transparent as possible is very important. If someone is doing something hacky because they’re a dumb kid it’s best to reach out to them personally and be like, “Hey, this is my hobby in my spare time and you are causing a buttload of work for me.”

Honestly, BotB’s long term success is mostly due to me never giving up on it. There’s definitely been times where I was so challenged by individuals that I didn’t even want to be there, but that all passes eventually as the quality of music and the compassion of the community keeps me engaged. Running BotB is its own reward regardless if my tracks place well or not.

Adam: I know you’ve said that the early meetups were all local affairs and then you eventually transitioned to the internet, but have you ever tried hosting IRL BotB meetups since you made the switch to cyberspace?

b-knox: There have been many, many conversations about an IRL meetup. Basically, any location that is picked is unfair to the majority of BotBrs. While I am very open to this concept, I am not a promoter. I think that a BotB festival could conceptually be successful, but I’m rather introverted and if the anxiety levied by the Kickstarter is any indication, I wouldn’t even be able to enjoy myself. Regardless, it’s always awesome to meet anyone interested in BotB whether it’s a TXchip show in Austin or 8static in Phili or Blip/LWLVL in NYC. A lot of BotBrs are teenagers too which further complicates things. We have had a few events in Detroit over the past several years, but the majority of the folks in attendance are long term friends and not BotBrs. Renting some conference space in some middle city sounds like an idea, but there is a lot of overhead, planning, and unsureness. That energy might be better used making the website better instead. Any promoters out there want to prove me wrong?

Adam: Final question – in the unfortunate event that the Kickstarter does not go through, aside from having to go jobhunting and probably cut back on the homemade tacos for every meal, what are your backup plans? Would you do an Indiegogo with the same rewards so that the people who want to give you money still can and you’ll hit whatever level of funding you can? Would you consider a Patreon, maybe with various backer levels getting to submit battles? Would you maybe even consider doing some of the physical rewards as separately purchasable items that people could preorder?

b-knox: Yes, it’s true, the Kickstarter is not looking too healthy.  As I type this we have just 6 days left and less than 50% raised of the funding goal [Adam’s note – the campaign currently sits with three days and just over half of the goal].  In the event of it’s success, I have planned to supplant my income with a Patreon, but if I’m forced to go back to work that would probably create a mixed bag of it being financially unnecessary, not having time to fulfill promises, and feeling douchey about it as some kind of status symbol.  Indiegogo as a followup would require some aggressive encouragement.  After the countless hours crossing I’s and dotting T’s, endless anxiety for many weeks and losing sleep, I am left wondering if I could put myself through it all again.  Of course it would be easier; most of the groundwork is already laid.  Also, the focus would be on the NES music compilation cartridge.  I had been planning on doing the Kickstarter since last November when my job disappeared.  The cart was kind of a secondary thought, but I soon realized the goal would have been nearly impossible without it.  Special thanks to Batsly Adams for suggesting it and offering his services!

From my experience, I would say physical merch is a risky business.  I’m still sitting on over 200 copies of the BotB 7″ records and over 500 copies of my old band, Counter Cosby, CDs; both of which were manufactured about 9 years ago.  I’d love for BotB to have multiple 12″ vinyl releases, but it’s quite an investment and a gamble.  I am also personally quite averse to CDs themselves, but a limited edition cassette run would be cool.  I’ve received some flak for my t-shirt design so I’m already planning to have a t-shirt design battle and run a teespring campaign with the winner.  That way no one can complain, there’s no residual merch to maintain, and I may find myself in need of some economical assistance before I find employment again.

I would like to thank you for your inquiry into all this business.  I could probably prattle on for a novella’s worth of text about Battle of the Bits.  Regardless of whatever happens, I will be taking a stab at renovating the battle engine.  It’s something I have wanted to do for years.  Butt first! I am going to finish and drop a couple albums on b-knox.bandcamp.com this month! Thank you again and have a mighty, mighty day!


So there you have it! If you’ve got some money to spare, feel free to throw it at the Battle of the Bits! After all, the only way to keep a scene alive is to support the people going out of their way to make it a better place, and if this isn’t one of those instances I don’t know what is!

Battle of the Bits:
battleofthebits.org
 | KickstarterBandcampTwitter | Facebook | YouTube 

b-knox:
b-knox.comBandcamp | Facebook

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