Thursday, 28 February 2013

Indie Dev Insight: Streaming Colour

When I first got interested in writing games abut 18 months a go my first choice for inspiration was to hit Twitter. Like the internet if you don't really know what you are looking for the choices, options and information overload is overwhelming.

Soon though you get drawn to those who repeatedly have something useful to say on regular occasions and have an affinity to on your development.  Owen Goss is one of those who I started following in the early days.  I don't recall why specifically but I think it was the fact that a number of people I was following were all following him.

Owen formed Streaming Colour  in 2008 for the purposes of creating fun, non-violent, and creative video games. Prior to founding Streaming Colour, Owen worked in the console games industry for 5 years at such companies as Electronic Arts Canada and Propaganda Games, developing for platforms like the PSP, Xbox 360 and PS3. In 2008 Owen decided to head out on his own and form his own company with the goal of making the kinds of games that he enjoys playing the most.

Most recently he launched the perplexing yet highly addictive game Finger Tied for iPad. Recently he took some time out to share his thoughts on a few of my questions.

What got you into writing games?

I've been programming since my early teens, but I grew up in an artistic household. I really wanted a career that would allow me to combine my love of art with my love of programming. Game development provides daily challenges at the intersection of art and technology. I love it.

More specifically, at university I got a degree in computer science and then got a job building enterprise Flash websites after graduation. A couple of years working there gave me the experience to get a job as a lead programmer at EA in 2004 building game UIs in Flash. I worked on console games for 4.5 years as a lead UI programmer and senior gameplay programmer. I left the console industry in 2008 and I've been doing the indie thing ever since.

What's good and bad about what you do?

The good: doing a job that I love; being my own boss; creating something out of nothing; getting to make whatever I want; and being part of an amazing indie community.

The bad: slogging through the parts of making games that are both really hard and aren't fun; dealing with self-doubt when you're working on something by yourself over long periods of time; and dealing with all the parts of running a business that isn't making games.

How many people are involved in writing games at Streaming Colour.  What roles do they take on?

Streaming Colour is just me. On most of my games I've been responsible for: game design, programming, art, sound design, project management, PR, marketing, accounting, and anything else that comes up. Though for some games I've hired an artist and/or sound designer. The one thing I always have someone else do is the music. However, I'm currently collaborating on a game with Matt Rix, creator of Trainyard, and this collaborative process is proving to be a lot of fun.

What would you do differently now given what you know from projects completed and experience from the gaming and app market?

With every project you try to learn from your mistakes. One of the biggest challenges in the app market is that it's constantly changing. But in general: try to keep the games small and stay agile. Look for the fun quickly and build on that. Worry less about more features, but instead concentrate on nailing the core of the game. Get feedback from people who can be honest with you earlier than you think you should. Don't build your own engine/tools when an existing engine/tool will do the job.

What tools do you use.  By this I mean software development kits/engines (Cocos2d, Corona, Unity3D etc), audio packages, art packages.

I've used a lot of different tools and engines since I started 4.5 years ago. I'll try to list the ones I've used more than a few times.


  • custom OpenGL-based engine
  • cocos2d
  • cocos2d-x
  • Unity + Futile


  • Xcode
  • MonoDevelop
  • Photoshop
  • Inkscape
  • TexturePacker
  • Audacity
  • Garage Band
  • Blender
  • Git
  • A notebook and pen
  • twitter

(I only part kid about adding twitter to my list of tools. The community I've met through twitter has been invaluable over the past 4.5 years.)

What made you choose these tools over others?

Mostly familiarity and efficiency of use, but also price. I try to choose the tool that is going to allow me to complete the job as efficiently as possible. Sometimes this means paying for software, but sometimes, you get lucky and the best tool is also cheap/free.

What marketing tactics do you employ?  Forums, twitter, paid PR etc

I've had little success with running my own forums, as its hard to keep spam out. I've never paid for PR, but many swear by good PR firms.

Build relationships with your fans and players. Engage with your players where the players hang out (e.g. TouchArcade forums, etc). Keep making games and finding ways to let your fans know about it. More Games pages, twitter Facebook, mailing lists, websites. Build relationships with the press so they know who you are and what your games are. Go to conferences and meet people face to face. If you have a big enough game and timeline, show at PAX and other gaming events.

Marketing is just as hard as making your game. You need to be thinking about it and acting on it all throughout the process of making your game. If you're done your game and are just starting to thinking about marketing, you waited too long. All that said, this is an area where I've made a lot of mistakes and I'm still learning a lot about how to successfully market my games.

What effect do you think free to play has had upon your game design?

Honestly, I'm not sure yet, but it's something I've been thinking about more and more.

What resources do you swear by for learning new techniques, getting more from the packages you mentioned above, news etc.  e.g Books (specific titles would be appreciated), forums / websites, social media

Many of the tools I use, I learned at jobs before going indie. For things I'm learning for the first time, I like books for some things (e.g. learning a new programming language, math, physics theory), but for others I like forums, online tutorials, and digital documentation (e.g. I've been learning to model in Blender almost exclusively by watching youtube videos and reading their online docs). Having a circle of friends who are smarter than you is also a great way to learn.

There has been a lot in the press recently that app development is going through a gold rush and that the bubble will burst soon.  Do you see it like this?

The app market feels a lot to me like the .com boom felt in the late 90's. It felt at the time like you could do no wrong. All you had to do was create a website and get rich. People seem to have the same feeling about apps: I just need to make an app and I'll get rich. Those of us who have been making apps for a few years know that this isn't the case. Yes, some people are making a lot of money, but most of us, by working hard, are slowly finding a way to eek out a living. My hope is that we'll see more people approaching app/games development as a sustainable way of making a living. Not shooting for instant riches, but trying to build a catalogue of quality apps/games that garner attention and earns their developers a living.

Do you think app games will eventually kill off AAA titles as we know them?

No. I think there will always be room for the Big video games; the blockbuster, mega-budget games. But I think they will be less dominant. People are gaming more and more on the go. Once everyone considers themselves someone who plays games, I think Big games will just become another market in the larger games market.

What does 2013 have in store for Streaming Colour?

Right now I'm working on a new game with Matt Rix (the details are still secret at this point). After that, even more games!

Any additional advice you would give for up and coming indie developers?

Making a living making games is not easy. It will be hard. Sometimes you will hate the game you're making. Sometimes you will want to quit. But, if you really love making games, you will find a way to keep going. I believe the key to long-term success is persistence. Those who eventually find success are the ones who kept going; who kept learning from their mistakes; who kept improving. Sometimes this will mean taking on contract gigs or getting a job to pay your bills. But if you love it enough, you will keep at it.

Download Finger Tied for iPad   If you don't know Finger Tied is a multi-touch puzzle game, only for the iPad. In each Finger Tied puzzle, fill in a shape by moving up to four fingers around on your iPad at the same time. But be careful, lift a finger, or go out of bounds, and it's game over. Finger Tied will test your mental, as well as your finger abilities!


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