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Independent Video Game Developers

A simple interview presentation about independent video game developers that is presented in primary-sourced format.
by

Christopher Luong

on 29 September 2014

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Transcript of Independent Video Game Developers

Independent Video Game Developers
The Underground Society of The Video Game Industry
Written and Designed by Christopher Luong Created Tuesday, September 23, 2014
My Interviewee
Owen Goss
Owen Goss is an independent video game developer, designer, and the founder of his own company, Streaming Colour Studios; an independent video game development studio consisting of him only (A.K.A. a "one-man operation").
He is also the co-founder of Milkbag Games, which is another independent video game development studio like Streaming Colour Studios.
A few previous jobs he had were a software engineer at E.A. Canada, a senior programer at Propaganda Games, and a website developer at OnX Enterprise Solutions.
Owen Goss is also my interviewee and my main source of information for this presentation.
Company In Reference
Streaming Colour Studios
Location Of The Company
E.A. Canada
Map
Street-view
Streaming Colour Studios is a small independent video game development studio in Guelph, Ontario that develops non-violent, casual games targeted towards the mobile market. Independent video games (A.K.A. "Indie" games) are games made in groups of very few people and that don't rely on financial support from publishers. Many "Indie" developers also rely on the digital market, like mobile devices and Steam, in order to distribute their games. Streaming Colour Studios is fairly known for titles such as "Finger Tied", "Baby's Musical Hands", and "Monkeys in Space". This company will be our main company in reference for being an independent video game developer in this presentation.
Streaming Colour Studios is a video game studio that is based in the city of Guelph, Ontario. However, since Streaming Colour Studios isn't a large corporation like your typical, well-known video game developers and publishers, I wasn't able to find any visual representations of the exact location of the company. So I decided to show a visual map and the "street-view" of E.A. Canada, a large video game developer who Owen Goss previously worked for. E.A. Canada can be located in the city of Burnaby, British Columbia.
Personal Aspects of Independent Video Game Development
His Inspirations To Become An Independent Video Game Developer
What made you choose this career (Inspired by someone, childhood, etc.)?
"I’ve been interested in video games since my parents brought home a Commodore 64 when I was eight years old. I played games throughout my childhood, and when I was in my early teens I started to teach myself programming and started to write my own simple text-based games for fun. I’ve always had an interest in art, as well as math. I studied computer science in university, and it was there that I realized that games combined my love of art with my love of math and programming. At that point I knew I wanted to make games." - Owen Goss
Effects On Personal Life
How does your career affect your life (Both positive and negative aspects)?
"My career in games has taken me across the country. I moved to Vancouver to work at EA and Disney, then back to Toronto when I started Streaming Colour, and now I live in Guelph. I get to travel occasionally for conferences, which I enjoy. It’s a creatively fulfilling career that I enjoy very much.

That said, the games industry is known for “crunches” (long periods of overtime near the end of a project). I’ve done my fair share of hard crunches working for large companies, which is hard on you as a developer, but also on your family. And even though my job is very creative and fulfilling, there are also times when I struggle with self-doubt, which can affect other areas of my life. It is important to try to keep perspective." - Owen Goss
His Personal Opinions On His Own Career
Do you enjoy working at your job?
"I love my job and I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. Like any job, there are days where I don’t like it, but most of the time I’m extremely grateful to be able to be an independent game developer and make games every day." - Owen Goss
Is this your first choice for a career?
"Yes, I can’t imagine doing anything else now." - Owen Goss
A Primary-Sourced Interview Presentation
Family Matters
Does your job allow time for you to raise a family?
"I have been an independent game developer (“indie”) for over 6 years, and this does allow me to raise a family, because I make my own hours. However, being indie comes with financial challenges that can make raising a family difficult at times, but I have managed to make it work.

When I worked for large games companies, I found it hard to imagine how I would raise a family while working at those companies. Many people working there had children, but during crunch times they would often complain that they hadn’t seen their kids awake for weeks. I couldn’t imagine raising a child while working those kinds of hours, but some people seemed to make it work." - Owen Goss
Possibility Of Friends And Family In The Same Field
Do you know any friends and/or family who works in the same field as you?
"I don’t have any family who work in games, but I met many of the friends I have now through making games. So most of the friends I talk to frequently work in games." - Owen Goss
Past And Total Amount Of Experience In His Field Of Work
How long have you spent at this job (the amount of years you worked, your experience)?
"My first job was working EA in Burnaby, BC, and I started in January, 2004. I’ve been making games professionally for over 10 years. I have been working independently on my own games since July, 2008; over 6 years."- Owen Goss
Have you had any jobs similar to/the same like your current occupation?
"After graduating university I worked at a web company making Flash user interfaces for websites. That got me the experience to get a job at EA working as a lead UI programmer on their games. I worked my way onto a game team, where I worked as a gameplay programmer. I then left EA to work at a company called Propaganda Games in Vancouver (owned by Disney), where I worked as a lead UI programmer, then senior gameplay programmer. In 2008 I went indie and formed Streaming Colour Studios, which I still run. And in 2013 a friend of mine and I started a new indie studio called Milkbag Games." - Owen Goss
The Struggle (Part 1)
The Struggle (Part 2)
Did you make any "sacrifices" to earn this job?
"I sacrificed a lot of my own time when I worked my first job at EA. I did a lot of crunch time in the two years I was there, and at the time EA didn’t compensate for overtime hours (I don’t know if they do now or not).

When I left working for big companies to start my own company, that came with its own set of sacrifices, mostly financial. Not having a salary meant that we had to change the way we spent money for several years." - Owen Goss
What is the difficulty of earning this job (Was is it hard to earn this position of work)?
"I started in the games industry over 10 years ago. At the time, the only way most people got into the industry was through working for a large games company, and those jobs were hard to get. It took me a year and a half of applying to EA after graduating university before they gave me an interview. During that year and a half I worked for a web development company, and my experience building web user interfaces is what eventually got me that first job interview.

Now, there are many tools available to anyone who wants to make games. Many indie developers jump straight into making their own games without ever having worked for a larger company. This comes with its own set of challenges, but it means there are different opportunities now than when I was starting out. The biggest difficulty that comes from making indie games is a lack of financial security." - Owen Goss
Workplace Aspects of Independent Video Game Development
About Income (Part 1)
How income can I expect to earn in this field (per year, per hour,per week, etc.)?
"It depends a lot on the job you have, and where you want to work. If you want to work in the AAA console games industry (e.g. Halo, Call of Duty, etc), as a programmer, expect to make $50K-75K/year to start, then salaries often increase to over $100K/year with 6+ years of experience. As a designer, expect to make $40K-60K/year to start, then up to $75K with 6+ years experience. An industry website called Gamasutra runs an industry-wide salary survey, and you can find the complete results here for very detailed salary data: http://www.gamasutra.com/salarysurvey2014.pdf

According to the same survey, the average earnings for independent developers from selling games was about $11K last year. It is much more difficult to make a living as an independent developer, but it is possible. However, the rewards for a hit game, is also greater, though not very likely." - Owen Goss
About Income (Part 2)
Does income arrive at a fixed rate or does it vary from time to time?
"I receive revenue in the form of royalties for selling my games via the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. These arrive once per month on a scheduled date." - Owen Goss
Benefits
What are your benefits from working at your job?
"I’m self-employed, so that is a huge benefit in itself. I set my own hours, my own vacation, my own schedule. If I need to take a day off because one of my kids is sick, I can do that. If I want to take my kids camping for a few days in the summer, I can do that too. I love having control over my own work. The flip side of that is, if I’m not working, no one’s paying me." - Owen Goss
The Experience Of Being An Independent Video Game Developer
What is your job like (Both benefits and flaws)?
"My job is creative. It requires commitment. It allows me to express myself in a way that’s not possible with any other medium. I get to use my art skills, my math skills, my programming skills, my acting training, my interest in film, my interest in business and marketing. It requires me to do a lot of different jobs, and I love that. I have no boss that tells me what to do, so I am in control of my business.

But, my job can be a struggle. I go through creative dry spells where it feels like I have no good ideas. That’s extremely difficult to work through at times. Sometimes I miss having a boss that tells me what to do, as there’s a lot of responsibility of being in control of your own business. Sometimes I work long hours. Sometimes it’s hard to stop thinking about an idea when I’ve left work. Sometimes it’s hard to create boundaries between work and life." - Owen Goss
The Creative Process
Is there a certain group who makes ideas for games or can anybody make ideas as long as said idea is affordable, reasonable, able to have a broad audience, etc.?
"At larger games companies the game designers are generally the ones who are in charge of coming up with the ideas. Good game designers will solicit ideas and opinions from everyone on the team. But at smaller games companies people tend to take on many roles, and everyone on the team might be expected to suggest ideas and opinions. If you work alone, you will be responsible for coming up with ideas and making them work." - Owen Goss
Possible Safety Hazards
Are there any possible safety hazards at your job (if so, what are they)?
"Only the same hazards as any other job where you sit at a computer for 8-10 hours a day. Possibility of developing repetitive strain injuries, or long term health effects from sitting too much." - Owen Goss
Time Spent Working
How many hours do you spend at your job (on average)?
"As an independent developer with two young children, I try not to work more than 40 hours a week unless I’m very close to releasing a new game.

When I worked for larger games companies, 50 hours a week was pretty standard for a normal week." - Owen Goss
Do you get breaks during the course of the day?
"Yes, I take breaks whenever I need them, but I don’t have scheduled times I set for myself." - Owen Goss
Instances Of Overtime
Were there any instances where you had to work overtime (If so, how many instances)?
"Working for myself, for a few weeks before releasing a new game, I’ll sometimes work as much as 60 hours a week, but I really try to limit how much I do that now. This is generally once or twice a year.

When I worked at large games companies, I would occasionally work as much as 80-90 hour weeks during crunch periods. These would usually last for a few weeks, but I worked one crunch that lasted a few months. In general, I used to expect to do about 3 short crunches a year, with a much longer crunch before the release of a new game." - Owen Goss
Position Of Work
What part of game development do you participate in during development (Do you specialize in one or multiple parts in development)?
"As an independent developer I do almost everything for my games: design, art, programming, marketing, PR, sound design, etc. The only thing I don’t do is music; I hire composers and/or buy music for my games.

When I worked at larger companies, I was a user interface programmer (making game menus and in-game UI elements), and game-play programmer (doing physics programming and game logic), so my roles were much more specialized." - Owen Goss
Responses To Controversy And Other Situations
How does your company respond to unexpected situations that may threaten the process of projects during and after development (Unexpected data loss, controversy, etc.)?
"We maintain onsite and offsite backups of critical data and code and art assets. The games industry has had some recent controversy to do with sexism in games, and I’m a big supporter of feminism in games, so I’ve tried to be supportive however I can." - Owen Goss
About His Company (Part 1)
What company do you work for and where can it be located?
"I run two companies: Streaming Colour Studios and Milkbag Games. Both are in Guelph." - Owen Goss
Is your company a part of a huge corporation (If so, what role does your company play)?
"No." - Owen Goss
About His Company (Part 2)
What are your company's standards (What do they prioritize first, thoughts on employee well-being, etc.)?
"As an independent developer I focus on making games that hold meaning for me first. Games that are interesting to me, or that push the medium forward. I try to balance that with trying to make games that I think are also financially viable. But above all, I want to be proud of my work.

Since I started working for myself, I have also worked very hard to strike a healthy balance between my work and my life at home with my wife and kids. Spending time with my family is very important to me, and it’s a core part of how I run my business." - Owen Goss
Employment (Part 1)
Employment (Part 2)
How many companies look for people who specialize in the same field of work as you?
"All video games companies need programmers. I honestly don’t know how many games companies are out there now, but the industry is growing. The main cities in Canada that have games companies are Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto." - Owen Goss
What job positions does your company offer to new employees (Programmers, artists, etc.)?
"Neither of my companies have hired any employees, but large game companies hire a lot of different roles: programmers, game designers, artists, sound designers, musicians, producers, marketing people, executives, IT, QA/testers, etc." - Owen Goss
How many new employees are hired each year, month, week, etc. (How many get fired or retire)?
"I run a one-person studio and I’m a co-founder of a 2-person studio. Neither studio has hired, nor fired any employees yet. We have hired people on contract to do freelance work from time to time, maybe once a year." - Owen Goss
What is the average amount of years an employee works for your company?
"I’ve been running Streaming Colour for 6 years, and Milkbag Games for about a year and a half." - Owen Goss
Educational and Preparation Aspects of Independent Video Game Development
Requirements For This Field
What level of education is required for this career (Apprenticeship, college, or university)?
"Most positions at game companies would require a college or university education." - Owen Goss
What exact skills do you need to learn in order to enter this field of work?
"To be a games programmer: a solid foundation of computer science or programming. A good foundation in math. A desire and willingness to learn new things. A knowledge of one or a few relevant programming languages." - Owen Goss
Education And Programs About This Field
How many apprenticeship/university/college programs can teach students about this field of work (Any schools for being a game developer)?
"There are more schools that are teaching courses in game design now than when I was in school. Vancouver Film School, for example, offers a game design program that many Vancouver game studios hire from. I don’t know about school that offer specific programs for learning game development/programming, though. A computer science degree helps a lot in that regard." - Owen Goss
How long do apprenticeship/college/university programs teaching about this field of work usually last (Amount of years required to spend)?
"University computer science programs typically last 4 years. I don’t know how long college game design courses last, as they didn’t exist when I was in school." -Owen Goss
His Education About Being An Independent Video Game Developer
What university or college did you take to learn about this field of work (Do you have any recommendations)?
"I attended the University of Waterloo and I have an Bachelor of Mathematics in Honours Computer Science Co-op. I really enjoyed my studies and UW and it has a really good reputation in the industry. The co-op program also gives you valuable work experience while studying." - Owen Goss
Computer Programs Used
What computer programs do you use to develop your games (Do programs vary from company to company)?
"Yes, the programs used vary a lot from company to company based on what platforms they make their game for and what technology they’re using. The tools used to make a 2D game for the Apple App Store are very different than the tools used to make a 3D racing game for PS4.

In my work, I use the following tools a lot:
- Unity (game engine)
- Photoshop (painting, pixel art, texturing, mockups)
- Blender (3d modelling)
- MonoDevelop (code editor, but only because it’s what Unity uses)
- Audacity (sound editing)
- Git (source control)
- Adobe Premiere (video editor for trailers, promotional videos)"

-Owen Goss

Programing Language Used
What programing language does your company use (C++, Python, Java, etc.)(Does coding language vary from company to company)?
"Most of the code I write is C#, as that’s what Unity uses. Before I started using Unity, most of the code I wrote was Objective-C and C++. When I worked on console games, everything was C or C++. I also make use of Python, PHP, Javascript, and more, for writing scripts and tools or web sites." - Owen Goss
Getting Started
What can I do to get a glimpse of good game designing and developing (Or what can I do to get an idea of what a good game designer/developer should be like)?
"I don’t really have a good answer for this. There’s a documentary called “Indie Game: The Movie” that follows a few well-know indie game developers around. It’s a good movie, but the experiences in the movie are not typical, average experiences. However, there are a lot of books out there on game design and development. There are also a lot of websites. A lot of indie developers write blogs about their development, so reading that can give you a glimpse into the process. Find some games you like, find out who made them, and see if they’ve written about their process." - Owen Goss
Thank You For Watching!
I hope you enjoyed my interview presentation!
Acknowledgments
Owen Goss
I would like to thank Owen Goss for his time and effort in order to conduct an interview with me and for lending me his knowledge surrounding his field of work for me to use in this interview presentation. His help was greatly appreciated and was a strong contribution for this endeavor. Without his help, this project wouldn't be going anywhere and I would most likely in a similar scenario as the video bellow. Once again, Owen Goss is an independent video game developer, designer, and the founder and co-founder of Streaming Colour Studios and Milkbag Games respectively. You can check out either company on http://streamingcolour.com/ for Streaming Colour Studios or http://milkbag.me/ for Milkbag Games
About His Company
Employment
About Income
The Struggle
A Few Games That Were Produced By Streaming Colour Studios
Monkeys in Space
Landformer
Baby's Musical Hands
Finger Tied
These are a few notable games that have been produced by Owen Goss when he was working independently under his own company, Streaming Colour Studios. All of the titles mentioned above are independent video games that are mainly aimed for the casual audience (mainly children and people who don't have a large interest in video games) and don't contain violence unlike the majority of games made for the average video game console (E.g. Playstation 2, Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, etc.). These games are also made towards the mobile market as, again, independent video game developers rely on digital distribution in order to sell their games.
Full transcript