Working together as Topicbird!

This devlog #4 is about founding our studio Topicbird to work together and release SHIRO on the Appstore. SHIRO is a mobile game that celebrates the beauty of Japanese lacquerware. The game’s website is, and if you like, you can also read previous devlogs on UI and sound, on our workflow + design/story making and on how we exhibited and researched in Japan.

Why work together under one name?

When exhibiting work as artists, our names appear in catalogues and work descriptions. Many other artists we know use their personal name like a brand, so that when you hear it, you automatically think something like “ah, they make sculptures out of electronic waste”. Some enjoy seeing their personal names next to their work, others are concerned with it. Most names are gendered and some people tie expectations to specific names.

Using Topicbird as a name, we are trying to build a consistent brand. It is a part of our work and us, like a common theme, but it is not everything we do or will ever do. The two of us work inidivually and with / in other groups as well. When we’re working with clients or other collaborators, being Topicbird allows us to both be in contact with them since we share a name, website and e-mail address. This makes it easier for them to understand that we work together.

For residencies, which are a kind of scholarship for independent artists and designers, we find it more coherent to apply with a common name and not two individual names; At best this indicates a coordinated collective with a focussed vision.

Becoming a company in order to apply for the Appstore

Since we were already using our collective name Topicbird, we wanted to offer SHIRO on the Appstore with Topicbird as our developer name. Apple uses an external service that verifies the existence and validity of companies. If validated, companies receive a D-U-N-S number to register at the Appstore. This procedure is mandatory — without a D-U-N-S number, people who work together can’t publish together. In order to release iOS Apps as a collective, members of a collective have to be in a legal arrangement.

After researching different business models we decided to become a GbR, which is the simplest form of business in Germany. In comparision to other models like a UG, no seed money is required. To become a GbR and to receive a tax number, we had to write a contract and register at our local tax office. In Germany, designers can apply for tax identification numbers on different terms than other small businesses, and we were given the wrong documents at first. So we told the financial officials that we 1) had no idea what we were doing, but that 2) the documents seemed unfitting for our plans. Fortunately, this resolved all issues and we were lucky enough to encounter some very helpful financial officials who did some research and then handed out the correct documents.

Two weeks later we received a letter that contained the confirmation that our company was registered correctly, plus a tax number. We then applied for the D-U-N-S number online. A few days later, German representatives of the D-U-N-S service called us. They told us that they would give our information to Apple within two weeks.

illustration: signing a contract

Another two weeks later we tried to register at the Appstore but did not succeed. By accident, the D-U-N-S representative had used a combination of our names as our company’s name instead of Topicbird. We requested a change, which took another two weeks. Apple accepted our enrollment and we could finally upload a version of our game! This was exciting, however, we had to wait some more until Apple reviewed SHIRO’s beta and allowed us to send our the game to our playtesters.

illustration: using testflight

Being a company

Being in this kind of legal arrangement makes a few things easier, especially when working for or with others. We are still in the learning process of how to accomplish some legal and financial tasks. We keep 20% of our income in the company and use it to pay for expenses like software licences, hardware, prototyping materials or travel tickets and entry fees to events. These 20% also help us to save money, because becoming another, safer form of business is bound to capital (not necessarily for registration, but maintenance). Having a company, even though it is a very small one, helps us to take our work and time more serious and forces us to be clear and punctual about the money-side of things. Having a company does not automatically equal making more money, but we feel that is a small first step along the road ahead.