Sometimes Not Having a Niche is a Niche Itself

Andrea's avatar

For as long as I can remember, video games have been a part of my life. In my earliest memories, I remember grappling with the strange shiny disc and number pad of an Intellivision controller, anchored down to the base unit with a stretchy spiral cord. Such things seemed otherworldly to me when I was a toddler growing up in the middle of Wisconsin corn fields. However, it wouldn’t be long before my nerdy gamer traits started to surface. By the time I was five years old, the Super NES was my home, and in it were all my pixelated friends. I was so fascinated that the act of pressing buttons on a controller made my character move on screen… this blew my young little mind away. I can never forget the time my five year old self asked my mom, “How are video games made?” which she responded with, “They make them with computers.”  Blinking in the ignorance of youth, I questioned, “What’s a computer?”

As you might have guessed, there weren’t many computers in Wisconsin corn fields back in early 90s, but I was nonetheless determined to figure out how to make those video game things. Much has changed in the two decades that have passed since that time, but the one thing that has remained the same is my passion for interactive entertainment. The art of making games has been a lifelong pursuit of mine. It’s my niche: my little corner of the universe where everything makes sense.

…this juggling of different disciplines was exactly the training I would need for a much more challenging endeavor
I started on my road to game development when I enrolled at The Illinois Institute of Art in Schaumburg back in 2003 and majored in Game Art and Design. Shortly after graduation, I was picked up by Webfoot Technologies–a small game studio in Chicagoland–in early 2007, where I started off as an artist making models and sprites for Nintendo DS games. In 2008, I was promoted to lead game designer–a major switch from my previous role. It took me awhile to figure out how to balance leading a development team while also managing the design aspects and still doing some of the art for the projects at the same time. But this juggling of different disciplines was exactly the training I would need for a much more challenging endeavor later down the road.

In the blizzardy winter of early 2011, disaster struck our humble studio. Our publisher pulled the plug on a title we were working on, and that was the beginning of a downward spiral that resulted in much of the team getting laid-off–including me. Yet such catastrophic collapses have a way of creating new beginnings. I learned a lot from my time in Chicago and was ready to move onto bigger, better challenges. I took what I had learned to my new home in Seattle–often considered a mecca of game development–in search of new work in the game industry.

In getting to know my new neighbors at local game developer meetups, I was told time and time again that I didn’t have the kind of experience necessary for a job at most major studios. The reason always being, “You need to find your niche.” This is industry-speak meaning that I needed to single out one subcategory of game development if I wanted to adapt to a larger company. So an artist isn’t just an artist, you’re a concept artist, environment artist, character artist, etc. A designer isn’t just a designer, you’re a level designer, systems designer, interface designer, etc. My previous job required me to do a little bit of everything, thus making my experience in any one category almost irrelevant.

…that’s why I got into games in the first place: for the challenge
Generalists like myself don’t have much of a place in larger studios dominated by departmentalized specialists where each person only works on one specific thing in the game. I thought game development WAS my niche, but that turned out to be a matter of opinion! I just couldn’t settle on which area of expertise I wanted to focus on; they’re all so enticing, it’s rather difficult to pick favorites. I really enjoy art. I also like writing up designs. And programming. And arranging sound effects. Heck, that’s why I got into games in the first place: for the challenge. I know they only wanted to help, but I was rather put off by having people constantly telling me that I was doing things the “wrong” way.

I discovered that sometimes not having a niche is a niche itself… I couldn’t fit into any one of the common job categories (game designer, programmer, 3d modeler, etc.), but I do fit rather well into the niche of indie game development, where your team size and budget are so miniscule that you end up doing most of the work yourself out of necessity. Being an all-in-one game making army isn’t for the faint of heart, but I wouldn’t give it up for anything. It’s how I’ve always made games, and it’s how I plan to keep making games.

And with that, I’m proud to announce the formation of my shiny new game studio, Phanatix Interactive!

…we’re a studio that couldn’t get more indie even if we tried
So what makes Phanatix Interactive stand out in the crowded sea of game companies? For starters, we’re a studio that couldn’t get more indie even if we tried: the team is consists of two people, we’re self-funded (also welcoming donations) without a publisher in sight, and our games are experimental mixes in genres and artistic tastes. Basically, we make the games we want to make and don’t really give a hoot about what anyone thinks about how we make them. We’re fanatical about games, and we have every intention to keep making them the old fashioned way: with a small, dedicated team that cares about making something fun.

We’ve been working hard on our first game for mobile devices that goes by the name of Swift. We’ll be dishing out more information on our game as we work on it. Check back for updates on our site (or get our RSS feed or email to make things easier); we’ll be adding screenshots and videos along the way for your viewing pleasure. Stay tuned!

  1. Andrea – I don’t understand half of what your talking about, but i can feel your enthusiasm!!! Good Luck on your endeavors and hope your future looks bright!! Love You

    • Awww, thanks! Hopefully things will make more sense once we get some screenshots and videos up and you can see what we’re working on. 🙂

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