Leveling Up: Tucson's Fangamer building community with gamers & neighbors
By Ryan Fish,2023-06-10
The UFO mural by artist Ignacio Garcia at Speedway and Rosemont features a nod to the building’s former business, Copper Country Antiques, which featured the word ‘WHY’ painted on its east wall.
The mural also references the video game that inspired its current business.
Fangamer started as a software company in a spare apartment bedroom on Tucson’s east side.
“We realized, ‘Alright, this isn’t working,’” Fangamer founder and CEO Reid Young recalled. “‘Let’s just sell some T-shirts to keep the lights on.’ And it turns out, that was our business model.”
Young and his brother-in-law Steven Campos were big fans of the ‘90s video game Earthbound . In 2008, they began making products based off the game and ended up finding a community of other Earthbound fans online. That community started buying.
“The fact that we put that time and energy into something so obscure, something about that really grabbed people’s attention,” said Young.
“We get to the point where boxes are just pushing up against our backs, and up against our desks,” said Campos of the company’s growth. “And we just kept expanding and expanding.”
Fangamer moved from Young’s apartment to bigger offices along Speedway over the years. It now sits in a refurbished historic building at Speedway and Rosemont.
The new office opened in 2020. It houses meeting and design spaces, as well as a studio for video production. Most of the building, however, belongs to the company’s warehouse and mail room.
Fangamer works with dozens of video game licenses to make and sell apparel, books, plush toys, independent games and even video game soundtracks on vinyl records. It owns a print shop in Tucson and a vinyl record plant in Portland.
“We sell worldwide and we ship worldwide, but we have a Japanese branch, a Europe branch,” Young explained. “And probably by the end of the year, we will have shipped our 2 millionth order. And half of those—like about a million orders—have come in since COVID hit. So the past three years.”
“There’s a lot of under-served fan communities from like a lot of obscure indie games that they don’t really get a lot of merchandise for, or they don’t get a whole lot of high quality merchandise,” said Campos. “And they’re always like, ‘Oh man, Fangamer’s doing this. It’s so exciting.’”
“Being able to connect with somebody because of this shared experience you had, there’s a lot of value in that,” Young added.
There’s a full team of designers, including Laura Verdin, who joined the team 11 years ago. She says she’s thankful the city of Tucson seems to embrace artistic people like herself, and grateful that Fangamer embraced her when she joined the team.
“I moved here and it was like, ‘I didn’t know anyone else.’ But it was so welcoming,” she said. “Some gaming circles it’s very much like ‘Boys’ Club.’ A lot of harassment issues, a lot of sexism, but that’s never, even when I was the only girl in the office, it was just like, ‘You’re one of us.’”
Big players in the business world have taken notice of the company.
“Amazon has been interested in handling our warehousing and mail room for a while,” Young revealed. “Like, they’ve been contacting us for years. And, like, no way. That’s ours. We want to be vertical. We wanna have control over these things that matter to us.
“I really want this to be self-sustaining, and something that is just like: the success that Fangamer has is because of the work that Fangamer has done.”
That work has made Fangamer part of a community, both with gamers around the globe and its neighbors in Tucson.
While the company does only online sales, it has opened a ‘pop-up shop’ at its office during the holiday season. It plans to do so again this year.