By CONRAD PURSLEY
When Reid Young started a fan site in 1997 for the Super Nintendo classic “Earthbound,” he had no idea what he was unleashing.
Starmen.net and its sister merchandise website, Fangamer.net, created a vibrant online community for classic game fans and an online business that defies the ailing economy.
“Starting with nothing and getting to this point, I’ve just stopped being surprised with everything,” Young said.
The gamer company also gives back to the community, supporting charities that include the ACT Today autism foundation and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s disease.
Starmen.net held an auction Nov 27 for Mr. Saturn plushies available only in crane machines in Japan. The auction raised more than $10,000 to help combat Parkinson’s disease.
The company began when Starmen.net was facing tough times. Young and his wife, Camille, decided they would try to cover site costs by selling clothing inspired by “Earthbound.”
“I thought we’d sell a finite number of shirts and that’d be it,” Reid Young said. “But orders just kept coming in.”
As orders continued, he brought in help. The cycle repeated until a business was born.
Fangamer.net opened in August 2008 as a site to handle merchandise created by the Starmen.net crew.
Camille Young, a Tucson native and fine arts graduate of Pima Community College, recalled the early days when she and Reid ran the business from their second bedroom.
“At first I helped with package and mail orders,” she said. “But eventually I got to take on some artistic projects, like the ‘Mother 3 Handbook.’”
She originally became involved with Starmen.net in 1999, when her brother convinced her to submit “Earthbound” fan art to some guy named “reidman” who ran the site.
“That’s also the story of how I met my husband, Reid,” Camille Young said.
Fangamer.net has now expanded well beyond “Earthbound” merchandise.
“We like to include games that we all agree are great and ones that can inspire great designs,” Reid Young said. “We don’t just do classics, but we like to put a classic spin on things.”
Each Fangamer product is elaborately designed with high-quality materials, using art inspired by the game it represents. Typical prices are $20 for shirts and $60 for figurines.
“They’re not Walmart prices,” said Ryan Alyea, a key employee who serves as Fangamer’s tech guy. “We’re not big enough to get bulk discounts.”
A $28 E-Tank coffee mug, inspired by the popular Megaman series, has so many preorders that Fangamer.net had to extend the release date and restrict how many mugs one person can buy.
Fangamer.net also designs custom-made cards, pins and other game-inspired items.
“I’m very happy that I took the route of being an artist and doing what I love,” Camille Young said. “I still use techniques, design principles and color theory that I learned at Pima.”
Despite the sacrifices and financial risk, Reid Young has no regrets about starting a business.
“If you’re willing to sacrifice the security of a job, working for yourself is great,” he said. “I would never work for someone else.”