The decision to leave your comfort zone is never easy. As humans, we’re predisposed to fearing change, instinctively seeing change as an obstacle, rather than an opportunity. Yet, for those brave enough, great rewards await the bold -- a challenge that PolyPixel’s Alan Mach and Cody Spahr were prepared to meet.
After working for more than six years on some of the industry's biggest games and most acclaimed franchises (Need for Speed, LittleBigPlanet, Sleeping Dogs), the pair decided to put their artistic expertise to use for themselves, choosing to transition into a career of freelance work.
The shift to self-employment offered the duo the freedom that they so craved, but something was still amiss. Despite a new sense of agency, the creators of the newly-formed PolyPixel felt as though they lacked identity as creators, as they bounced between projects that varied not only in art style, but in both tools and media. Mach and Spahr sought a platform they could master, to avoid becoming jacks of all trades. With the release of Unreal Engine 4 and the launch of the burgeoning Unreal Engine Marketplace, the choice became clear; it was time to dive in and commit.
“With the release of the Marketplace it was a no-brainer that we had to at least try to make it work on a platform we have fallen in love with,” said chief executive officer Alan Mach candidly.
Where the goal of PolyPixel had always been in sight, until this point the road had never quite been defined. Determined, the team set out on an exciting new path -- making a living on freelance art production -- but what is a trail without a few bumps?
“The first few products were tough,” admitted Mach. “But, as we have gained experience and gathered the feedback from the incredible Marketplace community, we feel we have really established a name for ourselves.”
The combination of Unreal Engine 4’s flexibility and the vibrant, collaborative nature of the Marketplace community allowed PolyPixel to refine their products to fit the needs of their audience, delivering unique and catered content on a full-time basis.
Having direct access and input to, and from, your audience is not a benefit that is lost on PolyPixel, who through all of their years in the industry understand that quality is born in the details. The constructive feedback left on their official product listings and in forum threads are simply invaluable according to Mach, resulting in an escalating rate of improvement with each pack release.
“We feel Countryside, our first ever product, was a great example of the community voicing their opinion on how low-quality some of the assets were,” explained Mach. “We revisited this pack and made huge improvements and so far the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Access to dynamic feedback has clearly resulted in a major win for PolyPixel, but they admit that they weren’t exactly left to their own devices. In addition to the incredible endorsement of the Marketplace community, PolyPixel also credit the Unreal team as having played a large part in the pair’s success, specifically crediting Epic Games content curator Jon Jones’ role as being instrumental.
“Jon has spent quite a bit of time jumping on calls with us, letting us know what he feels will trend and informing us about any upcoming updates to the platform,” Mach said humbly. “It’s really helped us feel confident that the Marketplace team is behind us.”
Alan also acknowledges that, on a larger scale, Epic has broken down previously-high barriers by giving away unfettered access to the industry-leading Unreal Engine 4, and by constructing forward-thinking platforms such as the Marketplace, to create a sustainable business model that equally serves both the consumer and the creator.
“The Marketplace opens the doors to a lot more developers who wouldn’t have the budget to hire an art team,” Mach said earnestly. “Also, with packs taking only 4 to 6 weeks to develop, it helps to know that not every pack has to be a homerun in order for us to stay in business.”
Armed with years of experience, as well as the confidence of both external and internal support, PolyPixel has clearly found the focus they desire, without having to trade their autonomy in the process.
PolyPixel continues to create an assortment of, largely, environmental packs, that range from ambient Medieval Docks, to a gritty Post Apocalyptic World, and many that lay somewhere in between. Embracing change is rarely smooth or easy, but as PolyPixel has proven, sometimes fortune favors the bold.
“We have the ability to create packs that inspire us, and we feel great as a studio to have that freedom to express ourselves as artists.”