Clarissa "Valerie" Gotcher ('98, '04 M.A.) and her husband John "Andy" Gotcher ('98) knew each other when they were in high school and had mutual friends.
But fate brought them together at UNT toward the end of their undergraduate careers. Their degree plans combined with their timelines and fate brought them together.
"We started dating in 1998 sometime after exchanging phone numbers in a crosswalk on Welch Street as I was arriving on campus and he was leaving for the day," Valerie Gotcher says. "We got married in 2002 (a few months after I had returned to UNT for grad school), and we just celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary."
These two have been inseparable ever since and have embarked on an exciting journey. They combined the skills they learned at UNT to team up on a video game project that received a huge recognition.
"We truly enjoy working together! Our differences in professional experience and learned skills complement each other well. When combined, our work ethic, love of learning, and sense of responsibility is iron-clad," the Gotchers say.
Both Valerie and Andy came to UNT because of the strong academic programs that are offered.
Valerie originally chose elementary education during her freshman year but switched to a degree in child development with a minor in psychology. She came back a few years later to pursue her master's in speech-language pathology.
Andy earned a bachelor's in communication design.
Since then, both of them have gone off to pursue fulfilling careers.
After earning her bachelor's, Valerie worked as an assistant center manager for a large preschool before accepting a position with the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services in Dallas County. Before starting her graduate degree, she worked as a caseworker for Child Protective Services and Childcare Licensing.
While she always wanted to work with children, she took a slight turn and spent several years working with adults who have survived neurological injuries.
"My career path has not been linear although human services weaves itself into everything I've done," Valerie Gotcher says. "My passion for this work transcended deeper when I started a nonprofit organization, BIND: Brain Injury Network of Dallas, and I served as its executive director for 10 years. This work thrust me into business, budgeting, people management, marketing, fund development and strategic planning."
Following his time at UNT, Andy started his career in branding and advertising for print and web design. He then made his transition to the video game industry as a skilled graphic design artist for companies like Magic Leap, Zynga, Microsoft, Paradigm Entertainment and many more.
"What began, for him, as 'I'll try this for a year and see how it goes' became an evolved career in console gaming, mobile gaming and augmented reality design," Valerie Gotcher says.
Andy's creative career and Valerie's business skills have led them to planning the unthinkable.
Being in the video game industry, Andy was one of the brains behind games like Words with Friends, Halo Wars, Terminator 3, Mission Impossible and many more as he designed and provided art direction for these projects.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, he wanted to come up with a way for the world to escape from everyday life.
In 2020, Andy left his previous job to pursue a passion project. The same year he founded Pixel Play LLC, an indie studio dedicated to creating fun and engaging games. From there, Valerie left her job and joined the company in 2022. From there, they created their first release titled "PXLPLAY," a mobile arcade game with simple instructions and tap-tap gameplay that features bright colors and surprising boosts. For each game, a unique path is generated that makes it impossible to memorize the sequence of jumps, slides, turns and other obstacles, which makes it a fun challenge.
Recently, the Gotchers submitted "PXLPLAY" to the Big Indie Pitch competition in Seattle, a speed-dating styled pitch competition that showcases games created by indie developers to industry experts. This year, they took home second place in the entire competition.
"Our competition reached far and wide and included numerous talented game developers," Valerie Gotcher says. "The opportunity to make 'the pitch' is an accomplishment in and of itself, and to be a finalist is truly special.
The Gotchers are coming up with new ideas for games and apps to be released in the future. They also plan to use their projects to serve those in their community.
"Following 10 years of work in the nonprofit sector and more than 20 years dedicated to human services, committing to support our community is a priority," the Gotchers say. "We're working on what that looks like formally and broadly for Pixel Play LLC in the future, and in the short term we will provide local sponsorship for efforts that support education, the arts and healthy recreation outlets for youth."