Amber is a development agency that produces its own games but also works with external companies to provide support services. That includes creating art assets, game design, engineering, and more. On this week’s How Games Make Money, host Jeff Grubb speaks with Amber chief executive Mihai Pohontu about how that business operates. He also provides insight into what coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic mean for the future of making games. Mihai then tells the story of how Amber started a studio in Guadalajara, Mexico. Join us, won’t you?
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Amber has four game studios around the world. They are in places like Los Angeles and Bucharest. But what brought the company to my attention was its recent move to open a studio in Guadalajara, Mexico. That city has a growing tech culture, but the primary reason that Amber ended up in Guadalajara is time.
“A lot of our customers are in the U.S. and Canada and actually most of them are based on the west coast,” said Pohontu. “And our operations started in Bucharest, Romania which is 10 hours ahead of us.”
That time difference is significant, and it has its advantages.
“It’s actually kind of cool to come into work every morning in San Francisco or Los Angeles, and to see in your inbox a bunch of work that teams in Eastern Europe have created basically overnight,” said Pohontu.
While this global process enables work to continue on a project around the clock, it also has its challenges. For some support work, the hiring studio is going to want to have live conversations with a team that is also just starting their day.
“So we looked at Latin America,” said Pohontu. “In the end it was primarily serendipity … I was invited to hold a lecture in Guadalajara on game development. It was like a two-day master class at a local University.”
Merging into Guadalajara
Everything fell into place from there. One of Amber’s senior directors, Scott Humphries, noticed the potential in the students as well as the city itself. Guadalajara has about 5 million people and a strong university system. It’s also easier to operate an office in than some of the larger Mexican cities.
So when a mutual friend introduced Pohontu and Humphries to a local indie-studio CEO named Jorge Suarez, the Amber executives were ready to make a deal.
“[Suarez] turned out to be a really amazing guy that we immediately fell in love with,” said Pohontu. “And we said we should merge our studios.”
This merging strategy is something that Amber uses regularly. It enables the company to get moving quickly and to benefit from an existing talent group that already understands the local culture.
Amber in Guadalajara already has 50 employees, and it’s still hiring up. And its location in Central time means that when partner studios need to get on a Zoom call, everyone is up and working as the same time as anyone on the West Coast.
Now, Amber is aiming to replicate this playbook in up to 10 more cities around the world. Its next goal is to set up something in Southeast Asia.
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