City of Amber
The Ideology of a Creative Agency
Ever since our founding in 2013, we saw ourselves as a collective of artisans, rather than a company made of managers and employees.
Many of us spent long years (decades even!) working in corporations with thousands of employees, spanning the globe. We learned lots during that time, were faced with incredible challenges and opportunities, but felt something was amiss in the compact between these companies and their staff. Beyond the beautiful words in company brochures and slogans, we felt the emphasis was placed away from the team, and rather on the economic imperatives of the corporation writ large. Long-term strategic goals sometimes took a back seat to quarterly financial concerns. This was understandable, considering the management of these corporations ultimately answer to shareholders and publicly listed companies are vulnerable to shifts in the stock market. So, while we understood the dynamics in play, we could see a better way, a path to a next-gen company.
Each company must create a hierarchy of priorities between its people, customers and shareholders. In a perfect world, the interests of all converge, but our world is anything but — reality always intervenes to alter even the best-laid plans. Our goal was to create a system where we lead through people, a structure inspired by prior models, but illustrating our unique vision — an expression of our culture, experience and ideals.
We are self-funded. Our founders invested their personal savings to provide seed capital for the company. Since then we’ve grown steadily at the pace of our contracts, reinvesting the profits into growth. This strategy offered us unparalleled freedom to shape the company’s strategy and its business practices. We believe the best type of capital a company can generate is the profits derived from sales, since it directly reflects the quality of the product or services provided. This type of funding doesn’t come with strings attached, such as investor expectations of rapid scaling in the hope of an early exit. Simply put, we control our destiny.
We are employee-owned. Every single shareholder is an employee of the company. We consider this essential to the character of the company and plan to continue preserving this structural fact. The fact we’ve established parity between two of three elements of the hierarchy of priorities (employees = shareholders) allows the company to be exceptionally tuned in to the needs of its staff. It also negates the possibility the interests of the shareholders would contradict those of our staff. It also massively invests our staff into the success of the company, which ultimately makes it more likely we’ll succeed together.
We are more than a games company. We were founded as a game services studio and in many ways, we still are, but our horizons are broadening. Our mission is to set the games industry standard in development services, yet we also want to add value to creative industries at large by leveraging our domain expertise. Since our development studio is based in Bucharest, from inception we wanted the company to play a progressive role within the local industry, supporting the indie game dev ecosystem. We’ve done so through our support of RGDA (the local game community guild) and Dev.Play (the local game dev conference, now onto its second edition). Our vision is to operate a fully-contained distributed development system on behalf of our clients, so we’ve hired a complement of experienced production and leadership staff in the US, which truly makes us an international company.
We’re built to last. Owing to the fact we’re self-funded and employee-owned, many of the decisions we make consider the long-term impact, often at the expense of near-term returns. We invest strategically in the development of the company, even when results will not be immediate. After starting the company as a boutique engineering studio, at the request of our partners we expanded into development support, QA/QE/CS, then established the live ops work-stream and we’re now investing in R&D, so that we evolve from a service provider into an innovation partner. All these actions are predicated on our ability to attract and retain customers, constantly reinvesting profit for long-term strategic goals. We’re building sustainably and for the long haul, not chasing a fast exit, but creating a company we can all be proud of, one that carries the country brand and seeks to add meaningful value to the industry and the world.
Owing to our character as a collective of artisans, the values we’ve defined are not merely positive-sounding, yet substance-devoid words (integrity, respect, excellence!). These values are rooted in deeply-held convictions held by the company founders. They are meant to constantly challenge us and oh, they do. We’re aware some may be impossible to fully achieve. And yet we strongly believe the process of trying to achieve them will naturally give rise to the right set of behaviors we want to see in the company.
We see this as a management value, to be seen as a commitment we make to our people. We believe we must show loyalty, to expect loyalty returned. If the company demands dedication, passion and selflessness from its staff, it must demonstrate its commitment in times of plenty and in times of hardship. This takes many forms: people should always come before short-term financial concerns. It means that when projects dry out we won’t move fast to release staff, but will seek, to the best extent possible, to keep them engaged until new ones appear. It means that our learning and career development plans should be among the finest in the industry (and yes, more so than companies many times our size, with seemingly unlimited resources). It means that managers will be hired and promoted based on how well they demonstrate this value, how well they mentor, grow and care for their staff.
While People First is a fundamental value for management, Customers First is a value for our staff in execution roles. Ultimately the service is delivered by our teams and thus the quality of the service is directly dependent on the passion, ingenuity and drive of the people delivering it. We believe that if management cares about the people, the people care about the customers and the customers care for the company by compensating us well for the work we deliver, we have the makings of a perfect virtuous cycle. This is the cycle that sustainably builds great companies.
We’re great fans of flat organizations, such as the Holacracy at Zappos, the Valve Flatland, Cultura Olivettiana, Semco’s industrial democracy and Automattic’s distributed company. We take great pride in the fact that we only have four levels between our GM and the most junior employee in our 280-people strong studio in Bucharest. And yet, since we’ve spent enough time looking at what happens in practice at these organizations, we know that even in a flat org an informal hierarchical structure arises. The most senior, most experienced, most outgoing employees lead through informal networks of influence.
For us, the horizontal structure value represents a deliberate attempt to break down the barriers of communication and status within our company. Our managers are not placed in a superior class to junior employees. Every junior staff member can talk to anyone in the executives ranks. Communication should flow freely across the company. We are all human beings, we are equal in spirit and substance. Some of us may have more experience, more knowledge, but our duty is to share, to nurture, not to isolate ourselves in the artificial comfort of our assumed superiority.
This value is rooted in our desire to be a force for good in our industry, our community and the world. We’re aware of the privilege and responsibility the company has in the context of the emerging Romanian game industry. As mentioned previously, we’ve invested in developing its fundamentals, sponsoring various local game dev initiatives and helping the industry achieve prominence internationally. But this drive goes beyond our industry and speaks to our desire to be a good citizen in our community. To this end, we’ve created a volunteering program where periodically our staff will dedicate a work day to helping a charitable cause of their own choosing.
Our Journey Together
As a partner, customer or employee, you are now part of our story, a story of growth and change being written every day. Your ideas, your dreams, your frustrations (and solutions to those frustrations) will shape our company, will define who we are and what we stand for.
We cannot wait to see the new element you will bring to our unfolding narrative. You may find a delectable moment in one of our products, you may detect some incredibly complex bug, or perhaps you’ll draw a beautiful image to define the art direction of one of our projects. You may write poetry in code, you may conceive a new way to help our community — or you may divine an entirely new concept nobody has thought of yet.
Whatever path you choose, we look forward to sharing the journey with you, walking together towards a shining city on a hill of our own making, the archetype of our ideals.
Welcome to Amber.