Oh the Games You'll Play: Ambrosia: The Little Publisher That Could


When Ambrosia Software released Aquaria last month, it marked the publisher's 36th entertainment release, including iPhone versions of existing games and titles that were updated to run in Mac OS X. (But excluding the company's dozen or so utilities.) Founder Andrew Welch, who calls himself el Presidente, started Ambrosia in 1993, shortly after graduating from Rochester Institute of Technology with a Photojournalism degree.

"I'd been doing software in one form or another ever since I was 14 years old, but I'd always done it part time," he told me. "For a variety of reasons I didn't want to make a career out of being a photographer, so instead I decided to officially incorporate Ambrosia Software, Inc.  We got an office, and learned the ins and outs of running a software business largely through experimentation."

Rather than look for an infusion of capital via a loan or investors, Mr. Welch took what he calls "a layered approach. I've tried to build [the business] up from a solid foundation, re-investing sales successes into hiring more people. As a small company, it's obviously a slower process than it would be for a large business.  If we hire two new full time people in a year, that's a very busy hiring year for us."

Taking a Full Drink of Gaming Nectar

As many Mac-centric publishers have learned, it makes smart business sense to address the Windows market, even if they personally prefer the Mac platform. Mr. Welch recalled that Escape Velocity Nova, the third game in the popular Escape Velocity series, was successful in part "because we came out with a Windows version of the game."

Ambrosia has also joined many other publishers in jumping into the iPhone development pool, where the waters are crowded but, as Mr. Welch observed: "I think Apple is oriented more towards making the iPhone/iPod Touch  their 'gaming platform' -- I haven't seen much evidence from Apple that they are pushing the Mac as a gaming platform."

He added: "The iPhone is interesting, because games that work best on the iPhone  are simple [ones].  So they are relatively quick and easy to create, but that also means that everyone and their brother is creating them."

No matter which platform Ambrosia is publishing for, however, Mr. Welch said that the most important component of development is "the intangible 'fun factor.' Even games with multi-million dollar budgets can tank due to them not being fun."   

Looking Ahead

Despite a history steeped in gaming, however, Mr. Welch said that the future holds a slightly different path for his company. "We're certainly still doing games," he said, "but the projects that are immediately on our schedules are some very interesting utility/productivity projects.

"I think you're going to see increasingly powerful yet easy to use software from us in the future, software that does things no other product on the market can do.  Clever software is fun to write and design."