Some people created small story arcs or designed the spaceships they always wanted; others decided to change every single facet of the game and left nothing intact. Escape Velocity, as well as its later incarnations, EV: Override and EV: Nova, became whatever the players wanted it to be. In one case, it became a sci-fi convention in Huntsville, Alabama, called "NovaCon USA." "We encouraged them by allowing everyone to be themselves and to not hinder the creative juices flowing from those that really enjoyed our games," Champlin says. "There is nothing worse than to have someone enjoy a product so much that they go to the trouble to create plug-ins, or add-ons and to have a company shoot them down, as it doesn't gel with what they think the game should be like. Each person has a different view of whatever they are playing or enjoying. Ambrosia does it's best to stay out of the way and help where we can by offering a place for people to share their hard work and their love of our games."
But what happens, I wonder, when the community changes? The Apple Computer of the bad old days, of too-expensive hardware and inadequate software, is now sleek and sexy Apple Inc., by way of gorgeous computers, delicious design, and, of course, the iPod. Ambrosia's potential clientele are no longer the few and the proud, they're the young and the hip, and they've got options that Mac users didn't have before. Not only are a handful of big development studios, like Blizzard Entertainment, committed to simultaneous releases of Mac and PC products, but Apple's switch to Intel processors opened up avenues to the best that PC gaming has to offer by way of Boot Camp, Apple's dual-booting Windows solution. With Mac gaming, the playing field just got a whole lot bigger, and so did the audience. What could Ambrosia do to adapt?
They got bigger. At 13 employees, Ambrosia is larger than ever, having almost tripled size in the last 10 years. It goes without saying that 13 employees is practically unheard of for a comparatively smalltime game studio, especially when the efforts are primarily focused on Mac users, but it's not big enough to work on a big-budget game like Halo or Unreal Tournament, either. Instead, Ambrosia has found a niche as an independent publisher/developer in the Mac world, selling the young and hip what the young and hip lust after most: indie. "Sexy is not a stigma that we should be worried about. It actually seemed like a natural progression as to what Apple was truly meant to be," Chamblin says. "And where Apple is, Ambrosia is usually right there along with them. Andrew [Welch] has a very keen eye to what looks good and what the current zeitgeist is for the world around."
So in reality, making games is only half of the job for the folks at Ambrosia Software. They sell games, too - games that would fly too low under the radar to attract the attention of a big-time publisher, but still would be popular enough to turn a profit. Ambrosia isn't just a game company, it's a label of cool, like an endorsement from a trusted friend who keeps you up on the latest and greatest. And for Ambrosia, it's the only way to do business.
Pat Miller has been doing this for way too long. Stop by his blog, Token Minorities, for more on race and videogames.