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Ex-Samsung exec Mihai Pohontu takes CEO job at Romania’s Amber game studio

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In four year’s, Romanian game development services firm Amber has grown to 280 employees. And today, the Bucharest company is naming Romanian native Mihai Pohontu, former executive at Samsung’s emerging technologies division, as its new CEO.

Always a strong source of computer programmers, Romania has turned into a haven for game companies looking for developers in the last 20 years. All told, the country has more than 4,000 game developers, said Pohontu, in an interview with GamesBeat. It’s further proof that games can be made anywhere in the world.

“It was hard to leave Samsung,” Pohontu said. “But I have been dreaming about this step for 10 years.”

Amber provides outsourcing services, making games for other companies. It has a focus on free-to-play mobile games, but has also made games on the PC and all major platforms. It has developed expertise in live operations, cross-platform development, data science, user experience optimization, parallel launches, platform conversion, support, and co-development, said Pohontu, in an interview with GamesBeat.

Pohontu helped Samsung get more aggressive about courting game developers and getting mobile games on its Samsung Galaxy Apps app store, which is preinstalled on most of the company’s smartphones.

At Amber, Pohontu will lead a company that has made games for clients including Scopely, Kixeye, Glu, Kabam, Paradox, and Gumi. It supports top-grossing titles such as The Walking Dead, Yahtzee with Buddies, and Marvel Contest of Champions.

Romania has had a strong tech culture since the 1950s, when key professors began teaching computer science. Romania’s first game debuted in 1976. But the country’s economy collapsed with the falling of the Iron Curtain in 1989.

But Ubisoft, the big French game publisher, opened the first game studio division in the country in 1991. That studio currently has more than 1,200 people. Electronic Arts, Gameloft, and others also have big studios.

Pohontu also worked at Disney’s game division, and he worked at Electronic Arts, where he was the vice president and general manager of central development services. Pohontu grew up in Bucharest, and he was also the founder and general manager of EA Romania.

“Mihai’s appointment to the CEO role will undoubtedly propel Amber to the next level, as we proceed to open new markets and unveil exciting development solutions for our partners,” said Dragos Hancu, founder and general manager of Amber Studio Romania, in a statement.

Above: Mihai Pohontu, vice president of emerging platforms at Samsung.

Image Credit: Michael O’Donnell/VentureBeat

Hancu started the company in 2013. Amber has made games on the PC, iOS, Google Play, Amazon, Windows Phone 8, Windows Store 8/8.1/10, Blackberry, Apple TV, Apple Watch, Samsung, LG Smart TV and it has used development frameworks such as Unity, Unreal, Cocos2D, Marmalade, and FMOD.

Joshua Hendren, general manager at Kixeye, said in a statement, “Amber Studios was a great partner for us at Kixeye. Their team was diligent, savvy, and hard working. For a good portion of the development of War Commander: Rogue Assault the majority of the gameplay engineering was done out of Amber, making the company responsible for some of our most critical features. Their leadership was great to work with and their team was always willing to do what we asked of them.”

Above: Amber worked on War Commander: Rogue Assault for Kixeye

Image Credit: Amber/Kixeye

“I was in a startup at Jamdat in the past, and I felt I would like to return to an entrepreneurial environment,” said Pohontu. “I learned a ton at Disney and Samsung. But this is also a passion project because I would love to help an independent Romanian game company go international.”

As for Romania’s indie game makers, Pohontu said they are doing good work but have not had major commercial successes yet. Among these companies, Amber is the local giant.

“Our focus is built around engineering,” Pohontu said.

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