Curt Schilling Opens Up About 38 Studios Collapse

Curt Schilling Opens Up About 38 Studios Collapse

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An in-depth look at the demise of 38 Studios portrays founder Curt Schilling as a dedicated, driven and slightly delusional man who was grossly out of his depth.

To most observers who care to follow such things, the demise of Kingdoms of Amalur developer 38 Studios was unfortunate and regrettable in the vague, peripheral way of most bad things that happen to good people for no particular reason. But a new Boston Magazine interview with founder Curt Schilling and other principles puts a far finer point on it. From the employees who were left holding the bag to Schilling himself, who still sounds utterly overwhelmed by the whole thing, everything about the collapse is sad to the point of tragedy.

As he's done previously, Schilling lays much of the blame at the feet of Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, who was against the deal that brought 38 Studios to the state before he took office and who, he said, was at the head of "a concerted effort to make this not succeed." But others, including former employees and potential investors, paint a different picture, saying money was being spent at a calamitous rate, while outside financing never materialized. One such observer, Todd Dagres of Spark Capital, who ultimately declined to invest, said he was shocked that Schilling was getting so deep into such a risky venture. "Curt was not the CEO, but you could see he was quite involved and had a lot of control," Dagres said. "I was a little nervous."

Employees, meanwhile, were apparently unaware of the "dysfunction," internal feuds and high rate of turnover among company executives, while the continuing flow of easy money camouflaged the looming financial trouble. And when the ugly end did finally arrive, they were blindsided, despite Schilling's promise that they'd have 60 days warning if the company ever appeared to be in trouble. Schilling said he believed "with every ounce of his being" that things would work out, but he also allowed that ultimately, he dropped the ball.

"It wasn't that I didn't want to tell anyone, it's I didn't know what to say," he said.

Schilling comes across as a generous employer but an oblivious leader, who honestly believed that sheer force of will would bring him the same degree of success in the game industry as he experienced in baseball. There was also no small amount of hubris at work; despite making a fortune playing baseball, Schilling wanted to be "Bill Gates rich" and decided that "if you want to build something that's a billion-dollar company, the only game to do that with is an MMO."

There's no question that Schilling was a true believer in the studio and the game, but it's hard not to come away feeling that he was seriously out of his league and out of touch with the realities unfolding around him. The full interview is lengthy and thorough, and not much fun by any measure. But as a multifaceted look inside one of the highest-profile game studio collapses in recent memory, it's absolutely riveting.

Source: Boston Magazine

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Everything I hear about 38 studios just makes me sadder and sadder, it honestly seems to me that if the election had gone differently, things would have worked out well for them. But alas, things were not ment to be.

Rainboq:
Everything I hear about 38 studios just makes me sadder and sadder, it honestly seems to me that if the election had gone differently, things would have worked out well for them. But alas, things were not ment to be.

That probably not entirely true at all. The company would have probably lasted longer, but still gone down in flames. The new reports showing the company was grossly mismanaged.

Sorry Schilling, but some things require more than just willpower to get through.
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It's a shame. Granted that Amalur wasn't a head turner or genre definer, but it was still a very solid entry, especially for a game that was not only the first of an IP, but the first for the studio, AND it sold fairly well. Sounds like all they would have needed was a sound accountant to slap Schilling's hands and say "stop spending money on stuff" and we might have seen some really solid games come out of 38.

Edit: Though yeah, I am willing to let Schilling have a little slack, since the governor flapping his gums about things that caused potential investors to flee certainly didn't help things.

38 studios.... That name, My Mind refuse to call that the name of a SINGLE studio "38 studios" and is associating it with plural, as in 38 "separate" Studios!

Everything crashed from the inside when there was no communication between levels of authority and Schilling thinking he's some genius where all mistakes were caused by anyone other than him...

As much as I sympathise, it's pretty basic knowledge in the industry that trying to make an MMO as the first game for a new studio is financial suicide. They didn't quite do that, but the fact they were rushing to try and make one played a big role in their downfall.

Baldr:

Rainboq:
Everything I hear about 38 studios just makes me sadder and sadder, it honestly seems to me that if the election had gone differently, things would have worked out well for them. But alas, things were not ment to be.

That probably not entirely true at all. The company would have probably lasted longer, but still gone down in flames. The new reports showing the company was grossly mismanaged.

You never know, the game might have made it to market.

FantomOmega:
38 studios.... That name, My Mind refuse to call that the name of a SINGLE studio "38 studios" and is associating it with plural, as in 38 "separate" Studios!

Everything crashed from the inside when there was no communication between levels of authority and Schilling thinking he's some genius where all mistakes were caused by anyone other than him...

Yes, it appears that Shilling's hubris got the better of him, the company and everybody who trusted him. Perhaps there was something political there, but it wasn't what crashed the company. I don't know if it's a good or a shame that Epic bought Big Huge Games. What will they make next, now that Amalur is lost to them?

As to the plural matter, '38 Studios' is a proper noun thus avoids the dissonance which so troubles you. If Shilling was the boss of 38 studios, however, he might have had an excuse! ;) Yet the company, '3M' might blow your mind! Shouldn't it be "3 Ms"? ;)

Anyway, '38' is Shillings jersey number, right?

I'm still baffled by the fact that a governor-level politician has any interest in seeing a specific game studio succeed or fail.

WhiteTigerShiro:
It's a shame. Granted that Amalur wasn't a head turner or genre definer, but it was still a very solid entry, especially for a game that was not only the first of an IP, but the first for the studio, AND it sold fairly well. Sounds like all they would have needed was a sound accountant to slap Schilling's hands and say "stop spending money on stuff" and we might have seen some really solid games come out of 38.

Edit: Though yeah, I am willing to let Schilling have a little slack, since the governor flapping his gums about things that caused potential investors to flee certainly didn't help things.

I agree that he needed a better accountant. It sounds like he didn't have a good long term plan and was looking for the quickest way to make a buck. I'm sure if he had planned better it would have gone better. Like lets get two or three good KoA games out the door that sell well and THEN make the MMO. And yeah. The Governor could have been more discreet.

Rainboq:
Everything I hear about 38 studios just makes me sadder and sadder, it honestly seems to me that if the election had gone differently, things would have worked out well for them. But alas, things were not ment to be.

It seems unlikely. The report says that even if Schilling had got the tax credits he wanted, it would only have been enough to keep the studio afloat for a few more weeks, and Take-Two effectively said that Schilling's claims about being on the verge of signing a publishing deal the very day after Chafee made the comments about the company's solvency are bullshit. I suspect that history will judge that Chafee did exactly what he said: refused to throw good money after bad.

UberNoodle:

FantomOmega:
38 studios.... That name, My Mind refuse to call that the name of a SINGLE studio "38 studios" and is associating it with plural, as in 38 "separate" Studios!

Everything crashed from the inside when there was no communication between levels of authority and Schilling thinking he's some genius where all mistakes were caused by anyone other than him...

Yes, it appears that Shilling's hubris got the better of him, the company and everybody who trusted him. Perhaps there was something political there, but it wasn't what crashed the company. I don't know if it's a good or a shame that Epic bought Big Huge Games. What will they make next, now that Amalur is lost to them?

As to the plural matter, '38 Studios' is a proper noun thus avoids the dissonance which so troubles you. If Shilling was the boss of 38 studios, however, he might have had an excuse! ;) Yet the company, '3M' might blow your mind! Shouldn't it be "3 Ms"? ;)

Anyway, '38' is Shillings jersey number, right?

Yes, 38 was his number with the Phillies, Diamondbacks and Red Sox, 96% of his career.

It isn't hard to armchair psychologist Schilling trying, and finding, certain sport principles less effective in other endeavors. In particular, the wisdom of doubling down and going for glory. Flags fly forever, game studios don't.

Behind every talented person who believes things "just work out" are a dozen hardworking leaders making sure things work out. And when that leader isn't there, and the "it just works out" people take the wheel? Well... this happens.

It's very easy for highly-talented people to forget the various coaches, teachers, handlers, publicists, stylists, etc., that back them up so they can display their talents. Think of all the actors that tried (and failed) to become successful recording artists, and vice versa -- they were so blinded by their perception of their own talent that they thought it was like momentum, and with enough of it they'd just blast through this new obstacle like it was nothing.

I think it is completely safe to say at this point that I feel horrible for the actual workers and wish them the best of luck, but Schilling brought this entirely upon himself by bein a complete tool. An optimistic tool, but a tool nonetheless.

I hope we all have learned somethin from this mess.

Edit - Readin the linked article, I am actually legitimately pissed at Schilling for his mismanagement of that company. He may have treated his employees great while they had money, but he completely fucked them over in the end.

MoveTrek Mobility - a company 38 Studios hired during the relocation to Providence to buy and resell employees' Massachusetts homes - notified seven people that, because it had not yet sold their houses, they were potentially responsible for their old mortgages

Then there is this lovely number

On May 24, the entire 38 Studios staff was laid off via e-mail. They hadn't been paid since the end of the previous month

Some people got double whammied by both of those so they had to pay the old mortgage on the home that they were told would be sold off, the rent/mortgage of the place they were in now, and hadn't been paid in over a month with literally no warnin from management until less than a week before the thing went down.

Not only that but the idiot kept this from his employees because of some bullshit misguided faith that "everythin will just work out." Really? You based peoples livelihoods off of faith?

As a baseball player, Schilling refused to ever consider the notion of defeat until the final out, even down three games to none to the Yankees. By his own admission, he carried that same attitude into business. One former employee describes it as "rampant and destructive optimism."

Asked if that's truly what undid him, Schilling says, "No," then stutters and pauses. "I don't know any other way to be," he says finally, his voice dropping to just above a whisper and his eyes welling up. "I don't know any other way to be."

I don't know how much of this article was embelished, but fuck it. I want to believe this guy realized he fucked over everyone under him because he was an optimistic idiot.

Rainboq:
Everything I hear about 38 studios just makes me sadder and sadder, it honestly seems to me that if the election had gone differently, things would have worked out well for them. But alas, things were not ment to be.

Not according to basically everyone but Schilling.

I know all too well that sometimes, when you have an idea you're passionate about, you go into a sort of passive mania. It WILL get done, it WILL be brilliant, and if it won't, if it fails, if reality disrupts with the project, then the tendency is to simply refuse to accept that reality. To, in a way, delude yourself into thinking it WILL work out.

So I sympathise greatly, I guess. Maybe Schilling should have had more advisors on the industry, people who were in a position in the company to excercise control when Schilling couldn't.

Personally, though, I just got Kingdoms today, and I really do hope he and the rest of the staff find more work, because they've got a lot of talent there.

And in schillings case, I mean work in which he has less control.

I lament the loss of such a studio.

I am a huge fan of Amalur, and once I heard about the MMO they were planning, I foresaw this inevitable conclusion.

The more I read the worse I feel for all those involved. Regardless of who or what's to blame, it's a shame.

It doesn't really surprise me that the company didn't make it through. They had the money, but there were several factors working against them.

Making an MMO as their first title is of course the obvious one, but also it appears that none of their top management were experienced game makers. It's not enough to just be involved in an entertainment field. Videogames are obviously different from other forms of entertainment in that they are interactive, and as such, making a good game requires putting the emphasis on that interaction first and foremost.

Finally, expecting to make a AAA MMO on $50 million is not very realistic expectation to begin with. If it took Blizzard several times that, with a proven pedigree and a better understanding of what they were getting into, how was a group run by people new to gaming going to succeed at a fraction of the cost?

It's a shame it turned out like this, but hopefully there is a lesson for anyone in the future who has money and is interested in starting a game studio. Get experienced game-makers from successfully-run studios on board first, and listen to what they tell you. If they say it's not doable, finding somebody else who is less experienced isn't the solution. Work within your means to get that first title or three shipped. Then maybe at some point down the line you can consider making something like a MMO if you're still willing to take that sort of risk.

Ladies and gents, I present you the man who drove 38 Studios into the ground.

Sylocat:
I'm still baffled by the fact that a governor-level politician has any interest in seeing a specific game studio succeed or fail.

He didn't give a damn about the success or failure of 38 studios, he questioned the taxpayer subsidy of 50 million to a company with 400 employees, that is 12500 per employee. For the same money you can build a new car plant that employs 2000, as a cost/benefit for Rhode Island tax payers it doesn't make sense.

Schilling wanted to be "Bill Gates rich" and decided that "if you want to build something that's a billion-dollar company, the only game to do that with is an MMO."

really? i mean just cause you love playing them doesn't exactly mean they are cash cows here. WoW is a really bad yardstick for the MMO Market.

So he pretty much threw everything into making a WoW clone because he wanted to be "Bill Gates rich"? It sounds like he didn't quite understand what he was getting into, not only that making a WoW clone is not going to work but also that making a AAA MMO as your studios first game is not the best of ideas.
Hell it sounds like he didn't even give a damn about the game and just wanted to make "SUPER MONEY" with an MMO like WoW does.

Turns out making games is hard.

Wow... that article actually made me lower my opinion of Schilling from "incompetent self-aggrandizer" to "delusional asshole". My favorites:

1) Schilling's wife defending him. Looked like standard spousal loyalty at first, I thought nothing of it. But then I found out that she and half her family were working there in management positions. Spousal loyalty is one thing, trying to defend nepotism is another. Is it wrong of me to accuse someone's wife of unfair bias? (I guess just being a good wife is fair bias.)

2) "Bill Gates rich". Seriously? I doubt even Gates himself treats wealth as a high score, and I doubt Bill Gates expected to be "Bill Gates rich" back when he was violating New Mexico traffic laws.

3) ... rich by making an MMO. Seriously, that is a fatal misunderstanding of the market. That's like saying - more appropriately - you'll be Bill Gates rich if you make a new operating system. Just because there's ONE guy making a mint doesn't mean EVERY guy will. If anything, it's better evidence that you won't because you've got an 800 ton monopoly gorilla to deal with. You want to be rich on an MMO? Easy. Build a time machine, and go back and build World of Warcraft before Blizzard does. (And not having an existing IP, good luck with the initial traction in the world of Ultima Online and the established Everquest.) I thought the MMO thing was stupid but knowing he expected to be the next Blizzard makes it WORSE.

4) Giving people presents to make the company look flush while going back on your disclosure promises because "I didn't know what to say" is a dick move, plain and simple. They're called words. FIND THEM. Hell's sake, you hired enough VPs, get one of THEM to write it.

5) The business world is not baseball. His only interaction with the Real World and business dealings was through endorsements. Apparently he never figured out that you don't just "win" investments by walking in and shaking hands. Walking into an endorsement deal, he was the product and his lawyer and agent were the negotiators, and the people on the other side of the table desperately wanted the product. He didn't seem to realize that in the real world, HE was doing the lawyer/agent job and AMALUR was the product, and it was a product that didn't beat the Yankees in three straight games or whatever.

6) In baseball there's two teams: One winner, one loser. Life is never so simple. Not getting investments you need is LOSING. He seemed to think that because people smiled and shook his hand that meant he had won something. If baseball was like the gaming business, you'd be playing 500 teams at once, and one of the teams would be some Swedish guy who somehow manages to win games while playing all the positions himself. Really, maybe he should have laid off WoW for a few nights and spent time reading gaming media. Never mind Company 101 or Business 101, he needed Life 101 with a side of Gaming 101.

7) Negotiating when he didn't know how. Hiring people when he didn't know how. Giving game design direction when he didn't know how. Micro-fucking-management. 'Nuff said.

8) What's the old adage? You can be stupid but surround yourself with smart people? He surrounded himself with his in-laws and ignored everyone else.

9) "I've been around situations where you can make people believe something they don't believe." Name ONE. He doesn't, probably because they involve some baseball pundit saying his team won't win X games in a row. And like I said, one winner one loser. Winning X in a row is barely improbable, never mind impossible. He seems to confuse "hard" with "impossible", and thus set out to eat the sun.

Anyway, there's more but I need to get back to work. My bank account number will be bigger at the end of the day, I guess that makes me a better businessman.:/

So it makes perfect sense. Schilling thought he was an anime character

I can't decide which makes me more giddy with delight. Th demise of Schillling the big mouthed baffoon or the demise of the Red Sox. Either way it has been one summer of deliciousness all around.

 

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