Curt Schilling: The Escapist Interview

Since Sunday, November 4, 2001, Curt Schilling has been my nemesis. That was the day he and Randy Johnson teamed up to beat Roger Clemens, Mariano Rivera and the rest of my beloved Yankees in game 7 of what has since been called the best World Series of the modern era.

Since then, Schilling has popped up repeatedly, finding new ways to ruin my life. He was on the 2004 Red Sox, the team that rallied from a 3 games to none deficit in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees (he pitched in and won game 6). The day after that happened, I literally spoke only in disjointed obscenities. And then he went on to help them win the World Series for the first time in 86 years.

So, when the opportunity arose for The Escapist to interview Schilling about his new game company, Green Monster Games, I wasn’t exactly Executive Editor Julianne Greer’s first choice. But I lobbied (“Hey, name someone else around here who knows what an ERA is”) and eventually won, not entirely sure about how well I’d control myself when talking to a guy who makes the sports fan in me tremble every time he takes the mound in the Bronx.

But in the end, talking to Schilling was like talking to a game developer with more business and leadership acumen than the average bear. He didn’t hiss; I didn’t smell fire and brimstone when the secretary transferred me. And when he told me about his content-based dream team with a fan base 400-million strong, I found myself wondering if it would be OK if he were only my sporting nemesis. Here, then, is Curt Schilling on Green Monster Games.


The Escapist: When did you first have the idea to form a company, and who did you talk to before going forward with it?

Curt Schilling: I had the idea about a decade ago. Probably longer than that, since I’ve been a gamer my whole life. The genesis of it was maybe 10 years ago but I really started to act on it probably seven or eight years ago, when I started my relationship with the people at Sony. I got into looking inside the industry and started to act on it a few years back and really started to move on it last year.

TE: Do you see this as a pet project or is this something you’re going to focus on after you retire?

CS: This is something I will focus on explicitly and completely when I’m retired. Outside of working out for this season and my family right now, it’s taking up every minute of my day.

TE: What role do you plan on playing?

CS: I’m founder and CEO of the company. I’ve hired a president and have leadership in place. [We’ll have] a core team over the next six months of about 30 people.

TE: What’s Green Monster’s philosophy? What’s the mission?

CS: Everything we do is intent on being the best, on being innovative and revolutionary, from a product and a company standpoint. We truly have aspirations of being the best in the world at what we do. From top to bottom, this company will operate with a very different mandate in every aspect, from how we treat our employees, how our employees are compensated and their vested interest in the profitability of the company to every ounce of every product we produce.

There’s things that I’ve learned in the 20 years I’ve played in professional baseball, being part of a team sport, that apply [to business]. You see the real world out there trying to generate and create that team atmosphere, by Hawaiian shirt Fridays or Jelly of the Month Club for the holidays. You don’t build teams that way. You build teams by bringing people in who believe in the vision of the company, who understand that the logo on the front of your shirt is a lot more important than the name on the back. That’s a sports analogy, but it’s applicable.

It’s literally about checking egos at the door and being in this for the good of the company, and understanding that if you do your job – and this applies to everyone – if you do your job, at the end of the day, everybody wins.

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TE: You’re known for being an EQ player, and you’ve worked with the EQ and EQ2 dev teams in fundraising events. Have you ever had your hand in game design?

CS: Not other than the other billion of us gaming geeks out there who said, “Wow, I can do it better than that,” or “That sucks.” I’ve been a critic my whole life. Over the last decade, I’ve gotten to realize that when you sit around and say “How cool would it be if …” and you have all of those great concepts, when you sit down and start developing a computer game, the globe spins. You go to the other side of the world; it’s a totally different world. The focus for me, from a founder’s standpoint – and obviously I am a gamer and I have my head in different aspects of the company – but the goal for me is not to make my game. There’s been a lot people who have made that mistake. The goal for me is to make the game.

And to do that, you need passionate, accountable, talented, resourceful, outside-the-box thinking people. And not just one or two, but everyone on your team has to possess those kinds of traits. And you bring those types of people into something, and you make them understand that as an employer, you’re gonna care about them more than anybody they’ve ever worked for. And the only thing you ask in return is their devotion to the company. And you make them understand that the company will never be more important than the family, never more important than their real lives.

You do things to make them understand [you care]. We pay 100 percent of their insurance premiums; we have matching 401(k); our benefits package is as good as anybody’s … in the industry; to make sure that they understand that the care and commitment I’m telling them this company has for them is not lip service.

TE: If you compare that to the mentality that EA has, for example, with their employees. Their employees are pretty much wage slaves.

CS: There are so many lessons to be learned. The cliché of “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it” – this industry is just ripe for that.

You look around, and obviously, it’s a small industry. And bringing in incredibly talented people is hard to do, because those incredibly talented people – who are passionate and have character and are accountable – they’re employed. And a lot of the time, they’re employed in a position they’re comfortable in. And having been able to get those people as the core part of our team has been an immensely challenging and incredibly rewarding experience, because this is far more than a company to me – this is a family. These people believe in me and believe in this company, and to that end, they’re picking up their families and they’re moving them around the country, around the world, to be a part of something that I’ve had as a vision. That’s an immense amount of responsibility for me.

TE: How did Todd McFarlane and R.A. Salvatore get involved? Where did you meet them?

CS: Todd was a friend of mine from my days in Arizona, playing with the Diamondbacks. I met him out there. We’ve collaborated on some stuff with the ALS Foundation, through philanthropic work, and I basically pitched them both. I pitched them together on a road trip in Kansas City during the season.

The ironic thing is five or six years ago, I penciled out my dream team from a creative standpoint, who I’d want and what I would want them to do. R.A. was the guy behind the creative vision, and I talked to some people that handle some PR stuff for me, and I said, “I’d love to talk to this guy.” Ten minutes later, I’m on the phone talking to him. He lives a half hour from me in Boston, and he’s the biggest Boston Red Sox fan on the planet. We’ve become very close friends very fast. He’s an incredible man, obviously incredibly creative; I’m a huge fan. But beyond all that, he’s a fantastic person. And that was a huge, huge plus for me, to add him to the creative process.

TE: What role will R.A. and Todd be playing in the company?

CS: R.A. was hired on as the creative director. R.A. will drive the creative vision, the story behind what we’re doing. He’s got a pretty decent track record of writing some pretty good stories.

Todd will literally be the art director. He will be behind the artistic vision of R.A.’s story. We will have an art director in house that will collaborate with Todd and Todd’s team to take Todd’s conceptual vision and turn it into a game world and game players and game characters.

TE: There’s only one really big player in the MMOG field, and they just barely reached mass market. What is your key to succeed?

CS: It’s really simple. Todd can draw until the cows come home and it could be the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen, and R.A. can write the most beautiful story you’ve ever read, but if the game sucks, the game sucks. It really comes back to the game.

You have to make a game that appeals across the market, across platforms, that has a low barrier of entry, that people will want to play. In that simplistic explanation, there really is a lot of detail, but it really is that simple. You have to make a fun game. And I think a lot of people have really just misunderstood that. There’s franchises out there, that I’d hazard to guess everybody said were “can’t misses,” and they’ve missed.

The three most branded franchises in the history of the MMOG space were Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and, to me, Blizzard. Lord of the Rings had a century to brand their IP, Star Wars had three decades and Blizzard has had a decade of branding and franchise in the world of Warcraft. And they’ve done it so impeccably well, but at the end of the day, the thing that sticks out amongst those three is Blizzard stayed truer to their visions than anyone else, and fans got what they wanted. They did it because they stuck to their vision. They didn’t try to make a game for 7 million people. They tried to make and stick within the vision that they had, and at the end of the day, they didn’t let anybody come into the kitchen and change the recipe.

TE: Do you hope to target any of your fan bases directly?

CS: If you do the math, and you take the McFarlane fans – Todd’s site gets, I think, 320 million hits a month. R.A. sold over 15 million books in the United States. You take baseball fans that are potentially Red Sox fans, Curt CS fans. The number that we’ve come up with on the conservative estimate [is,] over the multiple years of production, we believe that 400 million pairs of eyes will come to our website. At that point, it’s our job to make them come back. That’s an enormously large audience.

TE: You hear a lot now about casual and hardcore gamer ideologies clashing. Do you have anything planned that will cater to both communities? You have more than a 40 hour a week job just in baseball, but you still managed to play EQ and EQ2. Do you feel you offer special insight there that most developers wouldn’t have?

CS: I think I do, but I might be wrong. There might be people with more insight than I have. I have a unique viewpoint, I think it brings something to the table, but again, this isn’t about designing my game. This is about designing the game. That is important to me.

TE: Thanks for your time, Curt.

CS: Thank you. Take care.

The Escapist, a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist. Joe Blancato, a young Associate Editor on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the powerless, the helpless in a world of criminals who operate above the law. Joe Blancato, a lone crusader in a dangerous world. The world … of The Escapist.

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