Next Tuesday, former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s video game company, 38 Studios, will release its first title, called Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. It’s been six years in the making, or roughly the amount of time it takes these days to play a Major League Baseball game.
You can watch the launch trailer at the bottom of this post.
Since all I know about video games is that my boys wouldn’t stop playing the Wii if our living room was on fire, I asked Stephen Heaslip – “Blue” of the popular gamer site Blue’s News – what he thinks of Schilling’s venture. (Heaslip has previously helped me find “rogue game server admins” and understand why someone might offer a $1,000 bribe to have his banned World of Warcraft account reactivated.)
Here’s Heaslip’s take on 38 Studios:
I think the story of 38 Studios and their gaming ambitions is a fascinating one, and I don't think I'm the only one who is intrigued by it: This is one of those where the back-story almost takes center stage over the games.
Curt Schilling was a huge World of Warcraft fan towards the end of his baseball career, and like a lot of us, thought he had ideas for how to make his own MMORPG to take the experience to the next level. What he also had that most of us don't, however, is the kind of money to make such a project come to life, which lead to the formation of 38 Studios, and their plans for an MMORPG codenamed Copernicus.
Putting your own money behind such a project is obviously a risk that many would not take anyway, so his passion for making this work is quite obvious. They've secured outside funding along the way, but a quote from Schilling last year suggested he has invested a staggering $30 million of his own money in the company.
A factor in this is how long such a game takes to make, which makes for a high burn rate as bills are paid without money coming in the door. This is exacerbated when you enlist high-profile talent like they did, such as author R.A. Salvatore and artist Todd MacFarlane. And the fact that they are also game-development neophytes adds yet another unusual wrinkle to this tale.
But further, in the years following the game's announcement, the MMOG market has undergone a paradigm shift. WoW is losing a slice of its still-impressive user-base every reporting period, and it has become conventional wisdom that whatever future such games have is more in the free-to-play realm than in the traditional subscription model. Most MMO games that have launched since Copernicus was announced are F2P, and many established games have converted to that model in that time as well.
Along the way, it was announced that 38 Studios acquired Big Huge Games, a developer formed by Firaxis vet Brian Reynolds, among others. At the time the company was considered real-time strategy specialists (Rise of Nations and an Age of Empires III expansion are their most prominent releases), but they were working on a traditional RPG led by Ken Rolston, veteran of Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls franchise. Their game became Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which will use the setting from Copernicus. There is still talk of an MMORPG, but it's not very clear how much of Copernicus was added to Reckoning, and what is its current state of development. When they get back to talking more about Copernicus, it will be interesting to learn their plans for a business model.
It will be interesting to see if Copernicus launches with a subscriptions model, and if so, whether that succeeds. Whatever the model, it's hard to root against someone who has such a passion for gaming that he invested "FU money" into it. Many who pursue developing such a game would be more inspired by the prospect of taking such a sum out of the project.
Schilling is a celebrity/hero in these parts because of his contributions to the Red Sox breakthrough 2004 World Series victory, but I had no idea that Mr. Bloody Sock had so much skin in this other game. Good luck to him.
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