Jason Schwartz of Boston Magazine recently penned a very lengthy piece that describes what happened inside 38 Studios in its early, middle, and final days. His article included interviews with several former employees, including Curt Schilling himself, in what Schwartz describes as an “emotional, two-hour-long autopsy” of the doomed game company.
Throughout the piece, Schilling is painted as a benevolent, but misguided, chief, who wanted to treat his employees like Major League ballplayers, with some of the best benefits corporate life could offer and a series of extravagant perks that ran into the millions of dollars.
Schilling himself was always supremely confident of the possibility of success, with failure never entering into his mind, saying:
“My whole life was spent doing things that people didn’t believe were possible, because God blessed me with the ability to throw a baseball. And I carried that same mentality into everything I did here.”
Schwartz details several meetings Schilling had with investors, which Schwartz says Schilling always “emerged from… thinking he’d hit a home run,” including one with an executive from a top venture capital firm, who said after a visit to the 38 Studios offices:
“38 Studios didn’t have “the ‘A’ team that I thought you’d want to see developing such a difficult game… Curt was not the CEO, but you could see he was quite involved and had a lot of control. I was a little nervous.”
As for the “mystery investor” that was supposedly scared off by Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee‘s statements in mid-May, that’s identified as Take-Two Interactive. Schilling says the deal for funding was ready for “final sign-off,” but a Take-Two representative says that he was “not aware” of any prospective deal.
Indeed, the nature of Schilling’s control would seem to be a recurring point of contention. In interviews with other employees, Schwartz would say that Schilling would hire top talent but then would frequently not accept their input. At other times, he would interject himself into matters which were not his domain:
One [former employee] says that he’d undermine managers by randomly dipping in to give direct orders to employees: “His requests added significant work, and were often contrary to the direction given by other people.”
As for Copernicus itself, the reason we saw so little of it is because Schilling didn’t think the game was ready to be shown:
“The game wasn’t fun,” he says, unprompted, beside the softball field. “It was my biggest gripe for probably the past eight to 12 months.” Visually, Copernicus was stunning, but the actual things you could do in the game weren’t engaging enough. The combat aspects especially lagged. Schilling — who never wavered in his belief that the game would be great — says the MMO was improving, but after six years, it still wasn’t there. When Schilling walked around during lunch hour, he says, nobody was playing Copernicus’s internal demos. They were all on some other game.
In all, the nine-page report is generally positive in its depiction of Curt Schilling the man, who wanted only the best for his people and product and was willing to do whatever it took to achieve it. Curt Schilling, the businessman, however, is another story — a tale of a man who was repeatedly in over his head and had no idea he needed a life preserver.