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Schilling Invested 'Majority' Of Earnings Into 38 Studios
Schilling Invested 'Majority' Of Earnings Into 38 Studios
March 30, 2010 | By Kris Graft

March 30, 2010 | By Kris Graft
More: Console/PC

Although Major League Baseball all-star pitcher Curt Schilling retired from the Red Sox last year, he is apparently unable to leave his competitive mentality on the mound. The former pro athlete has invested millions of dollars and sacrificed time with his family to establish the Maynard, Massachusetts-based MMORPG company, 38 Studios.

"I have put the majority of the money I've earned in my life on the table," he said in the Harvard Business School case study, Curt Schilling's Next Pitch. "If I make another financial investment, I will have crossed the point of no return from a personal investment and company standpoint."

Baseball Reference, which is cited in the case study, estimates that Schilling earned over $114.16 million during his career in baseball.

Schilling is a known MMORPG fanatic and an avid player of games including Blizzard's World of Warcraft and Sony Online Entertainment's EverQuest. Originally announced in 2006 as Green Monster Games, named after towering left field wall at Boston's Fenway Park, 38 Studios stems from Schilling's passion for gaming, which is second only to baseball.

Fast Lessons In Business

But starting a company and creating a game is a lot different than playing WoW, or baseball for that matter, he quickly found out. "It was a very boring work environment in which you are asking people to be inspired," he said after visits to SOE. His research into the development of MMORPGs initially involved going to development studios, observing the process and taking notes.

After injecting an initial $5 million into the company (without informing his wife, Shonda), Schilling announced Green Monster Games and revealed the hiring of sci-fi/fantasy writer R.A. Salvatore and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane. Other key hires included industry vet Brett Close as CEO (who left the company last year) and former Comcast gaming exec Jen MacLean.

38 Studios' total compensation was $6.9 million for its fiscal year 2008, distributed amongst about 65 employees, according to the study. Capital that year stood at $2.4 million.

The time constraints of starting a new company have been taxing on the family life of Schilling, who has a wife and four children. After a final recruiting dinner with Close, he noticed his wife was upset. "I asked her what was wrong and she said, 'You never pursued me this hard,'" Schilling said. "And my first thought was, there was not this much money on the line."

Finding investors, getting the right team and researching the business of video games and corporate culture in general (the latter of which Schilling had no clue whatsoever) all began while Schilling was still a pro baseball player. He'd come to the game studio first thing in the morning, then head to Fenway in the afternoon, get home at 2 a.m. and start over.

Close explained how Schilling didn't even know the basics of working at a company. "He really needed Company 101," said Close. "For example, the whole concept of vacation was foreign to Curt. He actually said, 'People get weekends off, right?'"

"I feel as though I have gotten a Harvard Business School education during these last two years. It hasn't been easy," said Schilling.

"Quitting Is Not An Option"

In May 2009, 38 Studios acquired former THQ studio Big Huge Games, creators of Rise of Nations. The studio was in trouble, so it cost little to acquire, but Schilling and his team recognized good synergies in Big Huge's expertise and the fact the studio was working on a new role-playing game. In March, Electronic Arts' third-party distribution arm, EA Partners, said it would publish that RPG, codenamed Project Mercury.

Even though Schilling is in retirement from baseball, he's as busy as ever, and heavily involved with the daily operations at 38 Studios. But he admitted that he might have taken on too much at this period in his life, not to mention he launched the company in the midst of a recession.

"There was no way I should have started the company when I did," he said he thought to himself one day. "It wasn't fair to the Red Sox, it wasn't fair to these people, and beyond all of that it wasn't fair to my wife."

He acknowledged the difficulties, but his confidence in his company's success matches the confidence he had in his Little League days, when he knew one day he'd play in the pros.

"I have no doubt I am on the cusp of creating a multi-million dollar company and the only failure scenario is a quit. Quitting is not an option," he said.

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Tim Johnston
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This is great to see....People who are successful in other forms of business getting into game development because they WANT to and are passionate about it, not because they see dollar signs in their sleep. The guy obviously wants to make something great. Curt, Im looking for a gig so if you are reading this, drop me a note! :)

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I'll be keeping my eye on this one. It'll be interesting to see what they come up with.

Sean Kauppinen
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Thanks Kris and Curt for pulling together this story. It's not often to get this level of honesty regarding a company before a product has launched and I wish them every success. Curt has great character and has a great team. They will find a route to success with 38.

Anthony Charles
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curt schilling has a passion for mmorpg's, alot of money and alot of arrogance. i don't know if that is typically a recipe for success. if schilling realizes his place is only as, "guy that pays the bills" and perhaps inspirational leader then its a good fit. i think its probly more likely that curt is trying to build his dream game.

Joshua Sterns
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Some wives must worry about a new TV or car showing up out of no where. Mrs. Schilling gets a gaming studio. Awesome!

If his kids are old enough, then he already has his QA department.

Mark Morrison
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This sad and ironic story has played out in other similar scenarios for the last 10 years, over, and over, and over. The growing pedigree of *yes* men and women who seem to adversely influence excited nuby entrepreneurs serves no purpose to our industry. Itís the opposite, and those who praise this type of behavior either are not aware of whatís really going on, or maybe strive to be that next CEO just for the salary.

What happened to candor and brutal honesty? This project had a 500lb gorilla in the room from inception. It's called WoW. Nothing has really changed. A first year business analyst would have been Kurtís smartest, strongest, and most honest asset. $6.9M comp. compared to $2.5 cap. For 2008????

I genuinely hope Kurt can find some people to surround himself with ASAP, who bring something completely different than his recent past. Anyone who knows the history and players here would be smart to learn this (repeated) lesson and not repeat it. Sometimes quitting doesn't mean a hard stop. It can often mean pausing, quantifying/qualifying, and adjusting the plan.

Chris Crowell
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I heard Curt give a keynote at the IGDA leadership conference a couple of years back. It was really great to hear his radically different perspective on game development. Most models have come from film, but his background in pro sports had him focusing on maximizing the creative talent of his employees rather than working from spreadsheet logic. Spreadsheets have their place, but the key ingredient for game development is empowering the and guiding the talent, not micro managing them like factory workers. Best of luck Curt!

Joel Bennett
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Now there's a guy I'd like to work for!

Andrew Grapsas
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Big Huge Games has a lot of very, very experienced talent. I'm excited to see what they build under 38's financial roof.

Bart Stewart
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ďThis project had a 500lb gorilla in the room from inception. It's called WoW.Ē

Mark, I could be wrong but it sounds like bringing on R.A. Salvatore with his emphasis on consistency in world-building is 38ís response to WoW (or at least part of that response).

As Derek Smart has recently pointed out, and to echo you yourself, thereís already a game for people who like WoW -- itís called WoW. Thereís no value in coming up with just another elves-in-tights game. But based on Salvatoreís comments at GDC (
ding_Worlds_Copernicus.php), I think itís at least plausible that the folks at 38 recognize that fact and are looking for competitive advantage through more worldiness, rather than by blindly copying Blizzardís intense focus on highly directed gameplay.

Letís at least wait until they start announcing some features before we decide theyíre doomed.

Ron Alpert
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This has always been a fascinating story to sit back and watch, unique in our industry. I wish Curt & Co. the best of luck and look forward to their initial release.

Tom Newman
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WoW frankly is getting old. Sure I was pretty addicted from late 2004 through early 2006, and played all the expansions through the level cap, but I don't think I can recall the last time a game was still the status quo after 5 years of other big budgeted titles in the same genre trying to knock it down.

I'll be the first to admit that there has been no better game so far, but there has to be eventually... doesn't there? And we need people passionate about gaming (as oppossed to being passionate about the company's stock price) who are willing to at least try and advance the genre.

Mike Weldon
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I have a lot of respect for anyone willing to put their personal fortune on the line for the love of making games. 38 Studios seems to be a well-run operation and I am looking forward to seeing what they produce. Acquiring Big Huge was a big step in the right direction.

Jay Simmons
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Buying BHG was definitely a step in the right direction. There's nothing wrong with people with the resources starting dev studios. Where the problems start is when they start awarding themselves titles they are not qualified for. Todd MacFarlane is a legendary talent in the comics industry but probably not qualified to call himself Art Director of a game company. No doubt Curt Schilling loves games but if he suddenly declares himself Lead Game Designer then the project is doomed. Making a successful game is hard enough for seasoned pro's let alone inexperienced amateurs. I'm curious to see where this is going and hope they pull it off.

Mark Harris
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Best of luck, Curt! I'm eagerly following 38 and I'm excited to see what they deliver over the next few years.

Mark Morrison
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Bart, I couldn't hope for anything but success for Copernicus and the dev. team. After years in this space and seeing the numbers and dice rolled many times from a business perspective, I still think this is a view from the bottom of the cliff looking up. How many years has Curt been on a burn cycle? How many more can he go with? There is no question in my mind that Curt is a real human being, dedicated gamer, with good intentions. I love D&D, Spawn worlds, and the originators of Rise of Nations, Oblivion, etc.

My point is a business point mainly, reacting to this article. I think there are some real flaws here that could have been flushed out in advance by some professional analysis and due diligence. There may still be time? I don't think many would argue that $6.9M yearly comp. on $2.5M capital is a recipe for disaster.

Who/what were the business forces around Curt doing to help the success of this title/studio/model? From the outside it looks like more of the same that has hindered progression in the core game space in my opinion. Iíll let readers interpret this how they want, but the current just doesnít add up to me.

Mark Jordaan
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I repeat what Mark said but in less words - crash and burn, there were no survivors.