The Story Of A Family In Turmoil After A Video Game Studio Closes Its Doors

The collapse of 38 Studios has been notable not just for the scale and suddenness of the closure, but the manner in which it has affected employees.

It's easy for us to read a story about a shuttered game developer, think of the games we'll never get to see, then move on with our lives. For those actually working there, though, and also their families, the story is a much more immediate and, in some cases, tragic one.

We received a letter on Tuesday from the wife of a former employee of 38 Studios. Her story, and that of what's happened to her family in the wake of the developer's closure -- they've gone from being a comfortable family to being on welfare -- makes for some sad reading.

I want to tell a different, but not impartial, side of this story. I am telling this for two reasons. First, to raise awareness and help for any of the family or employees involved. Second, so other people know what companies can do. I am not a 38 Studios employee, a big baseball star (who may or may not have trusted the wrong people), or some politician trying to prove a point. I am very involved though and affected by this disaster, as a wife and mother, who has moved the most important people in my life to a new state. I knew Rhode Island would be different, but hopefully still an adventure and maybe a home eventually.

We moved to Rhode Island at the end of December 2011. We opened our presents on Christmas Day, took down our tree on the 26th, and began packing and loading moving trucks on the 28th, all because my husband was hired by 38 Studios and told he had to start work as quickly as possible. We spent a month living out of a hotel searching day after day for a house to rent. My children could not get back into school and could not start a new life until we found a place to settle. Finally we found a place to live, paid deposits on the house, utilities, etc. and moved. We registered all 3 children at all 3 new schools, because we do have one in each - elementary, middle, and high school. Finally, our stuff is delivered and our life can start again. It's always hard to move and this is our second big move, but we finally made it to the point where we can re-build our support system and boy were we ready.

My husband has been in the gaming world for a long time. Most of his life has been spent working in this industry and he is well equipped to deal with the problems that go with it. He is usually hired when things are ready to be tied up and finished or they need someone with experience who can tell the left hand how to work with the right hand to meet the release dates set.

The first week he worked at 38 Studios he was concerned about the different teams and their ability to work together. He went to more than one executive during the weeks that followed encouraging them to make changes or deal with the release date issue. The company was not ready for him to do the job he was hired to do, therefore he was placed on other projects to wait it out.

Obviously, in the weeks to come our family had less trust in what we were being told. We did not have a chance to love 38 Studios or Curt Schilling. We really only saw the landslide of mistakes and ultimate failure. We did not see this coming or could we have ever imagined how in 2012 a company could get away with treating employee's this way. There have to be laws or safety nets or something … right?

So, on the 15th of May I sat down to pay bills and upon checking our bank account noticed we had not had our direct deposit made by 38 Studios. I called my husband and asked him to check on it when he got to work. When he came home that night he told me that he had to stay for a 5 o'clock meeting to find out they didn't make payroll. He was unhappy, but said that he was promised they were working on the problem and sure they would have it worked out by the next day.

The next day began at 7:30 am and ended at 7:00 pm. It took 10 ½ hours to find out that they still could not pay him and didn't have any answers. On the May 16th — 21st, my husband returned day after day, told to drive in to work and promised pay, but every day came home empty handed after late meetings and more promises. The longest day was 12 hours and each day we were spending more money on gas and more hope going out the window. During this time, we were also trying to keep our children from worrying while they spent each day hoping to catch a glimpse of their dad before they went to sleep.

By the 22nd we were really scared and feeling lied to, my husband decided it's time to work from home to save the gas money as did many others at the studio. At many times it occurred to us to just give up and move on, but we didn't. There was one main reason. If we left the company we would be responsible for the relocation costs of moving to Rhode Island from just 5 months ago and we did not have the funds to pay for that after not receiving paychecks. From May 22nd - 24th my husband worked from home trying to come up with ideas to get anything out the door and bring in some money to save 38 Studios. We also get another kick while we were down on May 22nd, when one of the employee's wives is at her pregnancy check up and is told that her insurance company has notified the doctor that it was ending at midnight on the 24th of May. When confronted, 38 Studios admitted they had been aware since the 21st of May that due to lack of payment for several months, insurance was going to be canceled on May 24th.

Again, they knew the problem existed and chose to not tell us or give us any notice. On the 24th of May, my husband was laid off officially after 6 days of wasted gas, with no payment of wages for all of May (1st — 24th), no insurance, slim chances of ever seeing any money since the State of Rhode Island would be paid first by all asset sales, and had to drive in once more to get his belongings and attend a meeting on unemployment benefits.

Ok, so time to lick our wounds, get back on the horse, and find a new job. At least we stuck it out and won't have to pay back our relocation costs according to the Chief Operating Officer. Wrong! On June 1st, we get a letter from Atlas Van Lines with 10 days to pay our overdue moving bill of a sizeable amount. Six months has gone by since our move. There was no notice at any point that this had not been paid and now we get a bill with 10 days to pay. Why now? Haven't they had 6 months to collect this? Didn't the company say we would be let out of our contract since they folded? Couldn't they have given us a head's up at any point before we were broke and our savings gone to feed our children? After all, a head's up on this might have alerted us to a problem with 38 Studios before we got to this point. Well on one page in a series, of approximately 45, we signed a document stating in tiny print that we would be responsible if the company does not pay. I don't know if most people are aware, but moving with 3 kids, a dog, and a cat from one coast to another is a bit tiring and this document was of course presented on the day our stuff arrived in Rhode Island, which was chaos.

So, there goes our credit rating no matter how hard we are trying to still pay for all bills with no income. We have no income, no time to prepare, and I will not let my children starve to pay for a move that did not exactly work out. Why hadn't Atlas collected from 38 Studios? We were told by an Atlas representative that they had a special working relationship with Curt Schilling, therefore they were trying to work with him. Must be nice to have at least 30 days, let alone 6 months to pay for this bill.

Am I angry? You bet! I have been taken for a ride and am having to take a handout from the government for the first time in my life. Who do I get to direct my anger at? Nobody! The ones responsible aren't around to chat with or pay for the consequences of their actions. At moments I think Curt Schilling trusted the wrong people, but at least he is having to deal with this mess too. At other times, I am angry and think Curt Schilling is a smart man and should have done better!

Where will we go and what is next? I have no idea and am just trying to feed my family and love them and hope moving my kids again won't completely break their trust in us or hurt them too much. I think we could have liked Rhode Island. I think of all the supportive people and friendly faces and how much kindness we have been offered since this happened from people we barely know. We will probably be moving away from this state and paying taxes and working somewhere else soon. It is a shame that certain politicians couldn't get past the need to prove a point about being against 38 Studios and see they were harming their state in the long run. I mean 38 Studios was already here and the way I see it anything that could be done to make it a success would only benefit Rhode Island. As it stands, there are close to 300 very talented people dispersing all over the country and out of Rhode Island. There is an empty building with no game to be sold and a bunch of equipment that will not come close to paying for what is owed more than likely. And worst of all, there are some great people here in Rhode Island that will not benefit from the boost in economy.

My husband is interviewing daily thanks to an amazing industry trying to make up for what has happened. He is a talented man, who feels somehow responsible for moving our family into this mess and wishes he could have saved this company and every person at 38 Studios jobs. He is just trying to take away what lessons he can and move on.

Me? I blame a company named 38 Studios and all of their executives for moving so many families while knowing they weren't paying bills, weren't going to hit their dates, and were running out of money. Learn this lesson from our struggles so you never have to experience it first hand. Protect yourself and family any way you can, read the small print, and realise no matter how big the company is if they run out of money there is very little you can do to get what is owed to you.

Top photo: Former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, centre, sits in the back seat of a vehicle as he departs the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation headquarters in Providence, Rhode Island, on Monday, May 21, 2012. Schilling and Rhode Island's economic development agency met on Monday to discuss the finances of his troubled video company (Steven Senne/AP).


    Sad, real sad.
    What more can be said ....

    Just shows you how brutal the greedy corp world is. Hope this family has better luck in the future.
    I would love to say I would buy this game just so I can help out the families affected but I know a single cent will not go to them.

    Gamasutra claims to have received this letter. I wonder if received it also, or just borrowed it.

    I know my posts normally don't make any sense, but I truly wish the best for that poor family. A real sad read, and even sadder to know how screwed up the corporate world is.

    I hope this family an all those affected can get things going for themselves again.
    I am also wondering how many more events like this are to happen. The video game industry to me is now one of the worst industries to be in (special thanks to EA, activision etc...). They don't have values like they used too, no loyalty or honesty. You work your ass off for little coin and the line up of new young talent each year wanting to get in is endless (also gives orporates like EA more opportunity to screw). Originality is gone, creativity is mostly lost... It's sad and the hard working people there will go to hell and back for the company and this is one story of how they are treated. Many more unwritten...

    I loved this industry but knowing stuff like this is happening is so disappointing. I feel the corporations will ruin it one day...

      So young and naive, you have no idea how the world works. Well let me tell you, it's a brutal place. People lose their jobs without notice all the time.

      And in terms of artistic industries, video games is much more stable than movies or music, places where things like benefits and holidays are a myth.

      And big companies like EA and Activision provide a lot more job security. There are few companies actually creating jobs right now and EA is one of them.

      You say creativity is gone. Just look at the games EA partners publishes. Big companies answer to shareholders. If you ran a big company would you be willing to spend big dollars on risky, experimental games and genres? What if you did and it cost you and lots of people their jobs?

      You're young and idealistic and you want to believe that big business is the bad guy, exploiting workers and choking creativity. But you have little insight into how and why the world works. Ah to be young again.

        "You’re young and idealistic and you want to believe that big business is the bad guy, exploiting workers and choking creativity. But you have little insight into how and why the world works. Ah to be young again."

        So the world's shit, so lets keep it that way? No thanks.

          "You’re young and idealistic and you want to believe that big business is the bad guy, exploiting workers and choking creativity. But you have little insight into how and why the world works. Ah to be young again"

          douche chills!

          Um.. Big companies do exploit workers and choke creativity. Isn't that the way the world works? Have you seen the news lately too about the world. Looks a bit to me as if the greed of the west is starting to catch up.

            I suppose if you still live at home and haven't had too much participation in the worlds systems you'd be inclined to believe that.

            But I'm afraid it's not that black and white. It's fun to believe it, but it's not so simple.

            You see, 38 studios was a small company, an upstart. It's an example of what happens when small companies with big creative dreams but lacking management experience forges ahead with abandon. So don't kid yourself, small business can be just as cut-throat. 38 is an example of what happens when you prioritize creativity and dreams over business.

            Now how do you suppose big companies start? Do you think they just appear overnight? Nope, they grow from small companies. More often than not they become public companies that answer to shareholders. Big companies can't survive, can't pay their employees, unless they satisfy investors. How do you satisfy investors? By making money. How do you make money? By making successful games.

            Now I'll pose the question again. If you were running a big company and yours and hundreds of jobs were riding on making successful games would you go with safe bets, the things you know will sell? Or would you gamble people's careers on risky ideas that satisfied your creativity? The answer is both right?

            And all of a sudden you're the big bad corporation, despite the fact that your studios have financial security and benefits and despite the fact that your company enables smaller scale creative games to see the light of day (think EA making Mirror's Edge and publishing Indie games).

            You see, it's fun to think of big companies like EA as the enemy against which we must fight, wearing Guy Faulks masks. It's fun to assume that companies like EA exploit their employees. But until you see the whole picture, until you fully appreciate that entertainment is anchored to business, you will continue to focus on just the artistic side. Your point of view is naive, and I don't mean that to be offensive. I really do miss being young and thinking the same way.

            Remember, the games industry is filled with examples of amazing, fresh, creative games that no one bought and sent their companies broke. Creativity on its own doesn't guarantee success. Big business is a healthy aspect.

              While I totally agree with your point about risk aversion and creativity, I think your giving EA way to much credit. Some large companies are merely risk averse, others are sharks that consume other companies and run them into the ground for short-term profits with little regard for long-term profitability.

              Activision is arguably the former, EA is certainly the latter. EA itself is stable, but its studios are far from it. EA has a track record of buying successful studios, making them do stupid rushed projects, ruining the brand, and then doing mass-layoffs.

                But at least you have the perspective to see the real cause of problems instead of saying "companies that are big are bad, and they're bad because they're big".

                38 is an example is a small grassroots studio focusing on 'creativity' over business and look where they and their employees ended up. It's naive to think of. If companies as the enemy and the small creativity driven guy is the hero.

                This kid doesn't realise that dreams and creativity don't make companies successful. Creativity doesn't pat employees, employees prefer to be paid in cold hard cash.

                  "This kid doesn’t realise that dreams and creativity don’t make companies successful. Creativity doesn’t pat employees, employees prefer to be paid in cold hard cash."

                  What I was trying to say is that although you are 100% correct, I'd go with 'naive idealistic youngsters' attitude over yours any day. Simply because it's a stagnating and depressing world-view. If these youngsters all need to 'wake up' to harsh reality in order to find happiness in the world then that's going to end up only ever being the only way. I prefer to believe that one day the idealistic communist utopia envisaged by Star Trek could become possibility if my ancestors are born expecting one.

              Not surer i agree. I go into a games store now, see hundreds of clone titles and walk out. They bore me. Am i over the hobby or is the magic diminished by the wealth of content available? Once i stared hungrily at magazine pictures of new games or hardware, but now i don't care. Is it because the clones have made it less special? Does the overflowing market actually drive players away?

                When I think about what games were like as a child in the early 80s and what games are like now, I look at the titles in a game store, even the clones, and I feel privileged to be a gamer.

    Thanks Shadow Artiste, appreciate it. I wish I could communicate in writing as well as you.

    Small business is like this. I worked for a small financial services company and the pay and benefits were horrible, in fact, they are now closed down. Now I work for a large insurance company and have never been treated so well. I assume the gaming industry is the same, the small guys treat you bad...

    Man that really sucks. However I think that this goes to show that you absolutely cannot sign 45page agreements on the spot especially when they relate to a move/relocation.

    What a sad story. I can only hope that they get paid their benefits and what is owing to them, and that they are able to quickly find work. Good luck to them, and to any employee from a shuttered studio who finds themselves in the same mess.

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