Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios fell apart due to a combination of poor management, bad decisions, and a whole lot of missed deadlines. And Schilling says their massively multiplayer online game — which was shuttered when the studio shut down earlier this year — just wasn’t fun.
This fascinating piece by Boston Magazine tells the story behind the demise of 38, responsible for Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, an action-RPG released earlier this year. The team had been working on an online game codenamed Project Copernicus before the staff were all unceremoniously dumped earlier this year. But there wasn’t always trouble in the Rhode Island-based studio. In fact, 38 at first seemed like a utopia to staff, who received a host of perks including free healthcare and great 401(k)s:
With midday Ultimate Frisbee games and a staff that got along remarkably well, the Maynard office appeared downright idyllic. Once, after an IT guy’s rottweiler died, Schilling presented him with a brand-new pup during an all-staff meeting. There was much applause. Former employees say Schilling was an unparalleled cheerleader. He hadn’t originally intended to be in the office full time, but when he got hurt in 2008 and subsequently retired from baseball, he became a permanent fixture. Jesse Smith, a designer, says that at monthly meetings, Schilling would usually give his thoughts after employees presented their work. “There were a couple times that you could tell he was getting choked up,” Smith says. “This was something that was just an idea and a dream to him, and now it’s coming to reality…. It was just powerful.”
But then, Boston Magazine reports, bureaucracy and mismanagement began to destroy the company’s efficiency.
So as the company moved south in April 2011, it embarked on a hiring binge. In its midst, Schilling seemed to be handing out important titles to anybody who asked nicely for one. “It became a joke,” one employee says. “Oh, you are a VP of lunch? Oh yeah, I’m a VP of doughnuts.” Infighting inevitably resulted, with execs often giving conflicting directives to staffers. “They didn’t work well together,” Schilling says of his bloated management team. “I was amazed at the turf-building and protecting that went on.”
The people working under Schilling had their own complaints about him. One 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.” Former staff members also charge that Schilling was stubborn and ignored people when he didn’t like what they were saying. For instance, sources say Schilling froze out his vice president of business development by excluding her from meetings. “Once Curt turned on somebody,” a former employee says, “you went from being a superstar to he doesn’t want to talk to you, overnight.”
Perhaps as a net result of this office politicking, Schilling’s ambitious MMORPG — which had been in the works for six years — turned out inadequate.
Deadlines were frequently missed, something for which staffers say Schilling rarely held anyone accountable. The ex-pitcher had a bigger concern. “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.
Check out the article for more on this unfortunate saga. It’s a great read.