May 15, 2012

What’s really killing me if 38 Studios closes…

…is that we’ll never know the real name of Project Copernicus.

Seriously though, I’m sad that things aren’t looking good for the studio, and I hope there’s some miracle solution to the whole thing. I admired Curt Schilling for putting his money where his mouth is, and trying his hand at making an MMO, something that most of us dream about doing on a daily basis, and something that we all think we can do better than the studios whose games we play. He did it exactly as you’d expect a Big Game, World Series MVP pitcher to do it too, by going big or going home. He hired the best talent in R.A. Salvatore and Todd McFarlane, grabbed lots of experienced game industry vets from other games like Steve Danhuser and Jennifer MacLean. When anyone from 38 talked about the project, the two things that tended to come up were the vast scope of the project, across many types of media, and that the company was focused and terrific to work for. Heck, just a few weeks ago, I did an interview for Massively with two new additions to the staff: Senior Vice President of Development John Blakely, and Senior Vice President of Business Operations Mark Hanson.

Now, we’re hearing that 38 Studios defaulted on its May 1st loan payment of $1.125 million. From what I recall reading, their loan payments are due on May and September, and apparently the Kingdoms of Amalur box sales were not enough to cover the spring payment. With nothing to show at E3, and little concrete information about Copernicus for some time, that means even if they work out something for the May payment, things are looking bleak for the fall.

So if 38 Studios really does go under, what could be the reason? Was it the fact that the company branched out too far, too fast? Was the purchase of the Azeroth Advisor, and the potential data that came from it, worth the investment? Even more crucial, was the purchase of Big Huge Games, and the decision to put Kingdoms of Amalur (Project Mercury) on the frontburner a move that ended up putting them deeper into the hole and behind the 8 ball? And the lingering question, of course, is whether it was wise responsible to take a $75 million dollar loan from the state of Rhode Island if there might have been hints that this was a diceroll at best.

Whatever the reason, it’s a shame that the studio might be shutting its doors. I was on the bandwagon from the very start — I wasted time watching Munch eat my cursor, jumped on the dribs and drabs of concept art when it came out a few years ago, and got genuinely excited about their motto, “wouldn’t it be cool if…”

I was looking back at some of the posts I had made back in 2008 when 38 Studios had made quite a bit of buzz with Copernicus, and it’s eye-opening to see some of the other titles that I was writing about: Stargate Worlds, Tabula Rasa, Lego Universe, The Agency, Metaplace, Red 5′s game (which turned out to be Firefall), Darkfall, Age of Conan, and Warhammer Online. Not exactly a barnburner list, now that we’ve had some time to see it all play out. Four years ago, the whole notion of games and studios shutting down was not very common, and it was a time when we bloggers had a pretty full plate when it came to the list of notable MMOs that had either just released or were in development. Call me pessimistic, but the landscape these days is looking a lot more like the world of the Matrix after taking the red pill.

I’m not sure I want to go down the rabbit hole when it comes to MMOs right now.

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