Boston Magazine has published a very insightful article detailing the rise and fall of Curt Shilling’s 38 Studios, the video game company that the former baseball star founded with the goal of making him “Bill Gates rich.” Obviously, things didn’t turn out that way — 38 Studios filed for bankruptcy in June, leaving behind a mountain of unpaid debt, unemployed talent, and a lot of questions. After months of shying away from the media, Shilling has finally told his side of the story.
Despite 38 Studios shuttering, Shilling seems to remain adamant that the company was on the verge of creating something big — despite admitting that the game “wasn’t fun,” Shilling is still clinging to the idea that 38 Studio’s ambitious MMO, Project Copernicus, would’ve been enough of a hit to save his fledgling start-up. The company’s problems became public when 38 Studios failed to pay back a portion of a loan they had received from the state of Rhode Island, a loan which had originally been given to them as an incentive for moving their business over to the state. Shilling continues to blame Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee for the fall of his company, claiming that the Governor’s public lack of confidence in the studio’s ability to pay off their debts scared away potential investors.
Stories from former 38 Studio employees paint a different picture however: according to the article, while Shilling was beloved for showering his employees with gifts and benefits, he didn’t have much in the way of business savvy or an understanding of how game development worked. According to statements made by his former staff, Shilling gave high paying positions to his family members, continued hiring new employees even after it became clear that company was in a dire financial situation, shunned anyone who questioned his managerial style, and routinely underestimated how difficult and time consuming game development could be. When 38 Studios suddenly shut down amid a lot of drama earlier in the year, the company saddled its former employees with a host of debt, extra mortgages, and over a month of unpaid work.
A lot of people have painted Shilling as an uncaring asshole who ruined the lives of his employees, but this article paints a more even handed picture: Shilling wasn’t a jerk, he was simply… well, an inexperienced, blindly optimistic but well-meaning moron who got in over his head and brought a lot of innocent people down with him. I really liked 38 Studios’ first (and only) game, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, and it’s a shame to hear how the company was brought down by mismanagement rather than any sort of quality or sales issues. 38 Studios rise and fall is a tragic and an interesting story of how not to run a videogame company, and anyone who is interested in getting an insight into the industry should really go read Boston Magazine’s excellent article.