Thrown for a Curve in Rhode Island
April 21, 2013 4:09 PM   Subscribe

"“It just felt really good, when this all started, to have the sexy sports celebrity from Boston who seemed to like Rhode Island and showed up in Rhode Island, and who built this exotic new business, even though no one knew what it was,” says the historian Ted Widmer, who grew up in Providence and works at Brown. “It seemed like the digital economy, or biotech, or whatever. But then it turned out that it wasn’t the new digital economy. It was some 13-year-old’s medieval fantasy.” "Curt Schilling, Rhode Island, and the Fall of 38 Studios.
posted by Pope Guilty (67 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
His buisness plan to bring new blood to the area must have really knocked their socks off.
posted by nathancaswell at 4:14 PM on April 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


“I said, ‘Well, what are you doing?’ ” Mr. Carcieri recalled when I met him recently, at a Panera Bread in East Greenwich, R.I., his hometown. “And he said, ‘I’ve got this business, this company, creating video games.’ Which I knew nothing about — my grandkids know more about it than I do. But he was describing it. He said: ‘It’s a great little company, it’s growing,’ et cetera. And he was looking to grow it further.”

Because, as everyone knows, the recipe for fiscal success is investing in businesses you know nothing about, run by people who are famous for something other than running that kind of business.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:23 PM on April 21, 2013 [17 favorites]


In past years, the corporation had provided loans of $1 million here or $1 million there, usually to help a local factory buy a new machine or to expand a plant, but now Mr. Carcieri was putting some muscle behind it. He and the Democratic leaders of the Legislature were preparing to appropriate $50 million to the corporation so it could place bigger bets on new industries looking to locate in Rhode Island.

Even if the game wasn't a failure, how many people could you reasonably hope to employ at a game company, and what sort of money would they put back in to the economy?

If there’s a lesson in all this, it probably has to do with the limits of what any government can — or should — do to bring about growth. Just about every state offers some kind of tax incentive or loan program for businesses looking to relocate. But Rhode Island went further than that; in its zeal to land Mr. Schilling, the state took on the role of venture capitalist, without having the expertise to do it well.

Imagine what the same amount of money could've done if it was reinvested in education, anti-poverty, and public works projects. You'd at least have a park or something that people could enjoy after it was all done.
posted by codacorolla at 4:34 PM on April 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


Profit Parks!
posted by Brocktoon at 4:53 PM on April 21, 2013


Previously and slightly previouslier.
posted by Etrigan at 4:58 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


His buisness plan to bring new blood to the area must have really knocked their socks off.

+1. Unrelated (well it's a sports story too of sorts) but I'm tempted to make a FPP about the Suarez + Ivanovich incident from earlier today, just to see what the MeFi punsters can do with it.
posted by shortfuse at 4:59 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Even if the game wasn't a failure, how many people could you reasonably hope to employ at a game company, and what sort of money would they put back in to the economy?

That was the thing that drove me crazy when the company started. (Disclosure: I'm partway through the article, so maybe they address this.) All the job listings were for people with 2+ years experience in the games industry, and since this was the only games company in RI, almost all the employees moved from somewhere else. It created only a handful of entry-level jobs for Rhode Islanders, when jobs were the whole point. I've talked to some of the former employees who've gone indie since it closed, and they said the idea was that people would "graduate" out of 38 and start smaller games companies of their own. Pretty long game to play with such an overwhelming amount of money and Carcieri had to know he wouldn't be if office to see it. It was frustrating to see Chafee take the blame when 38 folded; he'd been against it from the start.
posted by Peevish at 5:09 PM on April 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm tempted to make a FPP about the Suarez + Ivanovich incident from earlier today, just to see what the MeFi punsters can do with it.

Careful! You don't want to bite off more than you can chew!
posted by asterix at 5:10 PM on April 21, 2013


Etrigan: "Previously and slightly previouslier."

Yeah it's a trope. I guess when the New Yorker or Atlantic or Wired does a story we'll get more. Perhaps the movie is next. He's more visible as a failure than success.
posted by stbalbach at 5:14 PM on April 21, 2013


Heh, it's funny how they call the jewelry district "not far" from RISD. Everything downtown might as well be on the moon to the kids on College Hill.
posted by Peevish at 5:20 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


It created only a handful of entry-level jobs for Rhode Islanders, when jobs were the whole point.

Entry-level jobs weren't the point. The point was to create a community of non-polluting companies -- ones that don't ask for heavy-duty infrastructure investment -- that hire high-paid, skilled workers to move to RI and contribute to the tax base, both themselves directly and in their knock-on effects in attracting ancillary businesses to move to RI (e.g. a bunch of new money coming into RI means that money wants restaurants and car dealerships in RI, too).

Rhode Island has a population of 1 million. Boston's metro area alone has a population of 4 million. If you can peel away a bunch of Boston techies to RI, or divert techies from NYC and even SF, you win big.

Pretty long game to play with such an overwhelming amount of money and Carcieri had to know he wouldn't be if office to see it.

It's rare for any politician to see direct effects of their work. So the point isn't what they want to do, but how this will benefit them in their next job. A success would've meant that Carcieri could have a legacy to point to in order to foster a jump to national level politics, in exactly the same way a guy named Romney wanted to, having started in the next state over.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:34 PM on April 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm tempted to make a FPP about the Suarez + Ivanovich incident from earlier today, just to see what the MeFi punsters can do with it.

I hope Ivanovich has had his shots?

No wait...I hope Suarez has had his shots?



Well...at least he didn't bite Gary Cahill.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:47 PM on April 21, 2013


Ted Widmer is awesome. Remind me which member of the Upper Crust he was? It was Lord Rockingham, right?
posted by .kobayashi. at 5:53 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I saw Schilling on ESPN this weekend and wondered how much of his appearance fees I was entitled to, as a Rhode Island taxpayer. Then I laughed bitterly because I know that Rhodey will never see a thin dime of the money we gave to that guy and his company. Bah.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:56 PM on April 21, 2013


The tech geek I knew from RI seemed to thing that Schilling was well intentioned but assumed that as an avid video game player he would be qualified to run a games development company, early naive choices were made, and was largely scammed by his "business partners".
posted by sammyo at 6:24 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Schilling was on the Baseball Today podcast last year, and despite it being a baseball show, he spoke at length about his video game company, in a weird, desperate, shill kinda way. In the end, he sounded less like an athlete talking about his other pursuits than he did like an annoying neighbor trying to sell you some Amway. It was awful.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:30 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always confuse Curt Schilling with Peter Schilling. Earrrrrrrth beeeeeelow us...
posted by orrnyereg at 6:35 PM on April 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


I always confuse Curt Schilling with Peter Schilling. Earrrrrrrth beeeeeelow us...

Oh, you're the other person in the world who's thought about Peter Schilling in the last decade. Nice to meet you.
posted by Etrigan at 6:41 PM on April 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


Sounds like another entry in the list of broke governments buying magic beans that are supposed to transform their city/state into the next Silicon Valley. There was another post about this trend on the blue recently. When are we going to finally get over this nonsensical idea of fixing economic woes by replacing all the out of work mechanics and waitresses and grocery clerks with web designers and game developers? "Knowledge workers" are never going to constitute a majority of the population, and catering economic development to them is too specifically targeted to have the desired effect.
posted by deathpanels at 6:44 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


There was no way that he was going to lure more private financing at that point, and he had no more of his own cash to lose.

According to baseball reference Curt Schilling is 49th all-time on career earnings, at $114,158,000. Obviously that's not all put into the company, but that's pretty hefty compared to what he was getting from the state. It's hard for me to see how he'd be the bad guy. Misguided, maybe, but not deceptive.
posted by Metro Gnome at 6:50 PM on April 21, 2013


I always confuse Curt Schilling with Peter Schilling. Earrrrrrrth beeeeeelow us...

Okay, I just went and found that song in English for the first time. Somehow I had never quite worked out that an English version existed. This makes that Lincoln ad make a lot more sense now.
posted by hoyland at 6:52 PM on April 21, 2013


I follow tech events in PVD from Boston with interest. There's a healthy little scene there now. I don't think it's too far-fetched for PVD to play Palo Alto to Boston's SF (or vice versa). The distances are similar. All Providence needs are a handful more of medium tech companies to reach the tipping point IMO.
posted by grubby at 6:53 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


According to baseball reference Curt Schilling is 49th all-time on career earnings, at $114,158,000. Obviously that's not all put into the company, but that's pretty hefty compared to what he was getting from the state. It's hard for me to see how he'd be the bad guy. Misguided, maybe, but not deceptive.

I suspect very little of it went into the company, (I swear I remember reading this in one of the previous threads, but I can't find it.) Why expose yourself to risk when you can make someone else do it for you?
posted by hoyland at 7:00 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Found it. Schilling put it $50 million, which is not peanuts and more than I expected. It is, however, less than the state of Rhode Island put in.
posted by hoyland at 7:05 PM on April 21, 2013


By the way, two of the three uses of the curtschilling tag are about this subject, too.
posted by hoyland at 7:06 PM on April 21, 2013


Basically, Curt Schilling is That Guy who thinks he knows how to make video games because he really really likes playing World of Warcraft (or Everquest, in this case) and he doesn't have any skills, but he has "lots of great ideas." Only in this case, he actually had the money to do it.

That said, there's a lot of great athletes-going-broke stories, probably enough for a different FPP on them. The 30-for-30 episode called Broke was fantastic as is this SI story.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:06 PM on April 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


My favorite part of this is that Schilling is still an obnoxious right-wing douche who hates the government and wants people "stand on their own feet" and all that, the hypocritical dick.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:07 PM on April 21, 2013 [20 favorites]


According to baseball reference Curt Schilling is 49th all-time on career earnings, at $114,158,000.

That's just his contract salary. He would've nearly doubled that amount through endorsements.

Of course, between taxes, agents and management, he would've kept only about 40 percent of it. But that doesn't exactly make him a pauper.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:12 PM on April 21, 2013


It could be worse. Rhode Island could have ended up with a baseball stadium.
posted by srboisvert at 7:28 PM on April 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


Given the ridiculous amount of money they apparently spent, Kingdoms of Amalur would have had to sell what, three or four million copies to break even? At least? What in god's name made them think an unproven company with no experience would produce such a result?
posted by Justinian at 7:34 PM on April 21, 2013


One of the things that fascinates me about this is where all that money went. How do you release a product that sold 1.5 million copies at $60 a pop and still end up $150 million in debt three months later? The amount of money it takes to make a successful MMORPG must be astounding.
posted by Copronymus at 7:53 PM on April 21, 2013


How do you release a product that sold 1.5 million copies at $60 a pop and still end up $150 million in debt three months later?

The developer makes only $8-10 per copy, which is first used to defray expenses. The publisher and retailers take everything else.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:59 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


A couple things. First, all the successful triple-a massively multiplayer games have had initial development costs in the hundreds of millions. To compete with something like WoW, $250-500 million is the realm you want to be thinking of. Next, a lot of 38 Studio's money presumably went to buy Big Huge Games, which was a well-respected studio that THQ was going to shut down. When 38 studios bought BHG, they also got the game that studio was working on. It was somewhere between prototype and alpha stage, but it had a working engine and gameplayer, and that was the game which became Kingdoms Of Amalur. Presumably there was some merging of assets which had already been created for the MMO Curt Schilling wanted (codenamed Copernicus) which he clearly never not have the team or experience to build.
posted by sophist at 8:03 PM on April 21, 2013


Given the ridiculous amount of money they apparently spent, Kingdoms of Amalur would have had to sell what, three or four million copies to break even? At least? What in god's name made them think an unproven company with no experience would produce such a result?

Sweet, delicious hubris!

I actually really liked Kingdoms of Amalur. The MMO was never going to be a success (trying to fight WoW on WoW's turf is up there with invading Russia on a list of things that should be patently obvious yet people keep fuckin' trying it), but the game they bought and rebranded was pretty fun.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:15 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


For another point of reference, SW:TOR cost $200 million to develop. They had 800 people working for 6 years, including RPG veteran company Bioware. EA still ended up buying another dev studio with more MMO experience (Mythic), not sure if that factored into the $200 million. After all that money and experience the game is still probably a business failure, as it went free-to-play within the first year and received mixed reviews.
posted by sophist at 8:17 PM on April 21, 2013


I applied for a job testing Fallout 2. They asked me logic questions. Maybe someone should have asked Curt these questions? I didn't get that job, but I was paid $40 to test FF Tactics for Square. I told them the whooshing sound of the map spinning around was corny. They kept that feature.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:20 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Brocktoon: I didn't get that job, but I was paid $40 to test FF Tactics for Square. I told them the whooshing sound of the map spinning around was corny. They kept that feature.

Did you say anything about the horrible translation?
posted by Mitrovarr at 8:25 PM on April 21, 2013


It could be worse. Rhode Island could have ended up with a baseball stadium.

They have one. It's adorable. I need to go to more Paw Sox games.

Acknowledged further derail: It is so weird to me that Paw Sox caps seem to have gotten popular recently. "Your hat - the B is broken."
posted by maryr at 8:39 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, anyone dropping a couple hundred million bucks to compete against WoW in the fantasy MMORPG market deserves what they get.

Something will probably dethrone it at some point but it won't be a bland rehash.
posted by Justinian at 9:03 PM on April 21, 2013


Something Blizzard creates will dethrone it.
posted by Brocktoon at 9:16 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mitrovarr: it hadn't been localized yet. That was one of my most painful life choices; they asked me to stay for the rest of development. But it was minimum wage with no promise of future employment, and with a new wife and child I had to say no. The head of QA was a really nice guy, I wonder if he still works there.
posted by Brocktoon at 9:21 PM on April 21, 2013


Brocktoon: Something Blizzard creates will dethrone it.

I doubt it. Diablo III and Starcraft 2 show a real decline in quality - they're supposed to be good, but they're not up to par for a studio that used to produce knockout hits every time. Plus, they're taking a page out of the EA handbook and adopting gamer-hostile policies like requiring an always-on connection and having that stupid real-money auction house, which as I understand it has somewhat ruined the Diablo III in-game economy. I think they've lost the magic.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:24 PM on April 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Brocktoon:

Ah. Well, that's interesting to know. For what it's worth, it was a fantastic game, dodgy translation aside (how do you mistranslate 'breath' into 'bracelet'?)
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:25 PM on April 21, 2013


I always confuse Curt Schilling with Peter Schilling. Earrrrrrrth beeeeeelow us...

No, this is related to a different song, "World of Lust and Crime".
posted by mephron at 9:34 PM on April 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


+1. Unrelated (well it's a sports story too of sorts) but I'm tempted to make a FPP about the Suarez + Ivanovich incident from earlier today, just to see what the MeFi punsters can do with it.

I'll bite.
posted by azpenguin at 9:52 PM on April 21, 2013


Oh, you're the other person in the world who's thought about Peter Schilling in the last decade.

Not true.

#Völlig Losgelöst
posted by MartinWisse at 11:01 PM on April 21, 2013


Of course, between taxes, agents and management, he would've kept only about 40 percent of it. But that doesn't exactly make him a pauper.

FWIW, he's claimed to be "tapped out" with the bankruptcy of 38, telling his family "the money that I had earned and saved during baseball was probably all gone. And that it was my fault."
posted by dhartung at 12:43 AM on April 22, 2013


This is what happens when you give tax breaks to corporations headed by Republicans.
posted by driley at 4:39 AM on April 22, 2013


I would caution against drawing any over-arching conclusions from things that happen in Rhode Island. Tip O'Neil's aphorism that "All politics is local" doesn't begin to describe the insular nature of the little fiefdoms.

And Ted Widmer's must be using an archaic definition of "sexy".
posted by yerfatma at 5:44 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Entry-level jobs weren't the point. The point was to create a community of non-polluting companies -- ones that don't ask for heavy-duty infrastructure investment -- that hire high-paid, skilled workers to move to RI and contribute to the tax base

Link? It was framed in the article, and certainly sold to Rhode Islanders, as a job creation move. But 90% of the jobs were imported from elsewhere.

A success would've meant that Carcieri could have a legacy to point to in order to foster a jump to national level politics, in exactly the same way a guy named Romney wanted to, having started in the next state over.

And his safety net being, if it failed, everyone would blame Chafee. Which many did.
posted by Peevish at 6:00 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Link? It was framed in the article, and certainly sold to Rhode Islanders, as a job creation move. But 90% of the jobs were imported from elsewhere.

Yeah, the kind of programming talent RI has comes from banking, insurance, industrial automation, managed IT services and infosec fields - I would much rather have seen a few dozen small shops get smaller secured loans to expand their business rather than trying to import an unknown wholesale. Not as sexy, doesn't make as big of a splash, but it would have gone a long way to establishing and expanding RI's IT industry, which just so happens to specialize in fields known for their profitability and long-term stability.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:28 AM on April 22, 2013


Oh, you're the other person in the world who's thought about Peter Schilling in the last decade.

Actually, I found online someplace several remixes of The Hit in both English and German and included them all in a playlist I shuffled for a party a couple of years ago. It was awesome whenever any of the variations came one, because it would literally stop people in their tracks, make them cock their heads while they listened for a moment, and then they'd burst into a giant smile and exclaim (even to nobody), "hey, I remember this song! Awesome!"

I saw that happen to many times across the span of 3 days (hey, it was a long party) that I include at least one version regularly in any party playlist I create these days.
posted by hippybear at 6:46 AM on April 22, 2013


It could be worse. Rhode Island could have ended up with a baseball stadium.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCoy_Stadium
Recently renovated, cheap-ass tickets, free parking on neighborhood streets, and they do TONS of promotions every year. I haven't been to Fenway in a decade, easily, but we go to a couple of Paw Sox games every summer.

And it's very pretty, too: I have tons of snapshots taken there with gorgeous sunsets, kids jumping for balls, smiling mascots, etc., etc. -- and my favorite, a black & white shot of a player in the on-deck circle who is swinging a sledgehammer, and which looks like it's from the 1920s.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:07 AM on April 22, 2013


Cardines Field in Downtown Newport is a fun time, too - the Gulls play in a development league, so they use aluminum bats (Boo!), but on Armed Forces Day, you can see a few Admirals, a couple of U.S. Senators and a Congressman or two up close. We asked, but they won't sell overripe produce at the concession stand.

You can catch the game for free from the porch of the Mudville Pub, or if you've got kids, the playground next door.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:04 AM on April 22, 2013


Link? It was framed in the article, and certainly sold to Rhode Islanders, as a job creation move.

This was fairly obvious -- the "entry level jobs" would be created as knock-on effects from bringing business to RI (e.g. a new company will need a renovated building, meaning a contractor will hire people to hang drywall), not by creating new businesses that will magically employ the currently unemployed. There are no game developers in RI. They would have to come from somewhere else.

If it was literally sold that way ("Hey, Mr. Unemployed Bank Teller, wanna make a video game?") then ... wow. Someone misinterpreted someone.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:57 AM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't believe they hired R A Salvatore for $2 million. I can't believe it.
posted by bq at 11:10 AM on April 22, 2013


You mean, the R.A. Salvatore who's written a number of very popular books based directly on an RPG? If you don't like his books, fine, but from a business perspective, how is that not one of the least dumb things that Schilling did?
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:28 AM on April 22, 2013


I doubt anyone bought the game because RA Salvatore did the lore.
posted by Justinian at 12:35 PM on April 22, 2013


they said the idea was that people would "graduate" out of 38 and start smaller games companies of their own.

Trickle-down entrepreneurship!
posted by rhizome at 1:01 PM on April 22, 2013


You mean, the R.A. Salvatore who's written a number of very popular books based directly on an RPG? If you don't like his books, fine, but from a business perspective, how is that not one of the least dumb things that Schilling did?

Because the average salary for an computer RPG writer is under $100K a year, and Salvatore wasn't even a full-time employee. He just wrote the bible for the world. So 38 Studios agreed to pay him $2,000,000 and didn't actually reduce their overall costs that much: they still needed writers for quests, dialogue, and so on.
posted by Bryant at 1:30 PM on April 22, 2013


Blizzard won't change the formula much (and the games you mentioned have been very successful despite the hiccups). It will be interesting to see what happens. WoW with updated graphics is the starting point, and that seems like the easy part. When WoW goes FTP it will really make things even more difficult for the competition.
posted by Brocktoon at 2:02 PM on April 22, 2013


You mean, the R.A. Salvatore who's written a number of very popular books based directly on an RPG? If you don't like his books, fine, but from a business perspective, how is that not one of the least dumb things that Schilling did?

Salvatore is a perfectly good writer in other people's worlds. But there's a reason you've heard of Drizzt Do'Urden and not Ynis Anielle. I can think of a dozen writers off the top of my head who I'd rather have writing the bible for a fantasy world. I can't think of a single one who isn't Stephen King who would be worth $2M.
posted by Etrigan at 3:40 PM on April 22, 2013


Mmmmmmm..... Dark Tower mmo.
posted by bq at 6:54 PM on April 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


I could still see hiring someone like Salvatore in part for the name recognition factor, but I wouldn't necessarily pay them $2M just to write the bible, true.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:55 PM on April 22, 2013


dhartung: "Of course, between taxes, agents and management, he would've kept only about 40 percent of it. But that doesn't exactly make him a pauper.

FWIW, he's claimed to be "tapped out" with the bankruptcy of 38, telling his family "the money that I had earned and saved during baseball was probably all gone. And that it was my fault."
"

Call me crazy, but I would bet he's being less than truthful in that regard. However, I have to add that someone who's become accustomed to his former lifestyle would probably consider himself to be "broke." It's a typical Republican disconnect from reality.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:23 PM on April 22, 2013


orrnyereg: "I always confuse Curt Schilling with Peter Schilling. Earrrrrrrth beeeeeelow us..."

The Noah Plan should have been a bigger hit.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:26 AM on April 24, 2013


Have you read Salvatore's "King" series? It's pretty damn good.
posted by Brocktoon at 8:31 PM on May 3, 2013


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