Sports writers are busy debating whether his next stop is the Baseball Hall of Fame, but Curt Schilling is already preparing to deliver his next pitch -- the first product release from his entertainment and development company 38 Studios. Schilling is perhaps best known for the bloody sock from when he led the Boston Red Sox to the franchise's first World Series title in 86 years. But the retired pitcher and three-time world champion also has the reputation of being a video game junkie when it comes to massively multiplayer online role-playing games, or MMORPGs. His goal now is to help create a new immersive, social gaming environment that he can both enjoy and profit from.
"I'm a hardcore gamer. I've got three or four MMOs on my hard drive at any one time," Schilling said. "Trust me when I tell you being the best in the world is not a cliche term. Being the best in the world means being better than everybody else at providing an entertainment experience. In this space, that's our goal." Schilling founded 38 Studios in 2006 while he was still active with the Red Sox as an outlet for his passion for online games. Following his retirement, the transformation from pitcher to entertainment studio chief came naturally for him. "The biggest transition was having to wake up before noon," Schilling jokes. "The transition has been a lot smaller and a lot less involved than people would have imagined. There are so many parallels, there is so much crossover to being successful in both."
Despite being around for three years, 38 Studios still hasn't released a game, although the company is working furiously to complete Copernicus, the code name for its first MMORPG. But with an executive team that comes from top-level positions at Electronic Arts ( ERTS), Disney ( DIS), Time Warner's ( TWX) Warner Bros. subsidiary, Hasbro ( HAS), Comcast ( CMCSA) and AOL, Schilling has no worries about the fact that 38 Studios isn't generating revenue in a worsening economy. "I'm the eternal optimist," Schilling said. "Our development model was cash out the door until we launch anyways. None of that has changed. You could argue that we're probably one of the few companies in the world that are perfectly positioned right now. We don't have product on the market to lose revenue. The available talent pool has grown exponentially in the last six months to a year." One of the major challenges that 38 Studios does face with its first MMORPG is market saturation. A large number of the games currently exist in the market, with Activision Blizzard's ( ATVI) World of Warcraft among the most notable. The world of massively multiplayer online games is a very profitable one for game makers. Activision Blizzard said that its MMOG segment, which includes World of Warcraft, generated $325 million in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, good for a 20% share of the quarter's entire revenue. For all of 2008, MMOGs netted Activision Blizzard more than $1.1 billion in sales. If Copernicus is going to be successful, it needs to be a breath of fresh air for gamers. Fortunately, Schilling has the passion to push the company to release the best product it can.
"To be financially successful in this space, you really just need to launch a game," Schilling said. "Unless you create a steaming pile of crap, it's very hard not to break even and make some money. You have to have an undying passion for whatever it is you want to do if you want to be the best in the world at what you're doing." To be the best, Schilling knows 38 Studios must be as fierce a competitor as he was as a player. To him, there's no difference between preparing to face the New York Yankees and preparing to compete against other MMORPG development studios. "You build your roster out, you put a complimentary set of people together and you figure out how to maximize their ability to produce and be creative," Schilling said. "We are going to be the best in the world if we achieve what we set out to achieve regardless of what anybody else does." To help move themselves ahead of the rest of the pack, 38 Studios has landed two high-profile names. Todd McFarlane, best known for illustrating Spider-Man and Spawn in comic books, has signed on to be art director for the project. His McFarlane Toys company produces line after line of action figures, from rock bands such as Kiss to movie franchises like The Matrix. 38 Studios also secured fiction writer R.A. Salvatore, best known for writing fantasy novels such as the Forgotten Realms books. Salvatore is the creative director for the Copernicus project and is in charge of creating the story for the entire MMORPG.
"We've created an original IP, which is the holy grail and the bane of others' existence," Schilling said. "If you can get into the market with an original IP and make it flourish, you've got something in this day and age. So we found two guys that based their lives around creating an original IP." But Schilling has also enlisted the services of very talented, experienced workers to achieve his goal of being the top development studio in the space. Brett Close, who is president of 38 Studios and has previously worked for video game publishers Electronic Arts and Midway Games. 38 Studios doesn't exist only to create online video games. The company was originally named Green Monster Games before the change was made. Schilling envisions a media empire on par with Disney, and he even harbors hopes of going public one day. "I would have no other reason to do this if that wasn't the driving force, to be bigger than Disney or EA or Blizzard is in this space," Schilling said. "Disney is as good as anybody on the planet at that user experience, so there's somebody you absolutely mimic. The goal is to actually someday be that big, to be a $15 or $20 billion online entertainment company. But you have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run." For now, sportswriters will continue to debate whether the 216 big league wins he notched are enough for a Hall of Fame vote. But Schilling is more concerned about earning his first win with 38 Studios. "On the days I pitched, no one was more afraid of failing than I was, and I never lost that," Schilling said. "Failure is not an option. If we know we're going to launch a game, and we know it's going to be a success, then how successful it's going to be is the only thing left. That's the thing that pushes me and to push these people."