Curt Schilling: From World-Series Pitcher to Video-Game Entrepreneur

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After retiring from the Red Sox in 2007, the ace started his own gaming company.

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Reuters

Three World Series rings adorn Curt Schilling's fingers, and he was instrumental in winning each of them. During the Boston Red Sox' comeback against the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series, Schilling pitched on an ankle surgically repaired just days before—visibly bleeding through his sock as the innings wore on. And then, following the Red Sox's 2007 championship season, Schilling retired from the MLB. A lot of men in his position would have parlayed a spectacular playing career into a broadcasting gig, or maybe a coaching spot. Schilling began a second life entirely.

An avid gamer and self-professed dork going back to his childhood, the former ace took aim at the video game industry. He was aggressive from the start, picking up major creative names and sinking his fortune into a new company: Green Monster Games, which quickly became 38 Studios (named for Schilling's old jersey number). The nascent developer then acquired Big Huge Games, owners of a powerful proprietary 3D engine. After years of development and millions of dollars invested, 38 Studios released their first product. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is an action-oriented role-playing game set in an original world—one created by famed fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, shaped by comic book legend Todd McFarlane and brought to life by former Elder Scrolls world designer Ken Rolston.

Reckoning hit stores and digital distributors last month, and enjoyed strong reviews. The first downloadable content (DLC) pack, "The Legend of Dead Kel," is due on March 20. Schilling spoke with The Atlantic by phone from the 38 Studios office in Providence, R.I.


You've been working on this game for five years, and you push it out at long last. Do you think immediately, "On to the next thing"?

We're building a franchise. This is not a one-and-done. We just announced our first DLC for it [last week], which is huge...[it's] very unconventional from a size and scope perspective. You know, we launched a franchise; that's different than launching a game. Maintaining the awareness, especially in this day and age, is hard. You got Mass Effect 3 coming out in [a few] days, and we need to survive past the launch of Mass Effect 3. We need to continue getting eyeballs on the product, and we have the ability and the desire to patch it and make it a better experience. At the end of the day we're a studio full of gamers who want to make awesome games for gamers, as opposed to being a publicly held company. It's different, and I'm not belittling that, but it's very different in how you look at your players.

A lot of game studios start with a couple guys in a garage. You guys started with a bunch of capital and a bunch of big names.

The garage in this case was Teamspeak. The small group of people who were forming the company were my guildmates in Everquest who worked for Sony Online. We had been friends for a while and we'd been talking for a long time, and it came to the point where the conversation needed to end or I needed to do something about it. And I did something about it.

You took an unusual approach, where you guys built this big, lore-filled world and moved on from there to game design.

I don't want to sound arrogant, but we built from a place of success. We believed we were going to be hugely successful and awesome, and instead of starting small and [hoping for success], we've run the company as if we were. Everything we do is created and manipulated with the thought that this is the most important thing in the world, from an IP (intellectual property) perspective. So we're treating our IP as the Holy Grail from day one, instead of getting validation from other people. We knew two years ago that Reckoning was a phenomenally fun and exciting game.

You've been a gamer your whole life; you know what it's like to be totally immersed in a video game. Do you feel like the design of your company lends itself better to creating that attachment?

Oh, absolutely. We are never going to make games we don't want to play. That's a difference between privately owned and publicly owned. I have no interest right now in owning a publicly traded company. Wanting to create a multi-billion-dollar company is about [keeping] all your focus on things other than the money. In my mind, if we all do things to the best of our abilities, the money will happen. To me, Reckoning was proof-of-concept. We made Reckoning and we got the response we expected to get from Reckoning, but we're realists. We know what we did wrong; our first goal is not to sit around and say what we've done, but to figure out what we can do better next time.

That links to your pro athletic background, right? The best sports owners know that if you're winning and putting a good product on the field, financial success will happen.

Right. You never hear teams complain about making money that are winning. I played the game for 23 years, and the last ten or 12 years of my career I realized I did all the preparation and work for those 30 minutes after a win. There's nothing like those 30 minutes after a win in the clubhouse. I didn't realize until I retired what a small window that was, because 30 minutes later I was focusing on, "five days from now I need to pitch against the Yankees and here's what I need to do." Every day is a new day and I'm very much an optimist. I try not to ride the highs and lows for more than a day, because no matter what happened today it's a total reset tomorrow.

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Tony Palumbi is a California-based writer who focuses on science, culture, and gaming. His first book, Shark and Awe: The Extreme Life of the Sea, will be published by Princeton University Press in 2013.

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