About 100 employees of Big Huge Games, a Timonium-based maker of video games, lost their jobs this week as the studio and its Rhode Island-based parent company abruptly shut down because of financial problems.
The 12-year-old company was one of the anchors of Baltimore County's well-established video game industry, which has grown steadily since the 1980s as the popularity of computer and console games has skyrocketed.
Big Huge Games was owned by 38 Studios, a Providence, R.I.-based company founded by former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling in 2006. Schilling's company moved from Massachusetts to Rhode Island, lured by a $75 million state-guaranteed loan to create well-paying jobs. But the company, which employed about 300 in Providence, ran out of money and couldn't meet its payroll this month, according to published reports.
Schilling and other company officials have not commented publicly on the company's closing.
On Friday, Big Huge Games' Timonium office, which is on the fifth floor of an office building on Greenspring Drive, was dark and locked. An employee ferrying boxes on a cart in the lobby of the fifth floor wouldn't comment.
"I think you'll have to talk with someone up there [in Rhode Island] for any type of verification," the employee told a Baltimore Sun reporter when asked if the company had closed.
The fall of Big Huge Games and 38 Studios shocked video game enthusiasts. In February, 38 Studios released its first major product, "Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning." The video game is a single-player, role-playing action game. It sold about 570,000 copies worldwide as of May 12, according to VGChartz, a gaming industry sales information source. The game sold for between $40 and $60.
38 Studios apparently had used nearly $50 million of the Rhode Island loan before shutting down this week, according to published reports.
Earlier in May, 38 Studios was more than two weeks late on a $1.1 million loan payment to Rhode Island's economic development corporation, and the company couldn't make payroll, the Associated Press reported.
"It's an unfolding tragedy here in Rhode Island," Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee told the Boston Globe.
Big Huge Games nearly went out of business three years ago, when its then-owner,THQ Inc., threatened to close the studio if it couldn't find a buyer. Soon after, Schilling's 38 Studios stepped in and bought the studio.
Big Huge Games was one of several in Timonium and Hunt Valley that have operated for years in Baltimore County's video game sector. Other companies with offices in the area include Zynga, Firaxis, BreakAway and Day 1 Studios.
Big Huge Games created several video game titles before 38 Studios took it over in 2009, including the "Rise of Nations" series and "Catan."
Marc Olano, who oversees the video game programming track in the University of Maryland, Baltimore County's computer science department, said Big Huge Games was one of the "longtime major players" in the state's video game industry, and its loss will be felt.
But, he added, the studio's closure was not a reflection of how it was managed locally or the talent of its staff.
"It's not a reflection on the success of Big Huge and the game they produced," Olano said. "It's financial problems of their parent that ultimately led to this."
At Big Huge Games' office, a security guard in the building said employees were laid off Thursday afternoon and the office was closed, leaving behind only a skeleton crew. The guard said he saw employees walking out of the building with boxes.
According to its website, Big Huge Games employed 107 people, with titles such as "senior lead character artist" and "assistant narrative designer."
Fronda Cohen, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County's economic development agency, said the county's workforce development officials have begun working with the company to help match laid-off employees with local job opportunities.