Friday Buffet: The strange and sad demise of 38 Studios and Big Huge Games

A screenshot from 38 Studios' MMORPG that was in development when the company abruptly shuttered its doors on Thursday.
A screenshot from 38 Studios' MMORPG that was in development when the company abruptly shuttered its doors on Thursday.(38 Studios)

On Thursday, the entire staffs of 38 Studios and Big Huge Games were given pink slips. The company, which released “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” (which I reviewed in February), was in partnership with the state of Rhode Island to bring jobs into the state and give former MLB pitcher Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios fuel to evolve into a big-time game developer. The company was in the midst of developing a project called “Copernicus,” an MMORPG based in the same universe as “Amalur.” Big Huge Games, based in Timonium, became a subsidiary of 38 Studios almost three years ago to the day.

The Sun's Gus Sentementes was over at Big Huges offices before being booted out today, but it seems the entire teams at both companies have indeed been let go. WPRI has an excellent timeline of how the tax credit and loan between the state of Rhode Island and 38 Studios developed. Gamasutra obtained a copy of the layoff letter sent to employees.

In the wake of the news, Twitter erupted with game industry professionals expressing sympathies and immediately trying to help former 38 Studios and Big Huge Games employees find new jobs. The hashtag #38jobs soon became a nation and world-wide trending topic. Ultimately, the studio produced one solid title that sold around a million copies. It's puzzling and unfortunate that a financial arrangement was in place with a state government that allowed for a game that sold that well to make the entire studio a failure. Even worse is the fact that Big Huge Games, which obviously developed a large portion of the game, still seems like a casualty of its parent company's financial indiscretion.

Tweets of Note

•••• From @gehrig38, 38 Studios founder Curt Schilling: “Reckoning, 38 Studios first game, has outperformed EA's projections by selling 1.2mm copies in its first 90 days

•••• Schilling again, in response to a tweet that asked “does that mean you're going to pay back your govt bail out money?”: “@jay_mayo Haven't received a penny of it, and have not asked for any.”

•••• From @BigHugeGames: “Thank you all so much for the remarkable show of support for us and our people during this time. It has meant more than we can say! #38jobs

•••• From @jenmacl: ”Tech, media, and games in Baltimore, if you're hiring please let everyone know and keep talent local! #38jobs #BHG

Top awkward moments from Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafees presser yesterday

•••• The idea was to create an ‘emotional attachment’ from players. The next game that comes out, we have a higher rate of success. That’s what we’re hearing from the experts.”

•••• “Industry experts tell us that it’s very very expensive.” ... “It costs tens of millions of dollars to market, and that’s just what it costs. There’s also what they call ‘maintaining’ the game,  so that players that call in and ask questions, you have to provide that service. It’s expensive.”

•••• “Companies fail overnight all the time.” Chafee then likened 38 Studio’s sudden downturn to the Boston Red Sox needing to sell Babe Ruth in order to make up for financial losses suffered when the owners of the team invested in an unsuccessful play. He also mentioned how the family that previously owned the New England Patriots had to sell the team when they lost money from a Michael Jackson concert.

•••• “The experts are saying [“Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” needed to sell in] the 3 million range, just to break even.”

•••• “The experts are saying ‘you did everything right. You put your money in, you supported the game, and you didn’t meddle.’ If I had meddled, there wouldn’t have been all this horrible violence in the game. And this sexism.”

•••• “The game failed. The game failed.”

•••• The WPRI news anchor not realizing he was on a live internet video stream, preening and busting the chops of his crew before going “live” with a news report.

Thoughts from Ben Walsh, former Big Huge Games employee and current Pure Bang Games CEO

"I got my start at Big Huge Games and so I have a lot of love and nostalgia for the company.  I am sad to see it shut down, because I still have a lot of friends there and I know how hard they worked to make Kingdoms of Amular (which is a great game).  Short term, this will hurt the industry in the area, because a lot of the team will end up being recruited by out of state game makers.  I fear that 38 Studios closure will be used as an example of why not to invest in game companies, but hopefully, people will understand that 38 Studios issues were specific to them and not a reflection on the health of the industry.  If I could give the guys leaving Big Huge Games and 38 Studios any advice, it would be to 'see this as an opportunity to take a couple risks and follow your passions.'"

Non-38/BHG News

•••• “Skyrim’s” 1.6 update includes mounted combat! So, so awesome. [Bethesda Blog]

•••• Mass Effect 3s next expansion pack, Rebellion, goes live after the holiday weekend and features new maps and goodies for multiplayer. Its free for Online Pass holders. [Joystiq]

•••• “Diablo 3” gets a patch update, but the launch of the real-money auction house has been pushed back to an undetermined date. [Blizzard]

Really Important Video

To lighten the mood, here's SB Nation's "NBA Jam" style reinterpretation of L.A. Clippers forward Blake Griffin's best dunks this season.