G4TV Interviews 38 Studios Curt Schilling at GDC

Curt SchillingThere’s been a MMO currently in development that has been looming on the horizon for a few years now that has generated a tremendous amount of interest and speculation. The strange thing is that nobody knows much about it. All we really know is that it will be made by a company called 38 Studios headed by enigmatic baseball superstar Curt Schilling the Founder and Chairman of the company. Thanks to G4TV and Adam Sessler who interviewed Curt at the GDC 2009 in San Fransisco this week we’ve been given some insight into the man, his philosophy and his company.

After watching the interview I’m very hopeful that we may finally have a serious and polished alternative to World of Warcraft coming our way.

Warning: the following video is about 10 minutes long and much of the specific MMO content in the 2nd half. Also some people have had trouble viewing the embedded video. Be sure to refresh your browser once you are reading the full article.

Societal Observations about MMOs

In the interview Curt made some interesting societal observations about MMOs. He noted he can spend more time with his kids when he’s on the road by playing with them online. In an age where video games are scorned by some politicians as being destructive to families and many parents can’t or won’t spend time with their kids this is refreshing to hear. He also went on extol the virtues of MMOs in that they teach children and teens concepts like teamwork and cooperation — something that a World Series winning pitcher would know about. He also mentioned that MMO can help teach kids to communicate with keyboards by typing and reading.

With all of the negative things we’ve heard about video games in the media in the past few years it’s uplifting to finally see a public figure like Curt looking at them with a positive, glass half-full perspective.

Passion for MMOs

What comes across for me in this interview is Curt’s infectious passion for MMOs. Thankfully he’s using that same passion to make MMOs.

Curt Schilling: MMOs are very much a passion for me…I wanted to do something I really wanted to play. I’ve played so many games played by people that didn’t like the games they made and I’ve watched so many games made by people who did like the games they were making…

The takeaway for me is that he wants to make a better MMO and he realized that in order to do that you need to hire people that have the same passion as you.

Establishing His Credentials

I got the sense that Curt is really trying to convey that he and his team are hardcore MMO gamers. This reminds me of the hardcore raider resumes of World of Warcraft’s original dev team: Pardo, Kaplan (Tigole) and Afrasiabi (Furor). I think what he’s trying to do here is to send a clear message to the hardcore MMO community such as the Fires of Heaven crowd (where he routinely makes appearances) to take his MMO seriously. It’s also a good portent that there will be challenging group and raid content.

Sound Management is Key

I’ve been impressed by how Curt has cautiously and methodically put together his team over the last couple of years. Contrast this to the disaster that Sigil created with their mismanagement of their Vanguard MMO project. Sure they’ve culled people from various MMO’s but it’s no guarantee that they will be successful. Can they make the MMO that will finally dethrone WoW? If anyone can do it, it will probably be 38 Studios.

Curt Schilling: You’re never going to work for someone that cares more about you then I do…that cares more for your family than I do. Just be on time and bust your ass.

Curt’s commitment to his employees and their families is inspiring and refreshing considering the shabby way that most video game companies treat their employees. (As a game designer, I only wish I lived closer to the Boston area).

Regarding Fantasy, Story and Content

It looks as if the content in 38 Studios MMO will be story driven which will be released. Given the fantasy literary strength of R.A. Salvatore this is probably a wise move as they will be playing to one of their strengths.

Curt Schilling: Story is an integral, key piece of what we are doing. It’s episodically driven which we’ve made no mistake about it and it’s fantasy based.

I think the closest MMO I can think of that uses this content methodology is Turbine’s Lord of the Rings Online based on the most popular fantasy book of all time. I just hope they don’t make the same mistakes as WoW and create an entirely quest driven MMO that discourages social interaction and grouping. I need to be honest though, my worst fear about 38 Studios is that they will produce a WoW clone.

Curt talked about the idea of intellectual property during the interview with regard to R.A. and Todd’s involvement. It’s been mentioned in the past that Salvatore will be writing a book that acts as a prequel and introduction to their MMO. When you consider all of the lore that Blizzard had already established previous to the release of WoW then it makes perfect sense that they are taking their time to ensure that solid lore/story foundations will be laid for their new fantasy world.

Learning the Lessons of the Past

It’s clear that Curt has really learned the lessons of the MMO industry in the past 10 years.  From watching the interview and reading his views on MMOs over the years, here are a few that come to mind:

  • be passionate about your work
  • it’s not ready until it’s fun
  • polish your MMO
  • make it easy to learn and hard to master
  • don’t create impossible expectations
  • treat your employees with respect

We’ve seen many MMO companies disregard these truths and fall flat on their face.

Here’s more of what he said in the interview that makes me believe that 38 Studios has got the complex MMO formula all figured out:

Curt Schilling: We as gamers have these insanely ridiculously set of expectations that we put to any product that we hear long ahead of launch… First of all it’s not fair to the gamers, our customers and we care about. It’s not appropriate and right for the 38 Studios families.

These people need to be in an environment where they’re delivering a product that they believe is finished, polished and incredibly fun as it can be not because expectations have gotten to the point where we just needed to get it out of the door. We’ve watched those games come out time and time again and what’s happened to them.

A Great Spokesman for MMOs

From the outset you know that Curt cares about MMOs. He’s a hardcore MMO gamer. He’s also not your typical detached video game executive that rarely speaks publicly. If 38 Studios is successful then Curt will probably be the leading ambassador for MMOs and virtual worlds. He’s a firebrand with energy and drive to spare when he talks about MMOs. It’s been a while since we’ve seen someone with the eloquence and passion of Brad McQuaid leading a MMO company. The difference is now we have a MMO executive like Curt who has the team and management in place to backup the passion.

Conclusion

It’s not enough to make a pretty facsimile of WoW. Others have tried it and failed. 38 Studios is will have to push the envelope on all fronts if they plan on making something that will capture the imagination of the MMO and gaming public. That’s going to require taking risks and having the courage to embrace new ideas while still remaining faithful to those core fundamentals that all of us from Wizardry to WoW have understood about fantasy RPGs. The time for originality and innovation is now. It’s time for new trails to be blazed instead of walking down the safe and well established ones.

If anyone can do it it’s 38 Studios. With Curt they have a Founder and Chairman at the helm who is authentic and is not afraid to lead. He’s a real gamer like us. He’s passionate and knows what it takes to win. From what I can tell everything is in place for 38 Studios to make a massively popular MMO that will quite likely give Blizzard some serious competition. Curt and 38 Studios are definitely the MMO company to watch in the coming years.

-Wolfshead

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