38 Studios spent $133 million before bankruptcy

Kingdoms of Amalur developer met cold investor reception for Project Copernicus MMO in drying market.

38 Studios, the now-bankrupt company behind Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning and in-development massively multiplayer online game Project Copernicus, spent more than $133 million before it collapsed according to newly released documents. WPRI.com detailed the company's various expenses, which were paid for largely by state loans from Rhode Island and the personal fortune of founder and former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.

The Reckoning has come and gone.

38 Studios spent $118 million in the period between its founding in August 2006 and the end of 2011, before it began to take in any appreciable revenue from the release of Reckoning. When the role-playing game finally hit shelves it sold 1.3 million copies. For the company to make back its $28.7 million advance from Reckoning publisher Electronic Arts and begin to receive royalties, sales would have had to surpass 2 million.

"I don't think 2 million was an unreasonable estimate--I thought it would do 2 million to 3 million," said Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter. "They may have been counting on an extra $30 million to $40 million of revenue from the game."

Less-than-anticipated revenue from Reckoning and drying investor interest left the company unable to cover massive expenses laid down for research and development on Project Copernicus--$104.5 million as of March. That figure did not surprise National Alliance Capital Markets analyst Michael Hickey, who said a typical high-end MMO game will take "north of $100 million" to bring to market. The studio's six years of work and a development team of 400 (some of its hiring was encouraged by state loan job creation stipulations) raised the stakes for the project's success.

But EA MMO game Star Wars: The Old Republic's colder-than-expected subscriber retention over the winter put a serious damper on the developer's efforts to attract investors to its own game. "I honestly think if 38 Studios had moved to get financing months earlier they would have been fine," Pachter said. "Had they been out in the market in December I think they would have been fine."

A Boston magazine feature on Schilling's role in 38 Studios' demise said the developer was courting Take-Two to publish a potential sequel to Reckoning in May, and in talks with Korean MMO game publisher Nexon. Nexon declined comment, and a Take-Two representative told Boston he wasn't aware of any negotiations.

Saul Kaplan, who was executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation until 2008, said the new documents suggested at least another $60 million would have been needed to complete development on Copernicus. "I can't imagine a scenario where anyone was going to put that capital in," he said.

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