CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Is Curt Schilling the next Mark Cuban? At an intimate game forum at MIT on Monday night, the Boston Red Sox pitcher talked about his new company, Green Monster Games, and the massively multiplayer online game that he said is going to "blow the industry away."
"I decided I would put together my '27 Yankees, my dream team of people," said Schilling at an MIT Enterprise Forum. "I hate to tease, but it's cool. It's exciting. I am trying to get into the space with a group of people passionate about creating something that is epic in every sense of the word."
While they may seem worlds apart, Schilling is essentially doing what avid sports fan billionaire Cuban did when he bought a basketball team with his Yahoo money. Only, Schilling is moving in the opposite direction, going from the sports world to the tech industry as the owner of a video game company.
In deciding what to do upon his retirement, Schilling said, he wanted to do something he was passionate about instead of "just opening a restaurant or something." He has said he plans to honor his Red Sox contract for 2007.
Schilling would not reveal specifics on his first MMO game, but he did offer insight into his approach and business model as the founder and president of Green Monster Games. "I am not getting into this for (fame and money). Those at GMG will operate on a 50-50 profit share with the employees in the company. My goal is to reap the rewards with the people who create it," said Schilling.
Schilling went on to say that poor employee treatment is one of the biggest flaws in game industry business models.
"GMG's team of employees will more closely resemble the pride and respect I experienced in my years as a baseball player," he said.
Schilling, a self-described avid hardcore gamer, said he first got hooked when he played Wizardry on his Apple II in the 1980s. Schilling personally interviewed and hired everyone who works for Green Monster Games and has started the company in Boston against the advice of business advisors, he said. In addition to talent, he said that he looked for passion, something he believes will be the key to coming up with extremely creative content. So far, his roster includes Todd McFarlane, the creator of antihero Spawn, and noted science fiction author R.A. Salvatore.
What Schilling does not have is an entrepreneurial or business background. He made sure to tell attendees at the forum filled with venture capitalists that he is still looking for investors. While none of the veteran game executives on the panel made direct reference to Schilling's situation, many did emphasize the harsh barriers to entry and success in their field.
MMO games "are the most costly to develop and service. These are a service-based business so you can't just serve it and let it go," said game industry veteran Mark Pover, chief financial officer of Utix Group, at the forum. "Development costs average $20 million. WOW [World of Warcraft] experts estimate that the company put in around $50 million over a five-year period. Most insiders say that 50 percent of development is to market. And if you don't get a good hit at launch, it's a problem."
"It's very hard to be innovative when you have a giant team and giant publisher and large amounts of money," said Jason Booth, a technical designer with Harmonix Music Systems, when asked about the chances for independent developers. "The really interesting things are happening at the smaller level, because it's just too risky at the larger level and there is just too much money at stake," he said.
Matthew Bellows, general manager of Floodgate Entertainment, said of the mobile segment of the game industry: "Brands are important because consumers are drowned by choices. Developers are in the weak part of the industry."
But from the questions asked of Schilling by young gamers at the forum, none of this seems to matter. They seem to be hoping that he pulls it off, just like the sports fans who dreamed of owning a team secretly rooted for Cuban to succeed.