Boston Magazine has posted an in-depth article on how and why 38 Studios fell apart, including a significant number of comments and insights from Schilling himself. The article confirms much of what we initially expected; Schilling was absolutely committed to the game, faithful to the cause, and had no idea how to run a company or attract investors. Employees that supported Schilling in the early days have turned on him as more details became apparent.
Schilling wanted to be "Bill Gates rich" and was interested in the latter's philanthropic work. Reading the article, however, the man who comes to mind isn't Gates -- it's Steve Jobs -- and please, wait a moment before you sharpen up the knives.
Like Jobs, Schilling was dynamic, outspoken, hands-on, and driven. The supreme confidence that contributed to 38 Studios downfall is one of the reasons Apple survived to become a titan of the 21st century. It's easy to forget now, in the wake of the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, that Steve Jobs' return to Apple in 1997 was widely and accurately perceived as the last-ditch attempt of a dying company to save itself. Jobs himself spent the 12 years between his 1985 departure from Apple and his 1997 return trying, and mostly failing, to build a successful follow-up to the iconic design that had catapulted him to stardom before he hit 30.
Both men sank millions of their own capital into startups, both hired top talent, both chased impossible dreams. Job's NeXT computer and NeXTSTEP operating system were influential, highly regarded products that sold poorly. Jobs focused on industrial design, simplicity, and flow; Schilling's greatest and most consistent criticism of the doomed MMO Copernicus was that the game needed to be more fun. In gaming, that's the highest -- and most elusive -- goal there is.
The critical difference between the two men, and the flaw that doomed 38 Studios, wasn't Schilling's failure to understand what investors wanted (though he did) or his tendency to indulge in acts of largesse that the company absolutely couldn't afford (he did that, too). 38 Studios exploded in spectacular fashion because Schilling failed to recognize that the simple act of being Curt Schilling
wasn't going to be enough to save his company.
Baseball is a game of psychological warfare between a pitcher and a handful of revolving opponents, and Schilling knew how to fight with the best of them. In baseball, being Curt Schilling won the Red Sox their first championship in 86 years. Schilling took that drive and self-confidence with him into the gaming industry, reportedly meeting with literally dozens of potential investors over the years.
Boston magazine quotes him repeatedly as saying he had 100% confidence in the game and in his people. At no point, apparently, did he think to question whether some of his business choices were the reason none of his potential partners ever signed a deal. Steve Jobs will never be described as humble, but once he'd vetted the people around him as highly competent and worth his time, he listened to them. Schilling had no problem recognizing that he needed skilled partners, but had a tendency to ignore them if he didn't like what they had to say.
Schilling kept on shilling for 38 Studios, right up to the very end. He always believed, always persevered, always kept trying to bring that last angel investor onboard. But, as one employee wrote on Facebook: "I’d like to honestly know why I was hired in the first place on January 16th, 2012… when members of the company knew they were behind on bills and not doing well economically? I moved my pregnant wife, sold my house for a loss of 18k, relocated away from all my family and friends for a company I thought was honest and forthright to their employees. What did I get in return? An unpaid [$10,500] relocation package months after it should have been paid, a pregnant wife who found out our insurance had lapsed from our doctor, a ton of bounced checks and payments to bills when we found out our paychecks had not been paid through the media and a large debt to my unemployed father to help us survive.”
Asked whether his "rampant and destructive optimism" is the reason why 38 Studios ultimately folded, Schilling first said no -- than faltered."I don’t know any other way to be,” he told Boston Magazine, his eyes welling up. "I don’t know any other way to be."
I think we're done here.