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Curt Schilling set to launch first video game

Role-playing fantasy faces tough rivals

38 Studios

Former Red Sox throwing ace Curt Schilling will make the biggest pitch of his life next Tuesday, as his six-year-old video game company finally launches its first release.

“Now we’re seven days away from the magic,’’ Schilling said yesterday. “This is our lead-off hitter. This is our introduction to the gaming world.’’

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Called Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the new game will be published by Electronic Arts Inc., the giant California game company best known for its Madden NFL football games. Kingdoms of Amalur is a fantasy role-playing game, in which players control custom-made characters with special powers and weapons, sending them on quests to find treasure and battle monsters.

Schilling’s company, 38 Studios of Providence, will have to carve a niche for itself in a market that is already crowded with quality games, said Billy Pidgeon, a video game industry analyst for M2 Research in New York. “It’s going to beg the question of how big the audience is’’’ for role-playing games, Pidgeon said.

Kingdoms of Amalur’s competition includes such heavy hitters as Activision Blizzard Inc.’s online role-playing game World of Warcraft, which is played by 10 million people worldwide, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim from Bethesda Softworks LLC, which last year, sold 3.5 million copies in its first two days of release.

Rather than saturating the market, Schilling said, the success of Skyrim and World of Warcraft is good news for 38 Studios. “I hope they do phenomenally well,’’ he said, because each success increases the total audience for role-playing games. “You can’t be successful preying upon other people’s failure or loss,’’ Schilling added.

The Kingdoms of Amalur rollout has already run into problems. A free demo edition of the game, released to the public in mid-January, was riddled with software bugs. The problem was so serious that Schilling publicly apologized on NeoGAF, an online forum popular with hardcore gamers. “It is way way WAYYYYY more buggy than anything ANYONE should ever release, much less a demo,’’ Schilling wrote at the time, adding that he had urged Electronic Arts not to release the demo software, but to no avail.

However, Schilling also said that early release ultimately increased advance interest in the finished game. “The awareness for Reckoning has gone through the roof,’’ he said yesterday, “and that is something I’m ecstatic about.’’

A hit game for 38 Studios would be welcome vindication for former Rhode Island governor Donald Carcieri, who two years ago backed the state’s Economic Development Corporation when it gave 38 Studios a $75 million loan guarantee in exchange for moving the company from Maynard to Providence. The loan was strongly opposed by other state officials, including current governor Lincoln Chafee.

As part of the deal, 38 Studios vowed to bring up to 450 jobs to Rhode Island. Schilling said yesterday that the company now employs about 300 workers in Providence, up from the 161 workers it had in Maynard. In addition, 38 Studios employs another 100 workers at an office in Maryland.

Apart from the Rhode Island loan guarantee, Schilling has invested about $30 million of his own money in 38 Studios, bringing the total investment in the company to about $105 million before its first release.

At midnight Monday, Schilling will be at a GameStop video game store in Bellingham to meet with fans as the game goes on sale. Also on hand will be Leominster native R.A. Salvatore, a best-selling fantasy novelist and 38 Studios executive.

Kingdoms of Amalur is a preview of a more ambitious game that 38 Studios is developing under the code name Copernicus. Both games will be set in the same fantasy universe, and like World of Warcraft, Copernicus will be played simultaneously by thousands of gamers connected to the Internet. Players will be able to join forces in shared adventures or compete against each other.

38 Studios hasn’t disclosed when Copernicus will be launched.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.
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