RealTime IT News

Curt Schilling Pitches Software

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – It's very much the early innings for star pitcher Curt Schilling's latest endeavor. The Red Sox ace said he plans to build his upstart 38 Studios into a billion-dollar entertainment powerhouse over the next ten years.

That, to put it mildly, is an ambitious goal for a company that doesn't expect to release its first product for at least another two years, but Schilling's not one to back away from a challenge.

Curt Schilling
Curt Schilling
Source: 38 Studios

"I didn't want to do the restaurant thing or the normal stuff" pro athletes often pursue outside of their sports career, Schilling said this week here at VentureWire's Consumer Technology Innovations conference. In fact, Schilling noted he's already deviated from his original plans for entrepreneurship.

"This was supposed be my last season" with the World Series champion Red Sox, he said. "But I'm not intelligent enough to go out on top." Instead, the 41-year-old Schilling signed for another year with the Red Sox while remaining heavily involved with 38 Studios, the company he initially called Green Monster Games.

Taking a cue from baseball, Schilling said he's assembled an all-star lineup of developers, designers and marketing pros to build the company. The heavyweight roster, which Schilling describes as giving him an "unfair advantage," includes Todd McFarlane, creator of the Spawn comic book as art director. It also includes fantasy author R.A. Salvatore as creative director and video game veteran Brett Close as CEO.

For now, the company is tight-lipped on specific titles or the categories it intends to go after, aside from indicating that it's focused on the Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) fantasy role-playing genre.

"We'll have Web 2.0, episodic, graphical content for wireless and console products that all tie into the online world," CEO Close told InternetNews.com. "No one's put it all together yet."

The opportunity to get a piece of the action currently dominated by such MMO heavyweights as Blizzard (with "World of Warcraft," or "WoW") and Sony Online Entertainment (which produces "EverQuest") is huge. Schilling admits to being "a huge WoW player" and a fan of Sony and military simulations.

"We're not looking to knock off WoW or beat the MMO space, but flush out this unbelievable intellectual property we have and converge the audiences of Salvatore and Todd over the next four or five years, so hundreds of millions of people will come across our Web site," said Schilling. "We'll succeed or fail on our own merit."

The London-based research firm Screen Digest said the MMO market reached $1 billion in subscription revenue for Europe and the Americas for the first time in 2006 ($576 million in North American and $299 million in Europe.)

Subscription revenue accounted for 87 percent of that market, but Screen Digest noted the growing importance that in-game advertising and virtual sale items (such as weapons) have made. Screen Digest forecasts that by 2011, more than 10 million subscription accounts will generate $1.5 billion in consumer spending.

It's a big market, but 38 Studios faces plenty of challenges from established players as well as new ones coming out of left field, even if they lack a baseball pedigree.

"Assuming they have the resources and experience, two years is still a long time," Gartner analyst Mike McGuire told InternetNews.com. "It's a gamble they create something that's compelling enough to get consumers to stop doing less of something they're already investing time in. I don't buy into this idea that we'll all just continue to invest more and more time with online media."

On the other hand, McGuire said 38 Studios has the right idea in focusing on community. "Whether it's games, news, music or new business opportunities, everything has to be geared to communities, not individuals. That's the old model -- you target, say, 15- to 34-year-old males. No -- now you go for online communities to get at individuals."

Another challenge for 38 Studios (which was named for Schilling's jersey number) might be location. Suburban Maynard, Mass., is hardly a gaming mecca, and Schilling said he was told he'd lose talent basing the company in Boston.

"But my view was if being in Boston means we lose you, then it wasn't meant to be, they don't buy into the vision of what we're doing," he said.

Schilling said the people he's brought in to the self-funded 38 Studios thus far have a common vision, and he's getting up to speed leading the enterprise. "Before last year, I thought 'burn rate' was my fastball velocity," Schilling joked to the room full of venture capitalists.

"When I'm on the mound sixty feet away, I'm going to beat you," he added. "In this I'm not the smartest guy in the room and I'm okay with that, but I want to have a clue when they're talking about how they want to work the pipeline or the poly count for a game."

Now that Schilling can talk more of the talk, he's on the hunt for investors. "We've done a lot of work already, now we're looking for someone who gets us," he said. "We're going to make someone other than us filthy rich."

Schilling in legendary in baseball circles for the preparation he does before games and plans to bring that same dogged attitude to the games business. "You can save yourself hundreds of millions of dollars now that you might not realize you didn't have to spend until it's too late," he said.

As a manager, Schilling added that he takes a personal interest in all his employees. "You'll never work for someone who cares more about you and your family."

But his employees shouldn't get too comfortable -- the other side of Schilling's approach is an insistence you adhere to two rules: "Show up on time and bust your ass."