Though the studio's founder himself said the game wasn't even fun—no one internally was playing it—"Project Copernicus" was one of the most lamented casualties of 38 Studios' collapse, primarily because its screenshots looked so damn good. Not at all like a free-to-play game.
But that was the plan for "Copernicus" from the get-go, said Curt Schilling, according to the Boston magazine writer who interviewed him last month about the studio's notorious collapse. Investors weren't interested in a traditional MMO, Schilling said, intimating they're all chasing the growth forecast for social and free-to-play markets.
If you're a hardcore gamer groaning about the spread of free-to-play kudzu into traditional PC gaming spaces, well, Schilling groaned too. (He was a serious gamer during his Major League Baseball career, remember.) "You won't find a more ardent opposition to free to play than me," he said, "and I went 180 degrees."
Because investors were so fervent to hitch their ride to the next free-to-play flavor-of-the-minute, Schilling believes 38 Studios could have gotten a lifesaving deal done—until Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chaffee started badmouthing 38, a venture that got a huge package of funding and incentives from the state. Rhode Island now owns everything 38 Studios owned, and will hold a firesale to try to get back whatever it can.
Schilling isn't unreasonable in his appraisal of investor interest, but when he calls "Copernicus" the "first triple-A, hundred-million-dollar-plus, free-to-play, micro-transaction-based MMO," I really have to wonder if that's something really sustainable at this time. Remember, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, the console role-playing game they built for Electronic Arts, needed to sell 3 million copies just to break even, and it got about a third of the way there—at best.
It's good to set goals, but a good goal is both measurable and achievable. And if "Copernicus" wasn't even fun, it doesn't matter what investors think about free-to-play as the next big thing.
Curt Schilling's Game Would Have Been Free To Play [Boston Magazine]