The Fall of 38 Studios, and DemonWars: More From R.A. Salvatore (Part 2)

David Craddock | 15 Oct 2014 12:00
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ra salvatore talks to fans during book signing

In part 1 of our interview with R.A. Salvatore, the author and I talked about his writing schedule and the back-and-forth creative process involved in writing The Sundering, one of the biggest events in the Dungeons & Dragons: Forgotten Realms campaign setting. Today, Salvatore digs into the collapse of 38 Studios, as well as DemonWars: Reformation, the tabletop RPG he co-designed with his son; the possibility of another Kickstarter campaign; and why he still prefers D&D First Edition to newer, shinier rule sets.


R. A. Salvatore has a reputation as a bulldog behind closed doors. He works without an agent, asserting that he can be as tough as he needs to be when it comes to looking out for his interests. But the author was powerless when 38 Studios began to crumble. "I remember when (a journalist} called me up and said, 'They owe you $2 million. Why aren't you suing Curt?' Why would I sue Curt? He didn't do anything wrong. He didn't do anything nefarious. Maybe he made a couple of bad business decisions, I don't know. But he didn't do anything nefarious, and he got wiped out. He's lying in the gutter and you want me to kick him in the head? Why would anyone do that?"

38 Studios enjoyed an auspicious beginning. Founded in 2006 by former MLB player Curt Schilling, the company published Kingdoms of Amalur, a single-player RPG for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3, in 2012. Salvatore was brought on board by Schilling, who called the author out of the blue one evening.

Giddy at the prospect of working with one of his favorite ball players, Salvatore signed on the dotted line and got to work designing a rich, 10,000-year back story for Amalur. "The world was created by my D&D group. I hired them before we had even formed the company to help me create a world. One guy and I really ran with it. We'd be on the phone watching History channel coming up with ideas back and forth, every weekend."

Other luminaries joined 38's ranks. Steve Danuser, a game designer on EverQuest II, headed up gameplay design. Legendary comic-book artist Todd McFarlane painted the look of the world, working closely alongside Salvatore to confirm that his art matched what the author envisioned in his head.

Then, in 2012, months after Kingdoms of Amalur's release, 38 Studios fell apart. The fall from grace left heads spinning, including Salvatore's, who was not involved in the day-to-day operation of the company. The trouble started when Schilling relocated 38 Studios to Rhode Island when the state offered a loan of $75 million as part of its effort to help companies get off the ground.

"What I think happened at 38 was when we got to a point where we needed more money and Rhode Island came into the picture," Salvatore told me. "The board decided to go with Rhode Island. From what I'm reading now, it sounded to me that as soon as people found out that Rhode Island was investing tens of millions of dollars into the company, vultures began to circle. They wanted to find ways to alleviate us of that money."

kingdoms of amalur

Salvatore held up a finger. "There's one thing I want to clear up. There's a rumor going around that [Kingdoms of Amalur] Reckoning sunk the company. Reckoning beat expectations. EA were the ones that funded the game with Big Huge Games [primary developer on Reckoning], and that wasn't what I was working on. I was working on the MMO, Project Copernicus. EA funded Reckoning with Big Huge Games, and it was supposed to sell 1.2 million copies [by 90 days after release]."

Per a tweet sent out by Curt Schilling, Reckoning hit its projected sales marker.

Salvatore hopes the pundits pointing fingers at Reckoning will look instead to the finicky landscape of MMORPGs, and 38's inability to secure more funding. "We ran out of money. The MMO grew too big, the market kept changing, and it kept getting more expensive to bring a game to market because you had to have these features in it or nobody would play it. We just got bled dry. It wasn't Reckoning [that sunk the company]. The guys at Big Huge Games deserve nothing but applause for what they did."

As for all the writing and world-building Salvatore did for Amalur, those documents, along with everything else 38 touched, are tied up in legal proceedings. "The State of Rhode Island has [the Amalur IP] in bankruptcy. Every now and then I hear about people who might want to buy it, and they ask me if I want to be involved. We'll see what happens."

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