Loan Guarantees

Rhode Island Subsidizes Curt Schilling's Video Games: Who's Buying This Fantasy?

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For libertarian gamers stuck working today and unable to play the just-released Diablo III, here's something else to annoy you: Rhode Island gave a game developer a $75 million loan guarantee, and now the company is in financial trouble.

Maybe they'll give this guy a job at the Rhode Island DMV to work off the loan?

The game company is 38 Studios, founded by former Red Sox pitcher (and apparent Everquest junkie) Curt Schilling. The company has produced exactly one game, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, released earlier this year. Rhode Island actually offered the $75 million loan back in 2010, luring the company to relocate from Massachusetts to Providence.

But Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and the state's economic development officials worked with Schilling over the weekend to keep the struggling company afloat, the Providence Journal reports. If 38 Studios goes under, Ocean State taxpayers are on the hook for the loan. (Chafee opposed the loan, which was approved before he took office)

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was released to middling fanfare, generating some brief buzz for taking the conventional fantasy setting and giving it a more active combat system. But it's been buried under the hype for the next World of Warcraft expansion (panda bears!) and the aforementioned Diablo III.

The company reported selling 410,000 copies of the game, which was released on the PC, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Reviews were good, but not spectacular, given that the game's pedigree included Todd McFarlane (crown prince of the cultural horror that was the '90s comic book scene) and fantasy author R.A. Salvatore (the reason why dark elves are a thing – and yes, dark elves are a playable race in the game).

The loan is for the studio's second game, a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) currently codenamed Copernicus. Here's how 38 Studios describes the game on its site:

Copernicus is the codename for an unparalleled MMOG entertainment experience set in a truly evolving fantasy world that is both warmly familiar and intriguingly unique. Creative giants R. A. Salvatore and Todd McFarlane, together with the design teams at Big Huge Games and 38 Studios, are crafting a story of epic conflict and heroic individual journeys in which the players' actions will impact the fate of the world. This storyline rests upon a solid design core that incorporates the best play and social experiences available to players at launch. Driven by the creative talents of Salvatore and McFarlane and enriched through an array of products that will allow broad and deep exploration of the vast universe of Copernicus, 38 Studios is combining the ages-old art of the story with 21st century interactive entertainment.

If that description sounds familiar, it's because that's the description of every fantasy game ever made. The online game marketplace is littered with the broken bodies of World of Warcraft clones and there's nothing to suggest Copernicus would be any different. The government, of all institutions, barely understands how the Internet works. It certainly lacks the information or wisdom to wisely invest in game development companies. (And couldn't they have gone with City of Heroes? That game is actually set in Rhode Island!)

The New York Times wrote about video game publisher tax breaks last year (conflating them with subsidies as though they are the same thing).

And while Rhode Island is throwing taxpayer money at elves and faeries, its cities are going bankrupt.