Curt Schilling's new playing field
Any baseball player needs an escape. A place to go when your name brings too much attention, too much expectation. We find it in hobbies, from climbing expeditions to business ventures. This place is where we often go when our career comes to its inevitable halt and we need to find the next taste.
When I saw that Curt Schilling was starting a video gaming company, I didn't bat an eye. I knew he had to take some of that competitive energy and put it somewhere, and why not put it into making a game, the next best option to playing one. Green Monster Games (which became 38 Studios) formed soon after Schilling hoisted the Red Sox onto his bloody sock and pitched them into proof positive that curses are reversible.
It is fitting that he now designs games in which curses and magic are central to the gamers who play them. His first release, "The Kingdoms of Amalur -- Reckoning," takes place in a fantasy world full of elves and warriors, wizards and quests, the story written by New York Times bestselling author R.A. Salvatore, and the game itself built on the genius-level abilities of the best of the brightest that Curt plucked from the top gaming companies all over the world.
When I spoke with him in the early stages of his vision, he said to me, "You know how we do it; we can't do anything halfway." So he was all in from day one. His vision has taken him on an eight-year journey, seeking investors, pushing for patience, standing on the necks and backs of programmers, hoping that when all was said and done, he would claim victory with a successful product. And he knew this would be only one of many steps he needed to take to stay successful.
So far, the sales numbers are encouraging. The game rose to No. 1 in the United Kingdom, ensuring that his motto, "World Domination Through Gaming," is also on its way to being a way of life.
It takes me back to a day when we were talking about his first gaming obsession, a game called "Ultima Online." He raved about it time and time again, so I went online, researched it and told him about another game called "EverQuest" that was going to be "next level." He initially blew it off because of his gamer's loyalty to "Ultima Online," but then he stopped me months later while stretching in Dodger Stadium to tell me, "You have to play 'EverQuest!'"
He ended up bringing me into the virtual world right with him. We fought together, we did quests, and sometimes, we watched the sun come up after logging ridiculous hours. Eventually we were talking about the online game on the baseball field, confusing everyone who was trying to figure out how to join a conversation that featured Rabid Aviaks and lands called the Butcherblock Mountains. All while hearing about Paladin Dwarves who can use a "Lay Hands" option to bring themselves (or others) back from near death. If that makes no sense, it shouldn't, unless you were knee deep in the "EverQuest" world like we were in the late '90s and early 2000s.
This game took over so much of our lives that I credited my anger towards Curt for killing one of my characters (Curt would argue that it was my fault) for my hitting two home runs off of him in a game when he was with the Diamondbacks. It ran that deep. (Rest in peace, Bingbong.) This led to an online duel to the death in front of a virtual audience. I claimed victory and so did Curt. We ended up on the cover of "Baseball Weekly" and doing national interviews on radio.
But beyond talking the talk, Curt walked the walk and put together a business team to go beyond those gaming years in Philadelphia. Curt would back his company out of his own pocket and learn the hard way at fundraising and design. He talked to people across the globe, he bought another company just to be able to point to a real product, not just an idea in the works. He had to have a plan, the same kind that made him a consistent and long-lasting success in baseball. He learned the craft, took the risk and pitched his way to success. Literally.
His drive and the efforts of his team have produced a fun thrill ride of an adventure game in "Kingdom of Amalur." They take you into a world where your choices matter. You must decide if you want to be a fighter and slash your way to glory, or if you want to use magic or stealth and creep up on your enemies in the dark of night. In between are many choices that shape your path and your character, with destinies, quests and treasures awaiting you.
As you go on this journey, the story grows with you, rolling out a history of this world in great detail. I remember visiting his studio and talking to a designer whose sole purpose was to create the languages and alphabets of the races and cultures of the game. This kind of detail will keep any avid player engaged for not just hours, but if all goes as Curt plans, years at a time.
In talking to Curt, we think back to a lot of moments in our career and how hard it is for any player to transition to the next phase of life. There are no more lineup cards, no umpires, no splitters that drop off the tables. The rules we are accustomed to playing by are not as clearly defined. The good news is that the focus and relentless effort that he possessed in the game are required outside of baseball. They make for some good traits to have when trying to be the best at just about anything.
It is easy to invest in Curt's vision because you know he is not going to stop at any station stop until he has it done right. He has always been on an express train, looking to get better and find that edge. His first game has done well and will set the stage for the forthcoming online game that will be his masterpiece. And he will learn from the feedback of his game players and build on the suggestions from an already stellar game in "K of A."
In the meantime, Curt is an example of how an athlete can drive his way to a new identity in a new industry by tapping a lot of what made him a success on the field: determination and perseverance, and it certainly helped that he put together one superstar contact list that he could motivate to believe.
Doug Glanville, who earned a degree in systems engineering from the University of Pennsylvania, played nine major league seasons with the Cubs, Phillies and Rangers. He serves on the board of Athletes Against Drugs and on the board of the MLB Players Alumni Association. His book, "The Game from Where I Stand," was released in May 2010. Click here to buy it in paperback on Amazon.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dougglanville