Gaming passion leads to Schilling's second career

Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling is the first professional athlete to open his own video game studio, Green Monster Games (GMG). Located in Maynard, MA, Schilling's GMG will focus solely on creating massively multiplayer online (MMO) games aimed at the mass market. Schilling has been a passionate gamer for a long, long time and he's decided to spend the second chapter of his career making video games.

"I knew five, six, seven years ago that my career would be coming to a close," said Schilling. "I didn't think it would last this long, but I knew I wanted to do something after baseball. I had no desire to open a restaurant or do what it is that a lot of athletes do after they retire. I wanted to do something that I had a lot of passion for and this is something that I've always had a passion for."

Because he's an MMO gamer that logs a lot of hours during the season and off-season playing Sony Online Entertainment's (SOE) EverQuest II, he's been able to forge connections with the right people in the $30 billion global video game industry.

"I have a lot of relationships and friendships within the industry that I started to investigate and pursue, and this company is the result of that," said Schilling. "I've been doing my homework and preparation for about seven years now, and last year I knew this season coming up was going to be my final season. And I kind of jump-started it a bit."

Although Blizzard Entertainment has made a mint with its World of Warcraft (WoW) game, which has over 7.5 million gamers around the globe paying a monthly $15 subscription (after buying the $50 PC game at retail) to interact with friends online; the MMO space is a cutthroat business. Schilling said that 95 percent of MMO games fail. Adding to the challenge is a record number of 100-plus MMO games in development, including big brands like The Lord of the Rings Online, Pirates of the Caribbean Online and Warhammer Online. All of these companies are gunning for the estimated $1 billion a year that Blizzard is raking in with WoW.

"If there are 100 games or 100,000 games in development, there isn't a game out there that has anything to do with us," said Schilling. "Our development, our company, our project is solely dependent on the people in our company. Seeing as they work for us, they don't work for anybody else. And none of the employees of those other companies
work for us. When they told me I couldn't pitch in the World Series on three days rest because nobody else had done it well, it had nothing to do with me. That's the way I look at this. We've entered an industry that oddsmakers would tell you it's a long shot to be a profitable company and that it's an even longer shot to even publish a game. That's based on criteria set by people who aren't me and by companies made up of people who aren't here, so that has nothing to do with us. I'm just focused on building a company and making a game. And if we stay focused on that, we'll do both."

According to a recent report from PriceWaterhouseCooper, there were 5.8 million online video game subscribers in the U.S. in 2005, representing 14.6 percent of the broadband universe. PriceWaterhouseCooper estimates that there will be 15.5 million people playing games online by 2010, representing 21.1 percent of all broadband households. According to Corey Bridges, founder of MMO game technology company Multiverse, there are as many as 40 million people in the world today playing MMO games. And that number will only grow moving forward as more gamers are introduced to the genre.

"A lot of people don't realize that video games are already bigger than the movie industry now," said Schilling. "That's why there are hundreds of millions of dollars being put into the game industry today -- both smart and dumb money, unfortunately, because there are people diluting the waters with bad product. It's a market that's exploding and I think it's an incredibly great time to be getting in."

GMG is developing a fantasy-based MMO game for its first project, which Schilling said will ship sometime after two years and before 10 years. (Traditionally, it takes at least four years to create an MMO game, and they can cost between $20 million and $50 million to create, including the cost of the back-end online infrastructure.) The game is being designed from the ground up as a global intellectual property. GMG will create the game and then find strategic partners to publish the game and handle the online infrastructure.

Schilling has turned to Spawn comic book creator Todd McFarlane, who will serve as artistic director of the game, and fantasy author R.A. Salvatore, who will craft the story; to work on a contractual basis with GMG's in-house team in developing the first game. The studio will have about 35 employees within its first six months and about 50 within its first year as production ramps up. Schilling is bringing aboard industry veterans from companies like SOE, Disney Online, and Electronic Arts.

"We have an immensely talented pool of artists, animators and tech people as part of the core team," said Schilling. " Looking at this space over the last decade, there are a lot of lessons to be learned. We have people who have been in this space for five, six, seven, 10 years and they're bringing a lot of history with them, good and bad. Learning from the bad history is just as important as learning from the good."

Schilling said that moving from the sport of baseball to the video game space is as different as they sound, but that they're exactly alike in other ways.

"It's incredibly exciting thing for me because it is a different world," said Schilling. "Finding things inside of this space that are competitive is exciting for me. There's an enormous difference in that I'm now responsible for these employees and their families and caring for these people and helping them see the vision through. Making being part of this company mean something starts with me. The bar that you set in every aspect and phase of this company has to be unique or you're just like everybody else, and I have no desire to open just another gaming company or to put out just another game. I have a desire to be unique and different in every way possible that's good."

The years of gaming experience put Schilling in a unique position to compete in the interactive arena, where hits and misses costs tens of millions of dollars, and a single failure, especially in the MMO game space, can sink a company.

"I have a vision for the company. I have a vision for the business. I have a vision for the IP -- and I call it an intellectual property much more than I call it a game," said Schilling. "But I also know I need incredibly talented, creative people to make that happen. I'm not making my game. I'm making the game, in my mind. In order to do that, you have to appeal to an immensely large audience. That requires having a lot of the things in the game that I probably won't like. But when you have talented, passionate, creative people making the game, they'll convince you as to why that's a good decision to make."

Schilling knows first-hand that an MMO game, if it's done right, can be a very personal experience. He plays these games, as does his kids. And as part of his charity work with the ALS Association, Schilling appeared as a character in EverQuest II this past June to raise money to help battle Lou Gehrig's disease. Taking things a step further than MySpace.com, MMO games allow people from around the world to interact with one another while battling virtual creatures.

"It's an alternate universe where you can walk away from the daily grind of real life and immerse yourself in a world of people that you like and that like you," said Schilling. "You can hang out and do things that can be life-changing. Relationships and families have been founded online, for better or for worse. It can be every bit as magical as you can envision it being if you create it with the right people."

Schilling is assembling a team to do just that as he looks ahead to his own future -- and to the future of interactive entertainment.