Last week, we reported on the mess that 38 Studios had gotten themselves into, running through nearly $50 million dollars in Rhode Island taxpayer loan money with nothing to show for it. At a press conference following the studio’s miraculous $1.125 million late loan payment to the state, Governor Lincoln Chafee tipped the developer’s hand, indicating that Project Copernicus (codename for the Amalur MMO) was being delayed from this fall until the middle of next year.
Shortly thereafter, 38 Studios released a “Project Copernicus World Flythrough” video (below). Take a moment and check it out.
Let me be blunt. There isn’t much there. The environments are pretty and varied, sure, but nothing jumps out at me as groundbreaking. As any savvy gamer knows, some attractive landscapes and compelling music do not a good game make. Story, combat, classes and skill trees are the things that hook MMO players and keep them coming back. That’s why this video isn’t for you, gamers. It’s a calculated business move to show investors something, and it may backfire. If 38 Studios is showing everything here, then they’ve really got nothing.
Remember, the game was supposed to launch in a few months. Sure, we can infer character designs from Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, but without actually seeing a populated world, examples of how the title will be played or anything else that might evidence that there’s a game behind this tech demo, what would motivate an investor to throw good money after Rhode Island’s bad?
Yesterday, images surfaced on NeoGAF from website 38 Watch. It’s unclear if these are actually in-game shots or carefully mocked up pictures. In fact, it’s not even clear who leaked these shots or if they were in fact “leaked.” OK, I’m taking the tinfoil hat off now.
The truth is that any investor walking through the door already knows that payroll has been spotty, the studio has allegedly let people go because of it and their tax payment, to be delivered to them by the state this summer, is already cause for concern. Joystiq is reporting that staff hasn’t been paid since the first of May and that their healthcare (formerly covered 100% by the company) has run out. Additionally, Polygon has shared that CEO Jen McLean and Senior VP of Product Development John Blakely have departed the studio.
The market for MMOs is changing drastically, with very little room for new subscription-baed products. Worse, it won’t be until next year before the studio has any source of earned revenue. Should an angel emerge to save the developer, they would have to take a backseat to the state in terms of seeing payoff. Creditors come first, and in this case, would own all of the intellectual property in case of a default. Investors couldn’t even get a piece of that in the event of a fire sale. It’s a losing proposition.
If THQ couldn’t find someone to come aboard for the Warhammer 40K MMO (and they can still pay their staff, despite financial trouble), 38 Studios is sunk. It’s a waiting game to see how this will play out, and other than the video, the studio isn’t talking. We’ll be following this story as more emerges about the developer’s financial situation and Project Copernicus.