Social Media Helps Laid-Off Video Game Makers Survive a Reckoning

Posted by Tim Fernholz

The video game industry takes care of their own.

38Studios, a video game development house in Rhode Island run by retired baseball star Curt Schilling, laid off all of its employees yesterday, culminating a month of uncertainty as the company scrambled to pay off a loan from the state of Rhode Island.

But a display of online solidarity quickly became a real-life rescue net for the company’s 300-plus employees. Video game developers, designers, and fans began tweeting links to game jobs and quickly made #38Jobs a trending topic on the social network.

For the afternoon, a competitive industry felt like close-knit community as people stepped up to celebrate the work that 38Studios had done and help connect the now unemployed video game architects with new opportunities to create.

“To everyone rallying behind ‪#38studios. Thank you so much. Wow. I love this industry ‪#38jobs,” tweeted Bill Mueller, an audio designer at the company.

Alex Rubens, a freelance video game journalist, started collecting the links to jobs in a public Google document that quickly received plenty of traffic and 60-plus companies advertising jobs. “I write about video games professionally, so it's a pretty big deal when a studio goes under —let alone one of that size,” Rubens says. “When something like that happens in an industry that you love, you can't help but feel the need to help them out.”

The collapse of the studio has attracted more than usual attention because of its surprising provenance—it was founded by Schilling, the former Boston Red Sox pitcher and longtime online gaming fan—and its financing: The company was relying on a $75 million loan package (and a passel of tax incentives) designed to create jobs in Rhode Island; with its failure, the state’s taxpayers will be on the hook for millions.

While 38Studios' first title, a role-playing game called Kingdom of Amalur, was fairly well received and sold somewhere between 400,000 and a million copies, it did not sell well enough to support the company’s ambitious main project—a massive multiplayer online game called Copernicus—and make its loan payments.

Originally based in Massachusetts, the company moved to Rhode Island, promising to bring 450 jobs in exchange for a development loan that was controversial from the moment it was issued. It’s not clear yet whether the company over-promised or Rhode Island officials were too eager to bring a high-tech firm to their state, but while that’s all being sorted out, the real cost is being borne by the company’s employees, who haven’t been paid this month and suddenly lost their health insurance and other benefits.

“It's an incredible story, seeing the games industry come together like this,” says Dali Dimovski, the editor-in-chief of video game site Sidequesting.com who put together a Facebook site to publicize #38Jobs. “In this highly aggressive, competitive market where companies are suing each other over contractual issues, it's fantastic to see them offer any help they can.”

Photo courtesy of 38Studios