News: Amalur Developer Undone through Idiocy

38 Studios Logo

Governor Lincoln Chafee: Kingdoms of Amalur “Failed”

This past fortnight has been witness to one of the most spectacular and witless collapses in Gaming history. It played out like a tragedy in that the dire outcome was telegraphed from the very outset, though the effect was rather more comedic in nature. What began with scarcely believing whispers that 38 studios might not be able to make the next instalment of its loan repayments, has ended in all 379 of 38 Studios’ employees being unceremoniously sacked (after not receiving their wages in over a month). Not the best start to the day for those employees who were fired by a brief and impersonal email, but even worse for those who discovered that they had a second mortgage to pay off. Part of the 38 Studios initiative to attract more employees to relocate to their Rhode Island premises was the assurance that the developer would take control of their previous accommodations and mortgages, which it would then sell off to new owners. Despite previous avowals from the studio that employees’ former dwellings had already been sold off, many employees this week received calls from their banks asking why they had stopped paying off their still very real and existing mortgages.

Once it had become clear that the solvency of 38 Studios was a lost cause, Lincoln Chafee, the Rhode Island Governor, promptly called a press conference where he repeatedly stated that the game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning had “failed”. It might seem odd to readers that a game that has sold 1.2 million copies in ninety days could be called a failure, but when the developer has borrowed 75 million dollars in (relatively) short-term loans to fund it, and the game in question has to sell three million copies just to break even, then 1.2 million in sales is a huge failure on the part of everyone involved. More specifically, it is a huge failure on the part of Curt Shilling who borrowed more money than his studio could have ever hoped to pay back with the sales of their mediocre new IP, and it is also a huge failing on the part of the former Rhode Island governor who inked the deal which would see the state underwrite the loans made to 38 Studios, which will now see tax-payers foot a bill for over 100 million dollars.

Left: Internet. Right: DRM.

Pirates Prefer Torrenting the DRM Version of The Witcher 2

The the lack of effectiveness of DRM practices in discouraging piracy is often talked about, yet rarely do we see this principle illustrated in stark unambiguity. The Witcher 2 provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of digital rights management and piracy however, as the game launched in two decidedly distinct versions; a physical version published my Namco Bandai, replete with SecuROM DRM, and a digital version which launched on CD Projekt Red’s own excellent digital storefront, Good Old Games, which came sans DRM, much like every other title on on GOG. Now, by rights most anyone would expect the GOG DRM free configuration to be the most heavily pirated version of the game because there is nothing that has to be cracked, and it comes in one sleek executable file – yet this is not the case.

Despite the fact that the Good Old Games iteration of The Witcher 2 would have been the most expedient file for pirates to immediately slap up on torrent sites, they nevertheless seem to have made the effort to crack and seed the physical version of the game to the extent that the GOG version only accounts for a small fraction of the game’s illegal downloads. Guillaume Rambourg, the managing director of Good Old Games, claims that of the roughly 4.5 million illegal downloads which The Witcher 2 has seen, roughly four million of those were torrents of the physical version of the game with its DRM in tatters. Rambourg’s theory for this odd trend is that pirates are able to grow a bigger epeen by having their name associated with cracking a game’s DRM, though one would like to at least entertain the notion that ignoring the GOG version in favour of the physical version may have held some appeal to the pirate’s sense of ethical propriety.

Also searching for integrity, a fruitless effort.
Heather searches the darkness for missing code!

Tomm Hulett Breaks Silence on Dodgey Port

This gaming generation has given rise to the popularity of the HD port; high definition remasters of the best loved games from the previous generation, which have manifested with various degrees of success. The better examples have been sufficient to breathe new life into old games, while, at worst, endeavours such as Resident Evil 4 may be regarded as something of a missed opportunity, while still being superior to the original title. It is very rare indeed to find a HD remaster which is actually worse than the original experience, yet one such title is the Silent Hill HD Collection.

Relying on the archiving and maintenance of a developer’s game data can be a dubious prospect, as the importance of maintaining the integrity of such assets was not clear to the management of the day. Indeed, sometimes whole games such as Final Fantasy VII would be lost through mishap or neglect. Thus, the most consistently successful developer of HD ports for this current generation is Bluepoint Games, as they have effectively eliminated such uncertainty by developing an elegant software solution which allows them to take a game’s retail disc and reverse engineer it in its entirety for a HD console. This has led to much acclaim for their work on the God of War HD Collection, the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, and their HD re-release of both of the Team Ico’s games.

A good counterpoint to the efficacy and potency of Bluepoint Games is perhaps the bumbling and fumbling of the Silent Hill HD Collection by Hyjinx. This week associate producer, Tomm Hulett, has come clean about what went so horribly wrong for the seminal horror franchise – apparently Konami had lost the final version of the game code. Hyjinx was handed incomplete code for both games, and was left to try and polish it for more than two years (the length of Silent Hill 2‘s original development) before dumping an inferior product onto an unsuspecting market. One supposes that the moral of this tale is that developers who have been less than diligent with their game assets should be doubly as careful when selecting a developer with the requisite experience in handling difficult porting jobs. Hulett claims that Konami are still working on a patch to remedy fan complaints, but one suspects that the defects are too profligate to salvage the experience.


  1. The 38 Studios posish is a massive show of just how shitty the upper echelons of these development studios can be. Look at how the employees of the company were treated; lied to, bullshitted, and eventually left with piles of debt and a pair of unpaid mortgages. And, of course, the taxpayer foots the bill for the mismanagement of the whole affair.

    I seriously hope that the people responsible are never able to make another game in their lives. However, fucking Kickstarter will probably see that hope dashed. –And, will reward a group of people who should be sitting in a cell pondering the moral turpitude inherent in ruining the lives of their trusting employees.

  2. I’ve heard a couple different spins on the whole 38 Studios debacle. Some put more blame on the state of Rhode Island, some say 38 Studios was being dumb, some say both. I’m inclined, from all of what I’ve heard and read, to think it’s squarely 38 Studios’ fault. They took on loans…LOANS in amounts they could not repay. That’s bad planning. The incentive RI gave the developer to move their business, the double mortgages, the bouncing checks, the governor souring publisher interest by condemning the game…that’s all icing on the poop cake. I don’t see how isn’t just a case of writing a check their ass couldn’t cash. (Yeah, triple negatives, baby!)

    I’m not getting into DRM again.

    And finally, as you noted in the article, losing source code is commonplace. Some pin it on Konami for being inept, but almost ALL companies lose their source code for games made even a few years ago. The preservation efforts of this industry are staggeringly poor, even today.

  3. @Mel: Source code isn’t the worst of it. Square lost all of their Final Fantasy VII assets in an earthquake. Why are there not backups of this stuff stored off-site? There are plenty of (CHEAP!!!) options in that regard, but these companies seem more interested in saving literally pennies per day so that when there is a natural event they can lose the work of decades.

  4. Well, I have a fair amount of understanding for companies that have lost any code or data from negligence from around the PS1/N64 generation and before. Back then the idea of re-releases, cross platform porting and the whole notion of HD ports were foreign. Sure some of it might have happened, but not in the manner they do today. But when PS2 and even 360 games get “lost”… That’s just shit planning or simple lack of caring.

  5. I would wager that there is not a tax payer in Rhode Island who feels that this cluster-fuck is not at least in some part attributable to the Rhode Island government; you don’t just allow a studio to write themselves a blank check when they have all the financial oversight of your average Kickstarter endeavour.

  6. @SN: To be fair to the RI government, this wasn’t an unsecured loann. The loan actually came from investors and capital sources, but the state cosigned on the loan. When 38 defaulted, the burden moved to include its cosigners. So, RI will effectively have to foot the bill, but the initial money did not come from taxpayers. The money to pay back the loan, however, will (at least in part: the sale of 38 and its assets will make up some of the balance).

  7. I am unsure as to how that is supposed to have any kind of mitigating effect upon my previous comment. The only part of the process that I am likening to Kickstarter is the degree of financial oversight.

  8. @SN: I don’t see how this was like RI letting 38 write a blank check. I may be missing something, but didn’t RI offer them this loan as incentive to move their business, offer the money to them in installments for meeting certain requirements, then (it being a loan) wait for repayment upon whatever schedule the payments were to come? I still don’t see how this isn’t ALL 38’s fault. They took out a loan and mishandled their own finances making them unable to repay. All RI did was offer that loan, I didn’t read anywhere that they made the terms ambiguous or even that 38 Studios was wholly incapable of ever paying this loan back. Was there evidence that 38 was some financially inept company; that they might be a bad risk?

  9. 38 didn’t loan the money from the State of Rhode Island’s coffers, rather the Rhode Island government promised to co-sign for their loans if they relocated, giving them the capacity receive larger loans given that the State would be held liable if they could not make their payments – or at least that was my understanding.

    But regardless of where the money came from, it’s clearly also partially the fault of the then government. It is clear that there was not much in the way of fiscal scrutiny underpinning this loan, given that the State signed off on a sum which would require unrealistic sales-figures to even payback the loan, much less turn a profit for the studio. By all accounts Shilling got the loan based on naught but promises and bluster.

    But tell me, when American banks started offering sub-prime loans to feckless persons who had no realistic way to service their commitment, was that all the fault of the individual?

    What you don’t seem to understand is that just because another party is implicated in this disaster, that does nothing to lessen the responsibility of either. Both Shilling and the former Governor are criminally negligent IMO.

  10. I’ve re-read some of the news stories, and its looking a bit more like both parties are indeed to blame on this one. Previously it seemed as though RI co-signed for this loan to 38 Studios in order to incentivize their movement to RI and to fund their MMO. Along the way their current game (which cost a butt load) wasn’t selling as well as it should, yet 38 continued work on their next projects instead of holding off to…you know, make payroll and their loan payments.

    Well, now I’ve seen that this game may have been a money loser from the get go, and to saddle this company with a large loan on top of their expenses for developing their new games was pretty silly. The key (and you did put this in the article) is that it had to sell 3 million to break even. If RI was being responsible they would have seen this company as a bigger risk than they did, and if 38 had any sense they would have foreseen at least POTENTIAL trouble coming down the pipeline if their game didn’t sell very VERY well. (and for a new IP in the crowded high fantasy RPG genre…that’s tough)

    Furthermore, the statement about needing to sell 3 million came from the governor of RI who, if he was trying to cover this up, wouldn’t mention that this game needed to sell a crap load in order to break even. He still asserts he had no idea…and he probably didn’t. But he and the rest of the board that approved this deal should have at time of signing.

    PS I just noticed that link you posted…that too, lol.

  11. You have to realise that the Rhode Island Governor then is not the same as the Rhode Island Governor now – the current Rhode Island Governor actually opposed guaranteeing 38’s loans.

    What I would love to know is what portion of the money borrowed went into juggling 38 employee mortgages…

  12. Ah, yes. That is true. As far as the nitty gritty about the mortgages…I don’t even want to think about it.

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