The incredible collapse of 38 Studios and Big Huge Games following the release of their first property still has us reeling, but new insights from those within the tragedy are starting to clear things up. According to unnamed employees at Big Huge, the team was more than pleased with the launch of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. So pleased, in fact, that a sequel was already in pre-production. While that’s no longer a possibility, those who worked firsthand on Reckoning maintain that their game and the taxpayer drama that ensued with parent company 38 Studios are worlds apart.
With 38 Studios’ and Big Huge Games’ only release to date being Reckoning – a game our own Jeff Schille called “extraordinarily good” – it’s all too easy to assign the collapse of the studio to its sales performance. But considering that the game apparently sold 1.2 million copies since launch, it seems there must be more factors at play. Recent details from some close to development are starting to elaborate, with many fingers now being pointed at the MMO Project Copernicus.
Unsurprisingly, the brief and terse company-wide layoffs have not prevented those who worked on the game from opening up to some news outlets. Joystiq has received word from several sources close to development who confirm that the team was already preparing a sequel to Reckoning when the layoffs struck. Discussions with other publishers (EA had apparently not signed on for the sequel) were taking place, but with the majority of assets likely to end up as property of the State of Rhode Island, the possibility of it ever being released as such is slim.
An unnamed source implies that the development team at Big Huge obviously didn’t see Reckoning as a failure or botched first release, apparently committed to expanding upon the foundations laid with the intriguing premise and artfully striking worlds of Amalur:
“We had a good base to work from, and it was going to be all about improving everything…We listened carefully to fans and critics and were going to implement everything we possibly could.”
Taking things even further, several Big Huge employees adamantly maintain that the taxpayer dollars that went to fund 38 Studios’ Rhode Island team was connected to development on Reckoning through name only. According to them, the blame for that disaster lies with Project Copernicus:
“Reckoning was developed with EA publishing money, NOT Rhode Island tax dollars…It had nothing to do with the $50 million dollars from RI. That money went directly to the MMO project.”
The exact structure of 38 Studios and Big Huge Games still remains somewhat unclear, but given the developer’s previous RPG project being rebuilt around the Amalur IP, it’s not hard to imagine them operating somewhat autonomously. If Project Copernicus was the source of most of the studio’s financial troubles, then it really is a shame that an improved and expanded Reckoning sequel was axed in the process. From what was shown of Project Copernicus, the title seemed like a visually striking and imaginative extension of Reckoning‘s fiction, even if it did strongly resemble its competition.
If nothing else, this financial mess goes to show that a fantastic idea for a game franchise is only as reliable as the money funding it, and the executives trusted with its development and release.
An actual continuation of the Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning property relies on Rhode Island’s ability to turn the company into anything more than a tax liability, but fans can still hope.
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