After its seismic collapse this May, 38 Studios‘ postmortem unraveling continues to paint a clearer picture of Project Copernicus. The MMO was slated for a release after a hypothetical Kingdoms of Amalur 2, but it became a money pit for 38 founder Curt Schilling and is now considered, like the company itself, defunct.

Every indication regarding Project Copernicus‘ structure has been that it would take on the form of a subscription-based MMO, a la its role model World of Warcraft. A new interview with Schilling, however, reveals that the game was being developed as a free-to-play title – a design he claims would have been a game changer.

Schilling’s sentiments come courtesy of Boston Magazine, where the 38 Studios boss, though humbled, remains adamant about the success his company had within reach. Project Copernicus was intended to make Schilling “Bill Gates-rich,” as he stated in an earlier interview, and large credit would go to its pricing schematic:

“We were going to be the first triple-A, hundred-million-dollar-plus, free-to-play, micro-transaction-based MMO. That was one of our big secrets.”

How big? Radioactive, apparently. Schilling believes that when Copernicus was ready for the spotlight, free-to-play would have been “the atom bomb” that “shocked the world.” In fact in the waning days of the company, when shoring up funds from potential investors was 38 Studios’ last hope, he says revealing the pricing aspect during meetings had bolstered the talks greatly, and without Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee’s public criticism of the company a financing deal could have been arranged.

“Most investors wanted NOTHING to do with subscription-based products, they were all on the social media, and free-to-play games as a means to revenue.”

Whether or not Project Copernicus would have galvanized investors into funding 38 Studios is almost impossible to judge without being privy to the discussions – a broken Schilling even admitted last month that the unfinished game “wasn’t fun.” Where outing its latest “secret” offers insight, though, is on the growth of free-to-play games.

Project Copernicus Free to play

Quite simply: The industry is gravitating towards them. MMO after MMO – Star Wars: The Old Republic will be the latest example come November – is shaving subscriptions, while shooters like Team Fortress 2 and the upcoming DUST 514 are finding the model to fit quite comfortably. Developer Cytek made headlines when they announced an all-free-to-play future in June – only to be outdone by EA boss Peter Moore’s proclamations that the framework will “inevitably” become ubiquitous within the next 10 years.

It’s hard to imagine, then, that Project Copernicus status would be as explosive as Schilling so fervently believed. Unless the ex-Big Huge Games team at Epic’s Impossible Studios has spiritual successor in store, we’ll unfortunately never know.

Follow me on Twitter @Brian_Sipple.

Source: Boston Magazine [via Joystiq]