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Comic-Con 08: 38 Studios interview reveals IP announcement next year!

Michael Zenke

Last week we sat down with two representatives from 38 Studios, one of the highest profile of the stealth MMO developers. Headed by the triad of Curt Schilling, R.A. Salvatore, and Todd McFarlane, the studio is deep in the midst of content creation and is entirely under the radar. So under the radar we don't even know what the name of their game is ... just the code name for the project, floridly called "Copernicus."

Massively and WoW Insider's Dan O'Halloran spoke with Chief Marketing Officer Mary Kirchoff and newly-hired Director of Art Thom Ang. Though they couldn't share a lot of substantial insights with us, we did walk away with some great news: the studio will be annoucing their game title's name and launching a game-specific site around this time next year.

You folks still not talking about your new title yet, correct?

Mary Kirchoff:That's correct.

All we know is that it is a fantasy title.

Mary: It's a fantasy-based title, and its code-name is Copernicus.

38 Studios obviously has a number of things working in its favour that other startups simply don't. Huge names in fantasy writing and art direction, a wealthy sports star to bankroll the company and provide a recognizable face ... how have these impacted the way Copernicus is being developed? Is there anything in particular you can point to as working more smoothly than it would have at another studio? Have these boons actually caused any problems, whether from a perspective standpoint or a design standpoint?

Thom Ang: Sorry, I didn't mean to cause you trouble! [laughing]

Mary: That's alright. Let me think about this ...

So I can speak to this from a Marketing perspective; Thom can tackle this more from the creative standpoint. Thom's been with the company for two weeks now, so he'll have a very fresh take on this question. From my perspective, one of the wonderful things about is all the interest that you get because you have these big names. They open doors. Sometimes you don't want these doors to be opened quite so early, though, so that's the yin and yang of having noteworthy visionaries like we do in our startup company.

When it takes four years to develop a product, we have to find the right times to release information. We have lots of things going on internally; of course, it's finding that right state of readiness – maybe two to two and half years before release. The time of when we release substantial information about our project is tricky. With a company like ours, where we have some 'famous people' as leaders, it gives us a chance to decide how we want to go about it.

Thom: With most startups you need to release information to make a big splash when the company is announced, but in our case we've already made a big splash just with the names on the Marquee.

Mary: It opens up a lot of doors, definitely. But some of those you don't want open as people want to walk through them.

It seems as though 38 Studios and Sony Online Entertainment share a lot of DNA. Curt obviously really enjoys EQ2, there are several high-profile employees at 38 that are former SOE employees (Steve Danuser, Travis McGeathy) ... How do you think this will ultimately impact Copernicus? Can you speak to why so many SOE employees seem to be migrating to 38?

Thom: It's because Curt has put together a really good shop. That's really what it is. I asked the same thing, because I migrated from LA to Massachusetts as well. It wasn't the easiest thing to do, that's a pretty big move. I asked all those guys: how did that happen? It's a wonderful climate down there, how do you leave that to go to Massachusetts? They said, "look at the shop we have over there. Look at what the talent we have is like, look at what the support we have from Curt is like, how do you not jump over and join them?"

It was such a good set up. These guys I'm talking about have seen different types of studio setups before. They know the ins and outs and the problems of startups, but Curt set up something that just felt really good, very supportive, and it's always about making sure the team is taken care of.

That's paramount in getting people to move out to a place like that.

Mary: How it affects the ultimate product is that you have a group of people that have created a culture that other game developers want to be a part of. Because you're taken care of, it's not just a slave shop – that's the reputation the industry has, right, is creative slave shops. So you have this marvelous creative desire, you add to that the discipline and the structure that these people have in their backgrounds, and you look at what we're trying to do with quality of life issues – layering good things over their experience and discipline. We've got a creative environment that encourages true innovation; the best of both worlds.

The company has announced several high profile technology licensing deals, such as BigWorld, Unreal Engine 3, and Morpheme. What's the philosophy behind licensing instead of developing technologies in-house?

Mary: The team's energy is going into creating great intellectual properties. When we have the talent that we do, you want to spend time and energy creating that world that people want to be in 24/7. Rather than recreating the wheel, there are these great technologies that already exist that can fill our needs. We spent a lot of time evaluating that perfect marriage, a combination of toolsets and middleware, so that our energies can be spent creating the story and the environment that those tools will let us build.

Why choose to make a fantasy game? What little we've heard about Copernicus seems interesting, but isn't the fantasy MMO "a solved problem" at this point? What can 38 bring to the genre that will substantially change the way players feel about orcs and elves?

Mary: It's our perspective, when you have someone like R.A. Salvatore creating your world, that to say that the fantasy genre is 'done' is like saying "Harry Potter shouldn't have succeeded". That's like saying any of the people who have created fantasy works since Lord of the Rings shouldn't have succeeded. Even Lord of the Rings itself has just had resurgence. To say that it's done would be to imply that there isn't any way to bring a new twist to the genre. We're definitely going to bring a new twist.

Our other perspective on fantasy is that it's the most globally accepted medium for conveying epic stories. It's accepted over the broadest number of categories in book publishing, which is one of the categories we're going to develop our intellectual property inside. We want consumers to enjoy that experience of being in the world 24/7 in different contexts. Fantasy delivers to a global, broad market – just like 38 Studios.

You're talking about delivering the gameworld to players outside of the virtual space: are you talking mobile applications or anything like that?

Mary: We're looking at, and planning for, all platforms. Mobiles, toys, television, comics ... Todd McFarlane has no small reputation in that area. Nothing is off the table when it comes to being creative and talking with our professional partners, for all category iterations of the IP.

There are already a couple of fan sites for the company. What do you think about the fact that some players are already hyped about Copernicus - even though there are almost no details available for it? Do you have any sort of relationship with these players yet? For that matter, do you plan on unveiling official forums any time soon?

Mary: One of the core tenants of our approach to developing this property is that we know the value of community. You can't develop an MMOG anymore without delivering value to and creating an environment for a community even before the launch of your game. We think it's great that people are interested, and we communicate with a lot of different entities that are interested in knowing more about it. Our community team definitely does communicate with a lot of the fan sites that exist already.

We're not really fueling them yet because we know that there is a finite length of time that people will wait for information. That said, we're flattered and excited that they are waiting for the time we can talk about the game. We will unveil what we can, as soon as we can. We definitely don't want people to think that we're ignoring them – we just don't have a lot to talk about right now.

Do you have a timeline for when you're going to be releasing some of that information?

Mary: Our current plan is to announce the name of the game and launch the IP website (as opposed to the corporate website) about this time next year.

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