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Lawmakers ‘blinded’ by celebrity in 38 Studios deal

BLOOMBERG FILE PHOTO/TONY AVELAR
RHODE ISLAND lawmakers were blinded by Curt Schilling’s celebrity status when making the deal with 38 Studios LLC, Republican state Rep. Robert Watson told Boston.com.
Posted 5/18/12

PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island lawmakers were blinded by Curt Schilling’s celebrity status when making the deal with 38 Studios LLC, Republican state Rep. Robert Watson told Boston.com.

“I think [former Gov. Donald L. Carcieri] had stars in his eyes, the whole idea of playing ball with a baseball player intrigued him and others,’’ Watson, the former Rhode Island House minority leader, told the news source. “And I think they got blinded by that celebrity.’’

38 Studios asked the R.I. Economic Development Corporation for state assistance earlier this week after missing a $1.125 million loan guarantee fee payment on May 1, but no deal was reached during talks in this week’s meetings.

The company attempted to pay its overdue $1.125 million fee to the state late Thursday with a check the company admitted would have bounced, EDC officials said.

Executives from the video game design firm, founded by former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling and lured to Providence with a state $75 million loan guarantee, also told EDC officials that they would be unable to make their next payroll.

Globally, sales of the company’s first game - Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, which was released in February - have reached 1.15 million at $60 each, according to market research company VGChartz.

The $75 million in funds from the state did not go towards the development of Amalur, but towards a larger MMO – massively multiplayer online game – code-named “Project Copernicus,” which was slated to be released later this year.

Barry Gilbert, vice president of Newton, Mass.-based Strategy Analytics – the consulting firm that advised the EDC during its negotiations with 38 Studios - called the gaming market “vibrant” but “fairly risky.”

“To be successful in the space requires superb timing, superb management, superb talent, and a good dose of luck,” Gilbert told Boston.com.

On his part, Schilling thanked 38 Studios’ well-wishers on his Facebook page late Thursday night, saying “We will find a way, and the strength, to endure."

Watson, who represents East Greenwich and West Greenwich, served as minority leader for more than 12 years, until he was replaced last year following his arrest for marijuana possession. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Watson was the only House member to vote against the program in 2010 that paved the way to give 38 Studios a $75 million loan guarantee.

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