38 Studios to Boston Game Developers: Munch on This

Visitors to the 38 Studios website are greeted by an endearingly ferocious green monster called Munch, who gobbles up your cursor when you scroll over him, then proceeds to chew it up and spit it out. If Munch brings to mind the real Green Monster at Fenway Park, it’s not a coincidence; 38 Studios was founded by star Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling and was originally called Green Monster Games. Last week, in a bid to attract young talent and boost Boston’s nascent cluster of video game development companies, 38 Studios offered up to $18,000 in prizes for the teams at New England-area colleges who can dream up the best posse of companions for Munch and develop video games based on them.

I spoke with 38 Studios’ CEO Brett Close on Friday. He told me the contest “is a way to identify people who may be interested in 38 Studios and gives them a nice red carpet into potential positions here.” But even more importantly, Close hopes that the prizes and the publicity that the company plans to shower on the winners will boost the perception, both inside and outside Boston, that the city is an up-and-coming capital of the video game industry.

“I have lived in some other major game development cities like Los Angeles and Austin, Texas,” Close says. “And when you look at Boston and the great companies here—like Harmonix and 2K Boston and Turbine and Blue Fang and of course 38 Studios—and when you combine that with the universities, where some of the earliest game development tracks were set up, it strikes me that the city is poised to be at the level of and L.A. or an Austin, and that it almost should be already.

“I think it’s close, but there are a lot of ways we can energize that and help bubble up the talent and get more visibility,” Close continues. “So the contest is not just about 38 Studios, but about the game development business in Boston.”

38 Studios’ Mean MunchThe company’s “1st Annual Massachusetts Game Challenge” calls on teams of two to three members from New England-area colleges to submit ready-to-play games by February 18, 2008. Entries will be judged on “degree of overall finished product; originality; visual polish; stability; length of quality game play; and expanded market vision and product strategy.” Creatively, the only requirements are that the games be playable by both first-time and seasoned gamers, that they be “in good taste and fun,” and that they use the Munch character, in both its Good Munch and Mean Munch Jekyll-and-Hyde incarnations.

The winning team will take home $3,000 per member, while the 2nd place team will get $2,000 per member, and the third-place team members will get $1,000 each. Winners will be announced on April 21.

38 Studios is an outgrowth of Schilling’s own experience as a player of massively multiplayer online games, or MMOs. The company is working on what it calls “a massively immersive online entertainment experience that transcends the traditional MMO genre,” with artistic direction by Todd McFarlane, creator of the independent comic series Spawn, and creative direction by R.A. Salvatore, who created Drizzt Do’Urden, the dark-elf star of a series of fantasy novels set in the Dungeons & Dragons “Forgotten Realms” universe.

As that property is developed—an extremely drawn-out process that will result in the launch of a game-related website in late 2008 and of the game itself in 2011, Close says—the contest will help keep awareness of 38 Studios high. And for the winners, it will be a “fast track to the spotlight,” Close says. “We have a pretty huge capacity to ‘PR’ ourselves, with Curt and R.A. and Todd on board. We will take the top three teams, and maybe some more, and not only publicize them but take their games to the big game development conferences.”

Teams considering going after that spotlight might be surprised by some of the fine print of the contest rules. They specify that all games submitted will become the intellectual property of 38 Studios, which has the right the right to license, distribute, or commercialize them “without the necessity of additional compensation.”

But Close says the company has no interest in stealing contestants’ games—which won’t fit with the company’s own product thrust in any case, since the company is expecting teams to submit PC games, not MMOs. The legalese in the rules, he says, was necessary simply to ensure that the company is free to show off the winning games by posting them on its website and the like.

“We don’t want to misuse anyone’s stuff,” Close says. “This is very much about creating a great publicity venue. And it’s symbiotic, in that it allows us to see what great talent is out there and interact with universities on a more tangible level. I have a strong suspicion that we are going to get some really great stuff.”

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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