Big Huge Games Scores a Save

Rise of Nations is the flagship game series of Big Huge Games, which was facing bankruptcy if a buyer wasn't found.
Rise of Nations is the flagship game series of Big Huge Games, which was facing bankruptcy if a buyer wasn't found. (Big Huge Games)
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By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 28, 2009

Local videogame studio Big Huge Games got a new lease on life yesterday after a company founded by former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling announced that it has acquired the maker of computer-based games.

38 Studios out of Boston did not disclose the price it paid for Big Huge Games, but officials said the company will continue to operate in Timonium, Md.

Big Huge Games appeared to be facing bankruptcy after its former owner, game publisher THQ, in March threatened to close the studio if a buyer could not be found. THQ, a major videogame publisher most famous for hit tie-in titles themed around "SpongeBob SquarePants" and World Wrestling Entertainment, acquired Big Huge Games last year at the end of a series of acquisitions but then endured a devastating period of financial losses. THQ posted a $192 million loss in its third quarter last year.

Founded in 2000, Big Huge Games is most famous for Rise of Nations, a real-time strategy series of computer games where players control the assets of a young virtual nation and guide that budding civilization to world supremacy. Last year, the company shifted its corporate strategy and announced that it would develop titles for the popular Nintendo Wii system to address a growing market of fans who want to play on game consoles rather than on the PC.

Its Wii titles were not published by THQ, and until yesterday's announcement it appeared that they might never reach publication.

Development of the Wii projects will continue under the ownership, said Brett Close, 38 Studios president and chief executive.

"Big Huge has an amazing complementary talent pool that will fit nicely" as the company gears up to release a virtual world game next year, Close said. Such games, where players pay a monthly subscription to take on virtual roles as warriors or wizards, can be very lucrative, though this is a genre also known for expensive flops, such as a recent title themed around Conan the Barbarian.

Schilling has long been known by gamers as a fan of this genre and has appeared at videogame tradeshows and on podcasts dedicated to popular computer games such as World of Warcraft.

Schilling isn't the only famous name at 38 Studios, which was founded in 2006 and has not yet released any game titles. The company's management team also includes children's fantasy author R.A. Salvatore and comic book industry mogul Todd McFarlane.

"We're looking forward to being able to play in the sandbox with these visionaries," said Tim Train, Big Huge Games studio general manager.

Entertainment industry analyst Michael Pachter, of Wedbush Morgan Securities, said yesterday that he thinks Big Huge Games will be an asset to its new owner.

"One would think that the quality development team at Big Huge won't go to waste," Pachter wrote in an e-mail.

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