“Reck·on·ing: an itemized bill or statement of a sum due.”

That is the second definition at The Free Dictionary for the word “reckoning”. A dark bit of irony, given the fate of the game Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning 

I’d been seeing ads for it on game sites and in stores for awhile, but I never paid any attention to them, because the whole fantasy/medieval setting has never done much for me. I’m still recovering from forcing myself through Neverwinter Nights 2.

But today, I saw that 38 Studios, the company that made it, is folding. It’s getting a lot of publicity because it was founded by Curt Schilling, a baseball player so famous that even I have heard of him. I’ll have more on the business aspects of this in a minute, but first a little more about the game itself.

Also of note to me was that the game’s lore was created by R.A. Salvatore. I’ve only read one book by him, the novelization of Attack of the Clones. I thought it was pretty bad, to be honest, but I know he’s a very widely-acclaimed fantasy author.

The plot of Kingdoms of Amalur sounded…. Well, let me show, not tell. From the Wikipedia page for Kingdoms:

“Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” follows the story of a mortal known as the “Fateless One”, who having died before the game’s outset, is revived in the experimental Well of Souls by the gnomish scientist Fomorous Hugues. The first and only success of the experiment, the Fateless One must escape the facility when it comes under attack… Having escaped the facility, the Fateless One – having no memory of his life before his death – learns of the intriacies [sic] of the world he has returned to by the Fateweaver Agarth…

For comparison, here’s a bit of the plot summary for Planescape: Torment a famous and almost universally beloved RPG from 1999:

“Planescape: Torment”‘s protagonist is “The Nameless One,” an immortal being who, if killed, will wake up later, sometimes with complete amnesia…

The game’s story begins when The Nameless One wakes up in a mortuary. He is immediately approached by a floating skull, Morte, who offers advice on how to escape…

Well, I guess it’s a nice tip of the hat to Torment… that’s good, I suppose. Not breaking a lot of new ground, though. Regardless, the general reception of the game was good, but not great.

Apparently, though, it needed to be great, because 38 Studios ran out of money and laid off all their employees. That’s sad. It’s always a shame when people lose their jobs.

And this is where the story gets really bad. Back in 2010, Rhode Island loaned the company $75 million dollars to move there, on the idea that it would generate “jobs” and “tax revenues”. The Governor of Rhode island is not at all happy about the situation, and Schilling has apparently run out of money to put into the company.

Another aspect to the whole thing is that Schilling is known for his support of Republican politicians. It seems, as Brian McGrory notes, rather hypocritical that a Republican should be taking money from the government to support his business. Doesn’t quite square with the whole “free market” thing, and all that. But then, I don’t know what kind of Republican Schilling is. Perhaps he has no deep philosophical or ideological ties to them; he merely recognizes–correctly–that as a wealthy person it is to his financial advantage for them to win.

What concerns me more is the black eye it gives to video gaming companies as business ventures–people will think twice before investing in a game company with the specter of it being “the next 38 Studios” hanging over it. I mean, if one that is backed by a wealthy celebrity and produces a reasonably well-liked game can’t succeed; that’s going to give everyone pause.