Unraveling the Mystery of 38 Studios
An Interview with Four Leaders of the MMOG Development Team
By Cody “Micajah” Bye
For gamers, one of the greatest mysteries that you can ever come across is the professional gaming development studio and the creative process that occurs inside its walls. Unless you have some sort of inside connection into the studio or follow the video game industry like a hawk, you’ll never see the inside of a developer’s business office. You can, however, learn about the creative process of a business if you have the right opportunities and talk to people who know how the business runs and operates.
Brett Close (left), Mary Kirchoff (middle), and Scott Cuthbertson (right) react to one of my questions.
Luckily, I had that sort of opportunity at the San Diego International Comic-Con when I went out into a hallway to interview four key players of 38 Studios, a relatively new gaming company devoted to “World Domination Through Gaming.” Although much has already been divulged about 38 Studios and their superstar staff, little is known about their actual creative processes or what they’ve been up to inside their Maynard, Mass.-based offices. To learn more about this area of their company, I nabbed 38 Studios’ chief marketing officer, Mary Kirchoff; vice president of product development, Scott Cuthbertson; art director, Chaz Sutherland; and CEO and president, Brett Close. We found a quiet corner of the convention center (which is much harder than it sounds), and I proceeded to ask them questions regarding the fundamental operations of 38 Studios.
Regarding the way their offices function, 38 Studios is in a very interesting situation. With three “executive” level managers operating their own businesses on the side – R.A. Salvatore and his books, Curt Schilling and his athletics, Todd McFarlane with his toys and comics – 38 Studios certainly is in a different sort of position than many of its competitors. However, it seems that 38 Studios is pulling all of its creative minds together in a very solid fashion. “Curt is in the office as much as he can,” Close said. “And Bob [R.A.] is only thirty minutes drive from the studios, so he’s in all the time. Since Todd is in Arizona we do everything via teleconferencing, and we’ve even got an operation set up where we can share the images on the alternate computer screens – that way we can see what he’s seeing and vice versa.”
Although McFarlane may not be in the offices every week, he certainly has a presence at the studios’ art department. Not unlike Ten Ton Hammer, McFarlane works virtually from his studios in Arizona and constantly checks over work that’s being done in Massachusetts. “We’ll go over art work once a week,” Sutherland stated. “It takes a couple days to look over it and take notes on it, but then we’ll go into our computers and literally send ideas back and forth on our opinions of the art.”
Scott and Chaz consider the question while staring at the crowds moving behind us.
“The creative process is definitely an ebb and flow,” Kirchoff added. “People go into their offices, pump out some content, then get back together and talk about it. It’s not just Bob, Todd, and Curt that are gone; the office is constantly on the move going to conventions or taking a few days off. It’s the time that we’re there and focusing our efforts is when we get major projects accomplished.”
While art is one factor of the game design equation, it certainly isn’t the whole of it and Close readily added details about the general growth of the game’s creative expansion. “We’re in concept development right now,” he said. “The process that we’re in is very iterative. We’re throwing a lot at the wall to see what sticks.”