Cary News

Gaming debacle opens door for Cary’s Epic Games

The story of a failing video-game studio vaulted into the national press last month: 38 Studios, the company founded by a major-league pitcher, was disintegrating. Within weeks, hundreds lost their jobs, and a bankruptcy revealed that the company owed the state of Rhode Island more than $100 million, according to national media outlets.

Now a Cary company will move into the void left by the implosion of Curt Schilling’s ill-fated venture. Epic Games, a development powerhouse tucked away near the Crossroads mall, will hire some of the former major-league pitcher’s laid-off employees to start a new venture in Baltimore.

So, why would a company take on the employees of a company that had failed so notoriously?

“The answer is that highly talented video game developers are always hard to come by,” said Alexander Macris, publisher of The Escapist, a Durham-based gaming magazine.

“Epic has a specific strategy that they like to hire video game developers that have already gotten experience working at other studios, ... and that’s part of what makes them successful.”

Epic, which employs 160 at its Cary headquarters, will use the new manpower to start a new project, or perhaps a new iteration of an existing series, according to the company’s president. The company plans first to bring ex-38 employees to its Cary location, then send them to a new studio in Baltimore, Epic president Michael Capps announced in a blog post.

“... We’d love to build even more successful projects with our growing team, but ... we’d need a dramatic infusion of top talent to do so,” Capps wrote on June 3.

The Cary company will specifically be hiring employees from Big Huge Games, a 38 Studios subsidiary that produced 38’s only completed product, a role-playing game. Epic hasn’t disclosed how many employees it will take on, or when it will do so.

“We’re really excited about getting that talent under our wing and helping them smoothly transition,” said company spokeswoman Dana Cowley.

It’s unlikely that Epic will hire all or most of the Big Huge programmers and artists. In total, the company employs about 250 people spread across five studios worldwide, compared to the hundred-plus people who Big Huge Games laid off, and hundreds more that 38 Studios as a whole employed.

But Epic wasn’t the only company interested in salvaging 38 Studios. Companies such as Turbine and Zynga, the Facebook-based gaming company, even held job fairs near 38’s Rhode Island headquarters.

“38 went under simply because it’s very, very hard to launch a successful (role-playing game)in today’s market,” Macris said. “The game was not necessarily a failure – they just didn’t sell well enough that they could fund the entirety of their next game’s development. It’s the most-common reason that a studio shuts down.”

And that kind of financial woe is not much of a threat for Epic, the company behind the popular Gears of War series. The company is preparing a new release of its Unreal “engine,” a digital backbone around which dozens of other companies build their games.

“They have a position in the industry that’s really paralleled by only a small number of studios,” Macris said. “You could count them on four fingers.”