PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) - A year and a half since the epic collapse of 38 Studios, the video game company's most valuable asset is finally about to go up for sale.
The incomplete game "Project Copernicus" and other intellectual property from the ruins of 38 Studios will be posted for sale "soon" through a website, according to Richard Land, the company's court-appointed receiver.
"The process is taking longer than we anticipated for a variety of reasons including the complexity of the game itself," Land told WPRI.com Wednesday. "We have engaged an auctioneer and they are developing an Internet marketplace – or website – to market the game."
Land, a Providence attorney, said he did not have an exact date for the launch but he is meeting with the auctioneer Thursday and expects to nail down a date then. He expects the website to be live sometime this month. He added there has already been interest in the purchase of the game.
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"We've had other interested parties that we have been working with directly," Land, who declined to speculate how much the game would go for, said. Gov. Lincoln Chafee has said he hopes the sale could help defray some of the roughly $90 million taxpayers are on the hook for to repay the 38 Studios bondholders.
Gaming industry expert Alexander Sliwinski – a news editor at Joystiq.com – said Rhode Islanders shouldn't be overly optimistic that the game will sell for millions of dollars.
"Given the video game industry's risk aversion to massively multiplayer online role playing games, which is what Copernicus was supposed to be, it's difficult to imagine a scenario where any U.S.-based publisher spends the $100 million to complete it," Sliwinski said.
He said the real value of the game walked out the door when 38 Studios let go of all its employees in May 2012.
"The value of the intellectual property would have been good if they put it up for sale a week after the collapse," Sliwinski said. "Taking the work that has already been done by the studio in Rhode Island and turning that into a game would be incredibly difficult … and still cost a lot of money."
Land defended the delay, saying he "inherited" that problem: "There is nothing I can do [about the fact] that the people that worked on the game dispersed." He said he's optimistic the game will be appealing anyway.
"The bulk of the game and intellectual property I don’t believe is stale because the artwork is current, the tech used to develop the artwork is current, the concept is a current concept," Land said. "My understanding is the use of this intellectual property can be flexible."
Sliwinski said there may be a market to use the art or characters elsewhere, but it would be a tough pitch for a video game.
"This industry isn't lacking for fantastical ideas, for fantasy worlds with humans and orcs and dwarves and all of that," Sliwinski said. "The video game industry is moving into its next generation."
38 Studios filed for bankruptcy in June 2012 less than two years after agreeing to move to Rhode Island in exchange for a $75 million taxpayer-guaranteed loan.
Land said beside "Copernicus," they will be selling other intellectual property the state acquired when 38 Studios became insolvent.
"There are other games that are on the shelf that may have value," Land said. "They had a portfolio of games from Big Huge Games that they inherited." 38 Studios acquired Maryland-based Big Huge Games in 2009.
Land added that the video game company's first endeavor, "Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning," continues to sell and there may be interest in purchasing the rights to launch a sequel.
Land conducted two auctions last year to liquidate office equipment out of the Maryland-based Big Huge Games and the Providence headquarters of 38 Studios. The sale netted less than $1 million.
The news about the pending sale of 38 Studios' unfinished game material comes as fallout from the controversial deal continues to roil Rhode Island.
A Target 12 investigation revealed Tuesday that the R.I. Economic Development Corporation spent more than $100,000 last fall and winter to hire attorneys from a Manhattan law firm after receiving an inquiry about the deal from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which polices the financial markets.
Officials from the EDC confirmed the investigation but declined to offer details, citing the SEC's request for confidentiality.
Separately, R.I. State Police Col. Steven O'Donnell said his agency is still investigating whether to file criminal charges in connection with the 38 Studios deal. He said the state police investigators have been "working hand in hand" with Attorney General Peter Kilmartin's staff.
"We continue to aggressively pursue this case," O'Donnell told WPRI.com.
The R.I. House Oversight Committee held another hearing Wednesday afternoon at the State House to continue its review of internal EDC documents related to 38 Studios. Chairman Michael Marcello, D-Scituate, resisted suggestions that the panel should issue subpoenas.
In addition, R.I. Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein is scheduled to meet Friday morning with attorneys on both sides of a lawsuit filed by the EDC that alleges two of its top employees, 38 Studios executives and their outside advisers all withheld information from the EDC's board to win approval of the 38 Studios deal.
Silverstein ruled last month that the bulk of the state's lawsuit can move forward. A trial date has not been set.
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