38 Studios was the type of company a teenager might dream up when fantasizing about what it’d be like to make video games for a living. The company was building a wildly ambitious game to compete with the megahit World of Warcraft and appeared to be flush with cash. Employees received top-notch health benefits, gym memberships, and personalized high-end gaming laptops worth thousands of dollars. There were free meals, lavish travel expenses, and Timbuk2 bags customized with an illustration of the world map for their in-progress video game, code-named Copernicus. The man behind 38 Studios was Curt Schilling, the retired pitcher best known for his time with the Boston Red Sox. Schilling was a legend, famous for his performance on the field and his combativeness off it. In the 2004 playoffs, he’d pitched two games with an ankle that had been injured so badly it soaked his sock in blood. The performance helped the team win its first World Series in almost a century, and Schilling’s bloody socks earned a place in baseball lore.
During his playing career, Schilling had been a star, and he thought the people building Copernicus should be stars, too, says Thom Ang, an artist who’d done work for Disney on The Lion King and Toy Story, along with stints at big-name games companies such as Sony, Electronic Arts, and THQ. “He said, ‘That’s how I want my team to feel. I’m going to attract the best, and I’m going to treat them as if they’re the best.’ And he did.”