Published October 23, 2012
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The implosion of former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling's video game company left the state of Rhode Island with a $100 million mess — and Paul DeBlois with a clock.
With the wave of a yellow bidder's sheet, the tax preparer from Burrillville offered the winning price — $200 — on a company clock during a sell-off Tuesday of what is left of 38 Studios, which was lured to Rhode Island with a massive state loan guarantee.
The oversized piece was one of several at the company's former headquarters counting down, to the second, the anticipated launch of the video game Schilling dreamed would be a hit.
But DeBlois had a different use in mind: "It's going to mark the end of tax season for me," he said.
The auction, put on by court-appointed receiver Richard Land, comes four months after the company's spectacular collapse into bankruptcy. Rhode Island, whose quasi-public Economic Development Corp. approved a $75 million loan guarantee in 2010, is by far 38 Studios' biggest creditor. In total, the state is likely on the hook for some $100 million related to the deal, once interest in factored in.
Hundreds of potential bidders showed up for the auction, which featured everything from high-end computers and graphic animation equipment to model airplanes Schilling is said to have made and kept in his fifth-floor office (empty save for an ergonomic chair, some cherry furniture and an elliptical, which was removed from the sale at the last minute).
There were no immediate estimates on how much the auction of 2,100 lots might raise, but it is not expected to come anywhere close to covering the company's debts.
"They promised me a statue downtown if I raised $75 million," auctioneer Sal Corio joked during the bidding.
A smaller auction last week at Big Huge Games, a gaming studio in Maryland bought by 38 Studios in 2009, grossed $180,000, according to Land. 38 Studios' intellectual property will be sold off in a separate auction in a few months.
The company estimated in bankruptcy filings it owes $150.7 million and has assets of $21.7 million.
Schilling — perhaps best known for pitching through an ankle injury that famously bloodied his sock on his team's way to the 2004 World Series — grew his startup quickly and couldn't raise the outside money needed to finish the game. While he has said he himself was part of the reason the company folded, he has accused Gov. Lincoln Chafee of having an agenda that hurt 38 Studios.
Chafee, a critic of the original loan guarantee, has insisted he did everything he could to help the company. The EDC board, which he chairs, is considering possible litigation connected with the deal, and state law enforcement authorities are investigating 38 Studios' finances. A federal investigation did not result in charges.
Bidders crowded the auction room Tuesday after browsing items throughout the building. Some came seeking good deals on computers. One man said he might bid on a refrigerator for his wife.
Some Schilling figurines — straight out of his office, Corio said — went for $175. A giant battle hammer replica from the game "Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning," which 38 Studios released earlier this year, sold for $375.
David Morsilli bought the first item: one of several swords used to make sound effects for the video game. The 44-year-old from Providence paid $175 and plans to hang it in his home office, where he's working on a novel. He conceded it was a cool piece of memorabilia but wanted it, he said, as a reminder to "never get in over your head."
A few former 38 Studios employees who showed up had an impromptu mini-reunion. Danny Laba of Worcester, Mass., caught Schilling's attention in 2011 by throwing him a baseball with his resume screen-printed on it at the New England Institute of Technology, where Schilling was delivering the commencement address. Laba said Schilling texted him immediately and, within about a month, he was hired as a system tester.
Laba described the company's collapse as "heart-breaking" but said he had only good things to say about his former boss.
"He went for a personal dream," Laba said. "Isn't that what everyone wants to do?"