CRANSTON, R.I. - The flagship video game that had been under development by Curt Schilling's company when it went under is now just "a lot of junk," Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee said Thursday, and he wasn't surprised that it failed to sell at auction.
The former Red Sox pitcher's company, 38 Studios, was developing the game code-named "Copernicus" with the help of a $75 million state loan guarantee when it went bankrupt last year, leaving taxpayers on the hook to pay back tens of millions of dollars. A court-appointed receiver has been trying to sell the company's assets to help pay off its debts, but an auction last week produced no acceptable offers for the game.
Chafee, speaking on a public affairs show on WJAR-TV, said he wished the auction had been successful. Rhode Island is 38 Studios' biggest creditor, and the auction was an attempt to get back some of that money.
Chafee was a vocal critic of the deal when it was struck in 2010 as a way to lure Schilling's company to Rhode Island. Then-Gov. Don Carcieri, lawmakers and the state's quasi-public Economic Development Corp. all played a role in making it happen.
The governor on Thursday described the state's investment as "insane," calling it a "historically bad" decision that he blamed on panic over the state's economy collapsing.
"People just panicked and gave a retired baseball player a huge amount of taxpayer money with no experience in this industry or any other businesses," Chafee said. "There was this whole groupthink across the business communities."
"Copernicus" was being developed as a "massively multiplayer" online game but was never completed. Industry analysts had expressed doubts before the auction that the unfinished game would sell for much, saying it could take as much as $100 million to complete it.
When asked if enough was being done to investigate how the deal came together and how the decision was made, Chafee said he was focused on trying to recoup the money. The Economic Development Corp. has sued Schilling, some of its own ex-employees and others in an attempt to recover some of the money. The lawsuit is pending.
Schilling, who now works as a baseball analyst for ESPN, responded to the governor's comments on his Twitter account.
"Any decision that loses is `bad' in hindsight. Bet RI would like a `redo' on Gov election too," he wrote, noting Chafee's poor job approval rating. "He has no clue what he's talking about. never did."
He added that he told state officials at the time there was no possible chance for them to recoup the money if 38 Studios went under. He did not directly address Chafee's comments that the game is "junk.”