CES: Schilling makes his pitch to the video game industry

Schilling_pic_2 As a World Series champion pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks, Curt Schilling has long used computer analysis as part of his rigorous pregame preparation.

Now he hopes his stellar baseball career has prepared him for a life with computers. Schilling, who is 41 and says the coming season (for the Red Sox) will be his last in baseball, has founded and self-funded a computer game company that has been hiring industry veterans as well as some notable outsiders.

Though the first big game from 38 Studios won't come out until late 2010, the Maynard, Mass., start-up already has 35 employees and is looking for outside investors.

During a small dinner for the media at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, Schilling said he had long been an active player of such major multi-user games as "World of Warcraft" and "Everquest."

As a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s "The Lord of the Rings" and other detailed fantasy realms, Schilling hired bestselling novelist R.A. Salvatore to create the world and Todd McFarlane, who won an Emmy for the HBO series "Spawn," as creative art director.

Schilling said his only post-baseball occupation will be serving the company, which he likewise hopes will be the last job for other workers.

The Beantown icon said he was motivated in part by the possibility of changing his employees' lives for the better, especially after learning how debilitating the gaming industry can be for software developers.

"My only two rules are: Show up on time and kick ass," Schilling said, attributing that mantra -- and the rest of his managerial strategy -- to Red Sox Manager Terry Francona.

But he conceded that there were times when his All-Star history made it hard to empathize completely with the staff. Schilling, who is famous for pitching with a bloody sock as a result of having his injured ankle tendon sutured in place, recalled one weekly meeting where an employee complained about being tired.

"Let me tell you how this works: I stitched up my ankle to pitch in the World Series," Schilling remembered telling the man. "Let’s GO!"

-- Joseph Menn

Photo by the Associated Press


CES: Disney's 'Pirates' have gone digital

Potcolegend12_3 After three blockbuster films, Jack Sparrow is taking his high-seas high jinks online. Disney Online quietly launched its "Pirates of the Caribbean Online" game on Halloween.

Now, it's planning a major advertising campaign to woo fans of the movie online, where they can live out their pirate fantasies (think: swashbuckling, cannon battles, searching for treasure, etc.) and interact with realistic digital proxies of the characters from the movies.

It's initially free. But the goal is to get people to pay $9.95 a month so they can access all levels of weapons and skills or lead their own motley crews as head of a Pirate Guild.

The business proposition -- beyond dipping deeper into the cash cow that is online gaming -- is to keep "Pirates" fans interacting with the franchise until Disney is ready for the next installment.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: Walt Disney Co.


CES: Comic Book Creator

Marvelheroes Planetwide Media of Aliso Viejo was here showing off Comic Book Creator 2, the latest version of a computer program that enables people to make their own comic books. In essence, it helps users arrange photos, graphics and videos into comic-book-style panels, then overlay text in comic-book-style word balloons and caption boxes. It also makes it easy to post one's creations to blogs and social networks.

It's just the kind of tool that remix culture thrives on, because it can recontexturalize all sorts of media into a comic-book setting. In fact, Planetwide encourages this kind of mash-up by offering versions of the product that include imagery licensed from the likes of Marvel Comics. The addition of Marvel characters, however, forces Planetwide to subtract some of its software's most compelling features. For instance, Marvel doesn't allow its images to be mixed with anyone's personal media. (Some licensees impose this restriction and some don't.) As a result, Comic Book Creator can't be used for, say, a series of panels showing Wolverine battling the neighbors' cat. Nor does the Marvel version encourage posting to the Web.

You could argue that Marvel has to protect its characters and trademarks. Those characters and trademarks are valuable only if people are interested in them, though. So which approach seems more likely to sustain that interest: allowing Marvel figures to be part of the remix culture, or trying to keep them out of the fun?

-- Jon Healey


CES: G is for gadgets

Gadgets for grownups may be chock-a-block at CES, but the electronics market for the juice box set is expanding fast. Sales of so-called youth electronics grew 22% in 2006, contributing $1 billion of the516bwqb5cxl_ss500_ $22 billion U.S. toy market that year, according to market research firm NPD. Some gizmos, such as the V-Smile Baby Infant Development System, target kids even before they can walk.

Since Junior is unlikely to have a credit card, gadgets makers instead try to appeal to parents by boasting that their products can turn kids into the next Stephen Hawking. Many, according to a report released Tuesday by The Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Street Workshop, have no scientific basis for making these claims. Of the 300 video games released in 2007 as "edutainment" titles, only 69 had any educational value and just two were based on any type of curriculum, such as math, science and literacy.

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Times editorial writer Jon Healey pens opinion pieces about a variety of business issues, and blogs about technologies that are changing the entertainment industry's business model.

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