Acceptance

I have started and abandoned several posts over the past few weeks. I knew I needed to write something… but what story did I want to tell? An angry tirade about being screwed over? A scathing tell-all about what really happened inside 38? A self-pitying plea for a job? So many emotions inside me, a turbid swirl screaming for an outlet.

So this is what I’ve come up with.

It has been nearly a month since all of this began. Try to picture that; a month ago, everything seemed fine. Over the past 30 days, so many rugs have been pulled out from under me and my colleagues that I’ve lost count of the threads. We’ve lost our income, our insurance, our camaraderie. It’s been one slap in the face after another, and 38’s bankruptcy keeps finding new ways to hurt us all; just yesterday, we found out that our 401K funds are frozen for an indeterminate amount of time. I have no doubt that things will get more painful before they get better.

Emotions? Had ‘em all. Screaming rage, blinding tears, pity for myself, pity for others, defiance, numbness, fear. To an outsider, I can see how some of this might seem silly. It’s just a video game, right? People lose their jobs all the time–suck it up and find another one.

But it’s just not that simple. I’ve spent nearly six years of my life building this company and working on this game. I’ve forged some very deep, personal bonds with the people I’ve worked with. Over this time, my life has changed in profound ways. I’ve seen my child come into this world. I nearly lost her and my wife in a fatal car crash. I’ve held my mother in my arms as she lay dying. And through all those things, I’ve been helped and comforted by Curt Schilling and my teammates at 38.

Work was tough and the pressure relentless, but so, so joyous as well. I got to work hands-on with R. A. Salvatore, taking the framework of a world he created and building it into something huge, ambitious, and wonderful. I watched amazing artists undertake the most startling transformation of concept paintings into game assets that I’ve ever seen. Stories born as mere fragments of ideas were coming to life all around me in a studio full of people who embraced their role as storytellers.  It was immensely gratifying.

And then it was gone. The poultice ripped away, a mortal wound left to fester. The grief is very real; this may sound melodramatic to those of you on the outside, but this experience feels much like the death of a dear friend. I’ve said before that shipping a game after years of work makes you feel like you’ve been through a war, and the people you fought alongside are the only ones who really know what you’ve been through. In this case, to work six years on a dream and have it almost come to life, only to lose it suddenly, is a very real psychological trauma. Despite the dozens of articles written on the demise of 38, the only people who really understand are the ones who make up this now fractured fraternity that was once a great team.

It’s been hard to find the time necessary to process it all. As soon as the downward spiral began, we were plunged into a frantic period of resume building, job fairs, phone calls, and unemployment filings. The week of E3 was the first stretch where things got quiet–disturbingly quiet. For me, not yet having secured a new job, that’s when the anxiety really took hold.

Even after growing numb to the headlines and news broadcasts, little stings come along with clever ways to hurt me. I still find myself looking at my phone for new email. It used to be that pretty much any hour of the day or night, there was something to read: a bug report, a piece of art to approve, some copy to review, a silly thread on our miscellaneous list, or a NSFW link from a cohort. The absence of that 38 mailbox aches like a phantom limb.

I’m still angry about lots of things (did I mention being screwed out of thousands of dollars?), and I still get so very sad when I think of all that could have been. But mostly I’ve reached acceptance. Not an acceptance of being at peace–I don’t think I can ever be at peace with what happened–but more an acceptance of resignation, the realization that things are so utterly fucked up as to be completely beyond my control. There’s simply nothing I can do to save the company, to save the story of Amalur, to recover anything that I’ve lost. All I can do at this point is to look out for my brothers and sisters, the comrades I’ve been in the trenches with for all these years. I can try to help them however I can, even as I scramble to find my own landing place. Because if there’s one truth I’ve learned over all my years of work, across the many careers I’ve undertaken, it’s that the connections you make with good people end up being the greatest treasure.

I have lost something that I deeply loved. I’m constantly surrounded by reminders of that loss, both in the abstract sense, in stories online and in the media, and by the literal presence of boxes surrounding the desk where I write this post, boxes filled with the books, toys, and bric-a-brac that used to decorate my office at One Empire Plaza. The body doesn’t feel cold yet, but I have to bury it and move on.

And that’s what I must do. I have to let go. That doesn’t mean the emotions won’t be there–those demons will swirl around inside me for a long, long time. But I have to look forward, to restore belief in my talents and abilities, to focus on building a new future. To be sure, it won’t be the future I planned six years ago–that dream is gone. But it will be something good, something new to love, something new to believe in. Because I’ve learned a private truth, a truth I probably tried to deny for a long time: I’m a person who needs to believe in something bigger than myself.

Despite all the pain, this lesson is a positive I can carry with me for the rest of my days. And that’s a tangible blessing, a gift to help me smile through the tears.

Goodbye, 38. Goodbye, Amalur. I have loved you more dearly than I can ever say. And I will let you go.

Published by

Moorgard

Steve Danuser, also known as Moorgard, is a a writer, editor, and game designer.

27 thoughts on “Acceptance”

  1. Hey man,

    Thanks for sharing that. I hope it was at least cathartic, and really is the beginning of the healing process for you. Of course, if there is anything I can do please feel free to ask.

    And best wishes to you and yours. Please let us know where you land.

  2. As with losing a loved one, we’ll always have the memories. I have enough great memories from 38 to last a lifetime. Thank you for the opportunity to be along for this crazy ride with you, Steve.

  3. Thank you for posting this. I worked for a firm for 24 years that went suddenly, inexplicably bankrupt, leaving all of us who had loved the firm and our work aghast and adrift. Every emotion you describe here, every confused impulse, and all the loss I completely and totally identified with. It is a wound that is so, so hard to acknowledge becomes it is not just a job, it is community and the sense of abandonment and betrayal is very real.

    But, if there is a positive here, KoA is a wonderful game, the work you and your colleagues did there for all to see.

    I might also say, that as the 401(k) administrator for my lost firm, I advise you to immediately find out who is the interim administrator for your plan and what their plan and timeline is for closing the plan. In bankruptcies, the plan bears the expense of administration, which means fees will be taken out of your account to support the closing of the plan and pay the administrator. The longer it takes, the more costly it will be, so be pro-active and make sure the folks handling it are on the ball to minimize the amount of your retirement savings at risk.

  4. As a fan, I read the news each day in hopes of hearing about some miracle investor that saved 38. I can’t even imagine how rough it was for the people who worked on it for so long, and then to have all of the other hardships piled on top besides.

    Best of luck going forward. :(

  5. I want you to know that your fellow gamers do care. A lot of us came from the start up days and know how fast things change. You move forward because you did a great job, are talented, and kick ass. We are all looking forward to your next spaceport!

  6. This sucks so hard. SO hard. I loved KoA. As soon as I heard about 38 Studios, I was super hyped. Now I’m sort of crushed. In a fans POV, I’m pretty disappointed in what happened all around. Oh well. It doesn’t compare (at all) to what actual members of the studio are going through right now though. I wish them the best of luck.

    Here’s to hoping that one day that world will be reborn.

  7. This has emotionally affected those of us who left the company as well. We were all such a close family and I’m in so much pain when I think about what everyone is going through. I love you all and if there is anything I can do please don’t hesitate to ask.

  8. Sad to hear it. As I’ve read about recent events, I only considered the financial losses and damaged trust; never the creative loss.

    My prayers are with you and your coworkers.

  9. As an outside observer, I admit to hoping you’d write the scathing tell-all about what really happened. Ambitious game companies, or really any company for that matter, can fail for so many reasons. Of course you must move forward but the details and lessons can be valuable for other entrepreneurs and artists alike. You have said 38 studios was so close to realizing its vision, but I’m curious how close that was…did you need another 2 months and $5M, or another 20 months and $50M? My sense is that everything hinged on Reckoning selling two- or three- times the million copies it actually sold, and that if it had performed better, you’d still be alive.

    I guess when you swing for the fences, you have to accept the possibility of going out on a pop-fly. Too bad, but there is always another game to play tomorrow. Good luck!

  10. This was very well said, Steve. Thank you for putting into words so much of what I’ve been feeling myself.

  11. You don’t know me, though I have ‘known’ you online since the days of EQ1. You were one of the reasons I became excited about 38 Studios. So, though I may be a stranger to you, my heart aches for what you and 38 went (and are going) through. I completely understand the feeling of a loved one passing away abruptly. We (the community, the potential customers of 38’s games, the general public, what have you) have lost a great deal, we have lost what you might have provided– but you lost so much more. You lost so very much more.

    I can’t help but say ‘I’m sorry’, even though I have nothing to personally be sorry for. I’m still sorry for the suffering, and I’m sorry for the loss. And I’m so very, very sorry Copernicus will not see the light of day. I wish for you and your family (both your personal family and your 38 family) that this be the worst thing that ever happens, and that somehow you recover and come back better than ever.

    Thank you for what you were able to provide. I enjoyed KoA immensely. And when I say I wish you all the best- I mean that with complete sincerity. I do wish you the best.

  12. I can feel your pain. I went through a company I expected to be at for a long time being sold and closing down and it’s heartbreaking and infuriating and your angry because your helpless.

    You’ve got to go back to your old EQ training as a monk… FD till agro clears, recover the corpses and try something else.

    Galidin

  13. As I said on twitter *hugs*

    I recently went through a lay off with a company I was with for over 10 years. I started in the lowest echelons and worked my way up to senior management.

    All I can tell you, because anything else at this point is just words, is that it does get better and there are new and exciting opportunities for you out there.

  14. I’ve been catching this in bits and pieces. I left a comment on Ryan’s blog the other day; and now I see the other “guard” posting. (I still remember you both from the first years of EQ2.) I wish you all the best of luck and hope that you find new work, soon. I am sure you will. In the meantime … one foot in front of the other and head up!

  15. What an emotional expression. It may be hard for some people to understand this “loss” you describe as going well beyond just your co-workers, but into the work itself, the art, the concepts, the stories and characters, all unrealized. So sorry all this crapola has gone down for you guys – I’m a gamer and tried to make sense of the stories in the news. What a mess. As an artist, I’ve known a small taste of this loss when I misplaced a valued sketchbook full of ideas, drawings etc and never found it again. You and your kindred will find new dreams to chase and build and you will succeed, maybe not as big as Amalur, but big enough to fire your creative spirit. Hang in there and pick up the pen and pencil and turn to a new fresh page in the book!

  16. Many of us have been through similar experiences and it never gets any easier. I hope this one doesn’t prevent you from staying in the industry, but rather empowers you and everyone else who went through it to improve the chances for success next time. It’s a tough business, but I think it’s worth it. I hope you do to.

  17. As a former athlete i know what it’s like to put every fiber of your being into something and then have it turn to dust before your very eyes despite your best efforts. I just wanna say how much i think this sucks and how bad I feel for everyone involved ya part of it is the money but ultimately its about the people who become like family. I really hope you land on your feet and just remember as long as you have the desire to make something great its never truly over , best of luck to everyone putting the pieces back together and hopefully moving on to great things down the road.

  18. I can certainly sympathize. Started a little venture to build a game called Stargate Worlds a number of years ago, only to have my dream hijacked, diverted to pay for all manner of questionable things, mismanaged into the ground, etc., over six VERY painful years, and then “suddenly” go bankrupt on ship day for a lesser product put out in a desperate attempt to keep the dream alive.

    The pain of personal loss and betrayal is very real. Worse is the pain of seeing so many great people hurt. The teams that were working so hard to build something special. The investors eagerly dumping in the cash. The fans hungry for the game of their dreams. All of it hurts.

    Letting go is the hardest part of a dream, family and wonderful life. But, it’s the only way to move on to a new dream, new family, new wonderful life. Difficult times are ahead, as you and others from 38 seek employ. But you will find it, and find those new families, and new dreams. I have, and am richer for all of the experience, even the very worst of it.

    Though none of this happens by accident, I’ve found seeking payback or recompense for the “on purpose” acts that lead to such disaster never really pans out, and is a waste of time. Moving on and rebuilding into something better… that’s a much better curative than anything else, anyway.

  19. As a guy who worked in the games industry for a few years, I’ve experienced *some* of this kind of thing, but every time I read a story like this, I end up scratching my head.

    Why do people stay in this industry? Does any story of employment in the games industry ever end well? The studio I worked for had numerous layoffs, long period of zero pay and more. I got off the train before I could get fired and moved to a more stable industry. Why do you guys keep at it?

    If you thought you had a long-term, secure job in this industry, why oh why did you think that?

    If it’s just a matter of, “that’s how the games industry is,” then why all the sob stories? Did you go through life blissfully ignorant with the attitude of, “it won’t happen to me?”

    If you’re resigned to living a life of migrant workers, moving from one studio and title to the next, why do you complain when it happens to you?

    It’s got to be one of the above and I don’t understand any of them. I do know this: anyone who continually returns to such a horrible business, where good people are used up and spit out when a) the studio runs out of money or b) the project ends, is like Rhianna going back to Chris Brown and deserves no sympathy.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to flame anybody, I just don;t understand the mentality of people who stay in this business and would love a better explanation instead of more sob stories when the next golden cow keels over.

  20. Hey, man. Good post, and I’m so sorry you’ve taken such a rough hit. I’m glad you shared it, though. I started my own company not too long ago and I have a few dozen folks depending on me for jobs. There are times I when have a little self-pity-party at the stress of keeping all those people employed and dealing with the drama inherent in any such situation, but reading this helped to remind me why I do it and what it means to them.

    But a word of encouragement. You’re a rock-star and you’re good at what you do. You won’t be out of work long because quality people of any skill-set are always hard to find and extremely valuable. The project lives on in the lessons you learned and carry forward, and the friendships you formed. Pride isn’t something you find through accomplishment, it’s something that you find when reflecting over the scars of your defeats.

    Good luck, sir. I don’t believe you need luck, but my well-wishes are with you.

  21. I’m so sorry for what’s happened to you and your colleagues. For what little it’s worth, I really love your game. The art, exploration, characters, story, gameplay, all fanastic. And so imaginative.

    I truly hope that you’re all able to find something new, and restore your hopes in your creative ability and future.

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