schilling-2Retired baseball pitcher Curt Schilling’s video game company, 38 Studios, has launched a giant project to create a massively multiplayer online game that challenges the bestselling World of Warcraft.

But today, the company said it lost a major player in its line-up. Brett Close, a former Electronic Arts game design executive, resigned as chief executive of 38 Studios. Jennifer MacLean, previously senior vice president of business development, has been named the new CEO.

On the surface, this doesn’t sound like a good development for one of the most ambitious startups in the video game industry. The company declined interviews today. But it said in a statement that Close, who had been at the startup for three years, was leaving with “confidence in the future success of the company.” Schilling, the former Boston Red Sox star who founded the game company in 2006, said in the same release that 38 Studios under MacLean will move on to its next stage of growth. MacLean joined in March, 2008. Prior to that, she was head of games at cable firm Comcast, and she has more than 15 years of experience in online content and games.

Close helped the Maynard, Mass.-based company kick off Project Copernicus, the fantasy online game that thousands of players will be able to play at once. The company hired novelist R.A. Salvatore to develop the story and comic book artist Todd MacFarlane to do the art style. But the game requires lots of talent to complete and probably needs tens of millions of dollars in financing. The company is also making other media, like a line of comic books, based on the series. Close is leaving to pursue other interests.

That financing is likely to be tough to get in the current recession, even though the company has such a famous chairman who has poured millions of his own money into getting started. In May, after announcing the acquisition of game studio Big Huge Games, Schilling said the company was raising money. He said he is open to traditional funding via an advance from a publisher, venture capital, or investments by private equity groups and high-net worth individuals.

Schilling, who spoke at our recent GamesBeat conference, retired from pro baseball in March. He is a lifelong video game player and hopes 38 Studios will lead him into a new career in games.