The unexpected end of a Telltale

Jack Coles returns to report on the abrupt ending of Telltale and the projects that remain in limbo.

Jack Coles
5th November 2018
Image: Telltale Games

It’s always sad when a studio goes down. Telltale Games – best known for The Wolf Among Us and their take on The Walking Dead – abruptly closed this September with no prior warning.

According to inside sources, Telltale Games upper management had been noticeably tense on the run-up to the closure and there were rumours floating around that employees should brace for a second round of layoffs (many employees were made redundant the previous November). On the 21st of September, a company-wide meeting was scheduled in the early morning where it was announced that Telltale had “run out of money” and that employees were being sent home within the hour.

Telltale will forever be known for its sudden closure, overshadowing their reputation

From the approximate number of 250 developers working there, only 25 were not sent home that day; this “skeleton crew” was spared in order to finish off the second episode of the latest season of The Walking Dead, with further losses within that team just this past week. Those who were not on this team were fired, without severance paid and only enough health insurance to last 9 days.

Although the closure may seem sudden, it’s not entirely unexpected when you look at the company’s history. Financially it seemed to be in trouble, as it has had to pay large sums of money in order to access the Intellectual Property upon which it bases its games, and because sales of its new releases on Steam have been dwindling; potentially because of its constant refusal to diversify its gameplay mechanics or update the engine used.

Employee morale was low since it fired a quarter of its staff in November last year and the crunch culture there had escalated to consistent 18-hour work days. The Verge reported in March on Telltale’s toxic work environment.

The day before Telltale shut its doors, CEO Pete Hawley had hoped to secure a contract from either AMC (proprietors of The Walking Dead), Smilegate (a South Korean mobile game development company), or Lionsgate (the filmmakers behind The Hunger Games). While management had expected at least one of these to bite, none of these companies went ahead, leaving Telltale without enough income to support its existence.

While the closure left most employees without a plan B, many other studios such as Firaxis and CD Projekt Red offered places at their respective companies for the abruptly unemployed developers - which was likely small comfort. There have been multiple suggestions that this event may be a catalyst for a Union of game developers to form in the United States.

Telltale will forever be known for its sudden closure, overshadowing their reputation of producing some of the best stories and writing found in games to date, and serving as a reminder that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket; no matter how unique the basket is.

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