The gaming studio’s past, present, and future?
By Peter Tran, Contributor
It’s confusing and upsetting when a widely-known company shuts down abruptly, leaving a crater where it used to be. In Telltale’s case, it left approximately 225 people unemployed without warning, without severance pay, and healthcare only lasting until the end of the month—in an instant.
This “majority studio closure”—as it is being identified by Telltale—is only keeping a skeleton crew of 25 employees to “fulfill the company’s obligations to its board and partners,” said Telltale’s CEO Pete Hawley in a press release. According to a source who spoke to Variety, this is referring to moving Minecraft: Story Mode to Netflix as part of their “interactive content.”
The Walking Dead: The Final Season, the project Telltale was currently in the middle of when this announcement was made, is out with only two of four episodes. Telltale’s Twitter states that they are “actively working towards a solution that will allow episodes 3 and 4 to be completed” after “multiple potential partners have stepped forward to express interest in helping to see The Final Season through.” While it isn’t concrete, the message left fans and developers conflicted.
This begs the question, why didn’t the higher-ups look for partners before things got dire, and when did it all go wrong? All the telltale signs become more apparent looking back.
Telltale was founded in 2004 and made a name for themselves by telling episodic stories of popular intellectual properties (IP) through choice-based gameplay and light puzzle-solving. This made the gameplay easily accessible to anyone at any skill level.
First known for games such as Sam & Max, Back to the Future, and Jurassic Park, the game that garnered them accolades as well as commercial success was The Walking Dead (TWD) released in 2012. While TWD was captivating, it had a few technical issues. At the time, it was refreshing to see the underdog rise up and deliver an outstanding experience, so players were willing to look past these minor flaws. It was part of their charm as a smaller studio and many thought that surely they would update and fix things moving forward.
The Wolf Among Us (TWAU), TWD Season Two, Tales from the Borderlands (TFTB), and Game of Thrones were all fully released by 2015. All were released after TWD, yet they all had similar technical issues. This continued consistently throughout the years, however a decline in quality was also noticed post-TFTB.
Telltale began overstretching and oversaturating itself with too many IPs. Two Minecraft games, a couple of Batman titles, Guardians of the Galaxy, and two other TWD games were fully released by 2018, with two episodes of TWD: The Final Season out. If that sounds like way too much content to be released in a single year, it’s because it is. This overreaching became increasingly apparent as more games were cited as being bug-filled and glitchy—an example being when Xbox button prompts show up on PlayStation 4 copies of TFTB.
This doesn’t even account for the announced TWAU: Season Two, Game of Thrones: Season Two, and the discussions they had with Netflix about developing a Stranger Things game, which are now all presumably cancelled.
Amidst all these problems, the studio was in the middle of restructuring to start anew, but sadly these efforts seem to have ended with this closure. Hawley said in his statement: “It’s been an incredibly difficult year for Telltale as we worked to set the company on a new course. Unfortunately, we ran out of time trying to get there.”
Despite the horrible decisions and leadership, one can’t deny the impact Telltale has had on the industry. Many games adopted and experimented with the episodic nature of their game releases, such as the beloved Life is Strange series.
Telltale’s emphasis on storytelling added to the hunger players have for a well-written narrative, a trend that is still growing strong in today’s market dominated by online multiplayer games.
When looking back on all the memories, the laughter, and the tears created playing these stories, it’s important to remember that it’s the result of the hard work of the employees who poured late nights into it, and to hope that the people who brought you these experiences land back on their feet.
While Telltale is now gone, their work is not forgotten, and the bounty of amazing stories they told will never leave us. The players will remember that.