In September 2018, Telltale Games, a video game developer best known for its cinematic interactive adventure games is shutting down its studio, the move caught many off-guard and left its fan base in disappointment. About a year later, a partnership between private holdings company LCG Entertainment and publisher Athlon Games is reviving the studio after purchasing key assets. Both companies hope to continue Telltale’s legacy and to keep the interactive storytelling genre alive.
Telltale’s story began back in 2004 when it first opened its doors tofocus on the then under-represented adventure-driven games. Founded by talented former Lucasarts developers, they believed that was still potential for such a genre in the market and kept that vision throughout the company’s growth. In its years, Telltale has released several games and though some of those games found modest success and were well-received, it didn’t bring the company vast exposure and recognition but proved that adventure games still have a place in the industry. The studio’s big break came with the success of the Walking Dead: Season One. The game was met with critical acclaim from players and critics alike. The studio was praised for its innovative approach and garnered many “Game of the Year” awards from various outlets for its gameplay, storyline, and characters. The game itself was also credited for bringing new life to the adventure genre. Publicity surrounding the game brought the studio significant amounts of fame and it wasn’t long before the studio begin expanding and taking on bigger, more ambitious projects.
Over the next few years, the studio has managed successfully secure several licensing deals with some of the most popular franchises in entertainment and released titles such as The Wolf Among Us, Tales from the Borderlands, Minecraft: Story Mode, Batman: The Telltale Series, Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series and many more. However, it became apparent that the company is having issues and was starting to falter. Working on various games simultaneously along with the desire to replicate the success of the Walking Dead led to the creation of a hostile work environment filled with never-ending crunch time, toxic management, creative meddling and tight deadlines alongside other challenges. By September 2018, the studio abruptly laid off approximately 250 of its employees without any warning whatsoever while retaining 25 individuals to fulfill any remaining obligations. Telltale’s handling of the layoff has renewed calls for employees in the video game industry to unionize and many activists would point to the messy layoff as the latest symptom in an industry that has a history of exploiting its developers to the point where it has become normalized.
The announcement to revive the studio was met with mixed reactions from its former employees. Some have expressed optimism that the new company won’t repeat the mistakes of the former while others are skeptical towards the new management and its intent. There are also uncertainties if the new studio can develop games of the same quality as its predecessor, now that it has lost the licenses to some of the franchises that propelled it to the spotlight. This means future installments for games such as The Walking Dead, Minecraft, and Game of Thrones are unlikely to be made through the company still retains the rights to The Wolf Among Us and Batman. In acquiring talent, the new company is reportedly looking at former Telltale employees. New management is offering freelance positions to former and new employees with the possibility of permanent ones in the future. This has led to some contention as freelance employees have less protection than permanent employees and there is the concern that they will be taken advantage of.
So far, the new company is taking things slowly as it works out its current and future plans. Telltale’s comeback would certainly be a relief for some fans but it is unknown if the new Telltale can live up to the previous one in delivering quality games. While its revival does little to alleviate the trauma and emotional damage done to its previous employees who suddenly lost their jobs, it can perhaps do better in treating its new employees by learning from the previous company’s mistakes.