I was shocked to read a report on VG24/7 on Friday night that Telltale Games looks set to close its doors. The company has laid off the majority of its 250 or so staff, with just a skeleton crew of 25 or so remaining to fulfil some contractual obligations.
Telltale CEO Pete Hawley issued a statement saying:
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. We released some of our best content this year and received a tremendous amount of positive feedback, but ultimately, that did not translate to sales.
So it sounds like the first episode of the final season of The Walking Dead didn’t sell too well – and now it’s unclear whether that series will ever be finished. Episode 2 is (was?) set to launch in a few days.
It also means that the The Wolf Among Us 2 and Stranger Things, two series that were slated for next year, almost certainly won’t happen. But it’s also not clear whether the studio is actually going to close – the statement above says that they’re undergoing a “majority studio closure”, not actually shutting down. What’s certain though is that hundreds of staff were, shockingly, let go suddenly without any severance pay. Ex-Telltale dev Emily Grace Buck details the whole sorry saga in a fascinating and heartbreaking thread:
To clarify some questions people have been asking (and keep in mind I am NOT a company rep)
– Around 250 people are jobless, not 225
– We did not get any kind of severance
– Our healthcare only lasts for one more week
– Many former employees were contract & can't get unemployment
— Emily Grace Buck plz hire TTG devs! (@emilybuckshot) September 22, 2018
The good news is that the video game industry seems to be rallying around, with other companies inviting ex-Telltale devs to seek work with them. Lots of discussion on Twitter is going on under the hashtag #Telltalejobs. I hope that everyone affected can find new work quickly.
The news of the mass layoffs is all the more shocking because Telltale Games seemed to be turning a corner recently. Just last month the studio was talking about retiring it’s ageing Telltale Tool and coding future games in Unity. The developer had already revised its slate to release fewer but better games, and incoming CEO Hawley reduced the workforce by 90 last November in an attempt to turn the studio around.
I’d highly recommend reading this article by The Verge from March this year, which explains what’s been going on at Telltale over the past few years. In a nutshell, the studio was blighted with poor management and constant crunch. The higher ups pursued a strategy of churning out multiple games at a time, leading to market saturation and burned-out coders, who began leaving in droves. Ex-Telltale devs went on to make the acclaimed games Firewatch and Oxenfree – imagine if they’d been free to innovate like that when they were still at Telltale.
It’s a shame, because they’ve produced some amazing stuff over the years. The Walking Dead was a phenomenal game, and just the other week I played through the amazing Batman series they made, which has some utterly brilliant interpretations of characters from the comics. And The Wolf Among Us is an absolute classic – it’s a crying shame that the promised second series of unlikely to materialise.
As I said above, I really hope that the talented developers from Telltale Games find new work quickly – and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next.