Report: Telltale Didn't Originally Want To Make A Stranger Things Game

It's no secret that Telltale Games, makers of The Walking Dead narrative series and other episodic classics, has been going through a turbulent time in the last couple of years. But a new report goes into more detail about the turbulence at the studio, revealing two key details: the fact that Telltale originally thought a Stranger Things game was a stupid idea, and that the sequel to The Wolf Among Us was nearly canned.

Telltale's leadership first shifted after entertainment conglomerate Lionsgate opted to invest $US40 million into Telltale over three years ago. The co-founder of Telltale Games, Dan Connors, had been operating as CEO before then but opted to step down for fellow co-founder Kevin Bruner.

Last year, Kotaku received an internal email containing the message of Bruner's departure. "The time has come to pass the reins to someone that can better drive Telltale to the next level and realise all the potential that is here," the email to all staff read. Dan Connors became Telltale interim CEO following Bruner's resignation, although Bruner stayed on the board of directors.

Sources: Telltale CEO Steps Down

Telltale CEO Kevin Bruner stepped down from his position this week, sources tell Kotaku. Bruner helped found the longrunning studio, which is best known for developing adventure games based on popular franchises like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones.

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Bruner has since filed a lawsuit against the company, after he was removed from the board of directors. Separate investigative reports at The Verge and USGamer outlined a heavy crunch culture within the studio, exacerbated by the company's constant turnover of projects.

That culture was reiterated in Variety's report this week, which goes into detail about the Stranger Things partnership between Telltale and Netflix.

Sources also told Variety that bad management decisions and fatigue with Telltale's formula — Batman: The Enemy Within, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Minecraft Story Mode Season 2 would be the "worst-performing games the studio ever launched" — encouraged the board to vote Bruner out. One of those decisions included shooting Netflix down originally when the idea of a Stranger Things game was first pitched:

Unfortunately, the pitch fell on deaf ears. Former studio leadership, including Bruner, repeatedly shot down a potential Netflix partnership — starting with a Stranger Things game — for two years. "They thought it was just a bunch of kids on bikes," a source close to Telltale who wishes to remain anonymous tells Variety. "They thought it was a terrible idea."

Zynga vice president Pete Hawley was brought in late last year, immediately identifying that the studio was working on too many projects and that quality had slipped. "We made the decision, going into 2018, that it’s better for us to get to three games next year and do our very best work again," Hawley told Venturebeat in December.

Part of that refocusing meant cutting projects, one of which was almost the The Wolf Among Us sequel:

The Wolf Among Us 2 was also almost a casualty of Hawley’s cost-cutting, according to one of Variety’s sources. Another says it was a struggle to get the fan-demanded project off the starting line. Even after Telltale committed to a second Wolf season, it wasn’t out of the woods. A 2018 release is no longer in the cards, as it was delayed until next year.

Another key aspect of the leadership change will be the jettisoning of Telltale Tool, Telltale's internal engine. The final Walking Dead season will be the last game to use Telltale's in-house creation, with the studio moving to Unity for all of its projects going forward. (It's worth noting that John Riccitiello, the CEO of Unity, also sits on the board of Telltale.)

To check out Variety's report in full, head here. It's a fascinating little chronicle of Telltale over the last couple of years, and well worth the read.


Comments

    On the one had I'm glad they are switching engines as their in-house one is terribad, but seriously unity? They should of went with something like unreal engine.

    Also if someone from Zynga is saying your games have dropped in quality, thats really saying something lol.

      Seems like the engine choice may have been driven by a conflict of interest from John Riccitiello rather than an objective assessment. Unity's not an awful engine for the kind of games TT makes, but I do think UE4 is better equipped for it personally.

      While there are a lot of crap games built with Unity, there's also a lot of great ones. When an engine is royalty free and comes with a free tier, you're going to get a lot of "my first game" games.

      For a company like Telltale, one other question is whether Unreal Engine is worth the 5% in sales you'll be sending to Epic? Will it improve their sales or reduce their overheads compared to Unity?

      Either way, I hope it also slims down their games a bit. I was a bit horrified to see that each of The Walking Dead Season 3 and Batman Season 1 took up more space on my PS4 than Rise of the Tomb Raider. I wonder how many resources ended up being replicated once for each episode?

        It's complicated to compare the pricing models for Unity and UE4. A company like TT is definitely going to be in the 'over 200K annually' revenue range which means they're on Unity Pro, which costs $125/month/seat. Say a game takes 18 months and 10 seats, you're looking at $22,500 for Unity, the equivalent of $450,000 in sales under UE4's licence (not including the first $3000/quarter royalty-free). That's also not including standard studio expenses like salaries, facility rental, etc.

        There are circumstances where Unity's pricing model gets you ahead of UE4's model. Small teams (<=20) with short development cycles (<=24 months) that can manage good units sold (50,000+) can probably scrape a bit back with Unity's model. On the other hand, Unity costs money long before (and after, for post-release support) you see any income so you're paying all through the development cycle even if it never makes it to market.

        Personally I think UE4's model is a lot better. You only start paying once revenue goes over $3000/quarter, and always only 5% so if you sell barely anything you pay barely anything. You're never put in a position where you can't afford engine royalties.

          I suspect for both engines, Telltale is large enough to get alternative terms for either engine.

          As far as costs go, Telltale's main questions are probably "how much will this reduce our internal tool development/maintenance costs?", and "will this let us sell our games on additional platforms?".

            Well, it's hard to look past UE4 for cross-platform compatibility. I'm fairly sure last I checked it had more platform support than Unity did. For TT type games, I actually think it just comes down to what development pipeline they're more comfortable with. Both engines are more than capable of handling what they want. I only preference UE4 more because their engine has more built-in support for 3D scenes of the kind TT tends to do.

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