Telltale Games Begins 'Majority Studio Closure' [Second Update]

Telltale Games, makers of The Walking Dead adventure games and several other episodic series, laid off many of its developers today and may be shutting down according to messages on social media, a report by The Verge, and a Kotaku source with knowledge of the matter.

[Update - 7:55AM AEST]: Telltale sent Kotaku a statement confirming that all but 25 employees were let go from the studio as part of a “majority studio closure following a year marked by insurmountable challenges”. The small group that remains will “fulfil the company’s obligations to its board and partners”.

The company’s CEO, Pete Hawley, also issued the following 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. 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. With a heavy heart, we watch our friends leave today to spread our brand of storytelling across the games industry.

As for what will happen with all of Telltale’s ongoing projects, the studio said it will have “further comments regarding its product portfolio in the coming weeks”.

Original story follows.

Speculation about layoffs and the possible closure of the studio began when freelance reporter Andrea Ayres tweeted the news that a developer friend had claimed Telltale was shutting down. That was followed by a narrative designer at the company, Emily Grace Buck, announcing that she didn’t have a job any more and that many of her developer friends were also looking for work.

The Verge reports that only 25 people are currently left at the studio, which previously employed hundreds. Kotaku’s source has also said the layoffs are widespread, but did not confirm how many people were still left.

Telltale Games was founded by former LucasArts employees in 2004. Its first game was Telltale Texas Hold’em, a poker simulator, followed by narrative-based episodic games adapted from the CSI TV show.

It wasn’t until 2012, however, that the studio found its first major breakout release with The Walking Dead. The studio’s choice-based, branching narrative model was soon applied to other popular licenses such as the Fables comic book series, Batman and Game of Thrones.

This newfound success, however, was also accompanied by reports of workplace toxicity and crunch conditions at the San Rafael, California-based company.

In March of 2017, Bruner, one of the original founders of the studio, stepped down as CEO and was replaced by Pete Hawley, a former VP of games at Zynga. This restructuring led to 90 layoffs in October of 2017. USGamer reported the following month that these layoffs were part of an attempt by management to reorient a company that had grown beyond its means.

In June of this year, Telltale appeared to be turning a corner, announcing a new collaboration with Netflix for a series of Stranger Things games, a deal that Variety reported was two years in the making.

At the same time, Bruner filed a lawsuit against the studio alleging, among other things, mishandling of his financial holdings in the company, which the studio said at the time was “meritless”.

Telltale released the first episode of The Walking Dead: The Final Season in August with the second episode scheduled to arrive next week on September 25. It’s currently unclear if the rest of that game will still release as planned, or what will happen to the studio’s other projects currently in development.

Telltale did not immediately respond when asked by Kotaku for more information.

[Update - 10:02AM AEST]: Both USGamer and Variety report that the skeleton crew being kept on at Telltale are focused solely on completing Minecraft: Story Mode, a five-part interactive narrative series produced for Netflix originally set to come to the streaming platform this spring. The Walking Dead: The Final Season, meanwhile, will remain unfinished.

According to The Verge and multiple reports on social media, laid off employees weren’t given any severance. “None of my sleepless nights or long hours on weekends trying to ship a game on time got me severance today,” Brandon Cebenka, who was a character artist at Telltale, tweeted earlier today. “Don’t work overtime unless you’re paid for it, y’all. Protect your health. Companies don’t care about you.”


Comments

    I bought so many of their games for a while, but when they kept "tweaking" the same engine year after year, it got to a point where I just couldn't put up with the marionette like emotions and stuttery loading, no matter what platform it was on. Hadn't planned on buying any more until they grew up

    Damn, that's a bit sad. Telltale is an industry fixture and iconic. I really enjoyed their Batman games, and have had their other games on my to-play list for ages. GL to everyone involved, hope they land on their feet.

    Maybe if they used a different engine 10 games earlier or not just make the same thing over and over again they would still be in business.

    Does anyone remember that they made a GotG game last year? Yeah neither did I until I checked their wiki page.

    I bought many of their earlier games, but the lack of any real choice led to a feeling of being railroaded down a predetermined path... Despite how good the storytelling could be at times (particularly the Borderlands series).

    Sad to see them go, but they didn't evolve as a developer (or maybe it was too little too late).

      Complains about not having any real choices, in a series of games by a developer who is known for their signature style of having real choices and great narratives. Yeah, ok dude, whatever you say.

      This does suck though, they bit off too much, tried to make their output too high. That, and never upgrading their game engine were big mistakes. There are still a few I haven't played so it's not over for me yet at least.

    I've been playing these games since the Sam and Max days and bought almost everything they've put out since then, it's a real shame. While the level of jankiness that's been plaguing these games never truly went away, I still enjoyed their stories and got some genuine laughs and surprises.

    F

    Thanks for the second update.

    I was going to be buy some of their other games I had not yet done so but then I saw those who had been left off were not getting severance pay.

    Best wish for those who have been laid off and I hope they find new work.

      Severance pay isn't mandatory in the US, it is usually bargained for in contracts. If they are folding up they have a legal obligation to pay off creditors and debtor's before they can start handing out money they're not bound to pay.
      It's shit but it isn't always the company being a bad guy.

        Remember: everything is worse in the US. The only reason tipping at restaurants is a thing is because employees are horribly underpaid.

          Fun fact. USA, Papua New Guinea are the only countries in the world to not have government mandated maternity leave.

          It is common in the USA for women to give birth and be forced to work again the next day otherwise they will be fired. And that's completely legal in the USA.

        just thought I'd mention it's literally the opposite of Australia, where FEG guarantees employees get paid. It took me 6 months to get what I was owed, but at least I got it. My colleague who was the son of the owner though got diddly squat.

          I was livky in my case that we used an industry based redundancy scheme called protect. The employer pays your severance into the account each pay cycle. So when they went bust our money was already put aside.

    Man, that sucks. My first Telltale game was The Walking Dead (like the majority of players, I'm guessing) and I've been a fan ever since. I never played a Telltale I didn't enjoy. I can see why people might criticise the sometimes-janky engine or the lack of tangible consequence to choices in the story, but I still liked them for what they were. I'm actually halfway through Tales of the Borderlands as we speak, and I'm loving it. Sad times.

    This is terrible. I'd always assumed that Telltale was a money-printing machine. While I love their games they never struck me as particularly intensive (or expensive) to make and yet they always had hype and exposure on par with most tentpole AAA games. I can't imagine a world where they're not making bank.

    And not even finishing TWD is a tragedy.

      A great TWD property possibly remains cancelled and unfinished...

      But that damn TV show goes on and on and on and on...

    That's a shame. I was really looking forward to The Wolf Among Us Season 2, and to a lesser extent the other stuff they had in the pipe... I've played most of what they've put out since their crack at Sam and Max and mostly enjoyed it.

    This kind of seems like pretty bad mismanagement to me... they must've been making a decent amount of money, but I guess expanded too much or too fast?

    Man, this is some *major* bullshit. I bought TWD season 4 the moment it became available on Steam. I understand cancelling the other projects, but this absolutely sucks. I either hope someone else picks up the property now and finishes it, or I can at least get a refund :\

      Are you saying you pre-ordered a season that hasn't been released yet, or that you want a refund for a product you already used and enjoyed? I'm confused.

        I'm saying I paid for a product that promised 4 episodes upon purchase, that stated it would deliver 4. Now they've changed the promise and stated they will only deliver 2. By Australian consumer law, products must match descriptions made by the salesperson (the companies page on steam), on packaging and labels, and in promotions or advertising (the ad played on Steam). Because of this situation, the product no longer resembles what was offered, therefor I will be seeking a refund as I'm entitled to by ACCC consumer law :)

          Be interesting to see what comes of it.

          Just don't be surprised if some caveat is unearthed that gets Tell (Tall) Tales Games off the hook.

            No doubt at all. I've applied for store credit, which hopefully works in my favour. When I apply for refunds (only applied twice before in nearly ten years of using steam) I only ever do store credit.

              Oh MAN I'm wrong. 14 years of using Steam. Mainly 'cause I got it with Halflife 2... damn :O

              I'm old!

              @wisehacker it worked. Just got the email 5 minutes ago and now have the credit in my account. Dont know if it could get cashed out but Im happy with store credit.

          Right, I understand now, I was confused with the terminology and how they used the term "Season".

            No worries at all :) I got my refund for it, which I'm happy with. If by some miracle they manage to get the 4th episode out, I'll now re-purchase it *after* that 4th episode is out. But not until that point.

    I assume they paid for the entire season which is availalbe for purchase but ony the first episode is playable so far.

      Part 1 is done, Part 2 is completed and released tuesday. After that, they're not making any more apparently.

    The moral of the story, NEVER LET A FORMER ZYNGA EMPLOYEE RUN YOUR COMPANY.
    That is all.

    “fulfil the company’s obligations to its board and partners”

    And once again the corporate overlords kick the workers while they're down. Hundreds of workers and only 25 remain? Absolutely fucked.

    Hopefully a studio insider at least tells us how season 4 ends, even if we can’t play it

    My first thought was an image of EA executives saying, "This bankruptcy would've never happened if you guys put microtransactions or live services in your games".

      "See. You know what you guys needed in that game? Clem shoulda come upon lootboxes every damn episode..." - Blizzard

        Wouldn't surprise me if some start blaming second hand sales for TTG's demise.

          Oh I wouldn't doubt that at all. Personally? I think they overextended themselves FAR too quickly. It was almost like, for a while, every second month we were hearing about a whole new project they were getting going. In my opinion, TellTale SHOULD have released the bloody games in one go, not in episodic format. But hindsight is 50/50.

      Choice: Let Clementine Die OR Save Clementine ($3.99).

    They grew way, way too fast.

    250 employees for point and click adventure games?

    I reckon if they'd restricted themselves to a team of 50 or less they'd be making games for the next 20 years. But by the end there was just too many extremely similar games with differing IP's to choose from.

      That's pretty much my thought too. I guess they thought pushing out different genres of adventure games they'd appeal to a larger market?

    I love Telltale. I have bought all their games except for the latest season of Batman and the Walking Dead. Why? Coz I'm getting older and I don't have the time to play like I used to. I was planning on buying Batman: The Enemy Within but not before I work my way through:

    Elex which i'm currently playing, Just Cause 3, Borderlands Handsome Edition, Mad Max, Kingdom Come Deliverance, Dynasty Warriors 9, Farcry 5, God of War, Vampyr etc

    Not to mention Red Dead and Fallout 76 are coming out soon. There is just not enough hours in the day. Does anyone else agree with me on this?

    I kind of feel guilty for not buying Batman now - but I realize my measly $44 wouldn't have prevented this amazing studio from going under......

    The Wolf Among Us will remain my second favorite game of all time behind Mass Effect 1. Thank you for the great memories Telltale.

    They have no one to blame but themselves. I've owned nearly every Telltale game since the original Walking Dead. The Episodic format was great when they were first getting their foot in the industry. But they blew up after that and for some reason kept doing the same episodic format which NO ONE LIKED.

    Ignoring that, as mentioned previously, none of their games had choices that ever actually carried any weight. The illusion of choice worked with TWD 1. Then when you went back and played through it again, it was extremely transparent how little your choices actually effected the gameplay. Considering the games themselves were almost minimal to zero game play, the stories and choices needed to be what they focused on. It really feels as though with most (if not all their games) they just started churning them out with no real care or direction. While the stories/script varied in quality they really needed to spend more time on branching stories (and yes I know this is more money and time etc BUT) as this was the main thing the games had going for them. Heck they even had that BS "YOUR GAME IS TAILORED BY YOUR INDIVIDUAL CHOICES" which is a great concept and MAN i yearn for a game where that's actually the case (imagine Until dawn if it had more then 5-6 small branching story off shoots) but for some reason this seems to be an impossible feat for game companies these days.

      But they blew up after that and for some reason kept doing the same episodic format which NO ONE LIKED.

      Definitely true. There was no reason to stick to this format after the initial few games got their studio running.

      I liked the episodic format. TT games were good in 2 hour bursts.

        Well each to their own fibble.

        To me it felt like almost a kickstarter like venture. They'd give you the rest of the game after you've paid for the full thing in about 8 months time.

        I wouldn't have had such a problem with it if some episodes were only an hour long.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now