So Telltale shutdown. A company that could have done so much ended up failing because of bad decisions and bad leadership. It’s a shit situation and it shouldn’t have gone down the way it did. There is going to be a ripple through the games industry and it’s going to be felt for a while.
“But Pineapple”, you may ask, ” you dont work there so how do you know for sure what happened?”. That’s a fair question. I can tell you that, with certainty, based on how this all went down. Like a modern day Sherlock Holmes I can examine the details of the crime and deduce what caused this catastrophic failure.
First problem: the company didn’t grow. I dont mean in staff size or anything like that. I mean they didn’t evolve. They didn’t continue expand and innovate what they did. Aside from what intellectual property the games were based on, the Telltale games were the same thing over and over. I really enjoyed their games when they first came out. The first season of their Walking Dead series was so unique at the time. The Wolf Among Us was another great entry, though it was the same game with a different story. Then they did another game that was the same. Then another. Then another. Even if you loved a particular setting or franchise, if you had already played previous games from their studio there was no reason to get excited. You can’t sell a product if no one cares that it exists.
Another glaring failure on their part was to take care of their people. The games industry as a whole is fuckong abysmal when it comes to treating employees with care. Telltale was no different according to the people that worked there. They worked their employees on a schedule and with expectations that would make a sweatshop boss flinch. You cant expect people to function well if they’re continually burning the candle at both ends. The wellbeing of a workforce is essential to good productivity. Crunch time, long hours, and high pressure environments have to be the exception and not the rule.
The third, and probably most egregious failure is the mass firing itself. Companies go out of business all the time. It sucks but it’s a fact of life. The problem with Telltale is that they didn’t do anything to prepare their people for what was coming. It’s a difficult situation to balance but I’m a firm believer that if someone loses their job it should never be a surprise. If you employee people you have a responsibility to keep them in the loop of what’s going on. I’m not saying they have to get a transcript of every meeting for every department but if the company is on the verge of going under there should be clear indications that there is an issue. The argument against that is that it can damage morale and hurt things even more but if you have the right people, people that care about their work, they will fight to keep things going. If you dont have the right people there’s no fixing it anyways. I’m not gonna come off my soapbox about this. I have people that work for me directly. We are part of a much bigger organization, but on a day to day basis it’s just us. Part of my job is having to let people go for various reasons. I’ve had to do that unpleasant part a few times in my career. However I can say with complete confidence that anyone I have ever had to fire saw it coming. They knew where things stood and what would happen.
This has played out in another way as well. A lot of people have been expressing their thoughts on the state of Telltale’s Walking Dead series, namely it’s incomplete status, and their plans to fix that issue. On its surface it sounds like a reasonable hope for fans of the long running series to have. There’s just one problem: the people that made that series what it is aren’t going to be the ones making it. All those people got canned! I hate when great stories get cut short (Firefly’s cancellation is one of the greatest tragedies in history and fuck you I’m not gonna let that go) but that is one of the inherent flaws of episodic stories. There’s a risk that it won’t get finished. If there was a way to make that happen, why the shit did no one make it happen while people were still working there? I’m all for passion projects and fighting to make something happen for the fans but what the actual hell makes people think it’s okay to give all these employees their walking papers and hand off that work to someone else. You know what happens when you hand a project with a long established story line to someone new. You get “The Last Jedi” and no one wants that bullshit.
I hope that everyone that was failed by Telltale Games is able to bounce back from this quickly. I’ve been laid off and I know how scary it is. Luckily a lot of studios are actively reaching out to those who lost their jobs to recruit them and put them back to work. This is a difficult time for a lot of people but standing together and helping people is the right thing. And doing the right thing is always the right thing.