Telltale Games Announces Majority Studio Shutdown

Telltale Games, the studio behind beloved episodic titles like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us may not be with us for much longer.

Last week, the publisher laid off a major bulk of its employees, which came to light when the said employees announced on social media that they were no longer employed at Telltale. Soon enough, it was made official. Telltale released a statement saying that they were indeed shutting down the studio partially, laying off all but 25 employees.

The news came as a shock to fans as the final season of The Walking Dead just came out earlier this year and is just a few episodes from its finale, and the studio had some highly anticipated titles in development, including the second season of The Wolf Among Us and a series based on the Netflix show Stranger Things. Now, according to a report by Game Informer, it seems like we won’t get to see how The Walking Dead will end. Apparently, the small team left at Telltale is currently working on the Netflix Minecraft project. All other planned projects have been cancelled.

Telltale Games has been struggling for a while now, laying off 90 employees back in November 2017. And it’s only gotten worse with time. The studio rose to critical acclaim with the success of The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead, making story-focused, choice-driven games based on popular IPs. But that didn’t mean that all games did well. According to reports, only Minecraft: Story Mode and the first Walking Dead games were financially successful. All the other games lost money, and Batman: The Enemy Within was the worst performing Telltale game ever.

While it’s understandable for one to wonder why a publisher working on games based on franchises like Game of Thrones and Guardians of the Galaxy would have issues selling these games, but we need to realize that working with such big names comes with its own set of problems. As evidenced by a USGamer report, employees faced severe crunch when it came to working on an esablished IP. Sometimes, the studio would revert with rewrites for as much as 80% of the game, often at the last minute. Another problem, as cited, was inconsistent feedback. One source said, “So much effort was spent reacting to reactions, and the notes would be wildly different every time. So a lot of time it resulted in schizophrenic [game] episodes cobbled together via contrary notes.”

As if this wasn’t enough, even the fans had issues with the games, thanks to an abundance of performance glitches and bugs. Not to mention that the Telltale engine was laughably ancient, as Waypoint covered earlier this year. Here’s an excerpt from the article: “A source told me that even as the company was riding the success of The Walking Dead, their engine didn’t have a physics system. (Telltale has their own proprietary technology, it doesn’t use Unity, Unreal, or something else off the shelf.) If a designer came up with a scene requiring a ball to roll across the floor, or a book to fall off a shelf, it had to done by hand, an enormous time and resource commitment.” What perplexed most fans and critics alike was that Telltale never switched to a different engine, or tried to improve the existing one for that matter. Couple that with the long loading times, not-so-occasional stutters and audio issues, and you have a perfect storm.

The employees have certainly fallen on hard times. According to online posts, the people who were laid off were only given 30 minutes to vacate the premises after the announcement. Reportedly, they’ll be allowed back in the office for three hours today, allowing them to collect their belongings. Naturally, fans and critics alike are wondering lies in the future for these talented individuals, and studios similar to, or even bigger than Telltale, this wasn’t the only studio shutdown news to hit us recently. Only a few days ago, Capcom Vancouver, the studio behind Dead Rising series announced it would be closing its doors as well.

Fortunately, the industry is quite sympathetic towards Telltale and its employees, with many studios, including Valve and Ubisoft, inviting them to apply for jobs. A lot of the crowd has taken to social media as well, showing its support for the former devs. Some Walking Dead fans have even started petitioning Netflix in order to save the studio. We can only hope that the amazingly talented people who gave us some amazingly engaging stories can continue to fuel their dreams as well. Nevertheless, even if the studio closes down, we’re sure that Telltale will go down as one of the better game studios in the history.

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