One of the biggest stories of 2018 was the sudden and abrupt closure of Telltale Games, the studio behind the beloved The Walking Dead adventure games. Studios shut down all the time, but this one was particularly unsettling, as employees were given a day notice, no severance, and health insurance for only a couple of weeks upon being let go. It was surprising since the studio was once on top of the world. A 54-minute documentary by Noclip gives an in-depth look at just what went down during the studio’s final days and caused its demise.
Danny O’Dwyer got a chance to sit with four former Telltale employees, all of which had interesting stories to tell. We’ve heard horror stories of the unhealthy work practices that took place at Telltale, but aside from crunch and long hours, there were also disputes with the executives. The common theme was that the Telltale team was usually butting heads with the higher-ups.
One of the people interviewed was Kent Muddle, a Cinematic Artist. He noted:
The review process where you had to show the game to the executive staff was the worst. That’s when the episodes would blow up. And you would anticipate them blowing up, because often they would blow up in specific ways. The only thing that would be considered good [is that] you knew what it was going to be. So we essentially kept just kind of making the same game over and over again, because we knew it would please the executives and sometimes some of the head marketing people were there, as well. The biggest problem with Telltale was that you couldn’t do what you thought was good, you had to do what you thought the executives would think is good.
Muddle went on to discuss how the process of reviewing an episode with the executives would work. He stated that they often had trouble envisioning what the scene would end up looking like, and most of his time was spent trying to explain that to the executives. More often than not, sections that allowed the player to walk around and get to know other NPCs would get cut, as the main focus was on whether or not the plot made sense, instead of character development. Because the executives constantly wanted the studio to do the same thing over and over again, it lead to The Walking Dead series feeling stale, which attributed to the lack of sales and ultimate shutter of the company.