Telltale Games unexpectedly lays off most staff

Courtesy of Telltale Games
Telltale was known for its cinematic style, as seen in the popular “first season” of its Walking Dead series.

Griffin Sendek | Staff Writer

09/27/18

The award-winning video game studio Telltale Games, best known for The Walking Dead, Batman, Guardians of the Galaxy and other licensed adventure games, announced Friday, Sept. 21 that it was shutting down. The studio has laid off 250 of its employees, keeping only a small staff of 25 to complete prior commitments. Development on all current games was subsequently canceled.

“It’s been an incredibly difficult year for Telltale as we worked to set the company on a new course.” CEO Pete Hawley said. “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.”

Telltale Game’s closure was sudden and unannounced. All 250 of the now former employees received no warning regarding the state of their company and were given no time to seek alternative employment prior to being let go. Worse yet, they were given no severance pay.

The closure of the studio was not only attributed to poor sales, but directly tied to financing. Dan Connors, the co-founder of Telltale Games, responded to questions from Variety on the topic.

“Unfortunately, when the last potential financial backer abruptly pulled out … we had no choice but to stop production,” Connors told Variety. “Sadly, everyone was so focused on doing what was required to keep the company going that when the last potential partner backed out, there were no other options.”

Though it is unknown which backer pulled out, the removal of the funding left Telltale Games essentially bankrupt.

The last commitment Telltale Games has to fulfill is bringing an adaptation of its game, Minecraft: Story Mode, to Netflix. This is what the remaining skeleton crew of 25 employees is currently working on before most likely being let go as well.

This adaptation for Netflix appeared to be the last thing Telltale Games would ever produce, leaving the last two episodes of The Walking Dead: The Final Season, unfinished and unreleased, fans never to see the conclusion to the story Telltale Games started back with the first season of The Walking Dead in 2012. On its official Twitter, Monday, Telltale Games publicized the following:

“Multiple potential partners have stepped forward to express interest in helping to see The Final Season to completion”

Responses to this message have been mixed. It has garnered hope and excitement from many who have been following the game’s story and characters for years. A great number of people have also heavily criticized Telltale Games for focusing on game development, rather than attempting to pay its employees. There are many who would love to see The Final Season completed, but strongly believe in giving the employees the pay they deserve should be the main priority.

Wednesday morning, Sept. 26, it was revealed that Telltale had removed The Walking Dead: The Final Season from all digital storefronts such as Steam, GOG.com, the PlayStation Store and the Xbox Marketplace, and replaced it with either a demo or information about the game. Polygon.com reached out to Telltale for comment.

“Yes, we have removed season passes for The Walking Dead: The Final Season from stores for the time being,” a representative told Polygon. “We’re currently still working to find a way to hand off production of episodes 3 and 4 so that the season can be completed. The outcome of those efforts will determine when and how The Final Season returns to stores. We hope to have a firm announcement before the end of the week. For now, we apologize for any inconvenience.”

One of the former employees, Vernie Roberts Jr., has filed a class-action lawsuit against Telltale Games on Monday, alleging it violated California labor laws for not notifying its employees 60 days in advance of the mass layoffs, in accordance to the WARN Act. Roberts is requesting a jury trial and is seeking to gain compensation for all the terminated employees equal to the wages and benefits as if they had continued to work another 60 days.

The other 250 ex-employees are left to find new work, but are not completely on their own. Many of the former employees took to Twitter to speak of their current situation. Out of this came #telltalejobs, in which dozens of other game companies have reached out to offer those affected take a look at their job openings. On a lighter note, #telltalememories surfaced as a place for fans and employees alike to share their favorite moments and memories from the company’s 14-year history.

For many, Telltale Game’s closing came as a shock. Although the studio’s popularity had since waned following their explosion of fame after the 2012 release of The Walking Dead, and at times received criticism for lack of innovation between games. Despite that, few could have predicted the studio, which covered several large licensed franchises, would have such a sudden and unannounced collapse.

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