Following the release of The Walking Dead in 2012, developer Telltale Games released a wealth of episodic titles. With the exception of one or two, most of these titles were well received by critics, which I’m sure most of us had, up until now, believed to have translated to commercial success. Apparently, we were wrong. Last week’s shocking news that Telltale was laying off the majority of its staff and actioning what was effectively a studio-wide closure came as a huge surprise. Since then, there’s been a deluge of rumors and comments about what’s going on, what’s happened, and many questions about what happens next –especially with the final season of The Walking Dead in the middle of its release.
Shocking as it was, however, the unfortunate events at Telltale aren’t quite as out of left field as you might imagine. Last year, a report from The Verge citing a toxic work environment at Telltale coincided with 90 employees being laid off. Following that, in June of this year the company’s former CEO, Kevin Bruner, sued Telltale for financial damages. After last week’s closure announcement, Bruner made a blog post lamenting the employees that were laid off, stating the reason that he originally left Telltale was because he and the Board of Directors had very different visions about the company’s future.
Joe Parlock, a contributor at Forbes, said on Twitter that a source from Telltale tells him that every game past the first season of The Walking Dead was a financial failure for the company. It was stated to him, he claims, that Minecraft: Story Mode and 7 Days to Die, published by Telltale, were making a profit, but everything else just didn’t make money. Confirmation of that hasn’t yet been made official, but it certainly fits with the overall narrative right now.
Now with the start of a new week, all eyes are on what happens next. Emily Grace, one of the devs laid off by Telltale, tweeted that all former Telltale employees will have a three-hour block to come and collect their belongings. Telltale has yet to speak on the matter, nor has CEO Pete Hawley. Both Hawley and Telltale’s Twitter accounts have been quiet since the initial press release.
Elsewhere, Melissa Hutchinson, the voice actress of Clementine, posted a message to fans over the weekend, also shedding light that to her knowledge The Walking Dead: The Final Season won’t continue after its second episode, scheduled to release on Sept. 25.
“I, unfortunately, like most of you, do not have the details on how this all came to be and I also do not know the fate of the final season of TWD,” she said. “To my knowledge, they will release Episode 2 and then that will be it. It hurts me that you, the fans, will not get to see Clem’s journey through to the end,” said Hutchinson.
Obviously, the entire thing is a sad affair and a nightmare scenario for employees of the company, many of whom were given no severance pay. It speaks volumes about the inherent instability of the games industry and the difficult conditions that many talented developers have to endure.
There’s another aspect to this too that’s equally sad, of course, and that’s for fans of The Walking Dead series, who now won’t get any closure to the end of Clementine’s story. Telltale’s first season of The Walking Dead was a revelation for narrative games, garnering tons of Game of the Year awards and acclaim in 2012. It was one of the titles that helped define what narrative choice means in video games; how you can distill emotion into those choices. And now it doesn’t have the ending it deserves.
Since the news last week, Twitter has been flooded with tweets using #TelltaleMemories. Searching through the hashtag highlights fans fondly remembering their favorite Telltale moments, and former developers sharing fun stories and anecdotes about how games were made, standout memories at the company, and even how an office joke made it into Tales From the Borderlands. In video games, there’s often a disconnect between the people who make video games and the people who play them, but this whole event brings those two parties together, sharing memories over characters and experiences that are beloved by both sides.
At the moment all we know is that the skeleton crew at Telltale will be working to “fulfill the company’s obligations to its board and partners,” which could include the Netflix deal on Minecraft: Story Mode. Reports have surfaced that The Walking Dead has been canceled, as well as any future projects like Stranger Things and The Wolf Among Us – Season 2. All we can hope is that somehow, some way Telltale can bring a close to The Walking Dead. It’s the game that really kicked things off for the developer, and at least getting the last two episodes would put things out on a bittersweet note, instead of a sour one.