Telltale: 14 Major Developments Since the Studio’s Closure
On September 21, renowned narrative-driven game studio Telltale Games initiated a “majority studio closure” by laying off the vast majority of its staff. Soon after, CEO Pete Hawley announced a team of 25 employees would remain on board to “fulfill the company’s obligations to its board and partners.” While Telltale hasn’t officially commented on the specifics of those obligations, reports indicated the remaining team was set to complete development on Minecraft: Story Mode for Netflix. However, according to former Telltale narrative designer Rachel Noel on Twitter, those remaining employees have now been laid off as well.
The closure came directly in the middle of The Walking Dead’s final season, leaving many longtime fans wondering what would become of the years-long journey they’ve embarked on with beloved protagonist Clementine, a story that began with the series’ first season in 2012. Questions also arose surrounding the studio’s other projects, which included a second season of The Wolf Among Us and a game based on Netflix’s Stranger Things.
To keep up with this story’s continued evolution, we’ve compiled a chronological list of events that have occurred since Telltale announced its closure. Read on for all that’s unfolded over the past two weeks, and be sure to check back as this story continues to be updated with new information.
Ex-CEO Pens Farewell Letter
On the day of the announcement, Telltale co-founder and former CEO Kevin Bruner penned a letter detailing his clash with the company’s board of directors and expressing his sadness over the studio’s closure.
“Today, I’m mostly saddened for the people who are losing their jobs at a studio they love,” he wrote. “And I’m also saddened at the loss of a studio that green-lit crazy ideas that no one else would consider. I’m comforted a bit knowing there are now so many new talented people and studios creating games in the evolving narrative genre. While I look forward to those games and new developments, and continuing to contribute, I will always find ‘A Telltale Game’ to have been a unique offering.
“I know that Telltale will be remembered fondly for what it has done best.”
Clementine Actor Comments on Closure
Shortly after the news broke, Melissa Hutchison, the voice of Clementine in Telltale’s The Walking Dead, shared a heartfelt letter in response to the studio’s closure.
In the letter, Hutchison said the news left her heart “too broken for words.” She added, “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. 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. It hurts me that all of the insanely talented people who made this game won’t get to see all of their hard work played out, and are instead thrust into having to now look for work.”
However, since Hutchison published this letter, developments in this story have indicated The Walking Dead: The Final Season may not conclude with Episode 2.
Netflix Still Wants a Stranger Things Game
Prior to the studio’s closure, Telltale had partnered with Netflix for two known projects: a version of Minecraft: Story Mode for the streaming service and a Stranger Things game. Following the closure, Netflix announced Minecraft: Story Mode would still be “moving forward as planned,” though, as previously mentioned, that may no longer be the case.
Despite Telltale’s closure, there’s still hope for a Stranger Things game, as the streaming giant said it’s “in the process of evaluating other options for bringing the Stranger Things universe to life in an interactive medium.”
Telltale’s Closure Detailed
Three days after the announcement, Variety spoke with Telltale co-founder Dan Connors, who confirmed the closure ultimately occurred due to a failed round of financing.
According to the site, two potential investors backed out on September 20, the day before the massive layoffs. Those companies were reportedly AMC, home of The Walking Dead television series, and Smilegate, a South Korean game company. Lionsgate, which initially invested in Telltale in 2015, also halted its funding of the studio, adding to Telltale’s recent financial woes.
As detailed in the report, 250 employees were suddenly let go during a staff meeting on September 21. The employees did not receive severance pay and were told their healthcare would only last through the end of September.
Telltale Says It’s ‘Actively Working’ to Finish The Walking Dead
Also on September 24, Telltale released a statement announcing “multiple potential partners have stepped forward to see The Final Season through to completion.” The company added it wasn’t in a position to make promises, but was “actively working” to have the final two episodes released “in some form.”
The announcement led to controversy, as many felt Telltale should prioritize severance pay over releasing The Walking Dead’s final episodes. Among those who spoke out was God of War director Cory Barlog, who summarized the argument eloquently in a response to Telltale on Twitter: “I would hope this means that you will first pay your entire team their severance, and then proceed to finish the final episodes. I would be fine waiting however long it took to ensure we first treated those who worked so hard with the humanity and respect they deserve.”
Former Employee Sues Telltale
Later that same day, a former employee filed a class-action lawsuit against Telltale for reportedly breaking California labor laws.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiff, Vernie Roberts Jr., claims Telltale violated California’s WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) Act, which requires employers to give a 60-day notice to affected employees prior to mass layoffs or closure. If successful, the lawsuit would grant Roberts and other affected Telltale employees 60 days of unpaid wages and benefits.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season Episode 2 Is Released
Despite the chaos, Telltale released The Walking Dead: The Final Season’s second episode the following day. Titled Suffer the Children, the episode hit digital storefronts as scheduled on September 25.
Tech’s Episode 2 review praised the continued development of Clementine and AJ’s relationship, while noting the episode’s other elements felt “overly formulaic and dull.”
The Walking Dead: The Final Season Pulled from Sale
A day after Episode 2 was released, Telltale requested The Final Season be pulled from various online marketplaces, including Steam, GoG, the PlayStation Store, and the Microsoft Store.
In a statement issued to The Verge, a Telltale representative reiterated its intentions in “still working to find a way to hand off production of episodes 3 and 4 so that the season can be completed.” The company added, “The outcome of those efforts will determine when and how The Final Season returns to stores.”
Telltale Reportedly Wants Another Company to Complete TWD
Yesterday, Kotaku reported new details on Telltale’s efforts to finish The Walking Dead: The Final Season. According to the site, Telltale is looking for a company to hire its former employees “on a contract basis” to complete development of The Final Season’s remaining two episodes. As noted by Kotaku, this wouldn’t be a case of Telltale electing to spend funds on development rather than severance packages; rather, Telltale would hand off development to an outside company entirely.
According to Kotaku’s sources, Episode 3 is “essentially finished,” while some voice work has already been recorded for Episode 4.
New Report Sheds More Light on the Closure
This morning, October 4, The Verge published an in-depth report on Telltale’s closure, corroborating previously reported information and shedding new light on the studio’s downfall.
Speaking with former Telltale staffers, The Verge confirmed employees were unexpectedly informed of the layoffs and impending closure during a meeting on September 21. During the meeting, Telltale CEO Pete Hawley reportedly sat staff down and told them, “I’m afraid our journey ends today.”
As previously reported by Variety, The Verge also claims employees were asked to leave the building within 30 minutes, weren’t given severance, and told their health insurance would expire at the end of September.
The report states Pete Hawley was hired as Telltale’s new CEO in September 2017 in an effort to restore financial stability. A former employee told The Verge, “It was something that Pete [Hawley] told us pretty much since he joined the team last year. ‘This is why I’m here. I’m here to get us money so we can keep making great things.’”
However, the move and efforts around that seemingly came too late. Despite strong preorder numbers for The Walking Dead: The Final Season, the latest season ultimately underperformed. This, paired with legal fees from two separate events — ex-CEO Kevin Bruner’s lawsuit against the company and the leaks surrounding the studio’s partnership with Netflix — put the company in a precarious financial situation.
Ultimately, as previously reported, it appears to be a failed round of financing from AMC and Smilegate that led to the decision to close shop.
One former employee also commented on the possibility of The Final Season being completed by a different studio. While the anonymous employee wants their work to “see the light of day,” part of them feels “really s****y” about the idea of outside developers finishing their work, while their coworkers potentially aren’t compensated.
Hawley didn’t have much to say when contacted by The Verge, though he did leave the outlet with this: “There is a story to be told, based on truth, facts and how we ended up in this terrible situation. Much of which has not been told.”
Telltale Reportedly Lays off Remaining ‘Skeleton Crew’
Telltale was initially set to retain a team of 25 employees to finish work on Minecraft: Story Mode for Netflix. However, according to former Telltale narrative designer Rachel Noel, that’s no longer the case.
“Heeeeyyyy remember how there was going to be a skeleton crew staying on for a while and I was part of it? Nah, jk, we all just got laid off, too,” Noel wrote on Twitter.
Skybound Games to Complete The Walking Dead: The Final Season
On October 9, The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman announced Skybound Games would be completing development of The Final Season’s remaining two episodes.
Skybound, which was co-founded by Kirkman, has “taken ownership of Telltale’s The Walking Dead: The Final Season and will finish the season. Skybound will work with members of the original Telltale team to finish the story in a way the fans deserve,” the company said in a statement.
Release dates for the final two episodes have not been announced at this time.
Telltale Begins Official Closure Process; Certain Games Are Removed From Steam
According to GameDaily.biz, assignment proceedings, “a process similar to bankruptcy,” began in early October, officially signaling the end of Telltale Games. With liquidation underway, several of Telltale’s games have been removed from Steam, including the studio’s Jurassic Park and Back to the Future series.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season Development Resumes
On November 19, Skybound Games announced development on The Walking Dead: The Final Season had officially resumed. According to the company, the new development team includes “many” ex-Telltale staffers who were working on The Final Season prior to the studio’s closure.
“Soon, we will be announcing release dates for the two remaining episodes,” reads a statement from Skybound. “It’s likely that previous seasons of the game may be unavailable to purchase for a few days as we transition—but don’t panic!—we’ll have everything back online ASAP. If you already purchased Season Four, you will NOT have to pay again; future episodes will be available to download as soon as they are released via your original point of purchase.”
Jordan is a freelance writer for Tech. Follow him on Twitter @jdsirani.