Telltale’s co-founder revealed that the company was under “a lot of pressure” to duplicate the success of The Walking Dead.
Last year, Telltale Games shuttered its doors. The company that was synonymous with the adventure game genre’s revival had somehow run afoul of its creditors, ran out of cash, and was forced to close.
Or rather, the board of directors for Telltale thought it was a better idea to cease operations than to continue making great story-driven games. The sudden and unexpected closure of the studio left its entire workforce in the lurch. People were crying in the parking lot as they were all ushered out of the studio.
Shortly thereafter, a class action lawsuit was filed against Telltale for violation of state and federal labor laws. Details are still scarce as to the true reason why Telltale was forced to close, but we might have a few new clues thanks to a Game Informer interview with former Telltale CEO and co-founder, Kevin Buner.
Kevin left Telltale in 2017 before the studio closed its doors, but he was there for some of the prelude to the Telltale disaster. He reveals that "there was a lot of pressure to duplicate The Walking Dead" in terms of its astounding success. This led to Telltale seeking out larger and larger IPs to turn into games, with each game being sold the same way: “We’re going to do what we did with The Walking Dead for you as well."
This caused many departures within the company as employees felt that the executives were stifling creativity. Bruner points to earlier examples that didn’t follow the same format as The Walking Dead, such as Poker Night and Poker Night 2, as examples of non-story-driven Telltale games.
Bruner stepped down as Telltale president after a long period of conflict between Telltale’s founders and its board of directors. The full details of that departure before the courts as Bruner filed a lawsuit in 2018. This also meant that Bruner wasn’t aware of Telltale’s financial dealings before the studio’s closure, but says that he does know them now.
"I’ve since learned about the circumstances that caused the shutdown, and I can’t really speak to them,” Bruner told Game Informer. “But they had nothing to do with the studio, with the products that were being built.
"We made an organization dedicated to the craft of interactive storytelling and producing content efficiently. It was second to none. The fact that the studio doesn’t exist anymore just kills me."
There’s a lot more to the story of Telltale, including their problems with “crunch time” and why they never made a Star Wars adventure game. It’s well worth the read if you’ve got a minute.