The co-founder of Telltale Games said that crunch was a necessary part of their development cycle, which sounds like a bad way to run a company.
And that sort of explains why the company went under.
Telltale games famous closed its doors last September, providing zero warning to its staff or fans. Just one day there was a company churning out much-beloved adventure games, and then suddenly there wasn’t.
We’re still not 100% clear on the details of what happened. The official reason is that Telltale was a company that ran extremely lean and required constant capital injections to keep operating. When two investment deals fell through, the board of directors decided it was simply cheaper to cease operations than to continue to make games.
But there’s always been a few holes in that story. First, Telltale never officially filed for bankruptcy, which is what you usually do when a company runs out of money. Second, there’s a lot of lawsuits surrounding the studio’s closure, including one with Kevin Buner, former president and co-found of Telltale Games.
Bruner left the company back in 2017 after butting heads with the studio’s board of directors. He revealed in an interview with Game Informer that he’s not allowed to get into the specifics, but company finances were never handled with much finesse.
He also revealed the company’s workplace culture when it came to crunch time. Or rather, that Telltale was in a state of constant crunch due to the “episodic nature” of its games.
"For other studios, it happens all the time in games where, ‘Our release date is this fall’ and then the studio will announce that fall, ‘Oh you know what, the game wasn’t ready, we pushed it out until next spring,’” the co-founder said. “And that really wasn’t something that Telltale could do. We didn’t have the budgets to delay production that long; we didn’t have the cushion. We were serialized – we sold season passes to people – so we needed to get them their content."
Bruner compared Telltale to a serialized television show, where the showrunners are given a specific amount of time to produce content and whatever they get done in time has to be shipped on a certain day. This created a workplace culture where crunch time was just a fact of life, and people had to deal with it in order to survive.
The difference between a show and Telltale is that once the season is over, everyone on a television show can take a break. Telltale employees never got that break until the studio closed its doors for good.
Strangely, Bruner still considers the environment at Telltale a nurturing one. “I’m not saying it was easy, but the fact that so many people made really compelling, really great, highly regarded content to me makes it seem like Telltale was a nurturing place.
"It was trial by fire, but there were definitely opportunities to succeed there and many, many people did.”
But then, Bruner did get fired and his company shut down. Maybe we shouldn’t go to him for advice on how to run a game studio.