Telltale Games

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Telltale Incorporated
Telltale Games
Private
Industry Video game industry
Founded July 12, 2004; 13 years ago (2004-07-12)
Founder
  • Kevin Bruner
  • Dan Connors
  • Troy Molander
Headquarters San Rafael, California, U.S.
Area served
Worldwide
Key people
Pete Hawley (CEO)
Number of employees
310[1][2] (2017)
Website telltale.com

Telltale Incorporated, doing business as Telltale Games, is an American independent video game developer and publisher founded in June 2004. Based in San Rafael, California, the studio includes designers formerly employed by LucasArts. Its business model revolves around episodic gaming and digital distribution, and it is best known for its various graphic adventure game series based on popular licensed properties.

Many of the games that have been developed by Telltale Games are released episodically. Several episodes, released together in a season, are released periodically through a certain timeframe, often concluding around half a year or so after the initial release.

Most of Telltale's products are adventure games based on licensed properties from film, comics, television, and other video games. Their initial games followed more traditional adventure game approaches with the player solving puzzles to progress. Their critical breakout title, The Walking Dead based on the comic book series of the same name, introduced a more narrative-directed approach, giving the player the ability to make choices that may affect how future events in the game or its sequels play out, effectively allowing players to craft their own personalized take on the offered story; all of Telltale's games since have featured this player choice-driven approach.

History[edit]

Company foundation[edit]

Telltale Games was founded by Dan Connors, Kevin Bruner and Troy Molander, a group of former LucasArts employees who had been working on Sam & Max: Freelance Police, a sequel to the 1993 game Sam & Max Hit the Road, prior to its cancellation on March 3, 2004. In an early press release the vocal public response to said cancellation was cited as a main reason the company was founded.[3] The Telltale Games team has a large collective experience working on LucasArts' famed classics.

Telltale Games was formed in San Rafael, California with the assistance of technology attorney Ira P. Rothken, who provided initial seed capital, procured angel investments, and negotiated deals involving Bone, Sam & Max, GameTap, Ubisoft, and others which led to initial revenue, marketing, and development of the core episodic game technology.

The team of Telltale Games in 2007. From left: Chuck Jordan, Jake Rodkin, Dave Grossman, Daniel Farjam Herrera, Doug Tabacco and Emily Morganti, as well as a demo version of Sam & Max Save the World.

On February 11, 2005, the company released their first game, Telltale Texas Hold'em, a poker card game simulator which was intended primarily to test the Telltale Tool, their in-house game engine.[4] This was followed by two games based on Jeff Smith's Bone comic book series. More episodes were planned, but later aborted. They then developed CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder for Ubisoft, and although it was composed of several free-standing episodes, it was released exclusively at retail as a single package. The same is true for the follow-ups, CSI: Hard Evidence, CSI: Deadly Intent, and CSI: Fatal Conspiracy.

After securing two rounds of angel investment from San Francisco Bay Area angels including superangel Matthew Le Merle and members of angel group Keiretsu Forum,[5] Telltale attempted to buy the rights to complete Sam & Max: Freelance Police from LucasArts, but when they were denied, they secured the rights to create new games from series creator Steve Purcell. Unlike their previous games, Sam & Max: Season One (published in collaboration with GameTap) was their first episodic series released on a tight monthly schedule — a landmark for the game industry. The series proved successful, and Telltale went on to produce two additional Sam & Max seasons. Since then, they have continued to produce series based on popular licenses released in monthly, and more recently in bi-monthly, episodes. Several series that Telltale went on to work with were largely comedic, including games based on Wallace & Gromit (until 2014 when their distribution rights for Wallace & Gromit games expired) and Homestar Runner. Tales of Monkey Island, based on the popular LucasArts series, marked one of their most successful series to date, owing in part to the history many of its developers had with LucasArts adventure games.

Pilot program[edit]

To supplement their normal episodic games, Telltale created a pilot program in early 2010 to explore one-off games that would explore other gameplay and storytelling approaches that could eventually be incorporated into their episodic games.[6] The first game, Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent, a puzzle-solving game in collaboration with Graham Annable, was released in the middle of June 2010, while Poker Night at the Inventory, a crossover poker game featuring characters from Sam and Max, Homestar Runner, Valve's Team Fortress 2, and the webcomic Penny Arcade, was released late in 2010. Telltale followed up Puzzle Agent with a sequel, Puzzle Agent 2, in 2011. In 2013, Telltale continued the series with Poker Night 2. The pilot program is also utilized by Telltale Games to develop new gameplay ideas that are then adapted to their normal episodic game series. The Walking Dead started out as a pilot program title that was known internally as the "zombie prototype".[7]

Growth and franchise acquisitions[edit]

Having established themselves as working with comedy franchises, Telltale later chose to work with dramatic franchises as well as comedy series. In June 2010, Telltale announced that they had secured licences with NBC Universal to develop two episodic series based on Back to the Future and Jurassic Park.[8] Telltale also obtained the license from NBC Universal to develop episodic series around the Law & Order franchise in April 2011.[9]

By 2010, Telltale had proven itself successful, with yearly revenues of $10 million, 90% greater than the previous year.[10] Part of this was attributed to Back to the Future: The Game, which Steve Allison, the senior vice president (VP) of marketing, called in 2011 their "most successful franchise to date".[11] Allison stated that for most of their games, they only need to sell 100,000 copies to break even, but many of their recent releases have seen twice that number or more.[10] The studio expanded from 90 to 140 employees.[10] They had obtained a license in 2011 to develop a King's Quest adventure game based on the original Sierra games,[12] but Activision took back the rights in 2013, which were subsequently used by The Odd Gentlemen to create their 2015 episodic King's Quest game.[13]

Telltale's breakthrough success came with the licenses of the comic book series The Walking Dead and Fables in association with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment in 2011.[10] Allison anticipated that The Walking Dead series could be a $20 to $30 million franchise.[10] Their The Walking Dead video game presented an alteration of Telltale's approach, as rather than a traditional adventure game where players would need to solve puzzles, The Walking Dead was more focused on providing a cinematic experience but presenting choices to the player, either through dialog trees or through quick time events, that would create "determinants" that would feed into latter parts of the episode and into future episodes; one example would be deciding which of one of two characters to save from a zombie attack at the spur of the moment. While these decisions do not have a direct impact on the game's overall narrative and structure, it provides a more personalized story around what decisions the player had made.[14] This format provided highly successful: the game sold one million copies in 20 days,[15][16] exceeded 8.5 million episode purchases by 2013,[17] and an estimated $40 million in revenue.[18] The success led to two additional 5-episode seasons plus a 3-episode mini-season to date. The Walking Dead is considered to have revitalized the waning adventure game genre due to this more emotionally-driven focus. Since The Walking Dead, nearly all of Telltale's games have used a similar approach of being built around the impacts of the player's choices as determinants in later episodes and seasons.

Telltale has since had several other licensing details from popular works, including Tales from the Borderlands based on the Borderlands series from Gearbox Software,[19] and Game of Thrones, based on the HBO television show adaption,[19] Minecraft: Story Mode based on the Mojang game, Minecraft,[20] Batman: The Telltale Series from DC Comics, and Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series from Marvel Comics.[21]

Telltale relocated to a larger space and expanded from 125 to 160 in mid-2013.[22] The company continued to grow, at its peak having about 400 employees in mid-2017.[18]

In January 2015, original chief executive officer (CEO) Dan Connors resigned; co-founder Kevin Bruner replaced him. Connors noted that with the studio's continued growth, it had begun experiencing growth-specific challenges. Connors stated that Bruner's ascension to CEO would best enable Telltale Games to act on future expansion opportunities. Connors remains on the board of directors, and also serves as a creative consultant.[23] With Bruner's placement as CEO in January 2015, Telltale said it was currently developing a game based on its own IP—not just its licensed variable-in-game-chronology concept—as a result of this leadership change.[24]

In February 2015, Lionsgate announced an investment within Telltale Games to produce a number of "Super Shows", a hybrid interactive work combining television and video game elements, which can be distributed through non-traditional channels such as through streaming services. The first Super Show planned is an original intellectual property (IP) that Telltale has been developing that is said to be able to take advantage of this format.[25] Telltale also announced that Lions Gate CEO Jon Feltheimer and Unity Technologies' CEO John Riccitiello joined Telltale's board of directors.[26]

On March 15, 2017, Bruner announced he had stepped down as CEO of Telltale, turning the day-to-day operations to Conners, while still remaining on the Board of Directors. Bruner said "The time has come to pass the reins to someone that can better drive Telltale to the next level and realize all the potential that is here."[27] Pete Hawley, the former VP for Games at Zynga, was announced as the new CEO, with Conners remaining on its Board and acting in an advisory role.[28]

In November 2017, a restructuring of the company cut about 90 positions, which does not affect the release of any existing projects. Hawley said that the restructuring was for "reorienting our organization with a focus on delivering fewer, better games with a smaller team".[2] According to a report by Matt Kim of US Gamer, speaking to anonymous Telltale employees, the layoffs were a result of the business and development practices between 2014 and 2017 set by management that kept development in a perpetual state of "crunch time" that limited the amount of time that the creators and developers could spend on content in order to maintain a consistent flow of episodes to consumers.[18] This particularly affected the Telltale Tool, the game engine used by the company since The Walking Dead, which ended up as numerous bugs in released episodes that Telltale became infamously noted for.[18] The company was also hobbled by working with established IP, and inconsistencies in the reviewing process with management that led to last-minute reworking of some episodes.[18] While Telltale has not stated which positions were let go in the restructuring, those sources speaking to US Gamer stated that most were part of the management structure that led to these problems; coupled with Hawley's appointment as CEO, this is expected to be a necessary turning point to help revitalize Telltale going forward.[18]

Telltale Publishing[edit]

Telltale has also helped other developers to publish their games. Under the moniker Telltale Publishing, Telltale entered into a publishing deal with Jackbox Games to bring the console versions of The Jackbox Party Pack to retail markets,[29] and with The Fun Pimps to publish 7 Days to Die for consoles.[30] On August 18, 2016, Telltale published Mr. Robot:1.51exfiltrati0n by Night School Studio.[31]

Development model[edit]

Telltale Games presents itself specifically as a developer of the episodic genre.[32][33][34][35] It is seen by production studios and other content producers to take a more realistic approach to movie tie-in games rather than the difficult "see the movie, play the game" model, and also collaborates with studios and screenwriters to create a strong experience that pays homage to the original film or franchise.[10] In a September 2017 interview, Job Stauffer called Telltale's role as "an interactive TV network and a studio", able to produce content across a wide range of genres on a regular basis.[36] He considered their studio something between a video game developer and a cable or streaming network with production capabilities like HBO or Netflix.[36]

In general, Telltale offers its games as a one-time "season pass" purchase for the game's season when the first episode of the season is released, with the user then entitled to all planned episodes for that season. For digital purchases, this entitlement is handled through the digital storefront. In retail, Telltale has published complete season after the season's digital release is over, but have also adopted a model where they can publish, at the same time as the digital release, a retail disc that contains the first episode. The disc includes a "season pass" entitlement to the remaining episodes to be digitally downloaded, tied to the disc itself rather than the user. This allows for trading or resale of the retail product that can be played by others, which according to Stauffer, makes for a "nice in-between" market model that satisfies players, retailers, and themselves.[36] For some of their games, Telltale has developed additional downloadable content, such as 400 Days for The Walking Dead, or three additional episodes for Minecraft: Story Mode Season 1, which must be purchased separately from the season pass.

With Batman: The Telltale Series and most of their subsequently released episodic adventure games, Telltale added a "Crowd Play" feature that can be used by those that stream their playthroughs on services like Twitch.tv. Through Crowd Play, viewers can vote for an option for the streamer to select.[37]

While mainly a developer, Telltale also verifies its self-publishing ethos;[38] the only classic developer-publisher relationship was with Ubisoft for the CSI video game franchise.[39] They have struck financial arrangements with GameTap for the first two seasons of the rebooted Sam & Max games, but their publishing arrangements have been chiefly made after the games were already completed and had already been sold via digital distribution.

Telltale aims to also present itself on as many digital platforms and avenues as possible.[40] To date, it has released games through GameTap; on PC and OS X, through Steam and similar services, plus its own online store; on Wii, via WiiWare and disc; on Xbox 360, via Xbox Live Arcade and disc; on PlayStation 3, through PlayStation Network and disc; on iPhone and iPad, through iTunes; on PlayStation Vita; and, on Kindle Fire HDX.[41] Though Telltale normally port their own games to other systems, CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder was ported to the PlayStation 2 by Ubisoft Sofia,[42] and Bone: Out from Boneville was ported to Mac OS by Vanbrio.[43] Telltale was one of the companies who Sony confirmed pledged PlayStation 4 third-party support at the PlayStation Meeting 2013.[44] Telltale has also committed to developing and re-releasing seasons for the Nintendo Switch. Stauffer stated that there's no restrictions on what titles they can bring to the Switch due to content, but they are focusing on their more recent, family-friendly titles like Minecraft: Story Mode, Batman, and Guardians of the Galaxy only due to ease of porting these to the Switch, while older titles like The Walking Dead require more effort to port.[36]

Telltale's games reportedly suffer from an abnormally high rate of bugs and other technical flaws, pervasive enough to pose a significant risk of impeding players' ability to progress through a given title. A 2015 article by Kotaku noted that "their games, wonderful in many ways as they may be, have been accompanied by an undercurrent of fan anger" over widespread bugs and glitches. The article concluded that Telltale's support forums "paint a portrait of a publisher that is constantly releasing buggy and even outright broken games", seemingly lacking the resources to fix or even monitor most of them.[45] As described by those close to Telltale speaking to US Gamer, most of these bugs were a result of the rushed nature of development, along with the aged Telltale Tool. One example offered was the fact that Telltale Tool did not have a physics engine, meaning that if a scene required an object to fall, this had to be animated by hand, taking time from other more productive activities.[18]

Games developed[edit]

Title Release date(s) # of episodes Platform(s)
Telltale Texas Hold'em February 11, 2005 1 episode (standalone title) Win
Bone: Out from Boneville September 15, 2005 1 episode (standalone title) Win, OS X
CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder March 21, 2006 5 episodes (standalone title) Win, PS2
Bone: The Great Cow Race April 12, 2006 1 episode (standalone title) Win
Sam & Max Save the World October 17, 2006April 26, 2007 6 episodes (monthly) Win, Wii, X360
CSI: Hard Evidence September 25, 2007 5 episodes (standalone title) Win, OS X, Wii, X360
Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space November 8, 2007April 10, 2008 5 episodes (monthly) iOS, Win, OS X, PS3, Wii, X360
Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People August 11, 2008December 15, 2008 5 episodes (monthly) Win, OS X, PS3, Wii
Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures March 24, 2009July 30, 2009 4 episodes (monthly) iOS, Win, X360
Tales of Monkey Island July 7, 2009December 8, 2009 5 episodes (monthly) iOS, Win, OS X, PS3, Wii
CSI: Deadly Intent October 20, 2009 5 episodes (standalone title) Win, Wii, X360
Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse April 15, 2010August 30, 2010 5 episodes (monthly) iOS, Win, OS X, PS3
Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent June 30, 2010 1 episode (standalone title) iOS, Win, OS X, PS3
CSI: Fatal Conspiracy October 26, 2010 5 episodes (standalone title) Win, PS3, Wii, X360
Poker Night at the Inventory November 22, 2010 1 episode (standalone title) Win, OS X
Back to the Future: The Game December 22, 2010June 23, 2011 5 episodes (monthly) iOS, Win, OS X, PS3, PS4, Wii, X360, XONE
Puzzle Agent 2 June 30, 2011 1 episode (standalone title) iOS, Win, OS X
Jurassic Park: The Game November 15, 2011 4 episodes (standalone title) iOS, Win, OS X, PS3, X360
Law & Order: Legacies December 22, 2011March 29, 2012 7 episodes (bi-weekly) iOS, Win, OS X
The Walking Dead April 24, 2012November 20, 2012
July 2, 2013 (400 Days)
5 episodes (bi-monthly)
1 episode (downloadable content)
Android, iOS, Win, OS X, PS3, PS4, Vita, X360, XONE
Poker Night 2 April 24, 2013 1 episode (standalone title) iOS, Win, OS X, PS3, X360
The Wolf Among Us October 11, 2013July 8, 2014 5 episodes (bi-monthly) Android, iOS, Win, OS X, PS3, PS4, Vita, X360, XONE
The Walking Dead: Season Two December 17, 2013August 26, 2014 5 episodes (bi-monthly) Android, iOS, Win, OS X, PS3, PS4, Vita, X360, XONE
Tales from the Borderlands November 25, 2014October 20, 2015 5 episodes (quarterly) Android, iOS, Win, OS X, PS3, PS4, X360, XONE
Game of Thrones December 2, 2014November 17, 2015 6 episodes (bi-monthly) Android, iOS, Win, OS X, PS3, PS4, X360, XONE
Minecraft: Story Mode October 13, 2015March 29, 2016
June 7, 2016September 13, 2016 (Adventure Pass)
8 episodes (bi-monthly) Android, iOS, Win, OS X, PS3, PS4, Wii U, NS, X360, XONE
The Walking Dead: Michonne February 23, 2016April 26, 2016 3 episodes (monthly) Android, iOS, Win, OS X, PS3, PS4, X360, XONE
Batman: The Telltale Series August 2, 2016December 13, 2016 5 episodes (monthly) Android, iOS, Win, PS3, PS4, NS, X360, XONE
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier December 20, 2016May 30, 2017 5 episodes (monthly) Android, iOS, Win, PS4, XONE
Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series[46] April 18, 2017—November 7, 2017 5 episodes (bi-monthly) Android, iOS, Win, OS X, PS4, NS, XONE
Minecraft: Story Mode – Season Two[47] July 11, 2017—present 5 episodes Android, iOS, Win, Mac, PS4, X360, XONE
Batman: The Enemy Within[48] August 8, 2017—present 5 episodes Android, iOS, Win, PS4, XONE
The Walking Dead: The Final Season[48][36] 2018 TBA Android, iOS, Win, PS4, XONE
The Wolf Among Us: Season Two[48][36] Q3-Q4 2018 TBA Android, iOS, Win, PS4, XONE
Game of Thrones: Season Two[49] TBA TBA Android, iOS, Win, PS4, XONE

Games published[edit]

Title Developer(s) Release date(s) # of episodes Platform(s)
Hector: Badge of Carnage Straandlooper June 2, 2010September 22, 2011 3 episodes (monthly) iOS, Win, OS X
The Jackbox Party Pack Jackbox Games November 3, 2015 1 episode (standalone title) PS3, PS4, X360, XONE
7 Days to Die The Fun Pimps June 28, 2016 1 episode (standalone title) PS4, XONE
Mr. Robot:1.51exfiltrati0n.ipa
Mr. Robot:1.51exfiltrati0n.apk[50]
Night School Studio August 16, 2016 1 episode (standalone title) iOS, Android

References[edit]

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External links[edit]