Telltale employees need protection against angry ‘fans’ and their former bosses

This week a lot of people were shocked when they heard the terrible news about the closure of Telltale games. I loved their games, and even now I can cry about the stories they delivered us. There aren’t many games that left me flabbergasted while having me make horrible and emotional choices. A prime example of their unforgettable creations is the first season of The Walking Dead. I will always cherish the oppressive feelings I had when I had to decide if I wanted to kill a character I loved, or if I would leave him behind to let him turn into a monster like the rotten corpses that had bitten him that day. This development has a special place in my heart, which made the recent news all the more upsetting.

The closure of Telltale Games left a lot of people in the dark about the future of the fourth and final season of The Walking Dead. Also, it’s pretty definitive that we’ll never see a second season of The Wolf Among Us and that we’ll never see their adaptation of Stranger Things, along with many other projects. Recent reports tell us that the whole crew of The Walking Dead got fired, which means that a lot of people who paid for the Season Pass might only get the first two episodes. After this crushing turn of events, only a small amount of 25 people are still employed to “fulfill the company’s obligations to its board and partners”. They are working on Minecraft: Story Mode and will most likely be let go when they have finished that project.

While ‘fans’ are worried if they will ever be able to play their games, there are far more pressing matters to be addressed. It looks like a lot of people forget that there are 200+ former employees out there who have no job, no assurances and in some cases also have to think of their families. While the ‘fans’ might only have lost about twenty dollars on a Season Pass and the opportunity to play the games, these issues pale in comparison to the struggles these developers have to deal with. As the devs are trying to regain some semblance of stability in their lives, all kinds of ‘fans’ keep asking them about the games that were in development. This obviously annoys some of the former employees, since none of them knows the studio’s future plans. People like myself are already suggesting that some former employees might be able to put up a Kickstarter to make games with new characters and new settings, but the reality of this is far more complex than most can imagine. The future of Telltale Games is blurry, the future of the former employees even more so.

Chances are high that Telltale won’t do anything in the future. It’s the people who make a studio, and at this moment almost all of the creative and hardworking people are no longer employed by the company. While these people worked hard (with at least 50-70 hours a week), the management of Telltale Games kept asking for more and more. The weekends of the employees were often expected to be sacrificed and while working on beloved series like The Walking Dead and Batman, the crew was constantly understaffed. It’s not uncommon for game developers to undergo crunch, but the former devs at Telltale Games went from one crunch directly into another. After all is said and done, they did this because of the love they felt for the characters they created.

Unfortunately only Telltale Games has the licenses and not the devs who just got laid off. And while a lot of people keep bothering the developers with questions about plans to make their own games with those characters (which they cannot do, unless Telltale Games will just give them the rights), luckily there are also a lot of people who show their support. People have already donated money to individual developers, and a lot of companies reached out to the ex-Telltale workers through social media. People are also helping each other out by sharing other’s requests for work-for-hire jobs. Still, it is unsure how many of the ex-employees landed on their feet so shortly after the disaster.

The people at Telltale Games had a lot of overtime work hours which will never be paid. They might have to wait for their first paycheck to get an income. It might take two weeks to even a month before people will see their first paycheck after just starting a new job. While people struggle to pay their bills, ‘fans’ feel like there is a new light clearing the dark. At least for them, Stranger Things has a chance of happening since Netflix is involved. Netflix already said that they will definitely love to see a game based on their popular Sci-Fi series, and they are already evaluating other options to bring this project to life.

Still, it is unsure if that means that Telltale will work on it or that this new evaluated option will be a Telltale-style game. Telltale Games also recently stated on Twitter that they are evaluating new ways to publish episode 2 and 3 of The Walking Dead as well. One thing’s for sure, even in the unlikely event that Telltale could make Stranger Things and Walking Dead Episodes with funds from others, the company will never be the same without all the fired employees who put their souls in earlier games. For a lot of people on Twitter it seems like the management of Telltale games doesn’t have any clue what’s going on – implying they are still searching for ways to get the Walking Dead completed while everyone just got fired. To be honest, this situation gives an impression of how the management of Telltale Games most likely thinks about their former employees: ‘they are just replaceable pawns.’

Luckily some of the former Telltale people know how to protect themselves against their former boss. A former employee has started a class-action lawsuit against the company and claimed it violated California labor laws. Telltale itself is based in San Rafael, California and the California WARN Act states that in case of a ‘mass layoff’ employees require at least a 60 days notice before such an event can occur. All the people who created your Telltale memories might be able to get 60 days worth of back pay and the value of the benefits they normally should have received.

It’s clear that the effects from this story will linger for a while. Even now everything, all the stories derived from Telltale Games make me emotional, with tears that are on the verge of shedding. But this time I am not concerned about the characters from the Walking Dead and the deadly choices they are involved in. This time I am shocked by the selfish acts of the ‘fans’ and the former employers, thinking only of the video games, instead of the people behind them. Which is saddening and maddening, because it isn’t the studio that makes games. It is the people behind the studio who do the hard work!

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Kevin de Bruin
Freelance game, tech and movie journalist from the Netherlands.

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