Post by zyphon on Mar 21, 2018 22:39:45 GMT
So there's this really great article from The Verge by Megan Farokhmanesh that tracks Telltale's rise, fall, and redemption. I'd highly recommend it.
Here are some highlights:
On Massive Debt to Investors:
"To make this style of gaming mainstream (and profitable) again, the co-founders decided to focus on improving interactive storytelling and deepen the role-playing that came along with it. In 2007, Telltale raised more than $6 million in venture capital funding, investments that inevitably came with strings — namely a burden to prove growth and success to a board of members outside of the direct studio."
On Rodkin and Vanaman being the reason why TWD S1 was a masterpiece:
"Internally, multiple sources pointed to a specific locus for the success of The Walking Dead: lead developers Jake Rodkin and Sean Vanaman. Vanaman wrote several of the game’s episodic chapters, and Vanaman and Rodkin directed the first chapter and guided the overall first season together. If Telltale’s financial woes had one positive creative impact on The Walking Dead, it’s that the poor reception for Jurassic Park meant the studio had little time to slow or halt development. The game had to come out, which gave the Walking Dead creative team leverage to ignore or skirt around feedback from upper management that they vehemently disagreed with. Rodkin and Vanaman developed a reputation as personalities strong enough to challenge the founders on creative decisions, and pushed over and over again to create the game the way that they wanted, says a source familiar with the project. “They won, and it ended up being this huge success.”"
On the failure to move on from an indie mindset:
"Sources say the culture of the studio never properly adapted from its indie mentality to one more appropriate for its larger size. Tribal knowledge persisted over clearly documented processes, and a lack of communication among employees bred confusion. “Very rarely people were writing things down on a wiki or a confluence page or any sort of documentation,” says a former employee. “People were shifting so often that you would hear a version of a story that was actually weeks old, and the person telling you has no idea because that’s the last thing they heard.”"
On Telltale's constant Crunch-Time:
"Developers who were given a six-day-a-week schedule that lasted months typically felt they had two choices: quit or suck it up. “What happens is the people who give a fuck the most are the people who pay the price,” says a former employee. “[People who] take a lot of pride in this product are the people who are going to kill themselves. And those are the people you really don’t want killing themselves because they have the most value in the company.”
More than half a dozen sources across the company also talked about a perceived culture of underpayment, citing salaries below industry standards that also required living in the notoriously expensive Bay Area. Issues of crunch and underpayment were particularly pervasive for the cinematics team, which was staffed by many junior members who had come straight from college."
On Kevin Bruner being a control freak:
"“That’s when things got really bad,” says a former employee. “I think a lot of the insecurity came from The Walking Dead.” The game’s success had significantly raised the profiles of Rodkin and Vanaman and earned them widespread praise. “I think that that really irked [Bruner] a lot,” says the source. “He felt that… he deserved that. It was his project, or it was his company. He should have gotten all that love.”
Some say Bruner’s behavior led Rodkin and Vanaman to ultimately leave after the wildly successful first season of The Walking Dead. “They were tired of fighting with [Bruner],” says a source with direct knowledge. They jumped into indie development and founded their own studio called Campo Santo, where they released the award-winning game Firewatch. One source points to Campo Santo’s success, along with Night School Studios and its supernatural thriller Oxenfree — co-created by former Telltale veteran Adam Hines — as a catalyst for Bruner’s tightening grip.
“He was hesitant to give anyone much credit for having significant creative vision,” one source says. “He thought they would leave and become a competitor because he had a couple of strong examples of people doing exactly that.” If Bruner’s behavior was aimed at quashing future competitors, however, it only wound up driving more people out the door. Those who stayed as project leads often felt that they were no longer trusted to do their jobs, and were shuffled to the side in favor of giving Bruner the limelight. “There was a dark period of time where if you were in charge of a project, you are not getting any interviews,” one source says. “He’s going to be the one on the panel. He’s going to be the one doing the interviews. He’s going to be the one in the magazine.”"
On Bruner being a piece of shit:
"Executive review meetings with higher-ups like Bruner became infamous within the company as brutal, hours-long arguments where Bruner would belittle and question the choices of those involved with the studio’s projects, according to half a dozen sources. “When [Bruner] saw something he decided he didn’t like — which very often was exactly what he had asked for — [that] were really undeserved and often really difficult for teams to deal with,” the source says."
On Bruner stifling innovation:
"Although developers tried to introduce new, more adventurous mechanics into games, including reinventing how quick-time events would work, their work never came to light. Despite the inherently unfinished nature of the sort of prototype they presented, developers felt that they still needed to present something “shippable” in order to get their ideas approved. “If it at all looked janky or not fixed or not done, [Bruner] would say no to it,” says one source with direct knowledge of the process. “He just lacked that insight, to see beyond what was there and go ok, I see where this was going.”"
On Last Year's layoffs:
"By all accounts, the layoffs were handled as professionally and gently as possible. Those who had lost their jobs were paid out until the end of the year, and Telltale planned a job fair for them to meet and speak with recruiters. People were not denied severance or escorted from the building by security, but given time to gather their things and say goodbye. The remaining staff was given the rest of the day off so that they could spend time with their departing co-workers; they gathered at a pub in downtown San Rafael.
Many say they don’t fault Hawley for the cuts, but see them as the result of years of questionable business decisions. “Where Telltale was [as a company] right then, absolutely inevitable,” says Rafferty. “It was certainly preventable by not scaling up as aggressively as they did … I think this new guy came in and saw that, and was like we’ve gotta do something about it. I don’t totally blame him for doing what needs to be done to make the studio work.”"
On Telltale's hopefully bright future after this dark age:
"Although people within Telltale are still saddened by the loss of so many of their colleagues, many said they now feel more optimistic about the developer’s future than they have in a long time. “We’re certainly at a place where we have more freedom to experiment than we ever had in the past,” says one source. “Between last year and now the difference in the company is like night and day. I now walk into an executive review meeting knowing I’ll get usable feedback instead of wondering who will be in charge of the project tomorrow.”
The company will continue with its previously announced projects, including new seasons of established properties like Game of Thrones and The Wolf Among Us. One source tells The Verge that those production plans were not impacted by the layoffs.
Among those projects is The Walking Dead: The Final Season, slated for summer 2018. Six years after the first episode’s release, the fourth season of the game that helped define the best and worst of the studio will mark the end of an era — and perhaps the beginning of a new one. Telltale repeatedly declined any interviews for this article, with a representative noting in an email, “We want to be able to show our fans what the future of Telltale looks like rather than simply tell them, and we’re just not ready to do that yet.”"