The news broke out Friday that Telltale Games has laid off over 250 members of their staff and only kept 25 members of the staff to complete the Minecraft Story Mode for Netflix. This is the same company that has produced many hit titles such as The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Batman, Game of Thrones, and Tales of Borderlands and their upcoming titles included a sequel to Game of Thrones, and The Wolf Among Us and an upcoming Stranger Things title. The news came out of nowhere and those titles were canceled. The biggest hit from the titles is The Walking Dead as their final season of the game just started over a month ago and after the second episode which will release this Tuesday, we will not get the rest of the planned episodes. This caused a huge uproar online due to the fact that many people has paid for season passes for the game and they cannot give out refunds to the people who has purchased the game expecting a full season.
Since then, the hashtag of #TellTaleJobs started trending and major gaming studios started to pick up on this and it shows a good sign that they want to hire many of the former developers. Of the many developers, I have interviewed one of them and his name is Johnathan Straw of Telltale Games and this is what he had to say of the situation:
Me:Hey Jonathan. Thank you for taking the time for this interview. I appreciate it very much. What can you tell me about the situation at Telltale and did you have any indicator that this was going to happen on Friday?
Jonathan: “Here’s my side of things. I was actually on PTO on Friday, and noticed something was up as I was waiting for my flight at SFO. I noticed rumblings through our Slack channels, and saw an all hands company meeting appear on the calendar. Shortly after I saw a cryptic condolences message on Slack and began asking for clarification on what had happened. While waiting for a response, my company email account force signed off. Then peers started alerting me through Slack that the company had been closed and everyone had half an hour to vacate, then return on Monday to gather belongings. There was no indication that this was going to happen. In fact, just within the last week or two, we had made new hires, and one of my supervisors had just returned from intern recruitment outreach in Florida. I had a meeting on Thursday right before the closure concerning training plans for transitioning the studio to Unity, and even had a candid conversation about converting my employment status from project hire to permanent hire. Both of my immediate supervisors were enthusiastic about advocating for my conversion. My team had a major project review that is typical and routine to our development process still on the calendar as the employees were being ushered out of the building. All I can really say is that everything was running as normal until suddenly it wasn’t.”
Me: Yikes! This is crazy. So of the 25 that stayed, were they alerted also, or they found out as it happened. And there is a load of rumor and innuendo going on with the last few episodes of the game including the talked about situation of the way they will be released and that the CEO’s only focused on gathering as many IP’s as possible. Would you like say your input about it here?
Jonathan: “I don’t even know who the 25 retained employees are. I won’t comment about rumor and innuendo. The official statements from Pete Hawley and Telltale official social channels are as much as I know about project and IP status. I hadn’t gotten to a point in my employment to begin exploring our IP library, as I was primarily focused with getting The Walking Dead: The Final Season out the door. Even if I knew what else we were exploring, I wouldn’t be able to reveal them if they hadn’t already been announced by the company.”
Me: Interesting. My final question is, since a number of former employees were let go while their health benefits were cut, did that happen to you as well? And do you feel that there was an over saturation with the amount of people that were hired through them? I would also would like to add in that there will be a class action lawsuit (which just came out today) against Telltale. Would you like to comment on that?
Jonathan: “All my benefits were rescinded immediately just like everyone else’s. I didn’t feel there was an over-saturation of hires. I was hired after the November layoffs, and it was a bit sad to see a quarter of the building empty where there were previously desks and people when I first interviewed. The teams I saw there were adequately streamlined, and in general we were all working under better creative conditions both from my observations based on my previous employment at Telltale Games (2010 – 2012) and from sentiments among my peers. I am following the class action lawsuit. We have all been discussing the legality of the lay-offs, but none of us are lawyers. I suppose it was only a matter of time until this all caught the attention of lawyers. If it gets me and my peers the severance we all deserve, then I am all for it. Fortunately, I have been in this kind of situation before. I am prepared with alternate sources of income, independent game projects of my own making, and a healthy network of friends in the industry.”