Telltale doesn’t make games like other people.
It doesn’t begin a game with a prototype or concept art, instead it starts with a script.
We don’t produce a game visually until we feel we have completed the script,” explains Job Stauffer, the head of creative communications at The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Batman developer.
We play our games on paper. We book a room with five dozen people who then playtest a script… just like how Hollywood begins a movie or a TV show.”
It’s just one of many examples where Telltale behaves more like a TV production house than a games studio. It releases its titles in episodes, it produces multiple ‘series’ a year – some are spin-offs from other video games (Minecraft and Borderlands), while others are comic book and novel adaptations (The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Batman).
TellTale’s games are now almost always released at physical retail.
Initially, disc lovers would have to wait for all the episodes to be ready before they could buy a boxed Telltale game. But that’s changed, with the firm now releasing a physical version at the same time as the digital release.
When Telltale was founded back in 2004, the episodic, digitally-delivered method was really the key,” says Stauffer.
There was an audience that we wanted to reach without needing retail. If we could do that and create pieces of content where fans can play one bit and give us feedback… that would be fantastic. It wouldn’t have been possible without digital distribution.
Flash forward 12 years, and physical retail has become a very big part of our business as well. It has been a fantastic way to reach a wider audience that hasn’t embraced downloads. Typically, when shows are running on TV, you might find a box set in stores that will allow you to watch the whole thing again. We took that model – once we had finished with all the episodes, we released a box set.
However, with all modern consoles being connected online anyway, we have switched to the season pass disc method. It is an opportunity for people that love retail versions of games. They can buy the season pass disc, and every time a new episode is released, it just updates automatically.”
"We are always trying to reach different
audiences with each creative partner."
Job Stauffer, Telltale
Telltale is also a company that spends more time talking about writers and actors than it does designers.
It’s why, Stauffer says, the company has been able to strike up strong relationships with non-traditional games companies, such as HBO, DC, Marvel, USA Network and a whole host more.
We are interactive story tellers, and when we are partnering with someone like Robert Kirkman and Skybound, or comic story tellers, TV story tellers, DC Warner Bros or whoever… we are speaking the same language.”
Telltale is enjoying perhaps its biggest year so far, and with an ever-growing list of hit titles, the firm has become inundated with requests from studios, production houses and writers who want to work with it.
Humbly, yes, it has come to that situation,” Stauffer admits. Regrettably, we cannot produce everything that we’d love to make, or our partners would love us to work on. We have to be very selective. It’s a great position to be in. That’s what has helped make 2016 such an incredible year with Mr Robot, Walking Dead, Minecraft and Batman… and 2017 is just going to look even better. Walking Dead will be continuing into the New Year, the Marvel project will kick off next year, there are more projects we haven’t announced yet and there is original IP in our future. It is the best time in Telltale’s very long history.”
As a result of such popularity, Telltale has found itself collaborating with other studios on projects. It’s just teamed up with Night School – a developer formed by ex-Telltale staff – to create a Mr Robot mobile game. The title takes place within Mr Robot’s first series, and sees players interact with characters from the show via text messages.
Most of our projects are developed in-house – Batman, Walking Dead, Minecraft, our Marvel project, it’s all in-house. But we have been expanding and collaborating with other developers, like Night School,” says Stauffer.
It is exciting when we are partnering up with things that are expanding narrative. But we are not just limiting ourselves with narrative work. We’re also collaborating with games that we just like to play. Just this summer we worked with a studio called the Fun Pimps and helped them release their game 7 Days To Die on console. It has actually been one of our biggest releases at retail that we have ever shipped. It is a tremendously fun, survival horror crafting game that took Steam by storm. We knew there was an opportunity to bring it to a bigger audience on console, so we thought we’d help.
We are very fortunate to be in this position where we get to curate and pick and choose the games that we want to bring to our fans.”
He continues: Our predominate focus will be what we are making in-house. But you will be seeing more publishing and creative collaborations in the coming months.”
During our interview, there was undeniably a swagger and confidence about Telltale. It does its best to sound humble, but this is a studio that has moved from launching niche episodic PC games, to becoming a major player in the entertainment business, one which works with the biggest companies in the world. It’s even secured Warner Bros as its publishing partner for boxed games.
What’s more, Telltale has found itself in the rare situation where it has fans of all its work. Only a few studios can boast the sort of customers that buy everything it releases, and Telltale finds itself sitting alongside the likes of Valve, Rockstar, Blizzard and Nintendo.
We adore and love the fans that play everything that we do. We wouldn’t be here without them,” Stauffer opines. At the same time, we don’t expect fans of one particular franchise to be fans of another. When we partner creatively with a team like Mojang, and build something for folk of all ages, like Minecraft Story Mode, it’s not our expectation that that audience goes and plays Batman. We are happy that we have fans of Telltale that want to explore everything, but we are always trying to reach different audiences with each creative partner.”
It seems to be working, at least thus far, and Telltale has a strong reputation for pushing the envelope in terms of interactive story-telling. Not all of its titles have won critical plaudits, of course, and some critics have talked of ‘Telltale fatigue’. However, by working with other studios, and targeting new audiences, the firm will hope it can avoid the pitfalls that over-familiarisation can bring.
The Mr Robot project is a good example,” concludes Stauffer. There was talk of it being a Telltale game, but actually Night S