Recently Telltale Games, a small, indie studio that makes adventure games, has been changing in my personal estimation, and not in a good way. I’ve always been a fan of adventure games, and for the most part, when it comes to Telltale games, I’m still happy with what they’ve been producing. But, now rather than my feelings being a straightforward, “Congratulations, little-studio-that-could, good job,” I carry a sense of unease. They are still a small studio, but they are trying to do too many things, and ultimately it will hurt them. It already has.
Telltale is a little studio based in San Rafael, part of the San Francisco bay area. It was initially formed by a bunch of ex LucasArts employees who were still in love with the old adventure games the company produced before they became a Star Wars machine that, itself, was ultimately shut down. Since then, they have been quietly championing point n’ click adventure games, steadily gaining critical acclaim—and more projects—until finally, they got their breakout moment with The Walking Dead. This is great for them because they deserve the recognition for producing such an emotionally engaging game. It’s also bad because they are now taking on too many projects for a studio that is not AAA size.
In addition to the debut of season two of The Walking Dead, Telltale Games is in the middle of producing Fables: The Wolf Among Us. They’ve now also announced that they are working on a Tales from the Borderlands game, as well as a Game of Thrones game. That’s four franchises—each one being told in installments—that a small indie studio is now going to be trying to crank out at high quality and on a deadline. It already looks like it’s not working out for them.
For example, the first episode of The Wolf Among Us—based on the popular Bill Willingham Vertigo comic—is already out. In fact, it came out in October. We’re now into December, and the second episode has yet to appear, likely getting pushed to the sidelines to make sure that the first episode of The Walking Dead season two would make its December release date since that is Telltale’s “flagship” franchise right now. Even with the original Walking Dead series, there were already signs of trouble as Telltale original announced the game would be told in monthly instalments, just like a comic book. That promise was quickly withdrawn when it became clear that quality would suffer, and the series was put on a bi-monthly release schedule after the expected May 2012 release window came and went without a word from Telltale.
In the same way, we’re now nearing the end of December, and despite the expectations we had that The Wolf Among Us would probably be a bi-monthly series, there’s been no word from Telltale about when to expect the second episode as the holiday season gets into full swing. On top of this, PS3 owners in particular have been greeted with a bizarre purchasing dilemma. Despite the fact that The Walking Dead season two is a five-part game which would normally have a season pass to offer some savings for fans that want to pay for the entire collection ahead of time, that season pass is unavailable for purchase. This is the same thing that happened with the first episode of The Wolf Among Us when it debuted in October on the PSN. Customers had two choices. If they were impatient, they bought episode one, and then committed to paying full price for each subsequent episode, or they waited until Telltale announced that the season pass—which SHOULD have been on sale at the same time—was finally made available days later.
The common thread here is that these are all problems related to scheduling. Not being able to release games on time, or not even being able to properly work out a purchasing schedule with a publishing partner is clear indicator of being shorthanded. It’s very obvious that Telltale is, quite rightly, concentrating on trying to make the best game they possibly can. Unfortunately, the resources they need to allocate to make a great gaming experience are impacting their ability to deliver a good CUSTOMER experience. A good product is important, but when customers have to jump through a few hoops to get that product, it makes a bad impression. This is NOT something I want to see when adventure games are on the verge of making a comeback.