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Telltale Games lays off much of its staff, plans studio shutdown (update)

Only 25 people remain at Telltale

Walking Dead

Telltale Games, developer of licensed adventure games such as the Walking Dead series, Game of Thrones and Batman, has laid off most of its staff as it prepares to shut down completely.

Both Game Informer and USGamer, citing unnamed sources, say that The Walking Dead: The Final Season will not be completed. Their reports say the skeleton crew remaining is working on the Minecraft: Story Mode adaptation for Netflix, due later this fall.

The company posted the following message on its official Twitter account after online reports about the layoffs began to surface:

“Today Telltale Games made the difficult decision to begin a majority studio closure following a year marked by insurmountable challenges,” the message reads. “A majority of the company’s employees were dismissed earlier this morning, with a small group of 25 employees staying on to fulfill the company’s obligations to its board and partners.”

Other employees have confirmed that this means the company is technically still operating, but only for the immediate future.

“I can’t confirm anything and please remember I don’t speak for Telltale, but through good fortune or sheer dumb luck I’m one of the remaining skeleton crew at the company,” a narrative designer for Telltale wrote on Twitter. “I’ve seen a lot of people unsure of what that means for the company and if we’re staying open. We’re not. It’s part of the press release Pete put out. We’re seeing through an obligation. All I can say is that this is an impermanent solution and I’ll be out a job soon, too. I also want to be clear that it is absolutely agonizing to feel like I’m riding something into the ground.”

We’ve reached out to Telltale Games for further comment, but CEO Pete Hawley offered last words of his own.

“We released some of our best content this year and received a tremendous amount of positive feedback, but ultimately, that did not translate to sales,” he said, hinting at reports that bankruptcy played a part in the decision to close.

Telltale co-founder Kevin Bruner, who left the company a year and a half ago, also published a blog post discussing the layoffs.

“Today, I’m mostly saddened for the people who are losing their jobs at a studio they love,” Bruner wrote. “And I’m also saddened at the loss of a studio that green-lit crazy ideas that no one else would consider. I’m comforted a bit knowing there are now so many new talented people and studios creating games in the evolving narrative genre.”

Other members of Telltale’s staff had harsher words for the situation on social media.

A Verge feature story from earlier this year described layoffs at a company that suffered from mismanagement and a lack of new ideas, leading to a plan that would focus on fewer, higher-quality games.

“By all accounts, the layoffs were handled as professionally and gently as possible,” the Verge reported. “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.”

The Walking Dead: The Final Season’s first episode premiered Aug. 14, and the second is due to launch on Sept. 25. Polygon has reached out to Telltale Games for confirmation that the season is canceled, and to ask what, if anything, it intends to do about those who paid $19.99 for the Season Pass comprising four episodes. A $29.99 “Season Pass” disc was also due to launch on Nov. 6 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Founded in 2004, Telltale Games spent nearly 15 years popularizing the choice-based, story-heavy adventure game genre. The studio was built from the DNA of LucasArts, another studio that led the way in making games with quirky, meaningful storytelling. Despite the highs of The Walking Dead seasons and The Wolf Among Us, recent superhero retellings and other projects failed to capture much commercial notice.

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