Current and Past Employees Say That Telltale Isn’t What It Used to Be
According to a recently published report on The Verge that drew from over a dozen sources that either currently work at Telltale Games or have worked for Telltale in the past, the developer has become a toxic work environment with overworked employees and an unpopular boss.
Apparently, several issues sprung up after Telltale finished releasing episodes for their 2012 hit The Walking Dead: Season 1. One of those issues was personal conflict. The episodic game garnered critical acclaim and sold millions of copies but internally there was significant tension between those involved in the game’s development.
The co-founder and CEO of Telltale Games, Kevin Bruner, allegedly became jealous of all the praise that the lead developers of the first season of The Walking Dead game, Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin, were receiving and felt that he was being unduly overlooked.
A former Telltale employee said to The Verge that Bruner felt that since the first season was “his project” then he should be getting all the credit, not Vanaman and Rodkin. Eventually, the two lead developers left Telltale due Bruner’s behavior, some Telltale employees say. Vanaman and Rodkin went on to found Camp Santo and launched the beloved 2016 indie game Firewatch.
The success of Firewatch and another indie game titled “Oxenfree” (which was co-created by another former Telltale employee Adam Hines), lead to Bruner becoming more and more adamant about being in the spotlight. “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,” The Verge’s report reads.
“There was a dark period of time where if you were in charge of a project, you are not getting any interviews,” one source told The Verge. “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.”
Bruner denied that he was behaving in such a way in an email to The Verge. “All Telltale productions were truly team efforts and I thought it was important that they be presented that way,” Bruner said. “Developing any game is an enormously complicated endeavor with many people working together to make it happen. This is particularly true when you make a five-episode series, with five sets of leads (writing, design, art, chore, etc.).”
Throughout the report, Bruner is described as a micromanager and a “creative bottleneck” by both former employees and sources who know about Telltale’s work environment. A running joke throughout Telltale compared Bruner’s behavior to the Eye of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings books and employees said that he created a “culture of fear” in the workplace.
Other issues at Telltale Games, according to the report: overworking developers or “crunch”, a lack of new ideas and a changing workplace culture due to the company hiring a lot more employees because of its immense success.
“Telltale’s mistakes — from its reliance on one monolithic vision to its inability to retain its top talent to its brutal and unending crunch — offer a cautionary tale for the wider games industry, where long hours, job insecurity, and unprofessional behavior are too often the norm,” the report remarked.