When Telltale released the first episode of The Walking Dead in April 2012, even some of the people who worked on the game were surprised by how positive the audience reaction was. By January 2013, the game had sold more than 8.5 million copies — or episodes — raking in more than $40 million in sales. In October 2013, the company claimed to have sold more than 21 million different episodes individually across all of its platforms. Telltale started to expand, signing partnerships with Gearbox Software, HBO, and Mojang and transitioning from a small studio to a midlevel company with multiple licensed properties.
The culture of the company changed dramatically as a result. Former employees describe Telltale in its early days as a small, tight-knit group with a strong sense of camaraderie. New hires trickled in slowly. Upper management had been much less involved in the day-to-day, and developers were given more freedom to do their jobs as they saw best. But the success of The Walking Dead spurred the company to expand rapidly: in order to suit both its growing ambitions and keep investors happy, it became a company that many long-standing employees no longer recognized. “We went from a small and scrappy team to kind of a giant studio full of 300-plus people,” says former Telltale programmer and designer Andrew Langley, who worked at the studio from 2008 to 2015. “You walk around the office, and you don’t really recognize anybody anymore.”
Within Telltale’s portfolio are some truly excellent examples of how strong writing and simple mechanics can create a thoroughly compelling video game. It’s a risky thing, making a game that relies so heavily on dialogue driven by user choice, but Telltale made it engaging, challenging, and authentic. Here’s to hoping they can do it again.