Over the past 12 months, multiple former employees of The Walking Dead developer Telltale Games, which closed down last year, have told stories about the brutal crunch culture within the studio. Narrative designer Rachel Noel has spoken of 80-hour work weeks, and this week another former narrative designer, Emily Grace Buck, told GameInformer that last-minute changes to games mandated crunch for a “huge percentage of the studio”. Following that report, studio co-founder and former CEO Kevin Bruner told the publication that working at Telltale was “trial by fire”, but that crunch was necessary to keep the studio afloat for as long as possible.
“For other studios, it happens all the time in games where, ‘Our release date is this fall’ and then the studio will announce that fall, ‘Oh you know what, the game wasn’t ready, we pushed it out until next spring.’ And that really wasn’t something that Telltale could do,” he said. “We didn’t have the budgets to delay production that long; we didn’t have the cushion.”
Bruner, who left Telltale in 2017, said that crunch was “really hard to manage” because employees were determined to make their games a success, but that ultimately the quality of the output outweighed the negatives of crunch. “I’m not saying it was easy, but the fact that so many people made really compelling, really great, highly regarded content to me makes it seem like Telltale was a nurturing place,” he said.
“It was trial by fire, but there were definitely opportunities to succeed there and many, many people did. I take a lot of pride in that but it cuts both ways. Succeeding there was hard.”
Earlier this week, in GameInformer’s original report, Bruner suggested that the studio tried to “create an environment” where employees had to work long hours to survive.
“For me, at an executive level, all the way down to the animator, if you see an opportunity to make the game better, and you know it’s going to ship in a week and you care about the content, it’s really hard to walk away from the content and just say, ‘You know what? This is as good as it’s going to get. I’m going home,’” he said. “We tried to create an environment where you really had to do that to survive at Telltale, because we didn’t have these three-year-long production cycles.”