Despite critical acclaim, Tales from the Borderlands was not a commercial success for Telltale Games. Another season seems pretty unlikely, then.
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That’s according to game director Nick Herman, who joins several other Telltale and Gearbox staff in giving an oral history of the game’s development to the Campo Santo quarterly.
Towards the end of the season, despite strong reviews, Herman admits “sales for Tales from the Borderlands weren’t great. They were decent, it’s not like we were losing money, but compared to something like The Walking Dead, it wasn’t on the same level.”
This led to pressure to “wrap this season up quick” and move staff to other projects, which Herman resisted so as to properly conclude the story. In the end, Herman agreed to give up most of his staff and try to wrap things up with a skeleton crew.
“Pierre [Shorette, a writer] and I talk about how it’s hard enough to just make a shitty thing; that’s like 75% of the work,”he says. “I guess it just seems crazy to not push for that last 25% and give yourself a shot at making something special.”
A week or so after it all wrapped up, Herman says “the adrenaline wore off, and I realized I had no clue what came next. I hadn’t really thought about what happened after Borderlands, and as I looked at what was on the horizon, I had a hard time getting excited for the next thing. Tales was my life for two years, and internally it was perceived as a failure. Critically it was a huge success, but from a sales and production standpoint, it wasn’t awesome.”
Accordingly, he expected that the game’s final release wouldn’t be much celebrated within the studio, and indeed “there wasn’t a whole lot of high fives and crowd surfing.”
Making an episodic narrative game from a co-op loot shooter always felt like a bit of a risk compared to Telltale’s usual fare, but it turned out pretty well. In a week in which Hellblade’s threat of permadeath caused a storm all over social media (only to be proved hollow by PCGamesN), it’s sad to learn that another risky decision by a developer, which ultimately produced a good game, has not been financially rewarded.