Telltale laid off 90% of its employees on Friday in advance of a full studio shutdown. The company is keeping a handful of workers onboard to finish a Minecraft project with Netflix, but reports suggests that over 200 now-former employees were terminated without notice or any sort of severance. Now one of those affected has filed a class action lawsuit alleging that Telltale violated California employment laws, even as the company assures fans that plans are in motion to complete The Walking Dead.
Planned Telltale projects like Stranger Things and The Wolf Among Us 2 are unlikely to ever see the light of day, but The Walking Dead: The Final Season was in the midst of production as the bad news came through. Episode 2 launches tomorrow, but the fate of the third and fourth episodes is up in the air.
On Twitter, Telltale says “multiple potential partners have stepped forward to express interest in helping to see The Final Season through to completion. While we can’t make any promises today, we are actively working towards a solution that will allow episodes 3 and 4 to be completed and released in some form. In the meantime, episode 2 will release tomorrow across all platforms as planned. We hope to have answers for your other questions soon.”
Some fans have taken that as a relief. A release for those last two episodes would prevent Clementine’s story from ending incomplete, and it would mean those who’ve purchased the full season aren’t left with a half-finished product.
But the suggestion that Telltale would pour resources into delivering the product while leaving affected employees without severance has met with widespread condemnation from across the industry. That includes God of War director Cory Barlog.
I would hope this means that you will first pay your entire team their severance, and then proceed to finish the final episodes. I would be fine waiting however long it took to ensure we first treated those who worked so hard with the humanity and respect they deserve.❤️
— Cory Barlog 🎮 🏳️🌈 Should be writing! (@corybarlog) September 25, 2018
One former employee has filed a class-action lawsuit against Telltale, alleging that the company violated California’s WARN Act, which requires 60 days notice before layoffs occur. As Kotaku notes, the law cited does offer some exceptions for employers, including when such notice could jeopardize an attempt to acquire new capital. The courts will decide if that applies here, but as-yet-unconfirmed reports suggest that this might’ve been exactly the situation at Telltale.
Regardless of the ultimate fate of The Walking Dead’s last season, it’s distressing to see the delivery of a game put ahead of the livelihoods of those who worked to bring it to life. Game Workers Unite issued a statement after the Telltale closure with some strong words for studio management. The company reportedly kept employees crunching for years ahead of the eventual shutdown.
Clearly that was unsustainable in Telltale’s case, but long hours and unpaid overtime are not uncommon in the game industry. Many point to unionization as a solution. Whatever the specifics, the people who make our favourite games deserve better.