Telltale Incorporated, doing business as Telltale Games, is an American independent video game developer and publisher founded in June 2004. Based in San Rafael, California, the studio includes designers formerly employed by LucasArts. Its business model revolves around episodic gaming and digital distribution, and it is best known for its various adventure game series based on popular licensed properties.
Many of the games that have been developed by Telltale Games are released episodically. Several episodes, released together in a season, are released periodically through a certain timeframe, often concluding around half a year or so after the initial release. Despite critical and commercial success, Telltale's titles are reported to contain notable bugs and technical deficiencies.
Notable titles by Telltale include Sam and Max Save the World, Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, Tales of Monkey Island, Back to the Future: The Game, Jurassic Park: The Game, The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones, Tales from the Borderlands, Minecraft: Story Mode, and Batman: The Telltale Series.
Telltale Games was founded by Dan Connors, Kevin Bruner and Troy Molander, a group of former LucasArts employees who had been working on Sam & Max: Freelance Police, a sequel to the 1993 game Sam & Max Hit the Road, prior to its cancellation on March 3, 2004. In an early press release the vocal public response to said cancellation was cited as a main reason the company was founded. The Telltale Games team has a large collective experience working on LucasArts' famed classics.
Telltale Games was formed in San Rafael, California with the assistance of technology attorney Ira P. Rothken, who provided initial seed capital, procured angel investments, and negotiated deals involving Bone, Sam & Max, GameTap, Ubisoft, and others which led to initial revenue, marketing, and development of the core episodic game technology.
On February 11, 2005, the company released their first game, Telltale Texas Hold'em, a poker card game simulator which was intended primarily to test the Telltale Tool, their in-house game engine. This was followed by two games based on Jeff Smith's Bone comic book series. More episodes were planned, but later aborted. They then developed CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder for Ubisoft, and although it was composed of several free-standing episodes, it was released exclusively at retail as a single package. The same is true for the follow-ups, CSI: Hard Evidence, CSI: Deadly Intent, and CSI: Fatal Conspiracy.
After securing two rounds of angel investment from San Francisco Bay Area angels including superangel Matthew Le Merle and members of angel group Keiretsu Forum, Telltale attempted to buy the rights to complete Sam & Max: Freelance Police from LucasArts, but when they were denied, they secured the rights to create new games from series creator Steve Purcell. Unlike their previous games, Sam & Max: Season One (published in collaboration with GameTap) was their first episodic series released on a tight monthly schedule — a landmark for the game industry. The series proved successful, and Telltale went on to produce two additional Sam & Max seasons. Since then, they have continued to produce series based on popular licenses released in monthly, and more recently in bi-monthly, episodes. Several series that Telltale went on to work with were largely comedic, including games based on Wallace & Gromit (until 2014 when their distribution rights for Wallace & Gromit games expired) and Homestar Runner. Tales of Monkey Island, based on the popular LucasArts series, marked one of their most successful series to date, owing in part to the history many of its developers had with LucasArts adventure games.
To supplement their normal episodic games, Telltale created a pilot program in early 2010 to explore one-off games that would explore other gameplay and storytelling approaches that could eventually be incorporated into their episodic games. The first game, Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent, a puzzle-solving game in collaboration with Graham Annable, was released in the middle of June 2010, while Poker Night at the Inventory, a crossover poker game featuring characters from Sam and Max, Homestar Runner, Valve's Team Fortress 2, and the webcomic Penny Arcade, was released late in 2010. Telltale followed up Puzzle Agent with a sequel, Puzzle Agent 2, in 2011. In 2013, Telltale continued the series with Poker Night 2. The pilot program is also utilized by Telltale Games to develop new gameplay ideas that are then adapted to their normal episodic game series. The Walking Dead started out as a pilot program title that was known internally as the "zombie prototype".
Having established themselves as working with comedy franchises, Telltale later chose to work with dramatic franchises as well as comedy series. In June 2010, Telltale announced that they had secured licences with NBC Universal to develop two episodic series based on Back to the Future and Jurassic Park. Further series based on licensed properties were announced in February 2011, including series based on the comic book series The Walking Dead and Fables in association with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, and a series based on the King's Quest adventure games by Sierra. Telltale's King's Quest was confirmed to be cancelled on April 3, 2013.
By 2010, Telltale had proven itself successful, with yearly revenues of $10 million, 90% greater than the previous year. Part of this was attributed to Back to the Future: The Game, which Steve Allison, the senior vice president of marketing, called in 2011 their "most successful franchise to date". Allison stated that for most of their games, they only need to sell 100,000 copies to break even, but many of their recent releases have seen twice that number or more; he anticipated that The Walking Dead series could be a $20 to $30 million franchise. Telltale expects that with the additional licensed franchises, the studio and its revenues will continue to grow at a similar pace. They announced expectations of the studio to expand from 90 employees to 140.
In April 2011, Telltale announced another licensed episodic series, based on Law & Order: Los Angeles, which later changed to encompass multiple Law and Order shows.
In 2012, Telltale had its biggest success yet with The Walking Dead, which sold one million copies in 20 days, and topped the sales charts on Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, and Steam. Due to the success of the first game, Telltale announced a sequel in July 2012. Telltale announced intentions to move to a new location and expand from 125 to 160 in the spring of 2013, after The Walking Dead sold 8.5 million episodes.
Telltale announced two additional series, Tales from the Borderlands, based on the Borderlands series from Gearbox Software, and Game of Thrones, based on the HBO television show adaption of the books, at the 2013 Spike VGX video game awards program. Tales from the Borderlands came out of ideas discussed during the 2012 Spike Video Game Awards between Telltale and Gearbox who were sitting at adjacent tables, noting the narration and unique characters of the Borderlands series. Some time afterwards, Telltale approached Gearbox with their game concept and Gearbox readily welcomed the project. The Game of Thrones game arose from internal discussions within Telltale of what other popular franchises they would write games around, with much support given for Game of Thrones, considering it emotionally equivalent to their The Walking Dead game. They approached HBO with the concept, and after a year of negotiations, were able to secure the license.
In December 2014, Telltale Games and Mojang announced Minecraft: Story Mode, a standalone episodic title from the Minecraft game, to be released episodically in 2015. The title was developed by Telltale but used input from the Minecraft community to help fashion its story, though it did not attempt to fix any of the lore for Minecraft. The title was inspired in part by many of Telltale's developers being fans of Minecraft, as well as by awareness of published narrative content developed around the game. Discussions with Mojang towards a Telltale game began before Microsoft's acquisition of the company, though Telltale's existing relationship with Microsoft allowed the development to continue without difficulties afterwards. Patton Oswalt performed voice work for the game.
In January 2015, original CEO Dan Connors resigned; co-founder Kevin Bruner replaced him. Connors noted that with the studio's continued growth, it had begun experiencing growth-specific challenges. Connors stated that Bruner's ascension to CEO would best enable Telltale Games to act on future expansion opportunities. Connors remains on the board of directors, and also serves as a creative consultant.
In February 2015, Lions Gate Entertainment announced an investment within Telltale Games to produce a number of "Super Shows", a hybrid interactive work combining television and video game elements, which can be distributed through non-traditional channels such as through streaming services. The first Super Show planned is an original IP that Telltale has been developing that is said to be able to take advantage of this format. Telltale also announced that Lions Gate CEO Jon Feltheimer and Unity Technologies' CEO John Riccitiello joined Telltale's board of directors. Telltale announced a partnership with Marvel Entertainment to develop at least one game based on a Marvel Comics property in 2017; they later announced one title being a property based on Guardians of the Galaxy.
Under the moniker Telltale Publishing, Telltale entered into a publishing deal with Jackbox Games to bring the console versions of The Jackbox Party Pack to retail markets, and with The Fun Pimps to publish 7 Days to Die for consoles. On 18 August 2016, Telltale published Mr. Robot:1.51exfiltrati0n by Night School Studio.
On March 15, 2017, Bruner announced he had stepped down as CEO of Telltale, turning the day-to-day operations to Conners, while still remaining on the Board of Directors. Bruner said "The time has come to pass the reins to someone that can better drive Telltale to the next level and realize all the potential that is here."
Telltale Games presents itself specifically as a developer of the episodic genre. It is seen by production studios and other content producers to take a more realistic approach to movie tie-in games rather than the difficult "see the movie, play the game" model, and also collaborates with studios and screenwriters to create a strong experience that pays homage to the original film or franchise.
While mainly a developer, Telltale also verifies its self-publishing ethos; the only classic developer-publisher relationship was with Ubisoft for the CSI video game franchise. They have struck financial arrangements with GameTap for the first two seasons of the rebooted Sam & Max games, but their publishing arrangements have been chiefly made after the games were already completed and had already been sold via digital distribution.
Telltale aims to also present itself on as many digital platforms and avenues as possible. To date, it has released games through GameTap; on PC and OS X, through Steam and similar services, plus its own online store; on Wii, via WiiWare and disc; on Xbox 360, via Xbox Live Arcade and disc; on PlayStation 3, through PlayStation Network and disc; on iPhone and iPad, through iTunes; on PlayStation Vita; and, on Kindle Fire HDX. Though Telltale normally port their own games to other systems, CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder was ported to the PlayStation 2 by Ubisoft Bulgaria, and Bone: Out from Boneville was ported to Mac OS by Vanbrio. Telltale was one of the companies who Sony confirmed pledged PlayStation 4 third-party support at the PlayStation Meeting 2013.
With Bruner's placement as CEO in January 2015, Telltale said it was currently developing a game based on its own intellectual property — not just its licensed variable-in-game-chronology concept — as a result of this leadership change.
Telltale's games reportedly suffer from an abnormally high rate of bugs and other technical flaws, pervasive enough to pose a significant risk of impeding players' ability to progress through a given title. A 2015 article by Kotaku noted that "their games, wonderful in many ways as they may be, have been accompanied by an undercurrent of fan anger" over widespread bugs and glitches. The article concluded that Telltale's support forums "paint a portrait of a publisher that is constantly releasing buggy and even outright broken games", seemingly lacking the resources to fix or even monitor most of them.