That said, we’re not here to actually talk about that, because, as part of this story, Game Informer just recently made a long interview with Telltale co-founder Kevin Bruner public, which was not only cited in incomplete chunks in the first article but also contains some fascinating tidbits of information about Telltale and the kind of mentality that goes into making a company like it.
The interview itself is definitely worth a read, but there’s one section, in particular, that’s extremely pertinent to most discussions of the industry and how it’s running: their approach to crunch time.
Here’s the abridged quote:
Telltale was a really different studio because of its episodic nature. I always – it’s like Saturday Night Live, right? If you’re a writer or performer on a show like that, or any serialized show, you have to write a show a week. The show curtain goes up regardless of how ready you are. On other serialized shows, like if you were working on Mad Men or something like that, you have a fixed amount of time to deliver so much content. That’s really hard to do.
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. We didn’t have the budgets to delay production that long; we didn’t have the cushion. We were serialized – we sold season passes to people – so we needed to get them their content…
…We tried to create an environment where you really had to [crunch] to survive at Telltale, because we didn’t have these three-year long production cycles. You would have to say, "You know, I need to go home and not work on the game that I care so deeply about and that I want to be the best game ever, because this is the chance I get to work on Batman or this is the chance I get to work on that or the other thing. I know they’re going to record my script in two days and I want it to be as good as it can be.
He wouldn’t be the only higher-up in the game industry to go to bat for crunch time: Rockstar famously tried to brag about their crunch time (a mistake) while CD Projekt Red defended the practice by saying their approach, “isn’t for everyone.” Kevin Bruner didn’t attribute the crunch hours to part of the reason the studio shut down, but I think if you ask anyone who’s been paying attention, it probably played at least a small role in the untimely demise of Telltale.
Anyway. Good reads all around. Give it a look if you have time.