Max Cartwright / Mon 3rd Apr 2017
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Don't get me wrong, I love Telltale Games. The Walking Dead: Season One is a game that holds some of my most emotional gaming memories. In fact, it's my love for the studio that has me asking the question: what's going wrong?
Telltale Games recently announced their latest project, Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series. If you hadn't heard, you're not alone. The announcement has received a less than overwhelming response so far, with an approximate 150,000 views and 5:2 like-to-dislike ratio on the release trailer at the time of writing. That might not seem too bad, but for a studio that was once the darling of the games industry, it demonstrates a steep decline in public interest.
So what's the problem? Let's start by taking a quick look at the studio's early history. Telltale released their first game, Telltale Texas Hold'em, in 2005, to relative obscurity. The hardworking development studio continued producing games but didn't see a major critical and commercial success until they released The Walking Dead: Season One in 2012. This smash hit sold 8.5 million copies by the time season one finished in 2012, generating over $40 million in sales for the developer. The game also saw massive success and coverage in the online gaming community, with huge YouTubers generating tens of millions of views per episode.
Fast forward to March 30, 2017. The official Telltale, official Marvel, and official PlayStation Youtube channels release a trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series. None of the videos have over 150,000 views, and have concerning like-to-dislike ratios. But the real state of public reception can be found below the trailer, in the comment section:
"...I dont want telltale to take on too many projects theyre losing some of the magic."
"Not aesthetically pleasing"
"worst telltale trailer ever"
"Why are those character models so ugly?"
"Instead of TWAU [The Wolf Among Us] season 2, they made this?!"
The concept of vocal minority should be kept in mind when reading such a negative comment section, but the fact remains that these comments were not cherry picked. These are the top comments almost chronologically (excluding comments with more - ahem - opinionated language), and each of them have hundreds of likes. In the entire first page of popular comments, I found just one positive comment. One. For a studio that was making some of the most beloved games on the market just five years ago, it's clear that something dramatic has changed.
It's not just public opinion either; Telltale's decline is being felt harshly in sales figures. SteamSpy reports that Batman - The Telltale Series, Game of Thrones - A Telltale Games Series, The Walking Dead: Michonne - A Telltale Miniseries, and Minecraft: Story Mode - A Telltale Games Series have sold 156,921, 603,018, 187,965, and 227,301 units on Steam respectively. Even with all four projects combined, the total unit sales are just half of The Walking Dead: Season One's.
In this author's humble opinion, the issue is clear. Telltale have started favouring quantity over quality. In just five years since The Walking Dead: Season One, they've developed ten different projects, and half of those were released within the last year. Despite the size of Telltale growing, it seems almost impossible to retain the same level of quality that fans fell in love with when the number of active projects is so high.
My plea to Telltale is this: please stop making so many games. Work on good ideas, not good licenses. Consumers don't want to see franchise cash-ins, they want to be, well... told a tale.