Five years after all but shutting up shop in 2018, Telltale Games are once again laying off staff. The company let “most” of its employees go in September, according to former staffer and cinematic artist Jonah Huang, who began posting about the situation on Xitter earlier in the week. Telltale have now confirmed aspects of Huang’s story, while declining to specify how many jobs have been chopped.
“Due to current market conditions, we regrettably had to let some of our Telltale team go recently,” the studio wrote in a statement. “We did not take this action lightly, and our commitment to storytelling and finding new ways to do so remains the same. We are grateful to everyone for their dedication along this journey, and we are working to support everyone impacted.”
It’s unclear how the layoffs will affect development of Telltale’s on-going Expanse adaptations or The Wolf Among Us 2, which has already been delayed out of 2023 to avoid overworking staff, but the company insisted in their statement that “all projects currently in development are still in production, and we have no further updates at this time.”
The Telltale cuts are the latest in a series of brutal mass layoffs at major videogame companies, with Epic recently carving away 830 staff following what their CEO Tim Sweeney described as an “unrealistic” period of over-investment – naturally, he’s not amongst those clearing his desk. Creative Assembly have begun a redundancy process following the cancellation of their shooter Hyenas, while Team 17 are cutting staff for the second time this year. Back in January, Microsoft fired almost 10,000 workers across several studios and departments, blaming the state of the global economy and shifting consumer spending patterns.
In his Xitter thread, Huang took the opportunity to broach the evergreen subject of videogame industry unionisation. “Now, I focus on what matters to me – my own game, and the following words: Games industry, we must UNIONIZE,” he wrote, calling on peers to fill out the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees rates and working conditions survey, hosted by GameWorkers.org.
This is Huang’s second time being laid off from Telltale – he was originally hired back in 2015, and later rejoined the company’s post-2018 reincarnation to work on The Wolf Among Us 2. “I do not want Telltale to fail,” he wrote in the thread. “I genuinely want to see it succeed. Telltale gave me a good deal this time around, but still, it ended the same way most jobs in games end: a layoff, not a retirement. I ask my fellow game devs to fight for better.”
How can unions help when companies try to fire giant swathes of their workforce? I can’t say I’m an expert on the subject, but I’ve been mass-laid-off myself, and the very short version is that they can at least fight for fairer terms of dismissal, while also applying more general pressure for executives to keep workers in mind before they take any risks with the business. Polygon has a good, comprehensive guide to unionisation if you want to read more.
There have been a number of major unionisation efforts this year, reflecting widespread support for the idea among developers. In January, QA staff at ZeniMax voted to form the largest union in the games industry, with over 300 members (and parent company Microsoft’s blessing, in public at least). In July, Sega of America employees voted to form the Allied Employees Guild Improving Sega union, bringing together over 200 staff from several departments including marketing, QA and live service support. More recently, Genshin Impact voice actors called for unionisation after months of alleged unpaid work.
Best of luck to everybody affected by the Telltale news.
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