Today, what’s left of Telltale Games following mass layoffs on Friday released episode two of The Walking Dead: The Last Season. It’s good, and while it would take the series out on a high note, many fans are ambivalent about whatever comes next.
When the closure of Telltale was first announced on Friday, people weren’t sure if today’s episode would release at all, let alone the rest of the season. The voice actress for series’ protagonist Clementine, Melissa Hutchison, put out a statement over the weekend saying she believed that episode two would release on time and be the end of the series but that she wasn’t a hundred percent clear.
On Friday, Telltale said that a skeleton crew of a couple dozen employees would remain to work on finishing a version of its Minecraft: Story Mode, being produced for Netflix. As a result, projects like The Wolf Among Us 2 and Stranger Things have been presumed to be cancelled. The remaining episodes of The Walking Dead: The Final Season, however, were meant to release by the end of the year.
The studio’s closure has obviously thrown off that timeline. Last night, Telltale put out a statement saying that while episode two would come out as planned, it was also looking at “potential partners” to help release episodes three and four “in some form.” Episode two released today, but the future of the series remains uncertain.
Many fans understandably want to see the series conclude. Following the initial news, a fan petition was put together asking Telltale to deliver the final two episodes of the series’ story, even if that meant putting them out in comic book form. Over the past few days it’s gained over 21,000 electronic signatures.
Prior to Telltale’s statement, in a discussion thread on The Walking Dead’s Steam page, one player suggested ex-Telltale employees work for free to finish the season’s final two episodes. “If TWD cast, crew, actors and developers REALLY cared about this franchise like they claim on twitter etc., then they would return to the studio, finish the remaining 2 episodes and THEN call it a day,” the person wrote.
Today, they amended the post with an apology, saying they’d changed their mind. “As someone who’s followed Clem from the first episode, my post was a knee-jerk reaction out of desperation upon hearing the sad news,” they wrote in a follow-up. “You have to put yourself in the shoes of gamers. Some of us are ignorant (about developers’ personal lives) because we never met them (unlike the fictional characters on screen who we have bonded with over the years), hence our initial reaction was to worry more about the fate of the wrong party.”
The deep attachment many fans feel to The Walking Dead’s characters has spurred much of this reaction. The Walking Dead: Season One released in April of 2012 and ended up being one of the best games of the year. It was people’s first introduction to Clementine, a complex and deeply human character whose arc has spanned six years and four seasons. The news that she and other characters might not get the resolutions they deserved was an understandable disappointment for many. In some cases, though, this reaction upstaged the impact Telltale’s impending closure was having on the real people who brought the series’ characters to life.
In the hours and days following the layoffs, fans on social media demanded to know what the series’ future might be, a request that seemed absurd to some of those recently laid off, such as The Walking Dead: The Final Season designer Emily Buck. “‘The Company will finish it,’” she wrote on Saturday, paraphrasing fans’ hopes. “With who? ‘The company’ doesn’t make games. The people who worked for Telltale made games. Devs aren’t interchangeable cogs- the game reflects the people who make it. The Walking Dead: TFS Team is gone. We all got terminated yesterday.”
She also addressed claims that the game’s ex-developers should continue working on it on their own. “And to the few of you who’ve told me ‘The devs should finish it out of the goodness of their hearts because the fans deserve it!’...no. Very no,” she wrote. “They underpaid & overworked us to give you what you already have. We aren’t gonna make it for free.”
Closer to episode two’s release, designer Michael Kirkbride posted on the game’s subreddit encouraging people to play it. “We know it’s weird, we know it sucks, we know it’s sad in ways that’s almost impossible to articulate, and we know it’s awful that we can’t tell you what would’ve happened after, but the episode is also just goddamn good, and the best feeling we could have right now is to know it’s being played,” he wrote. One fan asked why Kirkbride couldn’t share the season’s conclusion.
“Lawyers,” he said.
Telltale’s statement Monday night gave fans their first official word on a possible ending for The Walking Dead. “Multiple potential partners have stepped forward to express interest in helping to see The Final Season through to completion,” the statement read. “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.”
On the one hand, it was exactly what the most dedicated Walking Dead fans had hoped for. Some early responses to Telltale’s tweet making the announcement were positive. “There is a god!” wrote one person. “I love you Telltale!”, wrote another. Supervising director on the game’s final season, Chris Rebbert, also welcomed the news. “Fingers crossed, guys. Please show your support!” he wrote. “I promise you wouldn’t be disappointed with how it ends!”
For others, the possibility of seeing the game concluded was overshadowed by the abrupt way the studio cut ties with over two hundred of the employees who made its games. Many focused in particular on the lack of severance given to ex-employees. “I will buy every game made by you guys if my funds go directly to a dev who lost their position,” one person tweeted back. “Pay your team first,” wrote another.
God of War’s creative director Cory Barlog was also critical of Telltale’s statement. “I would hope this means that you will first pay your entire team their severance, and then proceed to finish the final episodes,” he tweeted at the studio. “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.”
Some former Telltale employees, including Buck and others, thanked Barlog for speaking up. Buck went on to say that while there was a company mantra at Telltale that “Quality is in our DNA,” it became clear that the quality was viewed as being part of the brand, rather than something brought to each new project by the individuals working on it. “I realize they made fans believe it too,” she wrote. “That Telltale was what was quality, not the devs actually making the games.”
She continued, “We aren’t replaceable. None of the former Telltale employees are or have ever been replaceable. They’re quality. And they all deserve so much better.”
“Yall are putting me in a tough situation,” one fan tweeted. “I feel like I’m a bad person now because I do still want the game to come out to play it, but I still want the employees to get paid to.” They added that they felt bad about potentially supporting a new team to finish a game they fell in love with that was started by others now left scrambling to find new work and pay the bills.
To which Buck simply responded: “Tough choices is what we do.”