Studio layoffs leave game industry in the lurch

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Promotional image of Telltale's The Walking Dead: The Final Season (image courtesy of Telltale Games)

Tragedy struck the gaming industry when Telltale Games announced its closure over Twitter on Sept. 21.

The studio laid off almost 250 people, only keeping 25 employees to “fulfill the company’s obligations to its board and partners.”

“It’s been an incredibly difficult year for Telltale as we worked to set the company in a new course,” said CEO Pete Hawley in the Twitter statement. “Unfortunately, we ran out of time trying to get there.”

The Skeleton Crew is reportedly left to finish Netflix’s Minecraft: Story Mode adaptation according to a quote Netflix gave Polygon.

The announcement came days before the release of the second episode of the final season of the company’s acclaimed “The Walking Dead” game.

It was a surprise to the development staff, who was given no signs of the impending closure and laid off without severance and only nine days before benefits expired.

The company has also removed “The Walking Dead: Season 4” from storefronts entirely.

Telltale announced it would look for outside funding to help finish season 4, however it was unclear if they would also be hiring on the former staff or paying the severance with this funding, leading to backlash.

Recently, Robert Kerkman announced at New York Comic Con that his company Skybound Games would be taking over development and will be publishing the fourth season of Telltale’s “The Walking Dead.”

A Skybound Games spokesperson told Variety the company intends to work with the original development team to complete the game, however, nothing has been finalized.

Although the story seems to be headed in a positive direction, the swift closure of the studio has sparked discussion about the volatile nature of the games industry, with calls for unionization.

As for how it affects Delta and it’s future game developers, all professors can do is prepare game development students for the industry.

“[Closures like this] do make me worry about my students,” Computer Science and Game Development Professor Lisa Perez said. “but one of the things we talk about in the game design class is how volatile the industry is and the fact that when a game is being created, they do mass hires, and when the game is completed they’ll suddenly do mass layoffs and only keep critical staff, and then repeat the cycle later.”

Students are enticed by good pay and dreams of working in the industry.

“The students are often so eager to get into the industry that they a lot of times are willing to accept the risks associated with it,” Perez said.

This sentiment is echoed with the students, with a few of them being judgmental of the situation, offering reasons for the closure.

“It sucks that everyone lost their jobs, but they have to change their genres based on what is popular,” Delta game development student Elliott Paulk said. “Telltale never had [something like fortnite], they’re more about serious and mature storytelling, and that’s great but as we see the industry has changed and narrative games have suffered. That’s just the games industry, it follows trends.”

Some students are worried about the risks of layoffs in the industry.

“It’s pretty major, how many people were laid off, so it does scare me knowing that,” said Delta game development student Briana Recod. “It’s a shame, because they have made a lot of really good games, and having to close like that, laying off all those people, and not having insurance on top of that, it’s just a shame that all these people lost their jobs in one fell swoop.”