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Former Telltale staff complain of a toxic working culture at The Walking Dead studio

Former Telltale staff complain of a toxic working culture at The Walking Dead studio

Ex-employees of narrative-focused games studio Telltale have spoken out about the company's toxic working culture.

The Verge has spoken to more than a dozen former staff, who speak about a working environment with "constant overwork, toxic management and creative stagnation".

In short, the company tripled in size following the success of The Walking Dead, taking on licenses such as Minecraft, Batman and Game of Thrones, but The Verge's sources speak of a studio that never adapted to this growth, with a gang mentality between different teams. Often employees would have no idea who they were working with outside of their respective teams. This contributed to a lack of shared knowledge.

“Very rarely people were writing things down on a wiki or a confluence page or any sort of documentation,” said one former employee.

“People were shifting so often that you would hear a version of a story that was actually weeks old, and the person telling you has no idea because that’s the last thing they heard.”

The departure of Jake Rodkin and Sean Vanaman - the creative force behind The Walking Dead - served to create a gap that no-one at Telltale was able to fill.

The Verge is not particularly kind to studio co-founder Kevin Bruner, with sources claiming that following the success of The Walking Dead he became harder to work with. The aforementioned of Rodkin and Vanaman didn't help matters either, with Bruner reportedly not giving positive reinforcement to other employees lest they leave also.

With this, the studio's designs stagnated - with developers not wanting to rock the boat and change up the formula too much. Game makers complain that projects often felt tailored to his whims, more than any other audience's.

“That’s when things got really bad,” says a former employee. “I think a lot of the insecurity came from The Walking Dead.”

“I think that [the praise that Rodkin and Vanaman received] really irked [Bruner] a lot. He felt that… he deserved that. It was his project, or it was his company. He should have gotten all that love.”

The Verge spoke to Bruner as well, allowing him to address the criticisms levelled against him.

"All Telltale productions were truly team efforts and I thought it was important that they be presented that way," he said.

"Developing any game is an enormously complicated endeavour with many people working together to make it happen.

"I don't think anyone was intentionally bullied or belittled. The episodic nature of the games meant decisions had to get made quickly so we could produce the best possible content."

Telltale laid off a quarter of its workforce at the end of last year

PCGamesInsider Contributing Editor

Alex Calvin is a freelance journalist who writes about the business of games. He started out at UK trade paper MCV in 2013 and left as deputy editor over three years later. In June 2017, he joined Steel Media as the editor for new site In October 2019 he left this full-time position at the company but still contributes to the site on a daily basis. He has also written for, VGC, Games London, The Observer/Guardian and Esquire UK.