That Telltale was going through a rough patch was fairly well known, the company’s near-complete collapse came as a shock to many, not least the hundreds of employees that suddenly found themselves without a job and, even more importantly, without the parachute of severance pay or health insurance.
Narrative Designer Emily Grace explained the problem, which is rather endemic to the games industry in general:
To clarify some questions people have been asking (and keep in mind I am NOT a company rep)
– Around 250 people are jobless, not 225
– We did not get any kind of severance
– Our healthcare only lasts for one more week
– Many former employees were contract & can't get unemployment
— Emily Grace Buck 💖 (@emilybuckshot) September 22, 2018
In a damning statement on their website, pro-union organisation Game Workers Unite said:
Let us be clear. The executives at Telltale are incompetent. They are exploitative. They knew that this was coming and failed to warn anybody. We know that the management disregards their workers. Several reports have continually highlighted the working conditions at Telltale, demonstrating that this is more of the ongoing prioritization of board members and shareholders that has existed since the studio’s founding – always to the detriment of their employees.
They continue to champion unionisation among game developers to try and prevent these shortcoming, to ensure benefits like severance pay and healthcare when companies fail, noting that Telltale is far from the only example:
This problem is not isolated to only Telltale or the executives there – this is a problem that we see time and time again throughout the industry; and we will continue to see as long as management is able to take advantage of workers. Just within the past month we’ve seen three major studio closures. The system for creating games is broken, and it will result in the collapse of many other beloved studios in the future.
The rate at which game companies go in and out of business adds a lot of stress and peril for video game developers which leads to talent drain to other sectors with more job security. Unionisation may well be a bulwark against similar failures in future and there is a growing push among developers to unite and strengthen their position.