Execs pillage Telltale games, devs left with nothing


#1

So by now all of us have heard about the out of nowhere Telltale shutdown. I was waiting for someone to start a thread, and then I noticed this on PSN this morning:

These assholes have the gall to continue charging for a game that we know will not compensate the people that made it! We know this because people were given no notice, no severance, and barely any time to gather their things. I get more furious the more I hear about this, and to know that the execs will still be enriched for their incompetence makes me see red. Fuck capitalism, fuck the moneyed class, and fuck the political system that enables both.


It's Time to Radically Remake the Games Industry
#2

Ye, have been waiting for the podcast news thread (from yesterday’s podcast) to comment under the discussion had by the Waypointers (but it seems to be unusually late vs the podcast release on ACast).

Not sure which is worse, the complete collapse of a company where asset strippers will come in and possibly only pay for the bank debts of the company to acquire assets (ie not paying outstanding payroll or severance packages, just paying the investors) or this sort of almost-collapse where the legal entity of the company remains (not filed for bankruptcy protection AFAIK) but the workers experience exactly the same issues but this time the executive team aren’t even out of a job (at least by the sound of it) and may even be profiting from being able to sell off the company assets (outside of the overlap where executive team are also classified as investors and so paid off first by the bankruptcy process).

It’s all bad news and we see that the one thing protected (however these things end) is the continuing revenue streams.


#3

Having done some classes in banking and finance law, the legislation is literally set up to ensure continued revenue streams. In terms of the pecking order for who gets paid out first, it’s the creditors. Companies are supposed to pay out employees but creditors have legally enforceable claims and the means to pursue them, so they invariably come first. At least, that’s the case in Australia.

This kind of disgusting behaviour is considered good governance by regulators, and is exactly what board-appointed administrators and liquidators are employed to do. The only recourse is organising, even and especially when it’s illegal or disruptive to do so.


#4

Abso-fucking-lutely. There’s nothing illegal about what’s happening, and that’s the biggest problem.

Also, to mention yesterday’s podcast, I find it absolutely bonkers that Rob has never gotten severance in his life. In Canada, severance is required for most layoffs, and I was able to get four months pay for my last layoff after working there for three years. And that’s paltry by Euro standards! America is truly a dystopia, and hiring managers wonder why I’d never take a job in that pyramid scheme of a country.


#5

This is one of my concerns about the US small-gov mindset that absolutely appears in “we can’t work with politicians, we can only fight via unions” thinking. Actually, labour laws are where a lot of the basic rights get established and fixed in most places which have an economy somewhat similar to the US. Expecting politicians to enshrine protections in the law rather than relying on unions to force changes sector by sector (or even company by company) is the norm. Stuff like fighting for state-wide or even federal minimum wages as living wage levels would be an incredible push that ties into the general rise of political energy (and would also make a huge difference in the games industry for all the testers etc who don’t currently get a living wage). Mandatory severance (especially in cases like this where the company hasn’t actually collapsed) can be part of a legal framework (requiring companies to put aside the full cost of employment upon hiring someone - locked and guaranteed to be there if things don’t work out).

People not in the industry can’t really do that much about unionisation within games development (beyond generally nodding support for it when the topic comes up) but every US citizen can bug their representatives and candidates at every level of government about these issues of enshrining real worker rights.


#6

My understanding is that a lot of protections for workers have been eroded over time. Fights for minimum wage are a huge part of the current political landscape, too. There’s multiple fronts in the fight for improving worker’s rights. I think unions could help win legal battles, too - in my mind, I practically expect unions to be working towards legal protections. Maybe that’s not historically accurate (I don’t have the deepest knowledge of the history of worker’s rights), but with where we are right now in the US it feels like it should be a big piece of that puzzle.


#7

Yep, unions are currently working for those goals too (fight for $15, etc). But it’s one of those areas where the core of a union as a collective bargaining entity is also eroded by having to divert all their energy into fighting for the basic landscape of labour rights. If your union is spending all those dues on fighting to get the ground floor of universal rights locked in, there’s not the bandwidth left for doing the work of being reactive and doing the specific work of making sure office X is providing the environment the workers in that office need.

The other point on this is that those protections being eroded happens in the political sphere, where the removing of union protections also happens (in removing the right to strike etc). So you can have the very best union in the world but if you aren’t also directly pushing and electing politicians to solidify pro-union legal frameworks then you’ll just end up being part of an illegal union with no power (and funds seized by the state). Without the politicians working for the people, the unions can’t work. Without the basic labour rights being universalised and solid, the unions can’t work for the actual job of collective bargaining that represents the specific needs of the workers in that union (which gets into the podcast discussion about unions that can feel like a bad deal for workers - also something Patrick has talked about on previous shows about his first union job and getting basically nothing except losing the dues while working retail). Your politicians need to be this good on labour rights for unions to really shine and fixing politicians means voting the bad ones out/becoming activist citizens.

The US seems very active in directly pushing representatives, except when it comes to labour rights and then it seems to be the expectation that you mainly look to pay a union to act as a lobby for your basic rights (while living somewhere that is extremely lacking in those rights compared to elsewhere - possibly a sign that the current system is not a great way of doing things). Unless you’re not able to unionise etc. Maybe it’s not that unusual (eg not agitating for certain things but paying the ACLU a donation and leaving them to work on your behalf) but it often looks, from the outside, to be particularly skewed.


#8

So far they’ve scammed investors, they’re defrauding gamers by promising a full season of a game that they know they can’t finish, and they’ve ruined the lives of their workforce. Quite the triple feat and somebody is still going to reply “well, that’s business. The employees should have known better than to get hired by a company and uproot themselves and their families to move to the most expensive city in the country only to be jobless in a week. Nothing you can do.”

Screw that. The guys running Telltale are slime balls. Pete Hawley is a piece of shit and the world needs to remind him of that fact every day for the rest of his life. We can’t let “oo, that’s business” be our reaction to this. A century ago we’d have looked at these people as robber barons (and idiots, frankly). When did Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life become normal?


#9

Not to be overly reductive - the '80s, and the people who wanted to be Gordon Gekko in Wall Street.


#10

Or, to put it in less pop culture terms, white folks bought into Reaganism/Thatcherism to create this nightmare dystopia in which we live.


#11

Big update.


#12

I’ve seen precisely that sentiment from several tech bros on Twitter and it enrages me.

A friend of mine worked at Telltale. She’s a great writer and was so excited when she got this position. I feel physically sick for her and this kind of gross “all bow before The Company, all bow before The Market, it’s the workers’ fault for thinking anything means anything” attitude here in America makes me want to scream.


#13

It’s a testament to how good game publishers are at marketing and branding. Like you’ll never see someone go “YESSSS a new Universal film!!!” or “UGH I can’t believe Paramount is making this movie instead of Fox!” People can easily name a director two they like or a few actors they think are cool even if they’re not movie buffs. And the studio screwed over the creative vision is the go to reflex narrative any time a movie is bad.

You were about to type “What about Disney” and drop the mic after reading this, but even The Mouse is very slowly feeling it as they learned that people give a shit about Harrison Ford playing Han Solo, not the character Han Solo, and that they give a shit about the cast and creative folks behind Guardians of the Galaxy and about Robert Downey Jr. playing Iron Man, not the brands and characters themselves. :stuck_out_tongue:


#14

You bring up an interesting point about no one caring about which studio is making what movie, and the example is just another reason why the game industry needs to unionize immediately. In the time before strong guilds and unions in film, people did care about whether Universal or Paramount made the movie they wanted to see. That’s because actors, directors, writers, and crew were all essentially employees of the studios. Once unionization happened, those workers were able to freely move around and make movies with whatever studio they wished. Perhaps that would be a model for the game’s industry to pursue, because the status quo sure as hell isnt working.


#15

I’ve never really come across an adequate explanation for why videogame development can’t be run in a similar manner to commercial film-making, which is both heavily unionized and, by definition, centered around mid-term contracts in a way that seems to more-or-less work okay for everyone.


#16

I suspect it’s to do with the eras the two mediums matured in. Film was able to unionize in postwar America when the majority of workers were unionized. Video games matured in the 80s/90s, when the public was decidedly anti-union, and legislation made it very difficult to establish unions.


#17

Also I’ve met and heard from enough people with there’s-nothing-left-in-there eyes to know that even if you go in as some low level position, the publisher’s name being the face of the product creates an allure. You get a lot of the, uh, temporarily embarrassed game dev millionaires? You get a lot of people that think the “prestige” of “Yeah, I worked for Rockstar, they made Grand Theft Auto, perhaps you’ve heard of it?” actually matters in any context ever except for getting the same job again with a different publisher.


#18

I don’t know why I continue to expect a modicum of empathy from Gamers™ but I’m still absolutely fucking appalled by the “I don’t care who lost their jobs so long as I get mine” sentiment that seems to be proliferating on twitter and most forums.


#19

It’s worth noting that TTG hasn’t actually filed for bankruptcy. It’s just winding up, which is a fundamentally different process that is actually much worse for employees because it’s in the hands of a board-appointee. As I understand it (not an expert on US bankruptcy law) if they had filed for bankruptcy, liquidation process isn’t left to the discretion of the administrator. You have to perform a regimented set of actions to get in bankruptcy and some of those involve liquidating the assets for purposes of severance. If a company is winding up, they get more control over who gets the proceeds of liquidation first so they pay off they people who have the power to set the collection agencies on them.


#20

An advantage for actors is the branding that being on screen affords them. It’s partly why animation sees so many similar problems. The video game industry has obviously taken note and works very hard to make sure few become household names.
It really solidified for me when Sony made a big deal about working with Kojima. I can’t think of many other times that has happened in video games. The equivalent happens in tv / film every month.
Part of the fight for unionization has to be (imo) elevating the names of people who work on these games.
Edit - I don’t want to ignore that many off screen professionals do have strong unions. it’s possible to achieve and I don’t want to come off as minimizing the work done to set up and maintain any union,