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Telltale Games Reviews

Updated February 20, 2018
73 reviews

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2.9
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Telltale Games CEO Pete Hawley
Pete Hawley
4 Ratings

73 Employee Reviews

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Pros
  • Some extremely talented people to learn from (in 8 reviews)

  • Great IPs, good benefits, projects are cool, allowed to actually be creative, come up with ideas that actually get implemented in game (in 6 reviews)

Cons
  • Pay is terribly low for a studio based in the Bay Area or North Bay (in 8 reviews)

  • Last minute changes for quality are a double edged sword (in 7 reviews)

More Pros and Cons

  1. "Good place to grow career"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    No opinion of CEO

    I have been working at Telltale Games full-time (Less than a year)

    Pros

    Great IPs, good benefits, projects are cool, allowed to actually be creative, come up with ideas that actually get implemented in game.

    Cons

    Employees can bring dogs in to work and I'm allergic.


  2. Helpful (1)

    "Going to be a nice place to work in 3 years"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I have been working at Telltale Games full-time (Less than a year)

    Pros

    - Great people to work with for the most part
    - Unlimited PTO

    Cons

    - Lots of creative churn
    - Company still trying to find out direction its going, going to take a bit to get that right

  3. Helpful (1)

    "Good place to get experience"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Neutral Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I have been working at Telltale Games full-time

    Pros

    Great team, people, talent. Projects are very cool and will add value to resume.

    Cons

    Stuck to an ancient game technology that limits talent and quality of art and gaming experience

    Advice to Management

    Move on to a mainstream technology like Unreal 4 or Unity instead of spending resources patching up the limitations of the old engine.


  4. Helpful (4)

    "Sinking Ship, Toxic Politics Killing Studio"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    Pros

    -Lots of talented and fun people work(ed) here. Telltale was a real community before the layoffs.

    - Great first job for recent graduates. Telltale runs on young, cheap blood, so it's very easy to get a job here with zero or little experience.

    -You will ship games and if you play your politics right, you can have immense influence over the games you're making.

    -Great IPs for the resume.

    -World-class HR department that's actually trying to change things for the better.

    -Decent benefits.

    -Tech and production pipelines will improve with restructuring

    -Telltale is a place of extremes. A place of bright light and deep darkness. Depending on who you're working with or what project you're on, this place can be either Heaven or Hell. You'll see a lot of well-deserved criticism in the 'Cons' section, but I want to also emphasize there are a lot of really incredible people who work here and are fighting the good fight to make the culture better. Unfortunately, it is a *fight* and if you decide to work here and aren't aware of the treacherous political landscape you're walking into, you could easily become a causality of it.

    Cons

    -Telltale never learned that choices mattered, not in its design ethos or in business practices. The result is a studio in steep decline that's been left in the dust by a slew of more innovative narrative studios...

    -Telltale just underwent massive layoffs. It's a sinking ship and people are leaving in droves. I would urge anyone who is considering working here to go online and check out the sales estimates on VGChartz, Steam Spy, App Annie, etc. and ask yourself if the revenue is anywhere close to sustaining a large, nearly 300 person studio.

    -Layoffs = Less Projects, which means bigger teams, more in-fighting and drama, less opportunity for advancement and less shipped titles.

    -Quality has been on the decline. Metacritic scores now average in the 60s and low 70s. Eeek! Project leadership pats itself on the back for their low market and critical performance and actively makes fun of other narrative gaming studios who are actually selling games and getting awards. This lack of self-awareness, hubris and unearned arrogance has hurt the studio's competitiveness.

    -Product development is schizophrenic and no one's even heard the term 'big data.' There’s very little understanding of the market, who they're making games for and the IPs they should be picking or what ESRB rating they should be targeting in order to reach the biggest audience.

    -No original IP or the creative leadership to develop it. This is NOT the same studio of The Walking Dead Season One or The Wolf Among Us. The creative forces behind those games are long gone. Why? The former CEO was too involved in the creative process and drove out top-talent and created a toxic culture of ‘every-man-for-himself’ political survival over people and product. After he left, the culture he left in place never changed.

    -All the horror stories on Glassdoor are true. Telltale suffers from a toxic high-school culture and the lay-offs haven't changed that. In fact, they've only reinforced it. This culture has been strangling the quality of the games and the productivity of its immensely talented teams for years. It's an immature hierarchical culture of insecurity, egoism, exclusion, favoritism, nepotism, and delusional echo-chambers. It's a culture that rewards cut-throat, unprofessional behavior, bullying, name-calling, sexism, agism, lying, resistance to change and innovation, refusal to learn from its mistakes, and burning-out or wasting the creative resources made available to them.

    -Management is dishonest and manipulative, has no concept of how their teams work, and will spread gossip about you behind your back.

    -Got experience? Keep on walking. The pay is terribly low and, with a few exceptions, inexperienced creatives run the show and openly shut out (and even mock) any experienced professional the company tries to hire. Management is either unwilling or unable to correct this behavior. The waste of recruitment efforts and general studio resources is truly stunning. Again, this isn't everyone... but this behavior is pervasive enough to give pros serious pause before taking any job here.

    -There’s a disturbing lack of diversity in the office. You’ll be pressed to find a face that isn’t white. Teams can be a bit tribal, where employees tend to only want to work with and/or support people who are the same age, gender, come from similar privileged backgrounds and hang out with them outside of work socially. It’s not explicit discrimination, but it is implicit, which is much harder to combat.

    -Chore artists are treated like garbage. Last minute rewrites cause those at the back end of the pipeline to work overtime on a regular basis. This was really bad under the previous CEO, and has only improved slightly since his departure. A lot of good chore artists, who gave the company all their weekends and made huge personal and financial sacrifices to ship games, were thrown away in the last layoff like trash. They suffered for the mistakes of many of the managers who are still running the show.

    -Not a great place to learn actual game development. Many of the skills you learn here, particularly in engineering and chore, will not be applicable in other studios.

    -There’s very little cross-discipline collaboration, which has compounded the studio’s lack of innovation. There are signs of this changing, which is hopeful.

    Advice to Management

    So, here's my sincere advice to the management, old and new. New narrative video game studios rife with experienced, mature talent are coming up across the world right now. Telltale has already lost its place as a critically-acclaimed story first studio. If you really want to regain that status, listen to the people who are trying to change things for the better. Don’t punish people for calling mismanagement out and stop rewarding people for abusing their power.

    Take a look at your own favoritism and be honest with yourself about how its effecting your teams and the bottom-line.

    Leadership training isn't working. Many of the people you've shoved into those meetings openly reject the leadership and management principles they're being presented with. Think about restaffing project leadership with seasoned professionals with a proven track record of leadership, innovation, quality, AND the desire to mentor others. You're going to have to pay them for their experience and support them when they come on. But it might be a worthwhile last ditch effort.

    Look at the people who exhibit negative behaviors on a consistent basis and hold them to account. Sanction them if you have to. But stop rewarding them! Behaviors to look for: Leads who prevent subordinates from becoming contributing members of the team, withholding assignments, leaving them out of critical meetings, taking credit for their ideas and work, lying about or minimizing their contributions, throwing them under the bus for their own decisions or lack of direction, showing favoritism to friends and creating double-standards to block others, and refusing to give constructive criticism in a timely, professional manner. These are all insecure tactics used by inexperienced professionals with a bad case of imposter's syndrome. These are not leaders or the people who are going to save your studio. They simply feel threatened by other talent and want to paint the narrative that they (and their friends) are the only ones who can ship product. This is complete bullocks. You will never be able to retain quality talent if that's the way you want to run things.

    Open your eyes and stop letting the lunatics run the asylum and waste your resources! Look at the Metacritic scores! This is the main reason way they're so low. Hire some grown-ups and give them the power to right the ship before it hits another iceberg!


  5. "Fun, but Flawed"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee

    I worked at Telltale Games full-time

    Pros

    I regularly worked with great people in great teams on the ground floor. Most people cared about doing the best they could, even when held back by constraints.

    Cons

    Too much, too fast, not enough forethought.


  6. "Incredible and Unique Experience"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Recommends
    Positive Outlook
    Approves of CEO

    I have been working at Telltale Games full-time (Less than a year)

    Pros

    It's super fun to be able to associate with kind workers that are creative and willing to help me with any given task.

    Cons

    It may get a bit tiring after a while and the pacing of the work environment should slow down, which is their main goal right now.


  7. Helpful (12)

    "CEO has much to grow and learn, Morale is low, Sinking ship"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    I worked at Telltale Games full-time (More than 5 years)

    Pros

    -Telltale was once a fun creative place
    -Nice and talented crew
    -Some managers care
    -Friday bagels and bi-weekly Mondays we are given donuts and Red Whale Coffee
    -Chance to explore different and cool franchises and build resume quickly
    -Good benefits and decent bonus per episode delivered
    -Good paid time off policy

    Cons

    -It is very difficult to be heard in this company unless you are upper management
    -Franchise partners can be very specific and sometimes difficult to work with
    -Communication easily gets lost compared to other studios
    -Aging and troubled technology that gets force-fed new features that later hinders performance
    -Current CEO is from Zynga and seems to think layoffs are the best way to make up for a giant financial loss
    -3 CEOs in the past year!
    -Studio seems to love saying they want to work on original IP but never seems to actually occur
    -No actual company culture
    -Every project seems to be managed differently
    -Pay is terribly low for a studio based in the Bay Area or North Bay
    -Employees are laid off because executives end up later coming to realize they made a mistake when everyone was warning them about it to begin with
    -Annual reviews do not offer employees a chance to express career goals
    -Too many projects that take advantage and become dependent on new talent that gets paid way too little

    Advice to Management

    Have a heart and be open to people outside of a certain paygrade. Do not let 2 years pass by and after laying off 25% of your workforce announce that the company is not meeting its goals.

    To CEO PETE HAWLEY: Can you not take the day off on the day of layoffs. Have the courage to face the people you are letting go. Do not lie during your first meeting with the company that there will not be any layoffs coming and then have a massive layoff 1 month later. People who have been with Telltale for almost a decade decide to start new chapters of their lives feeling confident that when the CEO says there will not be layoffs that they can take that to the bank. Your lied and put our lives in jeopardy.

    If management cares about telling good stories and want to take the crown back then take risks and start being loyal to your fans and especially your employees.

    To the members of the board: Morale is low and Pete is not helping. Your employees are not expecting the studio to last much longer.

  8. Helpful (1)

    "Good place to start, but you won't want to stay long"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee in San Rafael, CA
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee in San Rafael, CA
    Neutral Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I worked at Telltale Games full-time (More than 3 years)

    Pros

    - cool people to work with; felt like a family at times
    - IPs could be exciting to the right people
    - flexibility with PTO
    - good place to get your start and learn about the ins and outs of making games very quickly

    Cons

    - felt like constant crunch; no downtime during the year to just take it easy and work on the finer details of the product
    - pay was way too low for the location and raises only came with promotions or yearly review (capped at 4%)
    - some teams are overworked and end up burnt out constantly (QA, Chore, Build/D+R, Production)


  9. Helpful (6)

    "Cool people but constant churn"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Art Department
    Former Employee - Art Department
    Neutral Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I worked at Telltale Games full-time (Less than a year)

    Pros

    Some ok licenses to work on - Marvel, TWD, Batman, Minecraft can be really cool for some people to work on

    Lots of shipped titles under your belt - 16-18 per year

    Ok benefits and "unlimited PTO" - Medical Vision Dental etc not mind blowing but these days its important that its at least passable

    Cool people - Everyone is friendly even management. HR is caring and helpful, people go out of their way to help others and be nice to new people.

    Cons

    Constantly on - No time for preproduction, style development or tech development. You will roll from one project to another to another to another

    Terrible engine - Its where art goes to die most of the time. The teams make great looking art but because of the crazy constraints of the engine and sub par lighting it just gets cut in half quality wise. Animation gets hit the hardest and is a constant complaint on game reviews. Its difficult to work with, wastes tons of time dealing with quirks and is pretty unstable.

    "Unlimited PTO" - A major benefit they wave around. It's not really new or innovative and I've heard it mentioned in lieu of salary increases as something that is so special at Telltale. The truth is - an awkward pressure exists that more or less says 'yeah you can take time off when you need it' but don't take more than 2 or 3 days. There are plenty of people who fully indulge, schedule and take time without recourse admittedly. Because of the very fast paced schedule its just not really possible to take more than a day or two off without running into scheduling issues.

    Insane reliance on project management software - It feels like TTG just buys every piece of software Atlassian releases because they heard a different studio is using it. JIRA is used inefficiently and differently on every project, estimates make no sense. Then its all used to drive and budget the project, also to let everyone know how many bugs they need to fix - 48 hours from launch

    High turnover rate - Lack of company culture, high pressure deadlines, terrible engine, low pay

    Low pay - The pay for the area is incredibly low for artists especially it seems. I've heard numbers less than $50k offered for non-junior positions to live and work in one of the most expensive areas in the country. All nearby areas are also expensive. If you're getting less than $65k a year plan on living an hour away or having 4 roommates. There is an annual 1%-3% cost of living raise that's given to you after some arbitrary review process that takes 2-3 months and seems really off base.

    No discernable impact on the project - Most of the time and for most disciplines you will have 0 impact on the project. None. Very little input if given to the artist and over creatives actually making the things people will see. Most things are decided by EPs and CDs and at times random other people who walk by their offices. Obviously the licensor relationship is important to maintain but it really feels like a lot of the times the artists aren't being paid to be creative, they are being paid to follow some guys instructions. For some people thats a good thing but after shipping the same game 16 times it can get a bit old to keep following the same orders over and over again

    Bonuses - They often low ball people and say that episodic bonus will make up for it. You will get a tiny check every episode that ships IF you worked a decent amount of hours on in. If you work on multiple projects you wont get as many even though you work on multiple projects. You'll also complete a good amount of work on the first episode and then less and less per episode meaning you likely won't get those bonuses

    For people considering TTG as their next job - If this is your first big break, great, take it. If you don't mind driving in terrible traffic and living an hour away, cool! If you don't need a salary a family can survive on, this is the place for you! You'll get a ton of shipped titles under your belt in a year or so and lots of production line experience. A job is a job if you are in need.

         If you have other options, if you're experienced and can afford to look around a little longer, if you have a family and need a certain salary, I'd take a pass and look elsewhere. Just decline politely and on good terms and you can always hit them up later. There are cool people at Telltale and if you like grunt work and getting things done it can be ok. But cost of living coupled with salary and schedule make it a hard sell for the average game developer

    Advice to Management

    Pay more. Use a different engine on a side project to get it figured out.


  10. Helpful (7)

    "A Good First Game Studio, but Not Much Else... :("

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Art
    Former Employee - Art
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I worked at Telltale Games full-time (More than a year)

    Pros

    I wish I had more pros to offer, but here goes. The rank and file are all great people to hang out with, you get to work on lots of different IPs, you ship a great many games (which looks good on a resume). There are a lot of talented people here with good lessons to teach you. Unlimited PTO is nice, benefits are okay. Overtime isn't really asked of you (unless you're in choreography and VFX). It's a pretty stable studio (or was, until recently).

    Cons

    And here come the cons.

    Telltale will train you to churn out work very quickly, but the production schedule is so accelerated that there's no time for polish of any kind. The people at the end of the pipeline get the shaft repeatedly (animation, VFX, sound, choreography), and every time the flames of a current episode have finally been put out, those departments hear that things will be better managed the next episode around. No change ever happens there. Chore is expected to change shots and acting at the drop of a hat. The animators do good work in a ridiculously small amount of time and then it gets frankensteined together in the engine after they've left the project for the next episode, which results in nasty pops and other unpleasantness, not to mention unfair criticism in reviews. If you're looking for reel material, you'll have to make it in your off-hours at home. The accelerated production pace also results in no desire to change engines, because time would have to be taken out of the schedule to learn a new and better one...so they cling to their ancient Tool, which is both a nightmare to work in and to play a game on. The only thing these games have on their side is the writing, and I can't imagine how pressured that department must feel.

    Management seems uniformly hellbent on never heeding a word of the people they oversee. If you're not a lead or in the upper echelons of the company, your voice goes unheard. You are a cog in the machine, and you are expected to polish the turd they hand to you. Executives decide on story beats, for better or worse, and wait to decide on these until the 11th hour, a pro for the "iterative" process. If anyone has a genuinely good idea, it's shot down, or fought tooth and nail because the company doesn't want to take the time to pursue it. If you want a promotion, get good at politicking, because it is everywhere. The amount of backstabbing and miscommunication has to be seen to be believed. Nobody in leadership seems interested in playing current games, either, which seems like a weird con until you observe that Telltale has been making the same kinds of games for years, with no real difference between them. They need fresh ideas and they are not exposing themselves to them. They also love love LOVE having pointless meetings to talk and get nothing done. Most people get more work completed if they never attend one.

    The pay is also horrible, not just for games, but for the area. The Bay is one of, if not the most, expensive areas in the country, and they do not compensate well for cost-of-living. Making $50k is barely enough, and they will never give you a meaningful raise after a year except for what's needed to compensate for inflation. You have to threaten to leave to see any kind of better pay or promotion, and what you ask for when you are offered a job is likely what you will continue to get for as long as you're there. If you're fine with making a not-great salary, having room mates, and dealing with a super long commute, then go for it. You can get bonuses for successfully shipping an episode on time, but if deadlines get moved back because of decisions further up the chain for story reworks, your chance of a bonus is nil. This really rankles when you're in the end of the pipeline and got all your work done on time for the original deadline. The bonuses aren't even that much, either, which doesn't help. If you have a family to support, I don't know that I'd recommend it.

    All in all, this is a good place to work if you're just trying to get your foot in the door of the games industry, but don't look to stay long. Artistic stagnation is a real problem, and it will get worse the longer you stick around. Get in, ship some games, get out.

    Advice to Management

    Stop back-stabbing. Get the whole story before you accuse an employee of misconduct, or talk behind their back with your groupies. You are jumping to conclusions and putting words in other peoples' mouths far too often. Learn to value the opinions and ideas of the people who work under you, or the turnover is going to keep being high as they look for greener pastures. And believe me, your Glassdoor will continue to get worse and you will have a tougher time hiring because of it. Learn from the mistakes you made on previous episodes and work to right them. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting it to work out better is the definition of insanity. Play some games so you know what people like, and realize that Telltale's formula and engine have aged incredibly badly. And DO something about it. If the same people keep making the decisions, nothing will ever be fresh again.


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