Ever since I played the first episode of Telltale Games’ Batman series last summer I haven’t played a Telltale game since. On the one hand, I love Batman and when I heard Telltale was going to tackle his beloved narrative I was excited. But soon after starting up the first episode I was reminded of why Telltale’s formula is growing so stale. On a technical level, even Telltale’s new engine can’t stop the stuttering frame rate, janky character models and wonky audio from constantly pulling me out of the experience. At this point the abysmal performance of Telltale Games is well catalogued since the runaway success of The Walking Dead Season One. While I’m always reminded by people online that I’m playing for the story and the characters, at this point with what PS4, Xbox One and PC are capable of there’s simply no excuse for such poor performance.
Now, I love Telltale’s early work. The first season of The Walking Dead was an event that shook the games industry. And The Wolf Among Us?! Hot damn that was an unforgettable ending. But at this point after Game of Thrones, Borderlands, Minecraft, Batman and now The Guardians of the Galaxy it’s just getting a little ridiculous. So ridiculous I even made my own list for IPs Telltale could slap their dialogue wheel on and call a game. Telltale games are becoming less and less special with each game they pump out.
There’s a parallel to be drawn between what’s happening with Telltale’s rocketing success and the success Rockstar Games experienced in the early 2000s. After stellar sales from Grand Theft Auto III Rockstar began rolling out GTA games like crazy. In the span of 6 years, Rockstar Games released 6 Grand Theft Auto games. But after they began to see a plateau in their sales they realized they were beginning to devalue their franchise. So after Grand Theft Auto IV released in 2008 they went dark,aside from some DLC, not talking about the main series for many years. They waited until 2012 when they revealed Grand Theft Auto V to worldwide attention, fans and press clamouring to learn everything possible about the long anticipated sequel. And in 2013 they smashed every single sales record with the release. The time off built anticipation, built excitement for the series.
Taking a page out of the Rockstar Games’ book would serve Telltale very well. Telltale has fans, millions of them. They rave over every trailer and announcement and discuss every episode at length online. The fandom is established. So take all that goodwill, the millions they’ve squeezed out of licensed games and go away for a couple years and really put the time in on a new project. Develop an entirely new season or take that time to make a well polished and thoughtful sequel to an established season. Make sure it doesn’t run like trash and ensure that quality isn’t lost by porting it to so many different platforms. It’s possible, I know it is. Then in a couple years announce this new passion project, give it a short hype train and release it.
But they won’t, the short term gain is too appealing right now. Having just announced three new seasons coming in 2018 and having two more seasons wrapping up this year it appears the money machine is not slowing down anytime soon. Telltale will continue to pump out poor-performing but well-selling cash grabs. Until their sales begin to reach a plateau that is. Telltale is only continuing to devalue their brand the more they put out without polish.
After realising I really do not even care about the next episodes of their Batman series I just want to get excited about a Telltale story again. I want that hype I had for each episode of The Walking Dead Season 1 and The Wolf Among Us. I want to care again! But as long as they continue to pump out lacklustre, incredibly buggy cash grabs like Minecraft and Batman, there’s not a whole lot of love from this lapsed Telltale fan and a whole lot of “Cool Story, Telltale…”