Telltale Games expanding out of genre niche

When Telltale Games released “The Walking Dead” back in 2012, it was mostly known as the studio that was keeping alive the oft-forgotten adventure game genre with some mildly successful licensed titles. They had just come off the maligned “Jurassic Park.” The limited number of people who knew about Telltale were those paying close attention to the industry. Flash forward two years and they’re producing four different licensed series with one of the most popular game franchises in the industry.

The launch of “The Walking Dead” came at perhaps the most opportune time for Telltale. The television show had become the most popular series on cable with a follow-up talk show that routinely outrated most of NBC’s entire lineup. Abandoning the traditional characters of the comic, “The Walking Dead” demonstrated how a narrative-focused game could find a robust audience despite its significant deviations from standard gameplay conventions.

After expanding this year with “The Wolf Among Us” and eventual products based on “Borderlands” and “Game of Thrones,” Telltale is quickly becoming the go-to developer for compelling, licensed video game stories. I’m of the opinion that overextending themselves with more teams may lead to a dip in quality, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that I’m deeply encouraged Telltale continues to make these games in a mainstream market.

The general thought process is that narrative games are focused in the independent game space. While the majority and probably best narrative games are indies, the extension of this practice into a more visible portion of the industry is a logical step forward for the medium.

In recent years, it has become fairly apparent that players’ interactions with video games has been far too limited. First-person shooters, platformers; these genres have become entrenched in the gaming vernacular, to the point of the industry’s detriment.

As these basic inputs started to garner popularity, they produced a glut of similar products that stifled the limitless creativity that is finally emerging with the growth of independent games. This repetition is what makes Telltale’s ongoing products so important. They’ve afforded these narrative games devoid of extensive gameplay a visible platform they can hopefully build from on future releases.

I abhor blunt, game-to-game comparisons, but it’s impossible to deny the marketing capabilities word of mouth can provide. Because of Telltale’s success, developers can put out products and easily describe them as, “It’s like ‘The Walking Dead.’” That’s an asset few franchises garner, but it means there can hopefully be more games made in the manner of Telltale’s hallmark series.

Expanding into the next generation of consoles, discovering new ways for people to experience the medium is one of the most important advancements. “The Walking Dead” created an experience akin to any long-form narrative that was equally as accessible to experienced players as it was for anyone new to the medium.

The days of having your parents constantly stare at the screen, mouth agape, not understanding basic movements should gradually disappear. Assuredly there will and should still be those products geared towards fans craving those input-sensitive experiences. However, the advent of narrative focused experiences that don’t require a level of control incomprehensible to the unfamiliar masses opens up the medium to different, necessary audiences.

More importantly, it moves beyond the AAA-familiar titles and demonstrates a facet of the industry to people who would generally miss the mass narrative uprising occurring in the indie scene.

If you’re interested in seeing this sort of approach taken to a far greater degree, I would recommend “Kentucky Route Zero,” “Gone Home” or “Cart Life.” All are generally less gameplay heavy, instead focusing on the interesting interactions and parallels within people’s lives.

I don’t think Telltale’s new projects will be very spectacular or influential. For now though, I’m content with them leveraging a newfound fame to push a stagnant mainstream industry forward in innovative ways.

Do you see any telltale signs of failure in Telltale’s business model? Email your concerns to Adam at [email protected]