Telltale's treatment of staff "a problem endemic in the industry"

Pro-union group Game Workers Unite lambasts Telltale for cutting staff with no severance pay or healthcare

The pro-union organisation Game Workers Unite has categorised the treatment of laid off staff at Telltale as, "a problem endemic in the industry."

In a post on its website, Game Workers Unite criticised Telltale for leaving a reported 225 people in the position of being, "denied pay and healthcare without notice or severance, left vulnerable in an area with an extremely high cost of living." It also added that, "some of those workers were just recently hired."

These claims are consistent with reports - mostly on Twitter - from members of staff who were affected by extensive layoffs at the studio last week.

Character artist Brandon Cebenka said, "None of my sleepless nights or long hours on weekends trying to ship a game on time got me severance today. Don't work overtime unless you're paid for it, y'all... Companies don't care about you."

"None of my sleepless nights or long hours on weekends trying to ship a game on time got me severance today"

Former Telltale artist Brandon Cebenka

Narrative designer Emily Grace Buck offered even more detail, suggesting that the actual number of layoffs was closer to 250 people, and reiterating that there was no severance pay, or healthcare beyond a single week. She supported the claim that some employees had started "as recently as a week ago", with at least one having "relocated cross country."

"Due to the insanely high cost of living in the Bay Area relative to payscale, many of my... colleagues were living paycheck to paycheck and do not know what they are going to do to make ends meet this month," she added.

Game Workers Unite, which was established to further the cause of unionising the games industry, described Telltale's executives as "incompetent" and "exploitative" based on the nature of the studio's decline and its treatment of the workforce. It also referenced an article from The Verge in March this year, which painted a troubling picture of the studio's internal culture.

"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," the statement read.

"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."

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Latest comments (8)

Nicholas Lovell Founder, Gamesbrief2 years ago
While I agree with "The system for creating games is broken, and it will result in the collapse of many other beloved studios in the future", it is not clear how unionising would have stopped this.

I am broadly supportive of the unionisation of the games industry, but it would be good to understand how it would help. It seems likely to help when a team gets canned at the end of a project. It seems unlikely to help when a studio goes bust.
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Hugo Trepanier Senior Game Designer, Ludia2 years ago
Nicholas, I presume a large-scale union would help relocate staff to other studios, not just within a single studio. I'm not sure how that would work out in markets that can't support the workforce, again I only suppose relocation services would have to be offered. Or this would likely create major development hubs in select cities, much like Hollywood is today.
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Dan Amrich Community Developer, Ubisoft2 years ago
For those ex-Telltale employees who are affected by this, Ubisoft is hosting a small event today at BJ's in San Rafael, on the patio. All affected Telltale employees are welcome to join for drinks and snacks at 4:30pm -- we're hiring and we might be able to help each other out.
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Richard Browne Head of External Projects, Digital Extremes2 years ago
The biggest element would be healthcare coverage through the union and not the employer ; in the US these people are high and dry, decent family coverage runs $1500 a month - where the hell do you find that when your paycheck just got stopped.
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Cal Janik-Jones QA & Localization, DrinkBox Studios2 years ago
@Nicholas Lovell: a number of articles came out earlier this year that attested to a long history of toxic management at Telltale. The hope with unionization is that not only severance, relocation, and healthcare (like Richard and Hugo mentioned) be guaranteed for workers, but also that problematic managers and workplace culture can be confronted long before crunch burns a studio out.
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Nicholas Lovell Founder, Gamesbrief2 years ago
@Richard Browne: is that common in the US? For the union to pay for healthcare not the employer? Or is that emergency cover in circumstances like this? (I'm from the UK, thank the Lord I don't believe in for the NHS).
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Nicholas Lovell Founder, Gamesbrief2 years ago
@Hugo Trepanier: I'm not sure that a union would help here, with the relocation of staff. I mean, it would be better to have someone co-ordinating that not having someone, but job hunting doesn't seem like a positive reason for a union to me.
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Nicholas Lovell Founder, Gamesbrief2 years ago
@Cal Janik-Jones: I worry that unions would make this "problematic managers" problem worse. The idea that you can make a company "run better" by unionising seems flawed. Most games companies are dependent on a handful of large contracts. Chucking union reps into the middle of these problems seems unlikely to help.

I do believe that we should have games unions. I think they can help with standard terms and conditions, with helping workers understand what is appropriate (and how to fight for it) and so on. I also believe that unions will make these kind of collapses *more* common not less; it's just that I believe that the other benefits are worth having enough to justify the downside.
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