If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our editorial policy.

Telltale Games' Dan Connors

CEO discusses his company's decision to go digital ahead of the crowd and why episodic has worked so well

Digital distribution has taken longer to catch on than most would have predicted when the current generation of consoles launched. While the infastructure has been in place a while, retail sales have only been impacted minimally by download sales, and, unexpectedly, it's been the iPhone which has really demonstrated how it can be done.

Except there are gaming companies that invested in digital ahead of the crowd, and at the forefront of those was Telltale Games. Founded in 2004, the company built itself around releasing digital, episodic games first on PC as digital took off there, and now for the consoles. Telltale's co-founder and CEO Dan Connors spoke to GamesIndustry.biz about what prompted that original decision and how he sees the digital age progressing from here.

GamesIndustry.biz Telltale has always released its games episodically, and releasing episodically and digitally was nowhere near as popular five years ago when you formed as it is now. Why did you make that original decision?
Dan Connors

Well, first I would like to take some credit for the popularity because I think Telltale's execution of it has helped make it a more tangible goal for people that have wanted to do it. I think five years ago it was a theory and I think now there's a tangible way for people to see how it could be done. But when we set out, we set out to build a company that was about taking advantage of digital distribution which we felt was going to be the next big paradigm shift in the business. And that really created a lot of options to rethink the way things were done.

We really felt like episodic would create a real opportunity for our games and our storytelling games, create an opportunity for us to have an ongoing relationship with people who play our games and to keep them engaged in our stories over time.

The episodic thing five years ago was starting to take off on television as well, with a lot of different series like The Sopranos becoming a regular form of entertainment. We felt that what Telltale was going to build with the onset of digital distribution was gaming's version of almost television style production. And going episodic stemmed from that standpoint.

GamesIndustry.biz Episodic does sound great in theory. And there are a lot of games – Alan Wake and Alone in the Dark spring to mind – that would lend themselves perfectly to that cliffhanger, TV style format. So why do you think many developers are hanging back from using the episodic model?
Dan Connors

Well, it's really hard for a company to transition its model. When Telltale started we set out to be an episodic company – we set out to build from the ground up to be episodic. So every decision we've made up until this point has been about delivering episodes. I think for other companies that have been around and have been in the retail ecosystem for a long time, it's a major change in thought process and production process and business mindset. And if you're going down one road and you're keeping your business going from one business model, making a dramatic shift in that business model is a huge step to take. And unless people can see exactly how it should work they're not going to make that jump.

GamesIndustry.biz Do you think episodic could be the answer to one of the problems digital distribution is facing that a full size game can be a hefty download all in one chunk?
Dan Connors

When we set out to build episodic a big part of it was to make content that was easy for users to get. We did feel that size was still a barrier to entry for a lot of people and that smaller chunks made more sense in a broadband world versus a disc based data storage world. So that was certainly always part of our plan. Lower price point and smaller data footprint were more consistent with the way goods are distributed in a digital sense anyway.

GamesIndustry.biz Do you think releasing onto formats such as PSN and XBL is going to be important for Telltale going forward?
Dan Connors

Oh yes. We definitely believe that the connected consoles are going to be major players in defining the future of entertainment. Right now they have a really good position, as far as being in people's living rooms, connected to their TVs and where families go to have entertainment, so as their digital channels get easier to use for more people, it's just going to make sense that more and more gamers are going to migrate to getting their content this way. Obviously the consoles have really large install bases of people who love to play games, and we want to be in front of all of those people for sure.

GamesIndustry.biz Do you think there are any genres of games that don't or wouldn't work using the episodic download model?
Dan Connors

I would never say anything can't be done – that's just my nature. That's how we ended up building Telltale in the first place. But they all have different challenges and I think what you need is something compelling each time out, so obviously with a story and a cliffhanger there's an ongoing story and ongoing character development and characters that people can enjoy and get engaged with. Having people come back to them every month and engage with them and hear a new story about them, that makes a lot of sense. Having someone come back to something every month to play the same level of the same type of game, that presents different challenges.

So people would really need to figure out from a mechanics standpoint how they're going to lay out the gameplay experience in such a way that the user's going to be compelled to get back in. It's really easy for us to say 'you have to get episode four because you've got to see what happens next with Guybrush. It's probably going to be harder from a messaging standpoint for a game that doesn't have a story hook to get people to come back. But it's certainly not impossible. PAIN on the PSN seems to be an example of something where they add interesting new pieces of content that updates the game on a fairly regular basis and people seem to be really attracted to whatever the new thing is.

More Features

Latest Articles