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Telltale's Dan Connors

The CEO of the Sam and Max developer updates us on the evolution of the episodic business

One of the most compelling online business stories in the past few years has been that of Telltale Games - the team which pioneered, and made work, the episodic model with Sam & Max and Monkey Island, as well as others.

Now, as the digital distribution space evolves, company CEO Dan Connors updates us on Telltale's performance, and explains where the company's thinking is at.

GamesIndustry.biz How's business for Telltale at the moment?
Dan Connors

Since we last spoke Monkey Island was released, and that was a great success for us - a really good team-up with LucasArts to market it together. We thought it was going to go great anyway, but the amount of love for the franchise and the size of the launch really shocked us. It was exciting to have that much buzz around the company.

Every time we do something with a new franchise, it introduces a whole new group of people to what we're doing. Our audience has grown greatly since Wallace & Gromit and Monkey have launched and a big part of the episodic model is that you're getting people to continue to come back. With Monkey, we've seen that play out.

I'd also say that with Monkey Island we've got the most serial of our seasons yet - the cliffhangers were there, and the execution from a gaming soap opera point of view was the best yet. That really paid off in users' minds from an experience standpoint.

GamesIndustry.biz Most people seem to feel that the economy is recovering a bit - did you suffer at all, or has it been solid growth?
Dan Connors

It's been great growth for us - ours goes along with that of the digital distribution channel and our ability to support that. We're opening up the PlayStation channel with the Sam & Max launch, and with XBLA, WiiWare, Steam and TelltaleGames.com we're probably speaking to 25-30 million people now.

Previously we were pretty much a PC-only or one other channel - since that time we've been in an emerging market. The shift from retail to digital has happened in the last year - so our company has grown because we're servicing a growing market.

But our retail business has struggled - with everybody else. The retailers are taking less product... but we set out to be a digital company anyway, so we're trying to put more focus on that. I do think that the price points being a little less expensive, as a lower barrier to entry, work in the new economy as well.

GamesIndustry.biz Price points is an interesting discussion point - that's not something we're necessarily seeing online from traditional publishers, but there is a clear expectation from consumers that games should be cheaper for non-physical products.
Dan Connors

Well, I think the savings from the download price points are more about the amount of content you need to produce before you bring it to market. If you're going to put something in a box and sell it for $59.99, and go through all the effort to have a retail launch, you want to maximise everything.

With digital distribution you can put any-sized products out to release, and do it monthly like we do. You can better calibrate the amount of content for the price point - if you look at XBLA the average price is probably about $10 for a chunk of content, and I think WiiWare and Sony are probably similar.

So I think that full blown games at retail - that price point is what it is - but digital that supports it, or is separate from it, can be based on the cost of production more. You can have a different ecosystem to stay profitable, play with price points more, and that's what you're going to continue to see.

GamesIndustry.biz Consumers prefer to be given a choice these days.
Dan Connors

Particularly as you see people come into the market - I think a $59.99 price point was really prohibitive for engaging someone that's not a hardcore fan. As the price point becomes more flexible, more people are happy to try things - so we can hopefully introduce more people to games.

GamesIndustry.biz What proportion of your business is now coming from consoles, as opposed to the PC space - and how has it grown?
Dan Connors

We generally launch with one console partner during the run of the season, and usually does about 40 per cent of the revenue.

GamesIndustry.biz That's a higher number than I might have expected.
Dan Connors

They have big audiences there - they're all gamers, and they're all used to spending money on games. Compare that to online, where it gets noisy - Steam for us is an incredibly effective channel, and so is TelltaleGames.com, but the console channels are probably equal to those.

Phil Elliott avatar

Phil Elliott