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The Next Episode

Telltale CEO Dan Connors explains why everyone is doing episodic content these days, whether they're calling it that or not

Telltale Games doesn't just do some digital products, it focuses entirely on episodic content, and has done since it was founded in 2004. CEO and co-founder Dan Connors spoke to about being the unusual position of watching others race to get to get to grips with a business model he's been working with for years.

In this exclusive interview he explains why people are pricing their digital content badly, why everyone is making episodic content these days, and why while using ready made franchises comes with a lot of advantages, Connors hopes to see an original concept some day soon. There's been a lot of talk lately around digital being this new thing...
Dan Connors

A new thing?! [laughs] How does it feel to have been working with digital, episodic games for so long, and to hear others talking about it in that way?
Dan Connors

I'd like to move forward and start talking about something else that everybody thinks I'm crazy about.

I mean, it's played out pretty much the way we thought it would, and it looks like it's just continuing in that direction. With iPad and iPhone being purely digital ways to get content, it just makes sense that the next generation of devices are going to do the same.

So, in my mind, the opportunities are just huge for new ways of doing things, and new business models, and new styles of content, and new ways of telling stories, and new ways of reaching audiences - which was always a big thing behind why we started Telltale. We've always believed in story as critical to being able to bust out of the niche that games have trapped themselves in.

Even though a lot of people are making a lot of money on it, there's still a cap on the available audience. And I think when you see something like Angry Birds getting out there to hundreds of millions [of people]... I just know what I hear, so I don't know their exact numbers, but that type of volume. There are no [core] games that can touch that yet, but hopefully in the next generation we will be. The common view is that we have casual players with Facebook games on one side and core players with guys with guns on the other. Do you see a distinction between the two?
Dan Connors

Well, there are definitely behavioural distinctions - platform choice, ability to use a controller - so we always wanted to be accessible, and there's nothing more accessible than point-and-click, right? That's just like moving across the web.

Core gamers look at us as something different, like a palette cleanser between shooting soldiers and zombies and fighting elves.

We've moved to direct control since then, but still we keep our button presses pretty simple, and pretty directed. But the core of your question is, core gamers look at Telltale as something different, like a palette cleanser between shooting soldiers and shooting zombies and fighting elves. They understand the language we talk in: the puzzles, how you solve problems, and the thought process.

Our production values have been competitive, and I think the writing and character presentation, the amount of acting that we do, the way we can deliver a line and a gag and a story is some of the best. So from a gamer perspective, we're doing the stuff that gamers like and most games ignore, and we're doing it well, and we're still working within core game conventions. People know what they're getting into with a Telltale game, and they like it for what it is.

As you move into casual, getting them to understand gamer conventions - getting them to think like gamers - is still a bigger challenge for us than building something that gamers like. Is console as open to episodic products as PC? I know Back To The Future was released on PlayStation 3.
Dan Connors

Well, PC is always going to be the most democratic, and we have our own channel there, so if we need to make an innovation in order to make something work then we just do it. And if we need to tweak the business model in order to make something work better, then we just do it.

Platform holders need to get closer to Amazon, but certainly it's improved since we started.

So there's always going to be that opportunity, and it's a huge opportunity that more people should take advantage of. But what we've been able to do is demonstrate things working and bring them to the platform holders. We talk about why we do X, Y and Z, it makes it easier for them to get on board, because they can take those learnings and improve their own systems. Episodic gaming is something that people have been trying to get at for a long time, and because we've done the work on the PC side we're able to go into these other channels and talk through the issues with them. It was a good back-and-forth, and we found good support there.

Obviously, their reach is massive, and they continue to get better and better as digital marketing groups. They need to get closer to Amazon, but certainly it's improved since we started. Their ability to cross-sell product, and their ability to manage price-point, their ability to engage people with different promotions; these are all huge advances as digital retailers.

So it's all worth it. Certainly worth figuring out how to work with them even if we have to deal with some of their older institutionalised systems that are starting to get a little outdated. But they certainly move faster now than they ever did before.

Rachel Weber avatar
Rachel Weber: Rachel Weber has been with GamesIndustry since 2011 and specialises in news-writing and investigative journalism. She has more than five years of consumer experience, having previously worked for Future Publishing in the UK.
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