How the studio that came out of nowhere in 2012 continued its hot streak into 2013.

Around Christmas, us bloggers and writers are obliged to routinely nail down our “favourite” things in a year. The end of the year is often a dead time – nothing exciting happens, and for gaming, publishers center their major releases for October and November. We can, though, reflect on the events leading into Christmas, and how they’ll affect the following 365 days. For Telltale, 2013 was one hell of a year.

The Walking Dead developer arose from the ashes in 2012, after a history of problematic releases. For one, nothing the studio produced reached cultural prominence. Episodes were good, but not great, and nowhere close to where Telltale would eventually delve into when the zombie apocalypse came knocking. Success from the TV show and comic series emphasized Telltale’s role, forcing it to perform and perform well. That may have been because The Walking Dead is a hot ticket right now, but Telltale didn’t disappoint.

On the October announcement of a Season 2, Telltale revealed 21 million copies of Season One had sold. That roughly equals 4.2 million players purchasing all five episodes. Those are extraordinary numbers, considering the adventure genre was once dead-and-buried and the game was new. Surely having the brand recognition helped, but for a studio with a measly release history in an inactive genre, The Walking Dead: The Video Game surprised and forcibly reinstated “point-and-click” adventure as back and in a big way.

In a sense, The Walking Dead wouldn’t have done better if the AMC show was off the air. Telltale’s other series – Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Sam & Max – were received positively but didn’t have the cultural potency of The Walking Dead. The TV counterpart is the highest rated cable program in history, and Telltale rightfully scored it at the best probable time. But that doesn’t detract from Telltale’s efforts; if this says anything, the studio has finally learned to capitalize on opportunities.

What Telltale now formally has is the foundation to ferment itself as a leading studio. In the gaming industry one title can make or break you. The Verge may have prematurely proclaimed Telltale “the HBO of gaming“, however the HBO brand is one in which the TV business has confidence. Recording a one hour special for HBO is seen as a pinnacle in comedy. The Emmy nomination list reads like a movie script. It’s the channel’s ability to put out greatness on an annual basis that gives it that admirable reputation. Telltale is not there yet, but could be in a couple of years.

At the VGX on December 7, Telltale confirmed a rumoured series and shocked us with another. The Game of Thrones speculation train had run its course from September, first hinted at by Kotaku. The other lends from Gearbox’s infamous Diablo-inspired shooter, Tales from the Borderlands. Both were genuine highlights from the show, and present a growing confidence from two separate industries in Telltale’s performance.

The announcements should pay off handsomely. Telltale’s Game of Thrones adaptation derives from the HBO drama, though the studio promised book snippets not included in the TV series. About five million on average tuned into season three, while 5.9 million downloads occurred, breaking piracy records for the third straight year. It often tussles with True Blood as HBO’s most popular show. On the other hand, Borderlands 2 became 2K’s highest selling title ever, eclipsing 7.5 million copies shipped to retailers.

In other words, Game of Thrones and Borderlands are in their cultural climaxes. The two won’t likely get more popular before Telltale descends into their respective worlds. Unless Gearbox manages to push the development of  Borderlands 3 to release in 2014, or Telltale magically releases its series to coincide with season four of Game of Thrones. As well as commanding respect, though, Telltale also commands its own schedule. These two series have enduring popularity and Telltale can afford the patience.

Telltale has constructed a strong portfolio for 2014. I don’t plan to write another article on this topic during Christmastime next year, but 52 weeks is a long time. Anything can happen. Telltale could grow into HBO for all we know.

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  • Mark

    Not really…NaughtyDog took the crown this year. With the Last of Us THAT’S how you do a story telling driven game which you can actually play…not a point and click game that uses a successful franchise like the “Walking Dead” to sell the game.

    • JeffHeilig

      Telltale didn’t win because of The Walking Dead. While that helped, I chose the studio because of the announcements at the VGX. To do a Borderlands AND Game of Thrones game series is monumental, and it’s because of the studio’s new reputation as a elite developer.

  • Chalgyr

    I don’t know that Telltale ‘wins’ the year, but they had a great year all around. I had a lot of fun with The Walking Dead, but also The Wolf Among us. I think 2014 will be a huge year for them. Getting the license to do some of these games is not the same thing as churning out an awesome game. I am completely optimistic they will do so, but to me 2013 felt more like a major stepping stone in the right direction, but hopefully not the best they have to offer.

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