Telltale Co-Founder Defends Studio’s Harsh Crunch Culture

Telltale co-found Keven Bruner refers to its crunch culture as "trial by fire."

A new report from Game Informer that examine the rise and fall of Telltale Games has prompted a response from studio co-founder and former CEO Kevin Bruner who says that the company’s crunch culture (which often required developers to work an incredible number of hours ahead of a game’s release) was an unfortunate necessity caused by the studio’s position and lack of other resources. 

“For other studios, it happens all the time in games where, ‘Our release date is this fall’ and then the studio will announce that fall, ‘Oh you know what, the game wasn’t ready, we pushed it out until next spring.’ And that really wasn’t something that Telltale could do,” said Bruner. “We didn’t have the budgets to delay production that long; we didn’t have the cushion.”

In the original report, Bruner stated that he personally couldn’t just work on Telltale games during normal business hours and seemingly tries to defend the idea that Telltale was right to create a culture of crunch due to the way that the company operated. 

“For me, at an executive level, all the way down to the animator, if you see an opportunity to make the game better, and you know it’s going to ship in a week and you care about the content, it’s really hard to walk away from the content and just say, ‘You know what? This is as good as it’s going to get. I’m going home,’” said Bruner. “We tried to create an environment where you really had to do that to survive at Telltale, because we didn’t have these three-year-long production cycles.” 

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Bruner doubles down on that sentiment by stating that Telltale’s crunch culture may have helped developers become better at their jobs. 

I’m not saying it was easy, but the fact that so many people made really compelling, really great, highly regarded content to me makes it seem like Telltale was a nurturing place,” said Bruner. “It was trial by fire, but there were definitely opportunities to succeed there and many, many people did. I take a lot of pride in that but it cuts both ways. Succeeding there was hard.”

The video game industry’s continuing reliance on crunch culture (especially for Triple-A titles) has always been a source of contention. Some, like Bruner, defend it as a necessity while others (mostly the employees who do not directly benefit from crunch beyond their continued employment) cite it as the source of mental health issues and the reason why game developers sometimes have no work/life balance. The fact that  Telltale let go of their employees without giving most of them access to any kind of benefits or severance packages doesn’t help Bruner’s argument. 

Matthew Byrd is a staff writer for Den of Geek. He spends most of his days trying to pitch deep-dive analytical pieces about Killer Klowns From Outer Space to an increasingly perturbed series of editors. You can read more of his work here or find him on Twitter at @SilverTuna014