Much has been said about the brutal crunch culture in the now-defunct Telltale Games, with the focus eventually shifting to Rockstar, but Telltale's co-founder claims that in their case, it was a matter of keeping the studio alive.
Having co-founded the company back in 2004, Kevin Bruner's tenure as CEO of Telltale Games ended in 2017, after what was in his words "an extended period where the Board of Directors and [Bruner] had very different visions of Telltale's future".
In fact, at the time of the sudden news of Telltale shutting down, Bruner was already locked in a legal fight against a studio he helped create, albeit insisting that he had done everything in his power to prevent the end of Telltale.
As far as crunch goes, Bruner maintains that the financial realities of the studio made it inevitable. "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", he added.
Such a studio culture is admittedly something that stems from Bruner's past experiences, like working on Grim Fandango, where production cycles didn't tolerate inefficiency. An old-school approach if you will.
"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'", Bruner told GameInformer.
Bruner argues that he didn't want to do The Walking Dead all over again, but that commercial pressures from above all but required it. Helped by an ageing tool in their in-house Telltale Tool engine, the studio locked themselves into a downward spiral, churning out formulaic and soon outdated games.
Interestingly, Bruner mentions that they internally discussed switching to Unreal engine, but could not afford to shut the studio down for the duration of the transition.
You can find GameInformer's full piece here.