Ever since this once hit-and-miss indie publisher gripped the gaming world with its wonderfully immersive adaptation of The Walking Dead, and became one of the most consistently exceptional and talked about studios in the AAA market, any discussion involving Telltale Games remains focused on what popular licensed property they should tackle next.
After news of Lionsgate’s substantial investment in the rapidly-growing developer broke this past week we were once again inundated with yet more lists of the ’10 franchises we want Telltale Games to adapt’.
It’s an entirely understandable reaction given Telltale’s pedigree for putting their choose-your-own-adventure twist on established material to create successful video game narratives that are as fun to play as they are compelling. Sure, the thought of them applying their unique, episodic mechanic to our favourite franchises (Star Wars), reviving a cult classic (Firefly) or giving another Vertigo comic (Sandman) the adaptation it deserves is nothing short of enticing.
Nevertheless, the triple-A market is hardly lacking for remakes, reboots or spin-offs and the talents of two leading innovators such as Lionsgate and Telltale deserve to be known for more than simply adapting other people’s properties.
While their partnership certainly opens the door to more exciting adaptations – you won’t hear me saying no to Telltale’s Hunger Games – it’s their ambitious plans for a debut original IP that is most exciting.
Telltale Games have been teasing their first wholly original project for some time now, but have kept their cards close to their chest. Though many details still remain a secret, they did reveal that their future lies with an original, transmedia hybrid that splits its narrative between a video game and television series.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Telltale’s CEO Kevin Bruner coined the phrase ‘Super Show’ and described it as a piece of media that ‘combines one part of interactive playable content with one part of scripted television style content’ to offer an experience like no other.
This isn’t the first time a TV show/game hybrid has been attempted. A few years ago the Syfy Channel and Trion Worlds collaborated to create Defiance, a cross-platform sci-fi adventure that integrated a television series with a MMO, to varying degrees of success. Where the series was generally well received and continues to air, the video game struggled to get off the ground and has recently become free-to-play – not an ideal return on a project that took five years and approximately $100 million to produce.
Bringing the worlds of television and video games together is something that has been attempted on several occasions, but managing a project across two different mediums is an ambitious challenge that is yet to be successfully overcome. But, if anyone can do it, it’s Telltale.
What sets them apart from the others who’ve tried in the past?
What they know
Unlike Trion Worlds, Telltale have already conquered the cross-medium format by creating critically acclaimed games from popular franchises across many mediums. Whether it’s Game of Thrones from television, Fables and The Walking Dead from comic series, Back to the Future fromTales from the Borderlands from video games, the way in which they tell tales has remained the same.
Their wonderfully imaginative stories within pre-established universes succeed because that is essentially all they are: stories. The experience watching a television series and then playing a MMO are vastly different, the audience consumes a Telltale game in largely same way as any other form of scripted entertainment, because their games are designed like interactive television episodes.
Who they know
Even since their humble beginnings, Telltale have found the necessary contacts to secure adaptation so major franchises. Now with the sizeable backing from Lionsgate they are supplied with even more resources to expand bigger and better ideas. In several statements issued around the announcement of their collaborative original IP, Telltale were quick to reassure fans that they will continue to make the adaptations that have brought them so much success.
You can already imagine a business model where these franchise pieces, though continuing to deliver fascinating interpretations of existing worlds, will have a subordinate task of financing their more ambitious, original projects.
Established platforms of distribution
Last, but by no means least, is how the content will be distributed to the audience. One of the issues Defiance struggled to overcome was that they were creating an ambitious game when consoles were only just becoming fully online. As Syfy’s Dave Howe explains in an interview with Hollywood Reporter, ‘it was designed to be a PC game, and then console platforms became online-capable, so we decided to launch it on PlayStation. Then suddenly we could do it on Xbox. Each time we added, it added another year to it and a level of expense to it.’
Current gen consoles are no longer a single functioning platform for gaming, but have developed into a multimedia hub. As well as continuing to supply an improved experience of the most popular form of escapist entertainment through games, they integrate smart television services, catch-up TV apps and streaming subscriptions such as Netflix, which makes them the perfect platform for Telltale to distribute their hybrid.
Everything is in place for Telltale Games to be the first game studio to succeed with the cross-platform experience. And if they do, it’s hard to know what implications this may have for the future of video game consumption, or even entertainment in general.