My Telltale Layoff: A Follow Up

Since 2012, I’ve struggled on how, if, and when I should publish what I’m about to say. For this first fully public disclosure, I’ll stick to the main points.

I loved working at Telltale Games. I worked with a number of people whose work I grew up on. Worked with franchises I loved and lead me to working in video games. This is what happened to me for that dedication.

  • April 30th, 2007:
    • Started at Telltale Games.
  • April 2007 – July 2012:
  • July 18, 2012:
  • July 28, 2013:
    • Informed by lead management of Telltale Games of the list of companies where I “need not apply” to.
    • Later, some of these studios confirmed this status in various ways.
  • November 27, 2013:
    • Found employment as a contractor in front-end web development at an ad agency.
    • 507 days since the Telltale layoff.
  • July 18, 2014:
    • Gag order from layoff expired.
  • July 18, 2017:
    • Non Disclosure Agreement, which technically covered gag order, expires.
  • Late September 2018:

This does not begin to describe what I endured by these events. It doesn’t cover the isolation, the paranoia, and assortment of other forms of trauma and recovery from the last seven years. This doesn’t include the people who did make positive work to assist me though this time. If there’s interest in the deeper story, I’m willing to give further details and the few receipts I have. Though I confess that most of my information came from individuals who spoke to me and no recordings exist.

To be clear: I don’t believe that every studio had me on a list. I had a narrow set of skills that only a few places would find relevant. These places were actively closed to me. In other cases, recruiters of certain studios had blanket policies against Telltale content programmers as the skill set was seen as incompatible. That too was told to me in-person at a recruiting event. I was a narrative designer in a world where that wasn’t a title one could have.

At this point, it’s hard for me to see a path to work in video games again. Too much time has passed for my experience to be relevant in the eyes of the current state of the industry. The management of Telltale succeeded in their goals, for whatever their reasons, to remove me from the industry. Even with the closure of the studio, they won and I lost.

For today, it’s a big step for me to come forward. With the support of friends and years of therapy, I’m finally able to share this testimony with you. It’s not a complete, but it’s enough.

Video games. They’ll break your heart.

Telltale Games: 2004 – 2018

There’s… there’s a lot for me to say. I still find myself deciding on what is appropriate.

I’m trying to find the line between the sudden freedom I have in speaking about my time during and especially after my layoff in 2012, but not drowning the voices and needs of the 250+ souls who not only lost their jobs, but have no financial support. #TelltaleJobs is an important hashtag. It comforts me that the class of 2018 is able to say they were laid off without being questioned by it.

In the next few weeks and months, I’ll start opening up more. Till then, I sum up my time at Telltale with a few small bits:

And it’s really great to hear from the other artists I worked with.

The Wii tools where complex, and I had to make sure the Chapman Bros could play the development builds from Atlanta. I made a bunch of scripts, tools, and documentation for them to play their game on-hardware. 
I love all my children, but Puzzle Agent will always be my favorite.

Good Old Games & Dominique Pamplemousse

As the producer for Dominique Pamplemousse (or ‘Professional Extrovert’ as Squinky calls me), I have to get the game in front of as many people as possible. With the IGF Grand Prize & other nominations, there’s a lot of opportunities presented to the game and it’s my roll to capture them. Course, we’re limited by budget (there is none) and time (I have little of).

Our sales are particularly high in Europe and Russia. Shocking as the game is English only and no advertising to speak of. Steam is a good partner and everyone at Humble is wonderful! I figured adding Good Old Games would compliment the Eurozone in coverage. The only contact I had was a Submit Your Game link. I gave a little bit of info in the form, and named drop our festival destinations along with the fact the game is already released.

I wasn’t expecting this kind of response:

Continue reading Good Old Games & Dominique Pamplemousse

“Shipping the Empty Box” Confirmed for PAX Dev!

I will be presenting a lecture at PAX Dev!

PAX Dev Logo

Shipping the Empty Box
Releasing [string:titleOfGame] on [array:platforms]

Working on [string:titleOfGame], you need to release it on [array:platforms-0] and perhaps on [array:platforms-1] in the future. You have [int:NULL] time till release. Build engineer and programmer John “Seg” Seggerson (Telltale Games, John McNeil Studio, Dominique Pamplemousse) will help smooth the multi-platform release by outlining build engineering tips for platforms on desktop, mobile, console, and beyond. Increase artist, writer, and programmer efficiency with a set of core specifications and planning applied to existing platforms and future platforms. Skills and knowledge that will reduce release headaches for your [int:sizeOfTeam] team!


This is the build engineering panel I’ve always wanted to do and finally getting to do it. My experience with Dominique Pamplemousse was releasing a game without having to worry about making the game. I needed to create the empty box to ship to Steam & Humble. This clean-room process made me think about the build process in this perspective, and finally got me to apply for this lecture.

Talking with my game industry friends, we couldn’t think of ever seeing a build engineering panel offered. Not just PAX Dev, but GDC as well. My hope was to get accepted to PAX Dev to focus getting the content together in time to apply for GDC. I got my wish!

The lecture will be in two acts. The first act will be guidelines for a build system from my experience. Going into specifics isn’t helpful because game engines are too different for me to cover. Instead I’ll be going to broad guidelines. The second act will be releasing my master asset list, a core asset list, and the philosophy behind it. This list will contain all assets for every platform I can talk about. Then another core assets needed to convert over to these targets. If I have time, I may make a NPM/Bower app to do these conversations.

Over the summer I’ll be working on the details of the lecture and have everything ready for submitting for GDC 2015. I’m super excited to work on this and get to attend PAX Dev & PAX Prime!

LucasArts Closes

Disney announced the closure of LucasArts as a game development studio and publisher. It will now be operating as a licensing house of Lucas properties for video games.

LucasArts

First a quotable quote from me in case anyone wants the soundbite:

LucasArts in the 80′s and 90′s helped shape me into the interactive media artist I am today. My time at Telltale Games was as close to working in that environment, and I hope shaped positively the careers of future men and women of interactive media. – John “Seg” Seggerson

I am the product of the adventure gaming genre of the 90′s and squarely in the SCUMM engine camp. Besides Myst, Sam & Max and Monkey Island titles are the most influential titles in my life. They shaped how I created my career and thus my life itself. The news of the closure wasn’t unexpected, so I have already made peace with the fate that occurred. But this is a time to reflect on the importance LucasArts has made in my life.

My love for video games is rooted in an interactive narrative. I’m not one for shooting at things a lot. I’d rather be a part of the storytelling process than a hired gun. Growing up with the SCUMM engine games, I had a lifelong goal of working at a place like LucasArts with the likes of Dave Grossman, Tim Schafer, and Ron Gilbert. When the Star War prequels came out, the slow burn to the end of LucasArts began. The shutting of the successor of Sam & Max titles was a solid push in that direction.

Continue reading LucasArts Closes

Kickstarter Backer Support Tool?

Dear Lazyweb: As I eye Kickstarter for funding (and marketing) tools for my next project, I’m realizing something that I feel should exist already and doesn’t. Since it doesn’t already exist, I feel it’s either against the rules as I can’t be the only person to see the need.

When your project gets funding, there’s the matter of reward fulfillment. Right now the process is creating a survey for each tier asking the info you need to deliver the reward. You can only ask this survey once. As a backer, you can only submit this info once and after 10 minutes  it’s locked in. Need to change it? Manual contact and update for both sides. Change of address? Contact project directly for manual update. You’re asked to wait till you can make send the final award to users, but what if you a digital package to devlier sooner than a physical package? It’s horrible support mess.

Continue reading Kickstarter Backer Support Tool?

Steam: Big Picture

While it’s been talked about for a while, Steam finally announced “Big Picture” mode for Steam. The into video was weirdly different from Valve’s usual product announcements.

Instead of the more narrative based product announcements like the TF2 “Meet the…” series, it’s purely product presentation. Almost has a vibe similar to a Google product video.

The video isn’t bad. The thing that stands out for me is the human voice-over that represents the Steam and Valve, rather than a character in a game. Prior, the identity of Steam consisted mascots rolled out for the community pages and seasonal sales. Now there’s a voiceover and presentational framing of product without voiceless cartoon characters.

Combine this and the expansion to non-entertainment apps on Steam, it looks like our little Steam is growing up!

Steam Greenlight

While I was out at PAX and Seattle, Valve released the new Steam Greenlight initiative.

The problem Greenlight is trying to solve is approving titles for sale on Steam. Previously (and currently), titles would have to be manually vetted and approved by Valve in order to be distributed on Steam. This is OK for more established outfits, but there’s an increasing volume of titles that aren’t represented by established publishers/developers, flooding the system. Some titles were rejected even when released on console platforms.

Greenlight gives a different avenue for vetting title submissions. A developer/publisher posts information about a title they want to release on Steam. If enough unique registered users of Steam vote up the title, Valve will release the game on Steam. This allows Valve to process more submissions with smaller effort on their part. Ultimately reducing the risk of a title slipping though the cracks.

At release, the barrier of submission was simply to fill out the submission with a valid Steam account. This created a flood of fake, copied, or obscene submissions. As an attempt to create enough of a hurdle for submissions, Valve now requires a $100 submission fee for enabling an account to submit. To be clear, it’s a fee for any number of submissions from one account and not reoccurring. This fee will go directly to Child’s Play (which I also have a connection with via Ümloud!). For the sake of this discussion, how the money is used is irrelevant.

Ben Kuchera of The PA Report wrote an editorial about the $100 fee as exclusionary and wrong. It’s the value amount that he expressed his concerns:

If the fee were lowered to $10, the effect of weeding out the trolls would continue, and the amount of people that could participate in the process would be exponentially widened. It’s still a long shot, and you still have to muster community support and have a good game. In fact someone emailed me to suggest a mandatory playable demo would do much to help remove the trolls, share more information about games, and remove the financial barrier. Even if they could raise the $100 fee, it would be better spent on rent or equipment.

The $100 price point is pretty common across other gaming platforms, but Steam is actually cheaper in the long run. Apple requires a $99/year fee for iOS, another $99/year for Mac Store. Xbox ‘Creators Club’ charges $99/year. Steam is $100 period. As far as platforms to sell games on, Steam pretty accessible and inexpensive. The real trick is the cut you get per sale, which I don’t have all the numbers available on Steam. Though it’s hard to argue with a one-time fee vs. an annual fee. Can this fee be lower? Sure. I would also think that Valve used the metics from banning players of multiplayer games and recreating accounts.

The question posed to users is “Would you buy this game if it were available in Steam?” The “Yes” button figuratively would be a buy button. Greenlight is not Kickstarter and no money is transfered. A developer would do better to present later in their schedule to have screenshots and the important video for the submission. Greenlight is geared towards the later end of a production schedule. After you figured out a budget, even if that budget consists of an game engine licensee.

A developer using Greenlight developer is asking to sell a product, regardless of your background. With all due respect, this isn’t Newgrounds.com. Submitting to Greenlight is during your work into a commercial product. Of all the venues out there, Steam Greenlight is the least expensive storefront to place commercial games. The $100 may have been a quick fix for the over-flooding problem — and I hope it’s continued to be re-evaluated as time goes on. What I can say is that Steam Greenlight is lowest bar of entry for commercial game stores. And that makes me happy for the state of independent development.