Telltale Games' CEO and co-founder Dan Connors says his company's found the key to maintaining consumer engagement over time -- "be there when we say we're going to be there."
Telltale earned its reputation by aiming to bring what it calls a "TV-style" format to games by delivering episodic titles to Internet portals as well as consoles.
Speaking at the GC Developers Conference in Leipzig, however, Connors says the mandate to "be there" becomes more challenging now that the company's moving on to consoles, most recently with Strong Bad Episode 1: Homestar Ruiner on WiiWare.
During Telltale's presentation, a slide lists Xbox Live Arcade as one of the developer's distribution channels -- "though we're not exactly on Xbox Live Arcade yet, so if you're in the press, don't write that down." [Ed's note: Too late.]
It's easier to start out with episodic delivery on PC, Connors says, because devs can patch and mod content quickly, there's lower risk and more space for innovation, plus the ability to be more connected with fans through blogs and forums. This helps engagement, Connors says, because fans can enjoy a community experience alongside the game between episodes.
Developers should leverage this community too, he advises -- "PC is still the most robust online space; especially for connecting to the audience. It's something we like to do a lot of at Telltale, and it can be harrowing because not all of us are trained in PR, but it's one of the best ways of maintaining a community."
Telltale's episodes are structured much like those of a TV series -- there's a premiere, core episodes and then a finale distributed online, followed by brand-building via dissemination through channels like Steam. Finally, it hits shelves in a "collector's edition DVD" for players who prefer the retail experience.
The benefits of this system, Connors says, are a small footprint and lots of reuse of assets (though they "keep the quality high") -- plus, it allows nimble teams that have to maximize productivity and be efficient because they're shipping a product every three months.
20 percent of players who buy a first episode next buy the whole season altogether, says Connors. Without providing specifics, he also said "most players" buy the whole season at once directly from Telltale, while "retail is the most powerful content-mover out there."
But even episodic at retail is different from the norm. "I haven't done a retail game since 2004, and so I think things have changed -- and if they have in the way I've heard, then I weep for everyone involved," says Connors.
"We have a steady deadline, so we always have this 'god, it has to be done' feeling at all time. That's our stress, but each day it's the busiest 8 hours as the team powers through the game."
And Telltale hopes to expand its portfolio as its brand strengthens. "Right now we have four franchises announced," says Connors, listing Wallace and Gromit, Sam and Max, Homestar Runner and Bone, and adding that the developer's more likely to focus on original properties and continue exploring console opportunities in spite of the challenges.