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The Walking Dead – Ten Years On

It was ten years ago that the first series of Telltale’s The Walking Dead changed how we think about those kinds of video games. And maybe all video games.


Two seasons into the TV series, fans found a new way of looking at the fictional Walker-fied universe – but it didn’t stop there. Thanks to being available on every single device in existence, as well as the episodic format, it quickly spread to a more casual audience.

It wasn’t the first of its kind, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last, but The Walking Dead popularised a new kind of game. Morally grey, serious, character driven. It beat out The Last of Us by a year.

A decade on, the gaming industry has built upon the idea time and time again. But this classic still stands up. Why?

We Will Remember That

In reality, The Walking Dead was not a fully original game. Even within Telltale’s back catalogue, you can see the process. Back to the Future is a lighter story-based title with more puzzles. But they share a DNA.

Before that there were countless story-based games. You can find endless lists of games from the 90s that had stories with morally grey protagonists. You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting an edge lord with a heart of gold in the early 2000s.

What The Walking Dead did was bring all that together into a story that was easy to digest. There was very little barrier to entry. If you could read, see and hear, you could play it. No 20 to 200 hours of gameplay, no learning how things work or even having to have great command of the controller. It made it easy.

And more than that, you could choose your way through the story. Granted, this was mostly smoke and mirrors. But most people were only going to play it once anyway. The feeling of thinking your decisions mattered gave them weight.

And you can argue the toss on how original that was. Heavy Rain, for instance, had come out a couple of years before and clearly had a big influence. Before that there was 2005’s Fahrenheit.

As of 2014 The Walking Dead had sold over 28m episodes. It has probably sold many more times that now, what with re-releases and the like. It revitalized the adventure genre, which had basically been forgotten. Although what it did to it wasn’t always popular, there’s no argument that it had a huge impact on the gaming world.

The Walking Dead

Telltale took the crazy success to heart, and it killed them. They went hunting bigger and bigger IPs, refusing to build upon what they already had. The longer it went on, the harder they would have found it to fix their issues, and instead they invested in more IPs. There’s a great article about it by The Verge. The end result was inevitable.

But for a moment there, a relatively small adventure game company changed the world of video games for the better. And their achievements still stand up today.


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blank Mat Growcott has been a long-time member of the gaming press. He's written two books and a web series, and doesn't have nearly enough time to play the games he writes about.

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Twitter: @matgrowcott