BioWare’s Dangerous Precedent – the Mass Effect 3 Ending

WARNING – I aim to keep this opinion piece as spoiler free as possible, and will not describe the story of Mass Effect 3 in any great detail, but I will be talking about the problems people had with the ending. If you read on, do so with caution.

Many of you are aware that there has recently been a lot of controversy surrounding the ending of BioWare’s Mass Effect 3. Many fans were unhappy with plot holes in the game’s story, and they felt that the ending failed to deliver on the promises of choice laid out by BioWare. A small but very vocal group of people who played felt strongly about the ending took to the internet. They took two approaches, the constructive and the destructive.

The constructive included people giving constructive feedback on the ending, with a group called “Retake Mass Effect Child’s Play” also formed, raising over thirty thousand dollars for the Child’s Play charity. They say that they did this to, “bring positive attention to our petition for an alternate ending to the fantastic Mass Effect series. We would like to dispel the perception that we are angry or entitled. We simply wish to express our hope that there could be a different direction for a series we have all grown to love.”

The destructive included fans sending death threats to people who worked on the game, insulting them and their families over the internet. One fan went so far as to urge others to make complaints of false advertising to the Federal Trade Commission writing:

After reading through the list of promises about the ending of the game they made in their advertising campaign and PR interviews, it was clear that the product we got did not live up to any of those claims. This thread has a great compilation of their claims:
http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/355/index/10056886

Clearly, none of these were represented in the ending. If anyone else wishes to file a complaint (the more there are the more likely the FTC will take action) just go to FTC.gov and fill out a complaint form in the Consumer Protection section.

It’s easy to see the ending has drawn a lot of attention recently and after several days of statements; Bioware co-founder Ray Muzyka announced that they would be working on new ending DLC, which he hoped will provide players with “further closure.” His full statement can be found here, but I’ll summarise his main points below:

  • He believes ME3 is BioWare’s “best work [they’ve] yet created.”
  • He “believe[s] passionately that games are an art form”, but that their fans have an “uncontested right to provide constructive criticism.” Because of this, he had to spend a lot of time working out how to address fan concerns whilst maintaining the game’s artistic integrity.
  • Due to the huge amount of player control and ownership of the story, it was hard to predict how fans would react to the ending.
  • They looked at all the opinions they could find on the ending from places like industry press, forums, Facebook, and Twitter.
  • Executive producer Casey Hudson and his team are working hard to find a solution that will please fans, whilst keeping the artistic integrity of the original ending. They will discuss these plans further in April.
  • He talks about review scores, and the critical consensus was that the game was exceptional.
  • They urge that this decision was in response to positive and constructive feedback, not destructive feedback or threats toward staff members.

Muzyka raises many interesting points here and while it sounds like this content will be an addition to the ending rather than a replacement, it still sets a dangerous precedent for writers in this industry, and the integrity of their original vision. The statement gives the impression that while they were not doing this for the fans that were aggressive in their approach for a new ending; it does suggest that the story in a video game belongs to the player, not the creator. In no other industry would fans act this way, demanding in such an extreme way that a story be changed because they didn’t like it. What about the fans who liked the original ending? What does this mean for them? Does the ending they enjoyed just cease to be canon? Fans of the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion who were upset with its conclusion made their voices heard, but they never resorted to death threats or huge petitions. The difference is that in other mediums, people may not like an ending, and may be vocal about that, but they seem to understand that the ending is ultimately the creation of the writer(s).

While fans have passionately expressed their desire to have the ending changed, many people in the video game development, journalism and review industries have voiced the opposite sentiments. Here are some quotes from people running up to the news about the ending being changed.

Editor-In-Chief of Game Informer Andy McNamara said on TwitterSeriously, if @bioware changes the ending of ME3 because people cry, it’s letting a cat out of the bag that can’t be returned.

Nicole Tanner, Game Writer at KIXEYE said “Please @bioware, don’t cave! #ME3

And in a recently released video, IGN’s Playstation Editor Colin Moriarty said, “I think it’s a terrible decision on BioWare’s part. It makes me really concerned for the creation of fiction in our industry and I think it sets a very dangerous precedent for all developers trying to tell stories in our industry.”

As someone who played all three Mass Effect games with a single character, here is my opinion on what’s happened. I was lucky enough to finish Mass Effect 3 in a vacuum, in the sense that I had managed to stay clear of the controversy. Having only seen one ending to the game, I was extremely pleased with how the game ended. I felt like my choices had mattered, and I had come to the end of my Shepard’s journey. Where I started to become less pleased with the ending was once I started looking online at the controversy.

I watched a few of the other endings that people had achieved, spread across Paragon, Renegade and all three choices for how to use the device at the end, and I realised that they were all nearly identical. The light might have been a different colour, or a building may be gone, but the endings were near identical. It wasn’t the ending that bothered me, but the fact that no matter how hard I worked, how good a team I built, how many I got through Mass Effect 2’s suicide mission, nothing I did could affect my ending.

But while I felt let down that the game’s endings had been limiting, I didn’t want BioWare to change it. The reason, it was their story. BioWare had taken me on an emotional and engaging journey across the galaxy, one I won’t forget for a very long time, and I felt that if their vision for the series was that it was unavoidable that you would reach the ending they provided, then so be it. They wanted us to feel a sense of futility in the face of a desparing war, and I commend them for taking that risk.

The fear I have now is that this will be the example gamers use for years to come. If you’re a gamer, and you don’t like the story a developer creates, you just have to point to BioWare and say, “they changed the ending, you should too.” This could deter developers from taking risks with their storytelling the way BioWare did, for fear they will have to change it, and this gets in the way of writers doing what they do best, writing stories.

What do you think? Was BioWare right to change the ending of Mass Effect 3? Should they have left it how it was? Do you think this will happen for other games in the future? Let us know in the comments below.

Sources: Source 1

  • http://twitter.com/Retribution1337 Matthew Old

    SPOILERS ALERT!

    HERE BE SPOILERS!

    SPOILERS TO FOLLOW!

    WARNING: MAY CONTAIN TRACES OF SPOILERS!

    DO NOT INGEST IF ALLERGIC TO SPOILERS!

    I’ve seen a lot of these articles like this and I do agree with most of it but there are some parts that I feel need another voice. I for one am in the camp that felt like the last 10 minutes of the game were rushed and had little thought put into them. The mass effect series has always been hugely focused on player choice and freedom, so like many, I went in expecting to see the consequences of my actions. This journey through the series has been a rather personal one for me. I’ve made it a personal goal to only ever play each game through once until the story was completed and I would live with whatever losses I took along the way. For me, theres only been one Shepard and dear god has life been cruel to her. In the suicide mission at the end of ME2, I had two losses, Thane and Mordin. Some of my favourite characters in video gaming.

    This way of playing has made my incredibly emotionally invested in the series. I mourned the loss of my squad, I shed a tear watching the shuttle with the kid get shot down and the soundtrack when leaving earth still tugs at my heartstrings. I got verbally abusive at the screen when Kai Leng beats you to the Prothean Beacon, I felt an extreme sense of duty rushing to rescue the council from Udina and dear god was I proud of the army I’d assembled.

    The thousands of details that carry over from one game to the next, I’ve not sat and explored the others myself. To me there is only one Shepard and that’s mine. Which is why when the ending came to pass, I felt sorely let down. I didn’t mind the twists such as the Illusive mans idea of control that you’ve been fighting against all the time being the “paragon” option. I didn’t mind that the Illusive man’s last moments were just a mirror or Saren’s. Hell, I liked and applaud that. I don’t even mind that Casey Hudson outright lied to us by presenting us with the choice of a Red explosion, blue explosion or green explosion after saying. “It’s not even in any way like the traditional game endings, where you can say how many endings there are or whether you got ending A, B, or C…..The endings have a lot more sophistication and
    variety in them.”

    What really gets me about the whole thing is the total lack of closure.

    What happens after you’ve set off the Crucible? All we know is the Normandy + Love Interest land on a forest planet and that’s it.

    Now ignoring the obvious questions that people are asking such as “Why was Joker running away from the fight?”, I have a few more that seem to me to be much more prevalent.

    What happened to everyone? With the destruction of the Mass Relay’s, no matter what option you picked, about 80% of the galaxy is now stranded in the solar system with the main means of travel wiped out. Without that, how does anyone plan to get home again? Earth is a wreck and not exactly fit for a refugee camp for absolutely everyone. Even if the relay’s weren’t destroyed, do any of the alliances my Shepard formed stay standing? Do the Krogan and the Turians remain allies? Do the Quarians try and turn on the Geth again? If you cured the Genophage, do the Krogan break their word and slaughter the rest of the galaxy?

    Even more personal questions remain unanswered. How many of my friends survived? All I saw alive was Joker, Garrus and Ashley. What about Liara? The last I saw her we were running towards the beam, a Reaper fired at us and that was it. I have no idea if she’s alive like Garrus who was also with me or lying somewhere on earths surface, still smoking. Miranda? Wrex? Jacob? Samara? Did any of them survive the battle?

    I was expecting this installment of the series to be the final one. The destruction of the Mass Relay’s were a sign of that. So why not show a long and detailed description of how all of your choices have turned out and how the galaxy will live on. You don’t have to plan for another game inside the same universe that imports saves and choices from three other games. Give our Shepard’s a good send off. Even if the outcome is always that your Shepard dies. Make his/her life worth it. Give it meaning. Cos as everything stands, all your efforts are for naught. You neutralised the reaper threat and simulataneously caused the extinction and wipe out of the galaxy they came to eradicate.

    For me, I’m still not going to replay the series. Because without answers to these questions, my story is not yet over.

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