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:

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 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

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