Mass Effect’s name has recently become synonymous with controversy due to the recently released third title in the series. The controversy surrounds the game’s various endings, all of which seem to have the greater portion of the game’s player-base outraged. It has become such an issue that even the Federal Trade Commission has been petitioned to force Mass Effect’s developer Bioware to rewrite the ending. The claim is that Bioware broke certain promises it made to fans in advertisements and in public relations conferences. These promises concerned the player’s ability to make choices in the game which would allow the player to fully decide the ultimate outcome. This goes along with Bioware’s history of making games where the player’s choice is vital to the gameplay.
Upon the very first day of the game’s release, however, there was an outcry from fans who were in disbelief over how little their decisions actually steered the story’s ending. For the purpose of this essay, I want to examine the developer-player relationship in terms of choices the developer gives the players and how much artistic freedom players actually give developers. As far as I am concerned, Bioware, and any other developer who spends years working on a massive title like Mass Effect, should have absolute freedom and enough of a creative license over the products they create.
Dave Thier, a contributing writer to Forbes online, details the responses of certain lawyers who felt that the case positioned against Bioware will likely not hold up in court because it is common consumer knowledge that an advertisement is purposed for the sale of a product, and not its inherent quality. With a product like a video game, this is even more true because it is an intellectual property which is wholly marketed and sold as an entertainment product. As Thier entails, Bioware should not have to worry about this particular fan’s case. However, a commenter on Thier’s blog makes a good point when he writes, “the threat of lawsuit does more damage than lawsuits themselves much of the time.” While I doubt that Bioware will be scathed by this event, their image is perhaps tarnished.
Bioware itself has addressed the situation in the most graceful way I believe a developer could. The co-founder and GM of BioWare said in a statement “I personally believe Mass Effect 3 is the best work we’ve yet created. So, it’s incredibly painful to receive feedback from our core fans that the game’s endings were not up to their expectations.” Developers must listen to the fans because they are the ones who purchase their games. Despite this, I feel the fact should also be addressed that a developer gains a certain level of notoriety based on the general public’s reception of the product which, in the case of the Mass Effect series, has always been a more than decent reception. Additionally, Mass Effect 3 is the conclusion of the trilogy which means that fans’ emotions are highly invested in the outcome and this is by virtue of Bioware’s adept ability to tell a story with impact. Bioware is known to be one the respectful developers, like Blizzard, who combs through forums to find suggestions and problems the fans have with their titles and this did not change in the case of Mass Effect 3.
Chris Periera, writer for 1Up.com, writes that “the haters want a new ending. The defenders want BioWare to stay true to their vision and not change a thing. BioWare is instead doing something in between the two, a move which may appease both sides — or it could end up frustrating the both of them.” As Periera later says, Bioware is not so much creating a new ending as they are adding optional DLC content or updates that will better fill the gaps in the story, which was the main issue fans had with the ending. They felt that the choices they had made up until that point were made arbitrary in light of what those choices led up to. However, as upset as some fans are over the endings, many fans are equally supportive of the fact that Bioware retains its artistic integrity and that, regardless of how the player feels about the outcome, it is after all Bioware’s property.
What is so interesting is that the game has actually received favorable reviews from critics. The Xbox 360 version has a 93 out of 100 on metacritic.com and considering just how many reviews are compiled to achieve that score, it’s a true feat on Bioware’s part. This seems to be even more proof to the fact that Bioware retains a sense of artistic integrity which they are merited through their excellent work in producing the game. Colin Moriarty, a Playstation reviewer for IGN.com wrote “Mass Effect 3 isn’t the best game ever made. But it’ll certainly be in the conversation for a very long time to come.” He’s right too, because Mass Effect 3 has become one of the most talked about games and people are awaiting Bioware’s adjustments to the game.
The reason people have such a problem with the ending is not only because they are deeply attached to the characters but also they feel as though the ending makes the choices they made, throughout the first and second games, essentially moot. It is unclear why they feel this way in light of how Bioware has repeatedly said (before the whole debacle) that Mass Effect 3 would not be the end of the series. In any case, Bioware has substantiated itself as a creative entity whose recent choices have put them in a negative light which they did not deserve. The developer’s ability to create a story with interweaving choices is still mind-blowing and it is actually a huge let down to see how far some people are willing to go to ignore that ability.
Moriarty, Colin. IGN.com. http://www.ign.com/articles/2012/03/06/mass-effect-3-review
Pereira, Chris. 1UP.com. http://www.1up.com/news/bioware-address-mass-effect-3-ending
Reilly, Jim. GameInformer.com. http://www.gameinformer.com/b/news/archive/2012/03/21/bioware-addressing-mass-effect-3-criticisms.aspx