People like to complain. A lot. Especially people who play video games. If you follow gaming news you’ve probably heard about enormous backlash against the recently released Mass Effect 3, created by Bioware and published by EA. This in itself is not unusual. Head over to any website that covers games and look at the comments people post, I guarantee you’ll find at least one person (usually many more) ranting about how this game was a disgrace and they should get their money back, or how this game developer/publisher is evil and should be scourged from the Earth. Every once in a while the complaints are actually valid, such as the way Sony handled last year’s PSN hacking crisis, but most of the time these “controversies” come off sounding like a group of entitled children crying about not getting a third cookie. I actually find it tiring, slogging through comment after comment about how games need to have more content, cost less, and should probably do your taxes to boot. Posters make grand gestures, saying that “I will never buy a game from this company again!” or try to get you to sign some online petition, but nothing ever comes from that. In general these little movements die out after a few days and everyone goes back to their normal lives. But this giant storm of controversy that has erupted over Mass Effect 3 is simply unlike anything I have ever seen and raises some very real questions about the future of game development.
Before we look at the specific fury over Mass Effect 3, let’s roll back time a bit and take a look back at the Mass Effect series itself. It first came out in 2007 as an Xbox 360 exclusive, and was billed as a Sci Fi epic where your decisions in-game would have very real effects on the story. Your decisions in the first game carried over into Mass Effect 2 (which was also released for the PS3) and eventually into Mass Effect 3. I absolutely loved the first two games and spent countless hours playing them. Between the gripping story of an ancient machine race coming back to rid the galaxy of all organic life, the compelling third person gameplay that combined the best parts of shooters and RPGs, and the way you interacted with the other characters around you and built a crew; the Mass Effect games easily became one of my favorite game series of all time. So when Mass Effect 3 came around, I was incredibly excited and gladly plopped down $80 for the Collector’s Edition, primarily because it came with an extra playable character. And here is where things started going wrong.
People were none too happy to see that they would be missing out on a playable character if they didn’t spend an extra $20 on a limited edition (which was actually limited for once), so Bioware announced that they would be releasing the character as DLC on launch day so that anyone who wanted it could have it. This, of course, was Day 1 DLC which infuriated more fans, especially when a technical goof showed that the character was a Prothean. Protheans in the Mass Effect universe are a long extinct race of aliens whose technology and history plays an important part in the overall story. Fans raged, and Bioware was placed in a rather tough situation. I’ve played through the entire game, so I can tell you that this character was not integral to the story and was merely a pleasant addition for people who decided to pick up the Collector’s Edition. But regardless of what Bioware did with this bit of DLC (keep it exclusive, sell it for $10, or give it away free), they would have upset some of their fans. In my opinion, they made the correct decision in giving people the option to purchase it, and honestly we see similar outbursts whenever a new game is launched that has multiple tiers you can purchase. But what this did do was put people into a victim mentality, which opened the doors for what came next.
On March 6 everyone was able to get their hands on Mass Effect 3. Early reviews of the game were all excellent, garnering 4/5, 9/10, and even a few perfect scores on some sites. There were a few less than perfect reviews, but the general sense was that this game was the best of the trilogy. I certainly felt that way as I played through the game. I loved how all the characters I had met in the past remembered my actions, and how the choices I made really did affect how events turned out in the game. It took me around 40 hours to beat it, and as I watched the end of my mission unfold and the credits start to roll, I felt content. Commander Shepherd’s story was finished, and while there were still a number of things left up in the air, enough was wrapped up that I could gladly set the game down. Being a fan of epic fantasy literature and science fiction, I was very familiar with this sort of open-ended finish to a story as it happens in just about every series you read. I put my controller down and went about my business. But elsewhere on the internet, people were not as content as I was.
What started out as a few message board comments about a lame ending soon blew up into a full-scale internet uprising. Everywhere you looked there was another news story about how people were upset about the ending and what they were going to do about it. Almost everyone agreed that the rest of the game was fantastic, but the last 10 minutes or so was not (remember, this is a game that took me 40 hours to beat, so this is dealing with .42% of the game). The gist of their argument was that after 5 years and countless hours of gameplay, your choices as to how the game ended were far too limited and similar. There are at least four endings, with multiple variations on each one depending on the choices you made earlier in the game. There were also complaints leveled at the open-ended nature of the endings and they demanded closure. I’m not going to argue whether they were wrong or right in this regard, since it is their opinion, but as more people raved the more the movement picked up steam. People began calling for a new ending, filing complaints with the FTC and the Better Business Bureau about deceptive advertising, harassing Bioware employees on social media, giving the game 1 star reviews on Metacritic, even sending cupcakes to Bioware in protest!
Bioware at first backed the ending they had written, but as the clamor for a new ending continued (and it still continues today) they began to change their tune. They have since announced that they will look into creating an alternative ending to the game and will definitely be trying to wrap up different characters’ stories with additional DLC. I’m worried that now a dangerous precedent has been set, that now if gamers don’t like something they can just complain long enough and override an artist’s vision. I think the amount of hate and vitriol that has been sent Bioware’s way is almost delusional in nature, especially when dealing with a game that almost everyone claims is very good! I didn’t enjoy the ending of the last Harry Potter book all that much (or even the last few books in general), but I don’t judge the entirety of the series based on it as people are doing here. This issue is still playing out on the message boards and in the meeting rooms of publisher EA. Only they know what they are going to do with this unprecedented internet uproar over an ending. I’m hoping they stick by Bioware and tell them to keep making things based on their vision, but it’s hard when you see all these potential customers obviously not happy. Only time will tell how this particular saga will end, but the many different controversies surrounding Mass Effect 3 highlight some deep issues in the gaming world and could end up having some unfortunate effects later on depending on how it all plays out.