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Opinion:  Mass Effect 3 's promise of ownership is one it couldn't keep
Opinion: Mass Effect 3's promise of ownership is one it couldn't keep Exclusive
March 21, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander

March 21, 2012 | By Leigh Alexander
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    103 comments
More: Console/PC, Exclusive, Business/Marketing



Gamers will complain loudly about virtually anything on the internet. In fact, the stereotype of the persnickety nerd is bigger than games and older than the internet, frequently reflected in popular media: Joyless and obsessive, lavishing upon the detailed rules of their fantasy worlds, absurd adults looking stoic in their Star Trek uniform reproductions.

Obviously these are satires of extreme behavior, not icons that accurately reflect every person who enjoys science fiction, fantasy, video games and roleplaying. The archetype is born not of an image or behavior necessarily, but from the fact that the juxtaposition of playful, escapist-invented universes with the unflinching and deeply serious attention to detail that fans of those universes pay can seem strange to those that don't participate in what we generally call "geek culture."

The fact internet mobs will rise up in unison to do things like ruin the Amazon ranking of a book whose author offhandedly criticized gaming, or to arrange a campaign of harassment against an employee of a studio who suggested she'd like to see some things about a beloved franchise change, makes it pretty hard to sympathize with most of the causes gamers get up in arms about.

At first blush, the latest stink made by Mass Effect fans over the ending of the third game seems like just the latest eyeroll-inducing advance from an overly-entitled, impossible-to-satisfy group of players.

BioWare has said it aimed to make the trilogy's conclusion memorable for everyone, and that it hoped to get audiences talking. It also wanted to use the ending to pave the way for further, new and different adventures in the franchise's universe, on their way via downloadable content. BioWare's games are beloved by fans who like the studio's approach to storytelling, which generally involves extremely detailed, lore-rich worlds, customizable characters and narratives driven by choices which place the player character somewhere on a moral spectrum.

But when it comes to Mass Effect 3, many in the audience seem to have suddenly run out their patience for BioWare's storytelling -- they would rather have agency. For a game that's about choice, they argue, Mass Effect 3's ending didn't offer them enough ownership.

The charity petition fans have taken up to express their protest and to insist BioWare update the game to offer a different ending uses strong, pained language -- and as it raised $40,000 in one day (and over $76,000 as of press time), it almost makes you wonder what kind of world we would live in if these people were as passionate about, say, positive social change as they are about their space role-playing video game.

And if you're a creator, someone who visualizes games as an authored medium, or a player who likes to experience the amazing universes that game developers can create, this new level of entitlement from BioWare fans becomes insulting. Nobody really liked the ending of The Sopranos, either, but it never crossed the mind of any well-adjusted person to ask for -- no, to claim they were owed -- a change. We generally think of these entertainment media as the expressions of their creators, where you can like them or not, and where it's in fact less interesting to "like" something as to be provoked by it, to thought or discussion.

In a statement, BioWare co-founder Dr. Ray Muzyka promised the studio is listening to audience "feedback", and that even in defiance of the "first instinct" to defend its work, it will offer future content that should address fan problems with the ending.

But how the studio is handling the fan demands ultimately becomes a statement on what video games are for: Are they expressive works of art to be experienced and discussed, or are they interaction systems designed to salve and pleasure escapists and recuse the creators?

These questions on the nature of games, and all the further questions they imply (what, if anything, is a game creator's obligation to its audience?) aren't new; far from it, they're well-trod, with plenty favoring games-as-art and auteur theory while others view them as stimulation engines that have no inherent meaning aside from the player's entertainment, from whatever meaning the player's experience bestows. Still others understand games as somewhere in between, a call-and-response, a dialog between designer and player where each holds equal power.

What's new about the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle is an interesting reflection of our times and an important cautionary tale about the promises that big companies make to audiences. Publishers have been steadily aiming in recent years to take more and more of the games business online. The relationship between the player and the creator no longer ends at the retail shelf: Gamers can expect long-lived franchises, ever-living online play, steady feeds of DLC, even cross-platform tie-ins.

There are now tablet apps, social networks, content updates, stuff like that. The promise has advanced closer and closer to the implication that if you're ready to keep paying relatively tiny amounts of money on a regular basis, you never have to leave your game world if you don't want to.

When players balked at the possibility that publishers might just be trying to extend their relationships with our wallets, we were told that it's better for us. Online play gives publishers data that lets them customize our experience to be more of what we want; games as live operations instead of as boxed products ensure that someone is always listening, that the game world is an omnipresent concern to a publisher versus something they just need to get us to buy once.

It was BioWare parent Electronic Arts that pushed hard to be on the forefront of this digital revolution; for the past few years that pillar of its business has been a priority, if not the priority. And it was BioWare that has always led the choice-driven game, the customizable protagonist, prizing the lean-forward, player-engaged storytelling method. You could almost call its community management aggressive, so stridently did the studio want its audience to know it was listening.

In fact, perhaps more than any other modern console game Mass Effect led this movement toward ultimate player agency. This is your story, this is your Shepherd, players were told again and again. It's actually not, in fact, all that weird that people feel entitled to own it by now. You maybe can't blame BioWare fans for not really being interested, only just now, only at the series' end, in the studio's creative entitlement to finish "its" game how it wants.

One of my friends thought the name of the fan petition, "Retake Mass Effect," (a subversion of the game's own "Retake the Earth" marketing tagline) was particularly interesting -- "as if it ever belonged to them," he reflected. But if games really are the owned vision of a team of creators, then BioWare's first mistake was committing so fully to the fiction that it did.

If you promise your players agency and involvement, they are going to take it seriously. If you use every trick in your repertoire to immerse and engage, to create a sense of ownership, it seems you will need to consider the implications of those promises beyond how much downloadable content you can sell.

It's interesting to learn what kinds of enormous expectations an audience of fans developed in response to the marketing campaigns for Mass Effect and in answer to the meticulous relationship-building the brand undertook with them. Other publishers and brands should benefit from the lesson. Maybe it's less exciting to champion "player-owned" universes when situations like this make it clear how much it limits creators -- not to mention how impossible "player-owned" actually is in reality.

No one likes irrational, entitled audiences. But maybe in this case, it becomes clear how they get that way.


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Comments


Lyon Medina
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I am not for criticism, but the article is longer than it needs to be. A simple creative control within Mass Effect goes to the developer rather its fan base. I liked it a lot, the article and the ending (Even as long as both are).

I admit after I saw the ending of ME3 (for the first time) it frustrated me, not angered or any other overblown reaction but I was frustrated. I had no idea what had happened, I couldn't understand what choice I had made or why I even made it. After watching the ending several times and watching key moments over again I can now understand where the series is going and what is in store for the future.

I think the ending was horrible in the form it was presented, Bio-Ware dropped the ball on that, but its a good ending when you understand what actually happened. I am not going to spoil it, but people should really enjoy it if I am correct.

Patrick Davis
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The biggest complaint is not the ending as a whole, but the fact that your choices didn't matter in the end. The whole Paragon/Renegade thing, people you helped or didn't help, things you did or didn't do, all meant nothing in the end. This is definitely a game that should have had a multitude of endings depending on how certain events transpired. Instead we get blanket ending that only matches some players' vision of their Shepard.

Eric Geer
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"The whole Paragon/Renegade thing, people you helped or didn't help, things you did or didn't do, all meant nothing in the end. This is definitely a game that should have had a multitude of endings depending on how certain events transpired."

Maybe this is the point...whether you are good or bad, no matter who you help or hate, sometimes shit doesn't work out as you were hoping....

They should have never agreed to develop an new ending.

Lyon Medina
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@Patrick

They did though, I cannot stress enough to watch the ending again and really look at the smaller details that Mass Effect fans like us are known for. This ending was meant to be talked about, they even say it. So talk about it,(not here cause I am a big supporter of not spoiling anything.) with a friend and really discuss everything. Especially the final 13 minutes. It will make so much more sense.

Michael Rooney
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"Maybe this is the point...whether you are good or bad, no matter who you help or hate, sometimes shit doesn't work out as you were hoping...."

I really don't get why nobody else thinks this. This was immediately what I thought. I think it really highlights the end of ME as a no-win situation when a series that prides itself on choice boils down to 3 'win' options. My only gripe would be that they should have added a no-action ending where if the player takes too long to choose one of the three choices they just lose to really highlight how the player doesn't have a choice beside those 3 unless they're willing to sacrifice literally everything.

Brian Young
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"Maybe this is the point...whether you are good or bad, no matter who you help or hate, sometimes shit doesn't work out as you were hoping...."

It's likely that's what they intended, but that's terrible storytelling. They spent a great deal of time creating a narrative/world where your choices do matter -- and throughout most of that narrative that is actually a main focus. To cop out at the end and suddenly abandon the rules of their own fiction is just... bad. Nearly as bad as the whole it was just a dream thing.

That said, I'm not petitioning anyone to change it. Bioware took a shot; swing and a miss. It happens.

Ashoke Datta-Chaudhuri
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"My only gripe would be that they should have added a no-action ending where if the player takes too long to choose one of the three choices they just lose"

They actually do - I took my time and walked over the window for the view at the end, before slowly making my choice...surprisingly, I was suddenly presented with a fail state and a message that said the *redacted* had been destroyed.

Michael Rooney
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WELL THEN I AM TOTALLY SATISFIED

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Ali Afshari
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Dan, thanks for the link. I'm reading the doc now and it seems to jive with my interpretation of the ending. It all seemed too surreal to be taken at face value.

Daniel Jimenez
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I don't see a problem with speaking up and voicing your opinion, but when actual members of the dev team get harassed by the "fans" because they do not agree with the studios decision on how the ending is going to be, when the "fans" start to create groups and events where they are "demanding" a different ending, that's where the line is crossed.

The sad thing about all this is that I can't entirely blame BioWare for caving in to the radical fans demands. I think that if they wouldn't have announced they were going to change the ending, the radical fans would've wanted to boycott any of the company's future efforts.

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Josiah Blaisdell
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Dan, thank you for the link. It was an entertaining read and has got me thinking.

Michael Rooney
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To be perfectly honest, I'm half way through the google doc and only one of the things he's brought up is anything close to a logical fallacy--that you never need to reload the gun. The rest are just him whining because things don't play out like he'd like. MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD.

A good example is him whining about where Shepherd is injured pointing out where she got shot previously. He completely ignores that she was just in the middle of a huge explosion. He also nitpicks something the illusive man says asking how he "knows" something, but ignores the fact that people very often hold opinions that are in fact wrong.

People are just mad because the ending is different than they would like. I kind of hope if they cave and remake the ending they just make shepherd die the first time she goes unconscious and the reapers destroy everything. I would love a, "Fine, you didn't like the original ending, so now you get a shittier ending," attitude.

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Michael Rooney
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@Dan: MINOR SPOILER AHEAD!Anderson clearly says that the area he is in is physically changing. I don't see any reason to believe that the areas you and Anderson in should be considered static, because of that spacial relationships from the point of view are kind of erroneous as we don't have a shared point of reference until they have both crossed the bridge.

Maybe I have just watched "Cube" too many times, but I don't think assuming spaces can move after a character has just said that the space he is in is moving is that ridiculous.

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Karl E
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The Mass Effect games were based on an unrealistic premise:
1. The player is to have choice
2. The consequences of these choices are to be treated in a cinematic way.

There is just the slight problem that with each choice, the number of possible outcomes increase exponentially.
The designers had no creative solutions to this problem. They just used techniques such as having storylines converge and burying inconsistencies in later events. Nevertheless, they managed to keep the whole setup limping along for a surprisingly long time.

Until the ending. Then the whole thing just crashed and burned.

Creating an interesting case study for anyone trying to create the illusion of emergence and agency in games.

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Paul Laroquod
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In other words, because handling many, many multiple endings is hard, let's not bother. Let's just give them basically one.

I don't really expect them to succeed in giving the player true agency, but I expect them to make an effort. One ending is not an effort. Three colour-coded endings mostly identical? Also not an effort. There are many artistic things that are impossible, which we expect artists to attempt, anyway. It is impossible to truly get inside a person's head, but we expect novelists to try: we expect them to make us feel like they have achieved the impossible. It is impossible to truly communicate a complex emotion, but we expect poetry to try. It is impossible to truly write anything original, but we expect plotters and storytellers to try.

Trying to be original but unconsciously echoing other works is forgivable. Intentionally plagiarising isn't. Similarly, trying to provide multiple endings but not quite portraying perfect player freedom is forgivable, but not even trying to provide significantly different endings because it's 'impossible' is a cop-out and not forgivable.

A W
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Crono Trigger had multiple endings based off of player choices in key parts of the game. It seem to work out with no outrage, or unbelievability. (Of course we had no Internet to voice our opinions at the time, and games weren't as realistic as they are now.)

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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In short:

Bioware promised "a satisfying ending to the trilogy", but what we got is essentially an "insert credit card here to continue" pop-up.

This situation has little to do with player agency for me personally.

Alan Rimkeit
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Well, this is pretty crappy to hear about. I do not own any of the Mass Effect games as I wanted to wait till all three were done before I played them. Now, I am not so into getting them. A crappy ending for me kills any movie or game, period. This is all very disappointing.

Alan Rimkeit
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@Anthony Taylor - The same thing can happen for me with a movie or a book as well. One movie that was great up until the ending was The Mist. The movie's ending was so bad I never want to watch it ever again and frankly wish I never wasted my time watching the movie in the first place. That was two hours of my life I will never get back. Endings to stories are important to people. Not all people, but a lot. A bad ending can negatively effect my perception of an entire work be it a movie, game, or book.

There are two more examples of book series that will be effected forever by their endings, The Wheel of Time and A Song of Ice and Fire. So much time is invested in reading these books for people that if the endings are bad then fan rage will burn hotter than the Sun.

See what I mean?

Eric Geer
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I loved the ending to The Mist. Absolutely tragic.

Chris OKeefe
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I had lost my save from ME1+ME2 in a hard drive crash. I decided to play ME3 using the default Shepard, and figured that if it was good I would play through the trilogy again just to see how things played out with all of my own choices impacting the story. And although there are some compelling parts of ME3 which are decided by choices you made in ME1 and ME2, the ending is not one of them.

I have no intention of playing through the trilogy, specifically because I can't justify going through it all again and making decisions that ultimately have zero impact on the ending of the story. It doesn't matter whether I am a horrible human being or a saint, it barely even matters how hard I work to bring the races of the galaxy together. It doesn't matter whether I save people or allow them to die, it doesn't matter whether I help a race prosper or sentence them to death. None of it informs the ending. The ending provides zero feedback on any of those choices.

So essentially, there is no reason to make any decision that isn't the final decision.

Essentially, it cheapens every hard (and easy) decision that I made over the course of the games. Every time I struggled with some moral principle I have to look back on it and say, 'man, why did I care so much about that when it was never going to matter?'

So yes, I understand where Alan is coming from. I enjoyed playing through much of the Mass Effect trilogy, but I'd be lying if I said that the ending to the series didn't cheapen and undermine the experiences that lead up to it.

Eric Braxton
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I agree with Alan. I absolutely LOVED the first four A Song of Ice and Fire books. And I hated the fifth one so much that I wish I'd never read the others. Sure, I enjoyed them at the time, and even re-reading them they're great. But knowing the ending (still two books to go) isn't going to be satisfying (because the author has either killed off or ruined all the characters I fell in love with) makes all that time I've already invested feel like a waste, because there's no payoff.

That said, I haven't played ME3 yet.

Justin Keverne
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There was this guy, smart fellow from a while back, said some really intelligent things about stories and how we react to them psychologically and emotionally. He felt endings were important, he even had a word to describe why that was... What was he called again?

Oh yeah, Aristotle.

Chris OKeefe
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@Justin, You mean catharsis, yes? An excellent reference!

For those who aren't familiar, his dramatic theory - as I understand it - stated that tension and emotion built in the climax needs to be resolved in the ending. Unresolved tension and emotion can lead to a negative reaction to the story.

Perhaps Bioware underestimated the emotional investment that many players would make into the world itself beyond the player character (Shepard) alone. The ending leaves a great many threads unresolved, and thus catharsis in relation to emotional build-up and tension around specific story arcs was never achieved, leaving a negative reaction to the story.

Eric Geer
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.

Jerome Grasdijk
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It really is a testament to the Mass Effect series that the premise of meaningful choice held up so well across the first two games. It was in one way a nearly flawless illusion - the player was presented with what felt to him were meaningful choices, but which were in reality chosen by the writers from a much wider spectrum of choices to fit within a cinematic expression of the situation. The result was a beautiful illusion of choice within the cinematic.

But out of the limited choices that were presented to the player, the game did create a framework of consequences, and the effect of those formed a de facto promise to the player base. For two games what happened during the end game was the ultimate pinnacle of that choice set. Some things resolved themselves beforehand, but most of everything you did came to a head there, in the final extended set of missions leading up to the final boss fight. And the fact that they found a working formula for that is massively to the credit of the Mass Effect team at Bioware.

But it begs the question, what happened with the end of ME3? Not following the same model as the end of the previous games in the series was a brave decision. It's baffling that such a lot of narrative debt was left unresolved, vis-a-vis consequences to characters on board Normandy and fleet components which you'd painstakingly gathered, and that such sweeping changes were applied at the end that they both changed the game's underlying themes and invalidated much of the players' assumptions about the world state, re-opening to question many of the previously resolved problems from earlier in the game.

It's an odd set of choices with which to end the game, and I'm not surprised the fans are making themselves heard.

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Johnathon Swift
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I could hardly agree more with what may be an a slightly overly winded way of saying "Bioware screwed up the game design."

Ninety hours of having multiple branching choices and showing the consequences of those choices play out teaches the player that what they choose matters. Then the end is a 10 minute long cutscene that disregards almost all of that. It honestly doesn't matter whether you liked the ending as a story or not, because that's not the point. The point is that it was just bad game design at the worst possible moment.

Jonathan Murphy
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Mass Effect 3 is Xeno Saga 3-
Joker/Captain, The Illusive Man + Anderson/Wilhelm + Kevin, Mass relay network/Zohar Reapers/Gnosis

The even end almost the same way! Looks like they sprinkled Dues Ex in there for originality.

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Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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I essentially filed ME2 away in the category of "gets worse the more you think about it".

The more you analyze the game, the worse it gets.

Karl E
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ME2 and ME3 were great disappointments. I regret buying them. Phew, glad to get that off my chest.

Level design, combat, story, characters - it's all strangely rigid, unimaginative and repetitive.

It's all just covered in a layer of gloss and hype that fools a lot of people, including many reviewers, unfortunately.

ME is like the Matrix franchise. It may seem popular but will be quickly forgotten because there is no substance to it.

It all makes you wonder what's going to happen to the single-player console blockbuster. They can't go on like this. New consoles won't help either.

Mathieu MarquisBolduc
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If there is one thing I learned in this industry, its that the bigger and more popular a game is, the bigger of a target it is to criticism.

Still, all the internet rage is making me curious. I need to find time to finish the game.

Sebastian Onorati
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SPOILER IN MY COMMENT PLEASE READ AT YOUR OWN RISK

I can't help but wonder why they would let you die in the end without doing any paragon choice. If you were a Renegade then that means you were ready to win at all costs, but if you were a Paragon, then you would've died and that's that. I just don't like that you can invest so much into your character, trying to be the best person you can be in that universe, for them to just say "well hey in the end you have to do something against your characters Arc."


That being said, I also thought it could have been a statement form the Bioware team stating that in a situation like that even if you are God's Gift to the Citatdel, that you might have to do something that will make you feel uncomfortable which I think is kinda cool. I'm not to hot on the ending but I think Bioware should just leave it alone whats done is done, they made it that way for a reason and if people are complaining tough cookies

Adam Bishop
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I've already written in more detail about what specifically I found problematic about the game's ending (http://gamasutra.com/blogs/AdamBishop/20120317/166373/The_Importa
nce_Of_Being_Earnest_About_Villains.php) so I'll just summarise here:

Deus ex machina

It has nothing to do with the gameplay, the player's bond with their characters, or anything like that. It's about the fact that the developers pulled the rug out from under the players in a completely ham-fisted fashion for the sake of a "Gotcha!" moment.

Jerome Grasdijk
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True, but anyone with some experience of AAA will tell you it was likely a desperation move because they ran out of time and resources. This ending was cheap to make, a few cutscenes instead of perhaps half a dozen levels with boss fights intercut with space battle scenes and some complex plot exposition as the fleet fought its way across the solar system against fierce reaper opposition and a final showdown in earth orbit. The whole ending, from the moment you attack the Cerberus base, is about the simplest, most minimum-effort way you can finish up the plot elements, and there is sadly a lot of dramatic potential left on the cutting room floor.

Rasmus Gunnarsson
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To me it seems like they where setting it up for DLC heaven! Give closure-ish for shepard and leave all the other shit for dlc. I mean look at this http://cdn2.gamefront.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/mass-effect-
dlc-message-2.jpg it reeks :).

Jason Harwood
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Really interesting article. It shows that there is a clear line between listening to your players feedback and giving the player a true sense of ownership, as in this case with player ownership comes player entitlement.

Entering the waters of player ownership is very dangerous indeed. I know that for the studio that I am fortunate enough to work for, that we definitely offer to listen to and take player feedback into consideration, this is absolutely imperative. I mean, we regularly receive long emails and letters about $0.99 iOS games and I can only imagine how upset the fan base would get about AAA titles!

However, the fans are very quick to forget the hundreds of hours of entertainment that they have obviously enjoyed (to get through all three ME's) and because it does not end satisfactorily, they throw the baby out with the bathwater. While I understand and empathyse with the ME fans, attacking BioWare is IMO pretty harsh. Can you imagine how incredibly difficult it would be to create an ending that actually tied every loose end up, for every player in such a way as to be meaningful? Especially when each player has arrived at the ending through a myriad of pathways and endless decisions?

My point is that this would have been an extremely tough ending to pull off and as soon as BioWare don't get it right, the long time fans turn on them en-masse!

Dan Felder
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This article misses a fundamental point in the discussion.

The ending is poorly done. It's badly written. It's incoherent and undermines the series' themes.

Articles like this are hard to take seriously, because they can be summarized as "Game creators are ENTITLED to do anything they want with their games and you shouldn't complain about it. Jeese, you complainers are so 'entitled'."

It's pure hypocrisy.

Bad writing isn't unicorns, people. It EXISTS. And it should be just as valid to challenge bad writing as it is to challenge bad coding.

Kenneth Blaney
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I'm glad the discussion here is above the usual "All I get to choose is the color of the explosion" complaints.

The last minutes of Mass Effect reveal that the whole trilogy is a character study of Shep. He or she is a mythic figure who left a real and lasting effect on the galaxy. Everything that happened in between (the whole game) led up to this last decision. How was the Commander shaped by those experiences? How did it impact the final decision here?

The problem here is an interesting one. That is, because of the fact there is little to no barrier for a player to reload and play the ending again just making a different choice (different from the one they originally deeply considered), players are given the ability to cheapen it for themselves. Since they can easily go back, they can base their decision on the known consequences as opposed to their past experience in the galaxy.

This is comparably to a fictional time traveler who goes back in time dozens of times over to try to fix a single mistake, but is confounded at every turn. The ultimate goal of the time traveler, eventually, is to just get things back to the way they once were, but at this point, its impossible. The time traveler has seen all the possible variations and sees there is no single "best" timeline. The gene is out of the bottle and there is no going back in. What the users are asking for here, is a way to get things back to normal before they saw the consequences and no ending will ever truly accomplish that.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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"The last minutes of Mass Effect reveal that the whole trilogy is a character study of Shep. He or she is a mythic figure who left a real and lasting effect on the galaxy. Everything that happened in between (the whole game) led up to this last decision. How was the Commander shaped by those experiences? How did it impact the final decision here?"

That is a curious analysis, because I always thought Shepard was an empty vessel for the player to fill with their interpretation.
If its a character-study of Shep, isn't it more a character-study of the player themselves? How can you as a writer have a "character-study" of a character that is undefined?

I never found that Shep undergoes any character development in the narrative of the game, yes he underwent a development -in my head- but not in the game itself. For the most part if you detach yourself from all the other games, Shepard is a wooden board with a face, character-wise, he does not have a personality to develop or to study.
There was no set path here to create a character study of Shepard himself.

If anything the mass-effect franchise is a character-study of your -companions- and how Shepard affected -them- how did Shepard influenced -the galaxy-

Except this is exactly the problem with the ending of ME3, because there is essentially no influence shown.
What should have been is an ending where you get to see how Shepard, the hero of Earth influenced the galaxy with his decisions. If you sacrificed yourself, how did this affect the other people in the galaxy, your love-interest, the course of civilization and societies.

Instead we got the same cinematic in three colours.

Kenneth Blaney
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"Isn't it more a character-study of the player themselves?"

That's a good way to think about it. Shepard is the reader response literary criticism made flesh in the video game. Detaching yourself from the games is a little like hearing without actually listening.

Radically different things are happening in those ending cinematics. Think for a second and ask yourself why you chose the ending you did. Did you relate the decision to any of your past experiences with in the game? Maybe you feel guilty about committing genocide against the Geth heretics in Mass Effect 2 and so you want to make up for previous mistakes by trying to control the Reapers? Maybe you hated the Illusive Man for all he represents and think controlling the Reapers is too much power for any one man? Maybe you hate the Reapers for attacking your beloved home planet (you know, if you picked Earthborn way at the beginning) and, like a good marine, you follow orders and complete the mission?

...or maybe you saved so you could reload and make a different decision and never really considered the choice, and then got pissed because Bioware reused some FMVs... in that case I might suggest you missed out on the "RP" aspect of Bioware's RPG.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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"That's a good way to think about it. Shepard is the reader response literary criticism made flesh in the video game."

Except its not.

If that is the case, the choices would be centered about the growth of Shepard as a character, and our choices in the game would reflect that with both mechanics and narrative.

In the ME series the game-design however points towards the -reverse-, our influence on others and on the world.
In ME1 our decisions shaped who lived and died, who loved us and how the galaxy was reshaped in the aftermath (save the council, or not).
In ME2 our decisions shaped who trusted us and who was willing to die for us, how we affected others with the decisions from ME1 (Garrus, Kaidan, Ashley, Liara) and how we changed whole societies (Legion/Geth/Mordin/Krogans)
In ME3 we saw how our decisions shaped the will to live of others, how dedicated they were to our and their own causes and how we shaped these events.
Right up to the ending.

ME is not and never was about Shepard, Shepard was only the eye of the storm, the person that everything revolved around, but he was solely a vehicle, a catalyst for events.

I'm hesitant to even call Shepard a protagonist in a classical sense.

K Gadd
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I don't understand how complaining about a badly written, badly executed ending to a trilogy counts as 'entitlement'. The average player has sunk like $150 into this series, it's not unreasonable to expect a decent ending in return for that. It's not as if the complaints are merely about the content of the ending - the actual execution of the ending is subpar, and so is the content, and the ending itself is contrary to player expectations established by the series. These expectations were not set accidentally - as you mention in this article, it's a series about player choice and player agency, so it's not unreasonable for players to expect at least a little actual agency in the ending.

Irrational, sure. I think a lot of players' reactions to the endings have been irrational. But these people aren't entitled just because they expected a better ending than they got. (Now, the people demanding that BioWare release a new ending for free... okay, yeah, maybe that's entitlement.)

It's not as if this is the first time this is happened. Games ship with terrible endings and players give them shit over it. I think this is just the first example of a game shipping with a terrible ending and discovering that their enormous fanbase is really upset about it. DX:HR and Fallout 3 (two specific examples) both shipped with piss-poor endings and players complained loudly, but neither game had a fanbase as large as Mass Effect's.

Rhys Yorke
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If this were a film, the ending would have been written first. Storytelling 101 - you need to know where you want to get to before you start off on your journey.

I believe the path of player choice in the Mass Effect series made this very difficult to envision. You either take the path of giving the player the illusion of choice, and risk being called out on it, or manufacture a significant number of endings based on the choices players have made. Faced with ending a story that spans three games, iit most likely became clear that a multitude of endings was impractical, Bioware only did what they could - though it may have been done with more a little more eloquence.

Many, many players never finish games, so I can see how it may not have been as high a priority as it maybe should have been. I think moving forward, game developers can learn from film that your ending is very important, and if your players are participating in your story rather than shaping their own, don't try to lead them to believe otherwise.

Jerome Grasdijk
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Very valid comments, but a "multitude of endings" was very possible. ME2 pulled this off well by treating characters and their loyalty status as tokens that you carried into the final missions, and that combined with your choices to give many outcomes that reflected what you had done over the whole previous game as well as in the ending levels. ME3 could have done the same with fleets, and it seemed perfectly set up for that although the multiple competing plot strands in Fleets - Cerberus - Prothean Artefacts made it harder to resolve. On viewing the end again that three-strand split never really comes together.

But even the simplified Shepard-character-focused ending they finally used has problems on many levels, not least a disjoint where the choices Shepard has at the end do not match what many players expect their cinematic protagonist to fight for. And that ends up feeling as if the writers are feeding out-of-character lines to the player-controlled hero.

As the end of a book with the same story it may have worked, but in the context of a game where the final missions are the choice resolution of play through the world, it sadly falls flat.

James Cooley
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Fallout 3 had a terrible ending. Then Bethesda fixed it with the Broken Steel DLC, which to me "finished" the game. I can't imagine playing Fallout 3 without Broken Steel installed now. The nice thing about games is that you can still fix your mistakes. Call it a patch, a DLC, or whatever. Of course, DVD and Blu-ray releases can do the same thing, though sometimes it is called a Director's Cut. The LOTR Trilogy is really not complete unless you watch the extended editions.

Alan Rimkeit
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@Anthony Taylor - I was actually thinking that Bioware should do a poll or study on if gamers who played the ME series liked, disliked, or hated the ending to the story. Hard data could be useful in this situation.

Chris OKeefe
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@Anthony 'Why should artists change their art b/c a small, whiny minority were upset?'

First of all, as soon as your art doubles as a consumer product, the opinions of your customers matters. Games are not just art for the sake of art, they are mass produced art that sits on shelves waiting to be purchased by a market. If you think that developers, writers, movie producers, script writers, etc, aren't pointedly influenced by what they think people want, then you are deeply, tragically mistaken. There is art out there that eschews public perception and breaks from norms and expectations. It is called 'avante garde.' Mass Effect hardly qualifies.

Second of all, 'small whiny minority' is probably not accurate. Considering the size of the outcry and the general principle that every individual who speaks out represents an unknown (but existing) quantity of individuals who feel similarly but choose not to speak out. Not everyone feels the urge to go online and sign petitions and start forum threads and submit blog posts, etcetera, every time they dislike something about a game.

Unless you have some statistics you want to post, then you are just burbling unsubstantiated nonsense.

Thirdly, if you build an entire trilogy of games around the premise that 'the choices and decisions the player makes matter' and use that to sell the game, and then pull a bait and switch at the end which amounts to 'none of the choices you made matter, your decisions are irrelevant,' then I don't think it's a leap to say that this is both artistically and commercially disingenuous.

For my part, I think that bad writing deserves to be criticized. Art is not a subject beyond reproach. Movies get criticized for poor writing, and so should games. I think some excellent points have been made about why the ending was badly written and badly designed. I think some excellent points have been made as to why the players of the game not only could but -should- feel a sense of ownership over the story.

Even worse is the possibility that they might be using an ambiguous ending to sell 'ending' DLC, effectively holding the story's conclusion for ransom. I don't have a problem with DLC at all, I think it's a great way to add content to a game. But the key detail there is 'add.' I think subtracting a meaningful ending from a game in order to sell it later as DLC is about the sleaziest thing Bioware could possibly do with their flagship trilogy.

Should Bioware change the ending? I honestly don't care, the damage is done. I've washed my hands of that story.

Chris OKeefe
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Care to elaborate on which part you think is unsubstantiated? I was pretty clear on which part of what you said was unsubstantiated hyperbole.

As for artists, they should change their art whenever they feel compelled to. It is up to them, nobody is twisting their arm in such a fashion that they can't resist if they profoundly disagree.

Chris OKeefe
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So you were pulling a 'I am rubber you are glue' switch.

See, that only works if I have in some way been hypocritical. I wasn't, I was pointing out that your comment was probably not accurate, given unprecedented levels of public outcry and negative coverage. You also know that it's probably not accurate, because you pulled it directly from your bottom. It's not 'accurate' until you can provide some statistics. It is a shot in the dark. A guess.

It is not arrogant to call you on your BS, friend. What -is- arrogant, however, is to call everyone who has complaints about the ending of the game 'babies' as you did in another article, and 'a small, whiny minority' here.

A W
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@Anthony
Games are commercial art houses developed by artisans. The word "Art" is a broad term. Calling something art does not negate it from critique. The only thing that does shield it from critique is to have never shown it off to others after conception.

Art is good, art is bad, art is beautiful, art is ugly, art is pleasing, art is offending, art is remembered, art is forgotten, art is...

Art cannot be a shield to explain away pubic approval or condemnation when it is set upon a commercial value in time or monetary. Art can only be debated, protected, and / or destroyed between those that like it and those that don't.

Nick Minkler
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I think that what everyone forgets is when EA bought out Bioware they renamed ALL their development studios Bioware. Thus Bioware (Edmunton - the Original) hasn't actually been making the games. They didn't make TOR, DA2, ME2, ME3 or any of the other failures. These have all been produced by re-branded EA studios. Next time you look for a Bioware game make sure it was developed at Edmunton, that's the original studio (if you even intend to buy more EA/Bioware Games)

Don Moar
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That is incorrect.

While EA has renamed some studios, such as BioWare Mythic, that is a far cry from "ALL".

TOR was made by BioWare Austin which existed before the original buy-out by Elevation Partners (which also bought Pandemic Studios at the same time) which was a couple of years before EA bought them.

Also, ME2, ME3, and DA2 were all made by BioWare Edmonton with some help from BioWare Montreal on the first two (which also existed before the EA buy-out). The sr. project leadership however, was consistent across ME1 - ME3.

Patrick Davis
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@Anthony To old Bioware fans, they are failures. Everything after ME1 and DA1 has been terrible.

Streamlining and casual pandering has done nothing but drive old Bioware lovers way. I can't say the games are complete failures, the sales are proof of that. But, Bioware is clearly not making games for the fans that made them as popular as they are anymore. It's hard to watch such a great company be another casual casualty.

Robert Anderson
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I read Grapes of Wrath the other day. The ending ticked me off so I tried to get Steinbeck to change it. Oh right, he can't. A: he is dead. B: he is the creator of said work. I am only the consumer.
No matter how much I love the thing I am watching/reading/playing, I am only the end user. Despite how invested I may feel or how customizable my experience may be.
I think we can be as angry as we want, or not, about the ending to ME3. I completely agree with this article though.
Enormous fan expectations plus creator promises for said series seems to have equaled entitlement.
Bioware has not promised to change the ending as far as I can tell. What they have promised is that they are listening to their fans and are working on additional content that will add to the ME universe. They have also stated that they will not compromise on their creative. Nor should they.
I seriously doubt that whatever they do, it will have any impact on their bottom line.
Han shot first but that franchise still made a bucket o'cash... I may have been mad about that but I still went to the next one. Got angrier yes but then I have a choice. Stop paying to see my childhood destroyed (insert giggle here) or continue to spend the money and hope that the creator of said story/game/film is in my head and knows what the best version I think it should be is.
Or I could go and create what I want. Make my own game/story/film. Or I can just continue the cycle and focus on the next thing I want to get all passionate about.
What I am not going to do is pretend I have any creative involvement in the thing that I am consuming, be it a game/film/story. I will get mad for sure. I will complain loudly yes. I might even go as far as not buying the next chapter in the series. Maybe... I doubt it. As I am an eternal optimist.


P.S.
Han shot first.

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Robert Anderson
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HAHAHAAHAH!. No...

Vojislav Stojkovic
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I didn't expect to see this kind of attitude on Gamasutra, even if it's just an opinion. Maybe I got spoiled by Ernest Adams, whose articles I admire immensely, but I always saw Gamasutra as a site that kept a perpetually open mind towards what games are and how they interact with players.

I really take exception at oversimplifying the situation into "Here's how the audience came to be irrational and entitled." Sure, in every crowd of protesters you'll find some who are there purely out of their sense of entitlement. But that doesn't mean you can -- or should -- reduce us all to that.

I'm one of those complaining vocally about the ending. You may call my stance "entitled", but at least it's not gratuitous. I believe that BioWare should find a way to correct the ending because they are one of those developers that are at the forefront of the industry and the industry needs to adapt.

The traditional point of view is "The audience has no right to have a work of art change because they're not satisfied with it." I believe video games have altered the equation a bit. I think the industry should ask itself the following question: are players just audience?

I respectfully submit my thoughts on the subject in my blog post: http://beardseye.blogspot.com/2012/03/are-players-just-audience.h
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Chris OKeefe
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Anthony, you either have some deeply entrenched misunderstandings of what 'art' actually is and how culture and art interact, or you are simply very bad at debate.

Also, for the record, Gamasutra is not a site about the 'ART' (gratuitous capitalization retained) of gaming. It is effectively an industry insider. It broaches all subjects relevant to the INDUSTRY (gratuitous capitalization used for consistency) of creating games for public consumption. This involves the practical (articles on new technology, code development tools), the pragmatic (marketing, sales analysis, critical reception), the academic (philosophy of game design, psychological studies of how people respond to game mechanics), as well as the artistic. This article fits in nicely, as do the comments.

And for the record, constructive criticism from both peers and consumers improves the artform for everyone.

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Chris OKeefe
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That's perfectly fine, Anthony, your posts have dripped with disdain and arrogance for several articles across this subject, so the feeling is mutual. You get what you give. I am perfectly happy to have a civil discussion with you, but you haven't demonstrated much civility as of yet.

And it boggles my mind that you would miss the 'business' part of that very line you just quoted, and pretend it somehow doesn't exist.

The INDUSTRY of making games involves business. Public reaction to consumer products is part of the business. Learning from the successes, mistakes, failures, and risks of other studios and how they pay off or fail to pay off, is fundamental to the industry's growth.

Saying ART in capital letters as if it's an argument just doesn't fly. If a big company makes a decision about their flagship, bestselling IP, and there's this level of negative response to it, then the whole industry takes notice. It is worth talking about, and your posts have done nothing to advance that discussion. You have only dragged it into the mud.

Samuel Batista
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Why can't I get a clean printable version of this article?!?!?! GAMASUTRA, FIX IT!

George Blott
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As someone who has not yet started ME3, but who is curious about all the fuss, this article was just what I needed. Great piece, and another feather in Mrs.Alexander's cap.

Vojislav Stojkovic
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@Anthony Taylor

Yes, yes, "artistic integrity", I get it. That's why I wrote my post, because I believe there are additional concerns to consider. Surprisingly few people have offered a counter-argument beyond the knee-jerk reaction that boils down to "Yes, you're just an audience, so shut up."

Fortunately, those few are sparking an interesting discussion.

Mohammad Levesque-Alam
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Respectfully, the author's comparison to the ending of The Sopranos is completely off the mark and suggests that he has not even played the game.

The Sopranos' ending was to abruptly cut to black. That's fine. If you want to understand what the last 15 minutes of Mass Effect 3 was like, imagine that you found out that Tony Soprano was really a remote controlled puppet of the ghost of an Italian mobster who died in 1845 and who created Tony as a way of preventing the very dire galactic struggle between whites and Asians in America. And no, I'm not being facetious.

There's honestly no way to put into words the complete absurdity of ME3's ending, but here are just two major disasters:

1. A last-minute AI God child who says he created the quasi-synthetic reapers to obliterate organics because - wait for it - he believes that synthetics and AI will always obliterate organics.

Apart from the inherent mind-blowing absurdity, the "synthetics versus organics" struggle was nothing more than one side theme in the ME universe and suddenly it's elevated to the central problem. Moreover, in the very same game, Bioware goes out of its way to show that synthetics have no interest in turning against organics (Geth, EDI).

2. The existence of this AI God child makes the entire plotline of all previous Mass Effect content completely irrelevant. The key breakthrough of Shepard's cycle was to take advantage of the Prothean finding that the Reapers relied on the Citadel relay to catch civilizations unaware and destroy them. But according to the child, he IS the Citadel. In which case...why the hell can't he just open up the Citadel to the Reapers any time he so desired?

Again, the issue isn't one of self-entitled gamers (excepting outliers who are harassing staff or whatever). It's about a self-entitled company that has tarnished its best IP and obliterated the expectations it encouraged and cultivated for more than five years - including the first 99% of ME3.

Justin Keverne
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Game mechanics are frequently changed post-release based on player feedback but for some reason story elements are considered sacrosanct..?

Dan Felder
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What? Are you implying that artists feel... Entitled?

Silly Justin, only players who spend 100+ Hours and possibly as many dollars on the game can be considered "entitled". After all, we all know that there's no such thing as bad writing.

And of course, no one would *ever* be stupid enough to think that maybe the purpose of a game has something to do with the enjoyment of the people playing it.

Chris OKeefe
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There are a lot of arguments to be made about the priority of artistic integrity in game development. Surely all of it in combination is a kind of art. Many would say, however, that game mechanics exist to serve the story, thus they can be changed in order to serve the story. Changing the story, however, could be seen as a much more significant change.

But I am inclined to agree with you: if something is broken, or substandard, then it should be considered for review. If the developers feel that they could have done a better job then I say let them. If the unhappy fans can convince them of that possibility then I say let them.

Ultimately if Bioware is certain that they did the best job that they could have done then they won't make a second effort. They certainly don't have to.

Ali Afshari
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You bring up an interesting point that I find hard to argue against...bad game mechanics are as experience-breaking as bad story. However, my take is that the ending is far more nuanced than people were expecting. It is not as cut and dry as what we're specifically watching unfold on-screen. I think Bioware was giving its fans more credit than they deserve for figuring out the ending...I don't mean this as an attack on anybody. I just felt there is a lot more going on than what it seems on the surface. For new fans not well versed in the lore, it could come off as really bland and lazy. In that sense, they dropped the ball. As a fan since the first game with multiple playthroughs of ME1 and ME2, the destroy ending was perfect...in a way, I think Bioware was leaving it open (not referring to DLC) so the player can choose the path...do you stick to your goals of wiping out the Reaper threat since the first game or do you take the other (or the third) option? Shep needs to do something about the Reapers, and Bioware needs to set it up in a way to continue the story with other characters in other ME games. I can't imagine they would give distinctly different endings which would only complicate matters when they're trying to lay out the base story for future titles...it is really a testament to Bioware's accomplishments that everyone is forgetting that we only have the illusion of choice and most (most vocal) group was expecting wildly different outcomes.

When I hear of fan outrage like this, I always think of the Malcom Gladwell TED talk (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIiAAhUeR6Y) where he explains how chunky tomato spaghetti sauce became the best selling Ragu product despite the fact that nobody in the focus group ever actually voiced their preference that they wanted chunks of tomato in their sauce. Ultimately, I think the majority of these fans don't know what they want, but they expect Bioware to specifically deliver this thing.

Chris OKeefe
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@ Ali, I have seen that TED Talk and it's a good one, and one I reference a lot. I think we all occasionally fall victim to our own expectations being incorrect.

But I don't think this is a good example of that.

The chunky spaghetti sauce showed how people could want something, but end up preferring an unexpected alternative. Essentially the point is that people at the time were 'taught' through experience that what they really wanted was A, and that learned preference marginalized what turned out to be a more important preference. Meaning that asking people what they wanted, was not the best way to give them what they wanted.

In the case of Mass Effect 3, what we have is a situation where people expected a particular kind of ending (I think it reasonable to assume that most people expected an ending that reflected their decisions over the course of the game in at least some capacity), and instead what they got is chunky spaghetti sauce. Except in this case, many people were unhappy with the 'substitution.'

To put it another way, if the original spaghetti sauce study had been done and people panned the chunky spaghetti sauce and said that they wanted the other kind of sauce that they had originally asked for, the study would have had a very different (and very boring) result.

Moral of the story: people don't always know what they like, but they typically know what they don't like.

Ali Afshari
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@ Chris, you blew holes right through my spaghetti defense. Well played. While I'm still satisfied with the ending, you make a very valid point, as with most of the Gamasutra posters who have voiced their displeasure with the endings.

Chris OKeefe
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@Ali, I think anything called 'the spaghetti defense' is worthy of strong consideration, just for having a rad name. ;)

You're right though that trying to create endings that are the cumulative results of numerous player decisions would be difficult and also make future products more difficult to faithfully produce.

And maybe that's the real argument. I think a lot of fans were hoping for a conclusive ending, something which tied up all of the story threads and gave their decisions a sense of meaning and scale. A lot of games handle this sort of thing with a montage showing what happened. Dragon Age did this quite handily. You string together a series of videos/stills with text or voiceover, telling the story of what happened to surviving characters, what happened to the different races, how Shepard is remembered by them, etcetera.

At least in my case, I'd be willing to forego future DLC and spinoffs in favour of a satisfying ending to a trilogy. I know Bioware has money invested in the IP and they're unwilling to let it go, but sometimes that's a decision that needs to be made. Or perhaps they could have done stories in the universe before the conclusion. Surely a lot happened between ME1 and ME2, and between ME2 and ME3.

Vojislav Stojkovic
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@Chris

"Many would say, however, that game mechanics exist to serve the story, thus they can be changed in order to serve the story."

Depends on whom you ask. I'm pretty sure Ernest Adams would disagree ;)

Chris OKeefe
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@Vojislav, Oh there are definitely those that disagree! At least circumstantially, many great games have stories or story elements that are a direct extension of their gameplay.

It was a bit of devil's advocate. Like I said, I'm inclined to agree. It's usually easier to change game mechanics than story, as changing the story often requires new art assets, new recorded vocals, etcetera. But in a trilogy like Mass Effect where a primary game mechanic (in this case, player agency being a driving force of the story) cannot be retroactively changed, and yet the story doesn't seem to mesh with that mechanic, well. Changing the story might not be such a bad idea.

Dan Felder
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"Ah yes... 'Entitled'. A term coined by developers for their fan-base in order to more easily turn aside the idea that their 'vision' might have just been bad to begin with. We have dismissed that claim."

James Cooley
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Again movies are test-marketed and edited again afterward. Sometimes they are even re-cut after release as extended releases and "director's cuts". The movie Blade Runner is a good example, as the ending itself was changed in later releases. Why would what is considered pretty normal for the "art" of movies be considered out of place for games?

Dan Felder
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Another example: Out-of-town runs for broadway shows. Oklahoma, hallmark of the American musical, was terrible in even its late iterations audiences hated it, critics hated it. The creators fixed all the problems (even changed the name to Oklahoma!) and THEN opened in New York where audiences loved the new show.

If Rogers and Hammerstein had been as stuck-up about their work (and considering their genius, they had a hell-of-a-reason to be stuck-up) as people are being about Bioware, we'd never have had Oklahoma.

Robert Anderson
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I think in that case the ending was changed because the studio that was behind the film didn't let the film maker do the film he wanted. It made its money and when he was able to, he did the ending that he originally envisioned. three times... Much like other fairly large franchises one could mention. In those cases though, the film recuts were never a result of the fans wanting a change. I honestly can't think of one film where audiences (other than the so called test audience) succeeded in any demands of a film maker changing an ending.
Test audiences are just that. A small group or groups that the studios use to see if they want to change something that the film maker may not necessarily agree with.
Market testing shows that single, near alcoholic cops as a main character will do better in the box office if they live in a trailer. (Joke)

@Dan, I think there needs to be some clarification to your comment about that play. The first performances of the play and was meant to be a trial run, to see what the audiences thought. Hamerstein had already produced 6 flops in a row. It played once in three theaters. One major critic walked out saying, "no legs, no jokes , no chance". There were promising feedback from the other two and they made some minor changes. The rest is history.
I guess that with the immediacy of information on the net, we may feel as if we are that test audience. The problem with that is there is no way to please everyone. That is why Hollywood uses market testing and makes fairly shitty flicks (Michael Bay, cough) that still make buckets of cash.
Do AAA game studios do market testing? Honest question and I hope the answer is no.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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@Robert Anderson
"Do AAA game studios do market testing? Honest question and I hope the answer is no."

Yes they do, however as far as I know the -ending- to the series in the case of ME3 did not undergo the testing out of fear of leaks (since the first draft was leaked)/time constraints.

Playtesters did get to play the game, but not experience the ending (crucible+)

Darcy Nelson
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Maybe the real reason that those players have their hackles up is because they *assumed* that the sum of their choices throughout the series would inform the ending's final choices, resulting in a (very complex) multiple-ending scenario. I didn't play ME2, but the first Mass Effect's ending wasn't dictated by cumulative choices made throughout the game. I played through both choices at the end, and though events took different paths, for the most part the endings were identical in ultimate result. There's a bit of a precedent for this, is all I'm saying.

Also the kind of consumer who plays Mass Effect obviously greatly values and enjoys when their decisions influence the outcome of a simulated event. Should we be surprised then that they would make a bid to influence Bioware to change their product, when presented with apparently unsatisfactory choices at a critical storytelling point?

I was surprised to learn that Bioware acquiesced, but I suppose when you write the video game ending equivalent of "The Forgotten" (film) you may end up having to further explain a few things.

Dan Felder
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That assumption is definitely a part of it (though the myriad of plotholes and out-of-character issues with the ending are probably the major reasons). However, considering that Bioware's PR statements leading up to the game unequivocally promised that the sum of your choices will impact the ending's final choices resulting in a multiple-ending scenario... I don't think it's an unreasonable assumption to make.

If someone promises me that a game will come with multiplayer and I buy it, only to discover there's no multiplayer, I don't think that I'd be out of line for 'assuming' there would be and being annoyed when there isn't.

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Dan Felder
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@Joshua

Their brand is a purchasable asset. PR is free. EA can generate PR for anything it wants.

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Dan Felder
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@Joshua - Again, that's brand identity and goodwill. PR is public relations, which is a function. If a company has good PR, they have good reviews or a good PR department. You can't purchase their PR - you CAN purchase their reputation (their brand). But either way, PR is free to make. You just issue a lot of press releases and, because you're EA, people will pick it up.

Bioware promising us things and it turning out that they lied isn't something anyone can purchase. Unless you count the impact on their brand.

I'm pretty sure you're just mixing up terminology here, unless you're using it in ways I've never heard before.

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Dan Felder
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I don't understand why so many people think that artistic integrity means, "Ignoring the real-world results when your vision fails and sticking to it anyway." If scientific integrity worked this way, we'd have NASA refusing to change the brilliant design of their first rocketship... Despite the fact it blew up.

I might be naive, but I would think integrity of any kind involves admitting when you make a mistake.

Hanh Nguyen
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Being able to conveniently network ourselves together has certainly brought us to a new era, especially in gaming. We're now fully expecting our games to be patched and perfect. If we have anything we disagree about, we'll be vocal about it.

At the same time, I think any company at this point has become acquainted with situations like this where fan feedback (and outage) start going against a lot of the creative work and intentions that the developers hope to accomplish. For BioWare to come out and say that they will be using this feedback to change the ending does not come out as too much of a surprise as far as the industry goes but it certainly shocked me that a single player experience is being retooled, especially when it's happening right now.

Don Moar
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I appreciate that some people take their entertainment very seriously, but I can't help but think of this:

http://vimeo.com/21213217

Jonathan Murphy
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If they release the DLC ending it will offend. If they release no alternate ending it will offend.

What would I do? I would double down and charge $10 for a DLC ending that has no ending. Then attach troll face on Shepard breathing once in the rubble.

Bart Heijltjes
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Next to being just a bit absurd in the way Don Moar intends above, the 'Retake Mass Effect' movement has in my view also been downright bad for everyone involved.

There have been made threats against BioWare and EA employees, and both companies have been mail- and telephonebombed.

Now the charity drive, probably born from a good heart, has also been tarnished:
http://penny-arcade.com/2012/03/21/childs-play-and-retake-mass-ef
fect

Child's Play has been buried in mail and worse, people are asking THEM "when they will get the new ending" and even demanding their money back!
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I think this shows that if BioWare is indeed fostering a sense of entitlement in their fanbase (which changing the endings as they are doing certainly seems to be), it's a very bad idea. Gamers are passionate enough about their hobbies as it is.

Attempts at 'real interaction' with the fans may seem innocent and charitable enough, but if in the end you can't make good on your word (and generally speaking you really can't) in some ordered manner, it's a terrible idea.

I suggest that anyone who wants to tell their fans that THEY decide what your story will look like, starts some kind of democratic system to channel such decisions. Else, don't make that promise.

A W
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delete

Timothy Ryan
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As game designers I think we've all learned the importance of meeting (and surpassing) player expectations. BioWare messed up. They offered players control of the storyline, building up the expectation that their decisions (actions and dialogue choices) mattered. RPG fans love that, and BioWare cashed in on this. Now BioWare creates this ending that suggests that player decisions don't matter. BioWare deserves this criticism. They built up the expectation and failed to deliver in a big way.

Don Moar
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I suppose it's worth remembering that Internet rage can be used for both good and evil. :) When Fox News was incorrectly reporting that the original Mass Effect had full digital nudity and interactive sex, the Internet rose to BioWare's defense. Internet rage is a double-edged sword and, unfortunately, this time BioWare got cut.

Alan Mortensen
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I think people need to take into account Dragon Age II. Another Bioware title, where the ending seemed to have nothing to do with the choices a gamer made. Even the immediate aftermath of decisions saw almost no change based on the choice made (with one notable exception, the choice of companion into the tunnels). There was an outrage over that games ending too.. how Dragon Age:Origins had so much more of a custom ending, etc.. Well, now they did it again, to a different much beloved franchise. I think a certain subset of gamers are just getting ticked off at this trend and this company.

I think the idea that it's just some kind of fatalistic message (nothing you do amounts to a hill of beans..) is a cop out for a company that painted itself into a corner with expectations and then decided.. you know what it ain't worth the cash.

As an RPG gamer of the story over action variety, it's my opinion that we really need a strong competitor to Bioware. And I don't think Obsidian's games are really that direct a match.

Kevin Lozandier
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"It's not in any way like the traditional endings, where you can say how many endings there are or whether you got ending A, B, or C."

^That's what Hudson said prior to the launch that many fans felt what happened with the ending that led many to be infuriated what transpired at the end of the journey for them.

I'm sort of disturbed of the entitlement argument that is usually attributed to these fans in a negative way.


I think you have to understand that when you make ANYTHING for OTHERS to enjoy, others have every right to tell you it's not what they wanted and it's LIKELY your best interest to accommodate them. 
If you want the best return of what you spent time to make for others to enjoy... Is that a naive thought?

In today's time we have more tools at our disposal more than ever to get user feedback, is it now a 'weak' move to respond to that data in creative works still such that it is considered essentially a weak move to act in result?

Jeff Thomson
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Just because you can't see your choices, doesn't mean they don't matter. People should have read the Final Hours app before claiming the ABC promise as false. If you just play ME3 and not the other games, there may only be one or two options. Not three. Therefore, no broken promises. Besides I think IGN compiled a list of roughly 25 different outcomes, which are linked to an EMS score, which determines which cutscene you get. I think they did say the ending you get will be determined by EMS and previous choices. Certain choices throughout the trilogy were based off of an EMS number. Cutscenes are expensive to make.

People like to joke how it's the same color or all ends up the same. That's just short-sighted and insulting. One more reason, Bioware just tossed these people a bone with the EC, and said "that's it. We're done. Still not satisfied? Tough".

I mean, how many endings did people expect? The last 5 minutes is how to deal with the Reapers. You either defeat them, or you don't. There wasn't going to be 100 ways to do it. The preceding 20 hours dealt with your previous choices, not the last 5 minutes. With 1000 variables going into the third game, there would be no other way to do it.

"Instead of putting a fork in the road near the end of the [third] game, what if the player could make real choices from the start, that could cascade throughout not just the first game, but the entire trilogy".

I don't think a lot of people understand how this game series is supposed to work. In other words, choices affect the journey, not the destination (even then, you had 25 ending variations with minor changes). This is kind of like people reacting before having all of the facts. Most people probably didn't even read the Final Hours App before claiming these promises were false. Just kind of shot their mouth when they first heard it, and saw the ending.


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