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Big responsibilities, little ownership

by Karl E on 06/28/12 05:07:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutras community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


The Mass Effect 3 ending feels like a tired topic. However, I still have one thing I have to get off my mind. It concerns the frequently occurring argument that demanding a new ending is ”equivalent to ask Leonardo da Vinci or JK Rowling to change their work.”

Take a look at the cover of a Harry Potter book. It has a name on the cover, JK Rowling. Take a look at the cover of the Mass Effect 3 box. It features the name of two corporations: EA and Bioware.

Next, assume that JK Rowling died before the last Harry Potter book was finished. Would her publisher hire a ghostwriter to finish the book? Not likely. Compare this to any of the Mass Effect writers quitting Bioware. If he insisted that despite him being fired, it was still his version of the Mass Effect universe that was the ”true” version, people would ask if he’d lost his mind.

The separation of creator and content in the games industry makes sense from the perspective of the companies involved. If the Mass Effect games were in any way associated with the people who create them instead of the company that sells them, the creators would be able to get a larger share of the revenues.

Casey Hudson and his writers probably have decent salaries. But compared to JK Rowling, or anyone retaining creative rights to major media, it’s peanuts.

In this context, the whole da Vinci comparison becomes particularly annoying. The people who make it honestly seem to think that they are complimenting game workers by comparing them to da Vinci.

Since their level of creative control and ownership couldn’t be more different, the effect is probably the opposite. Ask any work psychologist: giving people responsibility without the equivalent amount of freedom is a sure way to make them stressed out and depressed.

There are several reasons for the games industry being organized in this manner. Creating games may be considered a more team-oriented, constraints-driven effort than film or music.

But the ME3 debacle suggests that in a story-driven game, an actual author is really useful. That is, someone with creative control. Someone who has a working copy of the game world in his or her mind, and a personal interest in seeing this world become realized as faithfully as possible. Someone who might even deserve some royalties.

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