The Mass Effect 3 Backlash (RobotGeek)7:48 pm - 04/09/2012
I’m going to warn you in advance, there are spoilers in here about the nature of the ending of Mass Effect 3, but no plot points. Seriously, it’s hard to do with without spoilers, but I’m going to try. If you don’t want any sort of spoilers, avoid this article. There are also links to other sites, which contain spoilers, so please be aware.
Right now, the internet is more or less ablaze with people discussing the end of Mass Effect 3. It’s a contentious point to be sure- but apparently, even more contentious is the fan response. Many fans are disappointed with the ending. Yes, ending. Singular. There is a single core ending, with multiple minor deviations depending on how you played the game, and the final choice available to you. It’s a polarizing issue, to be sure. I was pretty upset, myself. However, mainstream journalism seems to have skirted the main issues on both sides. Metacritic has been forced to clamp down hard on ‘review-bombing’ of the game on its site, which brings up a lot of questions in and of itself. Other outlets are claiming this is a homophobic backlash, which is, quite frankly, insulting and wrong in and of itself. Beyond that, gamers are being split into two camps: those petitioning for a ‘better’ ending, and those who think that the studio’s creative right trumps that. As more and more gamers complete the campaign, more voices are being added- and an awful lot of them are angry.
Depending on what end of the internet you haunt, there’s a lot of righteous indignation, trolling, and bitterness from either the fans, or other gamers. This is mainly a result of this poll (WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS):
The main points of both sides are as follows:
THOSE AGAINST CHANGING THE ENDING:
1. The studio’s right to domain over its creative properties shouldn’t be infringed on, and any changes made would set a terrible precedent.
2. Those asking for change are entitled and whiny, seeking only a sunshine and happiness ending to a dark space opera.
3. Demanding DLC to change a game like that is giving Bioware bad ideas about forcing players to shell out money for their prefered ending.
4. There are larger issues at stake in the industry as a whole, and Mass Effect fans are not only wasting their time, but making all gamers look bad as well.
THOSE FOR CHANGING THE ENDING:
1. The ending is extremely poorly put together, regardless of whether an individual wants a happier ending, and is an example of extremely poor writing that borders on the nonsensical. Unfortunately, I can’t expand on this without spoilers, but I can tell you that there is no real look at the consequences of your actions, or any consequences to your actions throughout the games.
2. Bioware has broken the verbal contract presented in a number of interviews, promising that players’ choices matter and that there would be a number of varied endings, which may constitute false advertising to some.
3. Players have the right to demand a better product if it doesn’t meet their expectations.
4. Players calling for a happier option don’t want to force it on everyone, and instead only wish the option to be present.
All this has started a vitriolic back and forth. On the Bioware forums, there’s a lot of bold talk about betrayal and never paying for another one of their games again. Admittedly, I can understand why they’re upset. Many players have a lot of personal investment in the characters, places, and story of Mass Effect. It has been a long journey for them, and they’re used to seeing the consequences of their actions throughout the series. I suspect many wanted an end much like Babylon 5′s: lots of sacrifice to be sure, but closure. Of the three endings, only one seems to make sense. After investing that much in a game, it’s not hard to see why they feel a touch betrayed. They put their hard-earned money in Bioware’s pocket. Most of those upset think of themselves as the ‘first wave’- those who got the game early and beat it fast, usually by sinking every free moment they had into it. It’s only been five days since the game dropped, and there are already polls with 17,000+ votes to change the ending of the game. Some seem to think the whole thing should be scrapped -and I agree with that, root canal it. Many of them also make it clear that every ending shouldn’t be rainbows and unicorns, and that a happier ending should only be an option. They’re alright with a bittersweet ending as an option, and keeping the more rational of the remaining options. Many also complain about the lack of closure, but I believe that was deliberately done to leave room for DLC. In fact, someone thought it would be a good idea to remind players that DLC was coming in the final credits. Some frame their arguments as follows: if you go to a restaurant, and there’s an issue with your meal, do you send it back? When you purchase an item and it doesn’t work, do you return it, or buy another one? Customers should have some level of recourse for an unsatisfying product, whether that is patches, optional DLC, or what have you.
Other gamers are upset at the idea that fanboys would be able to alter a property simply by getting together and whining enough. Harsh words, but that’s fair. Changing the ending would be an awful precedent for gaming, though it has been established before with Brotherhood of Steel. Some people actually enjoy the endings as they are, which is fair. Everyone’s entitled to their opinions. And those claiming that the ending is largely inconsequential as a whole, and in the game, do have some valid points. There are a number of graphical glitches, balance issues, etc. that need to be fixed. The rest of the story is admittedly quite good as well. Those scorning the ‘entitlement crowd’ as they call it also have some valid points- this is Bioware’s story, not the fans’. The behavior of some of the fans has been utterly atrocious, yes. And yes, some fans do want unicorns and rainbows. None of those charges can be denied, but saying ‘if you don’t like it, don’t buy it’ or ‘caveat emptor’ is a bit of a knee jerk reaction. The people who have beat it are the ones who have bought it and who aren’t satisfied with the endgame. The biggest issue remains the idea that fan outcry can change a creative property, regardless of merit. It’s troubling, admittedly. People shouldn’t act like Annie Wilkes because they don’t like the ending of a work of fiction. This point I can agree with, if there’s a linear story. However, one of the main attractions of the Mass Effect series is choice, and there is merit to the argument that players were promised a series of endings, instead of one.
I can see both sides of the argument, but I’m inclined to lean towards those who support adding an option for a happier ending, if not a total root canal of the final ten minutes and additional content, even if it is text boxes or something similar. The ‘happy’ ending being optional, it is like the supposed homosexual controversy in the game- don’t take the option if you don’t want to. Everyone’s happy. More troubling is the fact that the writers abruptly botched the ending- some say, deliberately. If it was a marketing ploy to sell additional DLC or lead into an MMO, that’s despicable. Equally troubling is the total lack of response from Bioware or EA on the subject at the time of writing. The Wikipedia article on Mass Effect 3 currently has noted that so far, a poll on the Bioware forums has accrued over 15,000 votes to change the ending as of Sunday morning, and the Facebook group has over 12,000 likes. I would like a rewrite of that last scene more to give a fitting tribute to the game than anything- I feel a little cheated due to the lack of impact of my choices and the lack of variety. On the Bioware forums, fans have been posting an alternative interpretation of the ending that seems to be holding water- but even if it’s accurate, they’ve been left with half an ending. So far, Bioware’s silence has been extremely rough on the diehards, though on their twitter they have acknowledged the ‘community concerns.’ Many of them call the ending incomplete- and despite the brilliant ‘alternative take’ on the ending, I agree.
Rumors of a sharp price drop due to cancelled orders and the backlash have surfaced, and a quick check of Amazon.com has revealed that new copies of the game are available at retailers for around 45$ brand new. The Collector’s Edition for PC has dropped to under eighty dollars. The Metacritic score is sitting at 3.5 overall- with plenty of spoilers in the reviews, so I highly suggest against investigating. I can only imagine that Bioware’s silence either reflects them holding something back, or the company being in full-on panic mode. It would be a shame for the company to sink based on one game- especially one so storied, that gave us so many great moments in gaming. Day One DLC is forgivable. Graphical glitches can be patched. However, the trust of your customers is a precious resource that can’t easily be fixed or regained. Forbes has articles on the subject- first painting gamers as basically totally homophobic, whiny assholes. Other sites have claimed the same thing due to the actions of a few, but going on the Bioware forums shows an almost total absence of homophobia and racism. However, over time, the Forbes story has been updated again and again, with the writer slowly coming around to sympathize with those who feel betrayed.
This is one of the biggest controversies going on in the gaming biz right now, it seems. What camp are you in? Do you even see yourself in a particular camp? Are you an outsider looking in and wondering what the hell is going on? And if you played through Mass Effect 3, are you going to buy more Bioware products in the future? And the big question for me is art versus product- is this just gaming going through pop culture growing pains?
(This article was done up before the new free Extended Cut DLC was announced, as a heads up, and feel free to discuss that as well.)