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The potential fallout of BioWare’s new Mass Effect 3 ending

Submitted by on Thursday, 5 April 201218 Comments

You may not know it but we stand on the precipice of one of the most important development decisions in video game history. One whose ripple effects will be felt throughout the industry moving forward.

If BioWare goes ahead with the purported changes to the Mass Effect 3 ending, it stands to set a damning precedent potentially hamstringing the creative integrity of future creative endeavors.

Shortly after the release of Mass Effect 3, the culmination of BioWare’s 7 year transcendent project, the conversation surrounding the series focused on the disappointment a very vocal minority felt concerning the ending. Shrouding an otherwise stellar game in hapless, petty scrutiny.

Those upset with the conclusion complained that Commander Shepard’s finale did not provide enough closure to validate their hours of decision making. Ordinarily such criticism is to be expected for a game with a scope as large as Mass Effect 3’s but unfortunately the acrimony turned personal. ‘Fans’ repeatedly lobbed attacks at BioWare employees through forums and message boards forcing the development studio to alter their site’s code of conduct to address the influx of sophomoric aggression.

From there the impassioned group took to Child’s Play, a gaming charity aimed at improving the lives of hospitalized children through games, to make their collective voice heard. Under the “Retake Mass Effect” project gamers pledged donations to the charity in hopes of forcing BioWare’s hand under the guise of a charitable initiative. A move that while inevitably aids Child’s Play, simply uses the charity’s presence as a platform to further a disassociated cause. Child’s Play eventually put a stop on “Retake Mass Effect” donations due to conflicts of interest and ultimately confused donators.

The issue isn’t the fact that consumers are expressing their displeasure with a product but instead that they are demanding reprisal by any means necessary. Perhaps this speaks to the evolving realities of the internet age, the entitlement of a group or the mere infancy of the industry. More likely it’s reflective of all three. It is important to note that being disappointed by the ending and feeling that BioWare owes you an ending which satisfies your personal tastes are two diametrically opposed positions.

The mere fact that consumers of an artistic product feel just in their efforts to change the creative work speaks to a problematic disrespect for the creative process within the video game industry. Indignities that would not be tolerated in either the film or literary industries.

Furthermore, it’s confusing as to where a new ending would fit. Say the protesters had their way and BioWare issued a new ending to ME3, would the original ending then cease to exist? Wouldn’t a tacked on ending be disingenuous? And if so wouldn’t this new ending ring eternally false? Even if a new ending is hatched, those most upset by the original can never be fully satiated in light of the reality that anything other than the original ending cannot be considered canon in the truest sense. The only ending is the one that the game shipped with.

Although initially steadfast in their position to uphold the original ending in the face of mounting criticism Ray Muzyka, co-founder of BioWare, recently hinted that the company may indeed be bending to the will of the vocal minority in a blog post.

“Building on their research, Exec Producer Casey Hudson and the team are hard at work on a number of game content initiatives that will help answer the questions, providing more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey. You’ll hear more on this in April”. – Ray Muzyka, co-founder, BioWare.

To Dr. Muzyka and BioWare’s credit the studio has met the rising tide of misplaced anger with the utmost dignity. Having the conclusion of their flagship series disparaged and tactlessly rejected had to be a tough pill to swallow for a group of people who have given a large portion of their life to Mass Effect. However to alter or change the game’s ending altogether would be gross overreaction to a irrelevant problem.

As one of the most respected and revered developers in the industry, BioWare’s actions carry a tremendous amount of weight. A decision to abandon the tenets of creativity would set a dangerous precedent by which future studios would be held, further emboldening rowdy subsets of entitled consumers in the face of perceived inadequacies. As an industry giant they have an unmistakable responsibility to uphold creative license for the sake of fellow developers.

Allowing the misguided deeds of a group of gamers to force the reconstruction of an already finished product in Mass Effect 3 would ultimately hinder future projects and stifle industry wide innovation. Giving publishers and developers alike reason to pause at critical junctures in their game’s development. Such hesitations, in and of themselves, oppose creative flow. Inevitably motivating some to air on the side of caution, effectively impeding on the forward progress of innovation.

Whether or not BioWare chooses to attempt to appease the loud minority remains to be seen. Ideally they are self-aware enough to realize the gravity of such a decision. Any concessions made should be looked at as a blow to the independence of the artistic license given the origins of the motivation to do so.

In the words of fellow Canadian artist, Drake, “No don’t do it, please don’t it”.