The Nintendrone Volume 5: The Customer Is Always Right. Why Bioware Should Change Mass Effect 3’s Ending
I may be a devoted Nintendrone, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy games on non-Nintendo systems. One of my favorite franchises of this generation is Bioware’s Mass Effect series. The series has finally come to its conclusion with Mass Effect 3, and fans are not happy about the way Shepard’s journey ends.
I myself am a little upset about the whole ordeal. To be clear, I’m not angry with Bioware. They produced a fine game. The ending was incredibly lackluster, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I think that they tried their best to create a good ending to the series. They messed up, but we all make mistakes. My beef is about the gaming media, and their reaction to this whole situation.
The Story So Far:
Within days of Mass Effect’s release, fans were up in arms. A group of malcontent fans started a group called “Retake Mass Effect” with the goal of encouraging Bioware to make a new ending. Reaction to the movement has been mixed to say the least. Bioware has taken a predictably safe stance. They haven’t committed to anything, and claim to be listening to fan feedback. Some outlets have regarded the movement with mere amusement, and some have been downright scathing in their criticism of the movement. Gamers who want a new ending have been portrayed as petulant children throwing a tantrum. Some outlets have identified this movement as a crime against art itself. As you can probably tell, my opinion is that there should be a new ending, and here’s why.
Mass Effect 3 Is A Product:
First off, let’s get stop all of this art malarkey. Whether video games are or will ever be art is a matter of debate, and it’s not one I’m going to weigh in on here. What isn’t up for debate is that Mass Effect 3 is a product that Bioware is charging 60-80 dollars for. When you make and sell a product, you have a responsibility to make sure that your customers are satisfied.
Customers are not satisfied. A poll on Bioware’s Social Network shows that a staggering 97% of fans are not happy with the ending. A poll on computerandvideogames.com shows that 87% of people think Bioware “blew it” with their ending. A poll on IGN’s facebook page confirms that 87% of people are not happy with the ending. While these numbers are far from official, they clearly show that the majority of fans are not satisfied with the ending. When well over half of your fans, including 97% of your most devoted fans, are not satisfied, you messed up.
Artistic License is Not Free Reign
One of the principle ideas used against those requesting a new ending is the issue of authorial authority. In a recent interview Paul Barnett, senior creative director at Bioware-Mythic, made the following statement. “If computer games are art than I fully endorse the author of the artwork to have a statement about what they believe should happen.”
What if JK Rowling decided that she would end the Harry Potter franchise with a dance off between Voldemort and Harry? I’m sure fans and critics alike would revolt against such an ending. The point I’m trying to make with this obviously exaggerated example is that the art of writing is not a free for all. Authors cannot simply put whatever they want on the page. Writers have a responsibility to write endings which are consistent with the premise of their stories, emerge naturally from the actions that precede it, are true to the characters, and successfully bring closure to unresolved plot threads. When a writer fails to do these things, their audience feels cheated.
I’m not going to go over the whole ending, but allow me to give a one example. Spoilers ahead. In the end of the game, Shepard is told that synthetic life will always rise up and destroy organic life. Throughout the game, the Geth, the universe’s only fully synthetic race, is shown to be merciful. Despite being rounded up and murdered by the Quarians, the Geth allow the Quarians to escape when the Geth gain the upper hand in their conflict. In my playthrough, the Geth made peace with Geth, even after the Quarians started another war with them. They even helped the Quarians rebuild their homeworld. The Geth are practically the space Ghandis of the Mass Effect universe. Meanwhile, Edi, my synthetic teammate, swore that she would give her life to protect me and other organic life forms. So, the premise of the ending openly contradicts all the information we had been presented with. This is poor writing. This is hardly the only example of the ending contradicting established lore, or characters acting in a way that is contradictory to their nature. Paying fans have every right to request that these issues be addressed.
Writers Have To Make Sense
If you establish that a character is dead in a warzone that cannot be reached by spaceship, they can’t be seen on a ship 10 minutes later with no explanation. If you establish that a character is in space without their armor, they can’t be on Earth with their armor later on. Taken at face value, the ending to Mass Effect 3 makes no sense.
Players have come up with a theory which explains that much of the ending was essentially a dream sequence. In this context, the plotholes are mostly resolved. However, even if this is true, we’re still left with an incomplete story.
Art Is Not Made In A Vacuum
Some critics of the Retake Mass Effect movement seem to be under the impression that any outside influence taints an artist’s work. This is naïve and silly. Videogames are not made by a lonely artist toiling away in a dark room. They are made by a large group of people under the watchful eye of a large corporation. If you think that corporate higher ups at EA had no influence over the artistic vision of Mass Effect 3, you’d be wrong. If you think none of the people in charge of the story solicited input from friends, family, and peers, you’d be wrong. If you think that Bioware hasn’t been soliciting input from fans since Mass Effect 1, you’d certainly be wrong. Bioware has been very open about their use of feedback in shaping Mass Effect’s gameplay and narrative.
There is a reason that movies have test screenings before they are released. Movie makers and game makers are businesses, and they live off of consumer’s money. It’s nice to imagine a world where all art is made for art’s sake, but that’s nothing but a fantasy. Artists are always under pressure to change their art based on opinions of their audience, their sponsors, and their peers. This situation is no exception.
Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep
Before Mass Effect’s release, Bioware staff members made several bold claims about the game and its ending. Let’s take a look at some of their comments.
From Mass Effect’s official website:
“Experience the beginning, middle, and end of an emotional story unlike any other, where the decisions you make completely shape your experience and outcome.”
From Mike Gamble:
“There are many different endings. We wouldn’t do it any other way. How could you go through all three campaigns playing as your Shepard and then be forced into a bespoke ending that everyone gets? But I can’t say any more than that…”
And my favorite from Casey Hudson:
“Yeah, and I’d say much more so, because we have the ability to build the endings out in a way that we don’t have to worry about eventually tying them back together somewhere. This story arc is coming to an end with this game. That means the endings can be a lot more different. At this point we’re taking into account so many decisions that you’ve made as a player and reflecting a lot of that stuff. It’s not even in any way like the traditional game endings, where you can say how many endings there are or whether you got ending A, B, or C…..The endings have a lot more sophistication and variety in them.”
Even those who denounce the movement to change Mass Effect 3’s ending have never tried to argue that the ending(s) lives up to Bioware’s marketing propaganda. The general consensus is that all possible endings are incredibly similar, and player choice doesn’t significantly alter your outcome. So, are those who are demanding a new ending entitled? You’re damn right we’re entitled. We’re entitled to the things that Bioware promised us before we put our cash on the table.
Why Can’t We Change A Finished Product?
Everyone seems to agree that it is a good idea for authors, directors, and game makers, to solicit and incorporate feedback into their works. The very outlets who condemn Retake Mass Effect are those who frequently and loudly tell developers how to improve their future products.
Why is it all right for fans to have a say in a future product, but not a completed one? It’s easy to see why this isn’t the case in other mediums. You can’t recall every copy of a book. You can’t track down every person who has seen a movie and invite them back to the cinema for a second viewing. You can’t send actors back onto the stage to redo the last scene of a play. With games, the infrastructure already exists. We already see developers using DLC and patches as a bandaid for weak gameplay elements. They see something that can be improved upon, and they do it. Why is the story of a game so untouchable? If Bioware is fine with releasing additional story content, as is shown by their somewhat crass pitch, why is it an affront to ask them to add to or change the ending?
Why Wouldn’t Bioware Want To Change The Ending?
Most artists or entertainers I know in any medium legitimately want to please their fans. I’m sure the folks at Bioware are no different. I’m sure that they want me to finish their game and think that it was a completely amazing experience. I’m sure they want me to enthusiastically tell my friends about the awesome experience. I’m sure that they revel in seeing fans have a positive reaction to their work. I’m also sure that the folks at Bioware are disappointed when fans don’t enjoy the game.
It’s a shame that so much emphasis has been on the ending of Mass Effect 3, and so little has been placed on how amazing the rest of the game is. Ending aside, Mass Effect 3 is among the very best games that has been produced in this generation or any other. Unfortunately, the ending really does tarnish the whole experience. I’d much rather be writing an article about how Mass Effect 3 has revolutionized story telling in gaming, but when I think of Mass Effect 3, all I can think about is the ending.
Bioware still has an opportunity to make Mass Effect 3 into the industry defining masterpiece that it should be. With perhaps an hour of additional or altered gameplay, they can ensure that their game will go down in history, and they can please their devoted fans. I obviously can’t speak for the developers, but if I were in that situation, I’d love to get another crack at creating something that fans will truly love. Hopefully, Bioware will swallow a bit of their pride, recognize the flaws of the ending, and give their franchise an ending it deserves. Thankfully, recent comments suggest that this is the route Bioware will take. And if some journalists look down on Bioware for “caving in to the hysterical masses”? Well, **** em.