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The Nintendrone Volume 5: The Customer Is Always Right. Why Bioware Should Change Mass Effect 3’s Ending

by on March 22, 2012
 

The Nintendrone Mass Effect Drone 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.

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  • March 22, 2012 at 11:04 AM

    You’ve got the right idea. digital games are different from any other art form because of their pliability. If bugs are present they are patched with a download. If content is to be added, it is made available with a download. games depend on DLC sales for continued revenue. Being that ME3 owners are not interested in any other content except a fixed ending (until they get a fixed ending) then the revenue that could have been expected from DLC is diminished. Which is another difference from books and movies. If books and movies had a means to present mid story additional content, then sure they would make changed based on fan feedback.

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  • March 22, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    I have yet to finish ME3 but from all accounts, I do hope the ending is changed in order to have a more fulfilling experience.

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  • March 22, 2012 at 11:44 AM

    They don’t have to make a “New” ending they just have to have an actual ending. All of them just so tiny hints as to what happended and only for a few characters. All i want is an actual ending that shows what happened to all those characters, with all the choices i made that Bioware said mattered. Don’t call it an attack on art, call it an attack on laziness. It seemed to me in the multiple ending i saw that they either ran out of time, money, or just couldn’t be bothered to fullfill what they promised to those who have bought and played to death all three games. Thats what really bothers me. Since 97% of the ending are the same minus some colors and a few details. Plus how messed up is it that all those people you brought to the battle are now stuck away from home in the Sol Sytem, since the way home was destroyed. Thats what really tells me they just go lazy about it all.

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  • March 22, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    I do want to note that right up into the ending the game was a 15 out of ten. The multiplayer is a lot of fun, and kind’ve addictive, and the game itself was awesome. Right up till the ending, and i realized that all those choices i had agonized over meant squat. That dropped it to a 7 out of ten it was that bad.

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    • March 22, 2012 at 6:15 PM

      @jroyal76

      That’s actually something I’m really struggling with right now. I have a review for Mass Effect 3 ready to be posted, and I have for nearly a week. However, I just can’t figure out how much impact the ending should have on the overall score. Before the ending, I was ready to give it a 5/5 star rating.

      @Kildar

      I appreciate your input. However, I think you may have misunderstood me. My **** em comment was not targeted at Bioware. It was targeted at some other members of the gaming media for their treatment of the issue. It’s interesting that you liked my article till the very end. It just goes to show that a bad ending can really spoil something for you. I was kind of wondering if my phrasing would be appropriate, and I’ll keep your feedback in mind next time I decide to end an article with starred out profanity.

      As for the idea that this is Shepard’s story, I have to disagree. I think that’s simply Bioware’s spin on things. Shepard did not go through this game alone. In fact, he has the most wonderful and well developed supporting cast of any action hero in any medium. I don’t think the authors can simply disregard the secondary characters. *spoilers* Furthermore, I don’t think Shepard’s story can truly end if the Reapers are alive. That’s like ending the Lord of the Rings Trilogy without the destruction of the ring.

      @tudy o.

      Thanks for your comments. I don’t think I’ll do a full article on Mass Effect and story telling, but I’ll describe how I feel briefly.

      The first time I played through Mass Effect 2, *more spoilers* I knew my characters could die in the end, but I didn’t read how to make them live. I was nervous throughout the whole suicide mission. I agonized over every decision I had to make. Could Tali work her magic on the vents while dealing with the heat, or should I send the heat resistant but (in my mind) less trustworthy Legion? Could Jack keep her cool and protect us from the seeker swarms? And so on. When I ended the mission with my whole team alive and well, I felt proud of my accomplishment.

      My second playthrough did not go as smoothly. I had more squad members, so I sent Kasumi through the vents, and Zaeed to lead my secondary squad. I figured that Kasumi is used to sneaking around and is great with tech, while Zaeed is a hardened veteran who is used to leading dangerous missions. I don’t know what went wrong, but Kasumi didn’t make it through the mission. I had made the wrong call, and now my squadmate was dead. I felt guilty.

      Pride and guilt are two emotions that really can’t be engendered by any other entertainment medium. This is what I feel that gaming, and Mass Effect in particular, bring to storytelling, and why gaming is a unique and important artistic medium. As for interactive games as education, that’s not something I can really address, but it’s certainly something interesting to think about.

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      • March 22, 2012 at 11:52 PM

        I know where the “Well, **** em” comment was directed. And if some peoples’ OPINION is that Bioware is wrong for changing the ending for people, they’re free to think that. I don’t think that by the way. Hell, if/when they do make a new ending I’ll have more ME3 to play. That would be almost the same thing if I read your article and instantly thought “Well, **** this guy bc I think his opinion is crap.” And I didn’t mean to sound prudeish, the **** didn’t offend me or anything. It’s just that you obviously feel very strongly about your opinion of the ending. As do I. But I’m not going to say **** you, I’m right and your wrong.

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        • March 23, 2012 at 12:12 AM

          Fair enough. The point I was trying to make was that Bioware’s primary concern should be doing right by their fanbase, which in my opinion means altering the ending, and that they shouldn’t worry about how the media (yeah that includes me I guess) will react to their decisions. Perhaps, it came out wrong. At any rate thanks for reading and providing constructive criticism!

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  • March 22, 2012 at 12:43 PM

    Bravo!! A very good article.

    It makes me glad that i had the pleasure to read it and sad that i never thought about it this way. Would love to see what you think about interactive storytelling in Mass Effect series.

    I strongly believe in the power of interactive storytelling to motivate people and it’s uses as an informal educational technique.

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  • March 22, 2012 at 5:09 PM

    SPOILER. I enjoyed reading this article very much. Even though I think the ending is perfect the way it is. They said this was the end of Shepard’s story. If they make more ME games they can say that Shepard inspired all the races to keep fighting and the next game can be someone else finishing the Reapers for good. I respect peoples’ opinions and I started off respecting yours. Until the end. “Well **** em.” For that comment alone I wish Bioware would say “Well, **** em” and keep the game exactly as is. People need to just calm down and be happy that they got a great third game. If you didn’t like the ending, feel free to share your opinions but don’t try forcing the company to do something that they don’t need to do.

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    • March 22, 2012 at 5:44 PM

      Uh, dude… You’re misunderstanding. That “Well **** em” comment was directed at the journalists -in the hypothetical situation- that they don’t respect Bioware’s decision to change the ending and start insulting them for it… Which gaming journalists have already started to do. It’s not directed towards Bioware, or at anyone currently in existence. It’s exactly the same sort of comforting thing that would be said to someone if one of their friends was a dick to them and left them crying.

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  • March 22, 2012 at 8:18 PM

    Neon Genesis Evangelion is an example of a franchise where the ending was drastically changed due to fan feedback. The original ending of the series was widely considered to be a terrible pair of very ‘philosophical’ episodes consisting mostly of characters talking against a black background and was very much hindered by budgetary constraints. Gainax went back and made a film, The End of Evangelion, to replace the ending and the series has forever been better off because of it.

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    • March 22, 2012 at 11:22 PM

      Very good point. And that’s hardly the only example of this… Lets see some more.

      Fallout 3 Broken Steel- The endout of Fallout 3 was changed significantly. It’s hard to say if they changed it due to fan demand or the desire to sell DLC.

      Sherlock Holmes- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off his most famous character, and fans weren’t happy. Doyle later wrote a new story that effectively overwrote his previous work.

      Dr. Strangelove- The original ending of the movie was altered due to the assassination of JFK.

      Clerks- Originally, Dante was supposed to die at the end of the movie, which test audiences didn’t like. Smith changed the later ending, and later claimed it was the right move.

      Dodgeball- Believe it or not, The Average Joes were supposed to lose in the final dodgeball game. Apparently, the writers forgot that they were making a comedy.

      Dawn of the Dead- Fans of this franchise are well aware of the infamous suicide ending.

      Every Story In the DC Universe- Comic books have a huge history of retconning events. The entire DC universe has been rewritten a few times.

      Great Expectations- One of the most famous novels of all time originally had a different ending until one of Dicken’s peers suggested that the ending be changed. The new ending is much happier, although I prefer the original more somber ending. Critics have been debating the different endings for some time.

      Somehow, despite all of these “dangerous precedents”, have not destroyed anime, novels, comic books, or movies.

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  • March 23, 2012 at 11:51 PM

    I created this account with the hopes that Mr. Weinblatt would read this, and I’m hoping you do chief. Wonderful article, first of all. But I was wondering if you frequent the Bioware Mass Effect 3 forums?

    I ask because Bioware recently locked a thread that cataloged the collective opinions of former / active PR analysts, accountants, military tacticians, etc that disseminated official Bioware announcements, both on forums and in blogs. It was fascinating to watch as a Communication major, and unbelievably helpful in forming an opinion on the matter since practically all relevant information was edited onto the first post. I wasn’t sure if Bioware was monitoring that thread, but my fears were confirmed earlier today.

    In the last quarter of the thread, the topic of whether Bioware (or any other major dev.) was forcing gaming journalists to slant reviews in their favor got heated. Mostly towards the notion that Bioware was indeed making this happen, many comments offering insights that suggested companies would send games to writers weeks in advance with the assumption that the writer would give a positive review. The assumption came from an understanding; if you don’t write a review we like, then you can buy the game when it comes out like everyone else, and your review gets to be late to the party.

    Well, I’m not sure if you know this, but giantbomb.com was created by gaming journalists who’ve been on the ass-end of this very process. I remember sitting in class as we skyped with Jeffery Gerstmann, one of the founders of Giant Bomb, as he recanted being terminated from his editorial position at GameSpot over a negative review he wrote about Kayne & Lynch: Dead Men. And frankly, it’s just the kind of passive aggressive act of aggression that makes perfect sense for its industry.

    I’m not sure whether it’s true for every major release, but it’s overwhelmingly plausible. Just my 2 cents!

    Locked Thread; http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/355/index/10084349/1
    Jeffery Gerstmann termination; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giant_Bomb#GameSpot_departures.2C_origins_under_Whiskey_Media_.282007-2011.29

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    • March 24, 2012 at 12:39 PM

      First of all, thanks for making an account just to speak to me!

      And yes, I have been poking around the Bioware forums. Partially because this is the most interesting gaming story in quite some time, and partially because I really do care about the fate of my Shepard :). I did see the Damage Control topic when it first came out, but I haven’t been following it that closely.

      To be honest, I have mixed feelings about BSN’s reaction to some of the announcements. I realize that fans are getting fed PR stuff, but I recognize that Bioware/EA is a public company. Anyone who has ever had a customer service job, whether it’s the head of Bioware or a waiter at Applebees, has been in the awkward position of dealing with angry customers. It’s a difficult balance of self defense, appeasement, over the top politeness, and thinly veiled anger. I feel bad for Bioware, and I wouldn’t take their closing of a topic as a sign that they’re covering anything up.

      At the same time, I applaud members of the BSN for their vigilance. We KNOW that corruption has happened in large sites, as Jeff’s story clearly illustrates. The only way that this can be kept in check is if consumers sniff out this deception. I want to make it clear that I am NOT accusing Bioware or EA of anything fishy. I’m just saying that it’s good for customers to maintain a healthy amount of suspicion.

      Overall, Mass Effect 3 is a really great piece of gaming, and even though I hated the ending, I can still understand the game receiving very high score. The gamerankings average (which has gone down a few points in recent days) has the game sitting at a 92.8 for the 360, and I feel this is a perfectly fair score. This makes me question if there is a massive media conspiracy. However, there are a few reviews that gave me pause. For example, take this line from a 10/10 review from a major source. “I was sad to leave them behind, but satisfied since I had no unanswered questions.”

      I could understand people accepting the ending, and I could even understand people liking the ending. However, I can’t understand anyone feeling that the ending leaves no unanswered questions. Even the author’s notes on the ending said “SPECULATION FOR EVERYONE”. So, I’m left wondering if I should frequent this source for my gaming information.

      In closing, I think it’s a good idea for people to take anything they read in the media with a grain of salt. Even the New York Times has had its share of scandals. Best way to go is to get information from a wide variety of sources. That’s my two cents, which makes four cents altogether. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  • March 24, 2012 at 2:02 PM

    Just to clarfiy; I was unbelievably tired when I wrote that post, and it never linked to me that Mass Effect 3 earned it’s rating by being a triple A game.

    When my friends ask me whether ME3 is worth playing, I say “100% yes. If you’ve played the previous two, 120% yes. But understand that this story is focused on the journey, not the conclusion. Be ready for that.”

    Despite the ending, ME3 deserves all its scores. I just don’t like seeing Bioware hide behind scores to justify their folly. An quick illustration;

    **SPOILER ALERT**

    Bioware: So, what’d you think?

    Me: You know man, I loved it. The scene where Mordin is singing scientist Solarian really got me, just like Thane’s parting prayer, right before he died. The “bro’s for life” scene between Shepard and Garrus talking about space bars in space heaven was too cornily awesome that I couldn’t help but feel the love. And Liara’s “gift” made both me and my girlfriend cry. Seriously, more heart strings than ever guys, this is masterful stuff!

    Bioware: *sniffs* Dude, thanks! 🙂

    Me: Yeah, .. there’s one problem though. Your ending makes absolutely zero sense.

    Bioware: Of course it does. We’re emphasizing the theme of sacrifice and showing you that despite all your hardships, a bittersweet ending is all that could come from Shepard’s journey, no matter what. It’s not about a happy ending with buckets of closure– you’re supposed to be confused and question things.

    Me: Which would be great, if any of that was conveyed through your ending. Other than eliciting confusion and generating question– y’all nailed that one.

    Bioware: Shut up, what do you know?

    Me: Ok, you’ve seen the meme about your “explanation”, right? “YO DAWG I HEARD YOU DON’T WANNA BE KILLED BY SYNTHETICS. SO I MADE SOME SYNTHETICS TO KILL YOU EVERY 50K YEARS SO YOU WONT BE KILLED BY SYNTHETICS.” You can argue all you want man, but that is spot-on-accurate. THAT is your explanation?

    Bioware: Stop being such a whining over-entitled brat. Who’re you to say this about my work?

    Me: .. The guy who bought it. It’s MY opinion, MY better nature, and MY cash you’re trying to cater too. Soo.. I’d say I’ve implicitly earned enough ‘entitlement’ to voice my concerns over gaping plot holes.

    Bioware: You obviously don’t get it. This is ART. And we as artists have every option to keep an ending as we see fit. Don’t be pissed because you don’t get it.

    Me: Since when has art been immune to criticism? Art lives on the stage of criticism man, that’s the wrong analogy.

    Bioware: Well fine, whatever! Look at all these official editing corporations that said the game was perfect, through and through?

    Me: And look at your forums, exploding with people not happy about the ending.

    Bioware: They’re a vocal minority.

    Me: Ok, man, look. The game is great, like I said, and I’m glad I bought it. But if you receive criticism from those you’re trying to sell too, you should probably take their opinions with more weight. I mean.. look, look at it this way– the ending is so bad, people don’t want believe it’s real. (indoc. theory)

    Bioware: Whatever man, I’m done. Check back in April and play the multiplayer in the meantime (indefinite horde-mode = multiplayer?)

    Me: Hah no, I’ll go back to Warhammer 40k Space Marine now instead, cheers.

    … I had way too much fun with that. Time to go spill some blood for the blood God!

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  • March 24, 2012 at 2:03 PM

    PS– I wish you guys had an edit function.

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