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Pathetic Supplication: BioWare and the Ending of Mass Effect 3

When did we get like this? When did we develop this sense of entitlement? Did something happen while I wasn’t paying attention that made video game fans believe they – not developers – should get to choose how art is made then given to them? Must have. Because since the release of Mass Effect 3 we have witnessed a very depressing and extremely regressive outcry from fans.

[While I won’t go into specific details about Mass Effect 3’s ending(s), I will be discussing its structure, so I issue the requisite SPOILER WARNING.]

You may have noticed that some people were a touch disappointed by the ending of Mass Effect 3. They felt, for a series famed for its promotion of individual player choice, the conclusion of the third entry was intolerably restrictive. As I said, I won’t spoil anything story-related, but the ending plays out like this: Shepard reaches the game’s climactic moment and is offered three choices (not so-subtly colored to indicate which is the Paragon, Neutral, or Renegade option), each of which will end the game differently. So, regardless of whether you have built your Shepard as a rebellious asshole or selfless hero since 2007’s Mass Effect, the ending you experience of Mass Effect 3 comes down to this. If you’re willing to play the last level three times, you can see each ending on one play through.

Ardent Mass Effect players, expecting an ending based on decisions made in the previous two games, rose up and collectively cried “Foul!” at this cop-out. (One passionate fanboy brought his complaints to the Federal Trade Commission.) Apparently, BioWare and publisher Electronic Arts have heard these complaints. BioWare co-founder Ray Muzyka released this official statement:

“I believe passionately that games are an art form, and that the power of our medium flows from our audience, who are deeply involved in how the story unfolds,” Muzyka wrote, “and who have the uncontested right to provide constructive criticism. At the same time, I also believe in and support the artistic choices made by the development team. The team and I have been thinking hard about how to best address the comments on ME3’s endings from players, while still maintaining the artistic integrity of the game.”

This and the rest of his letter can be read as simple, politically worded surrender. He went on to acknowledge the hard work that went into creating Mass Effect 3, the effort that will go into balancing this tweaked ending with BioWare’s existing DLC plan, and to decry destructive criticism from fans.

So there it is: the people have spoken, and BioWare is changing – sorry, adding additional closure to – their game. Many of people might be wondering why I think this is a bad thing. It’s a bad thing because this is not how artists should treat their art.

You were disappointed by the ending of Mass Effect 3? Really? I’m sorry. But here’s the thing: tough titties. You don’t get to choose how it ends. The ending of Lost disappointed me. Did I write Damon Lindelof and Carleton Cuse to tell them how much I invested into their show only to be left with a bunch of half-answers to many of my questions? No, I was quietly disappointed, and I – and a number of others – voiced our concerns. Did anybody ask them to go back and change it? Many people were disappointed with the conclusion of the Matrix trilogy. Were the Wachowski brothers asked to retread the Matrix Revolutions? The Star Wars prequels were disliked near-universally. Would anyone ask even George Lucas, a man notorious for not respecting the sanctity of his products, to go back and remove Jar-Jar Binks from The Phantom Menace? No, no, and no.

In no other artistic medium would this kind of request be tolerated.

JTM’s eminent leader Jan Hutchings said this to me: “If BioWare changes the ending it’ll be a very different industry.” It might seem like a small thing for a developer to throw fans a bone right now, but this is a slippery slope, and perhaps a massive mistake on BioWare’s part.

You made the game. It disappointed some people. That sucks. Own it. Stand by your creation. Fans don’t have authorial control of your game. You do. Creating art is intense and should come from a personal place, whether it’s Shakespeare or a shooter. Yes, getting criticism from people while you’re making it is wise; but molding it post-release to fit the whims of your audience is pathetic supplication.

One final note. There is only one reason this decision can be considered even remotely respectable (and it’s the same reason I’m surprised fans are so pissed off): while the Reaper saga must be considered finished, I sincerely doubt BioWare intended Mass Effect 3 to be the last game in the franchise. (Project director Casey Hudon agrees: “This is not the last you’ll hear of Commander Shepard.”) In other words, fans were probably going to get a continuation of the story regardless. Now we have this obnoxious drama to contend with. I sure hope people are happy with the new ending.

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Posted on March 24, 2012, in Opinions And Editorials and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. James Harrington

    I think you may be mistaken. Only the “Destroy all Synthetics” ending left Shepard alive. The other two killed him (absorbing his life force, I think) to further the cause of peace.

    • My sincerest apologies. I misheard the young boy in the final, post-credits scene. I thought he said “Tell me another story, Doctor Shepard,” which I took as a suggestion that the old man was in fact elderly Shepard (and somehow a doctor? I have no idea, but I guess he’d have a lot of time on his hands after the Reaper battle) who somehow survived despite the ending. (In reality he says “Tell me another story about the Shepard.”) I only watched that scene once, since I’d heard it was the same regardless of your ending. I just rewatched and edited my error out of the article. Simple, lazy mistake. Crap hearing. I’m still a good guy. Don’t hold it against me.

    • Not true. I did the destroy one and got Shep lives + stargazer/child ending. Basically what happens doesn’t matter, even if your squadmates die, they show up on the normandy later.

    • The fact of the matter is, that if enough people don’t like an artist’s work, then he starves. I will not purchase another Bioware game, and I am not the only one who feels that way. I’m not saying that I’m entitled to a new ending, I’m saying that Bioware, as a company who’s trying to make money, will not have any more business from me if they leave things as they are. That is not my entitlement, that is a company losing a customer. It is also not the business of random internet bloggers to tell me what I am or am not entitled to, or what my opinion should be.

  2. Maybe it’s just me, but I really enjoyed the ending to the game. Sure it left some unanswered questions and wasn’t quite the same “choose your own adventure” ending that part 2 had, but one thing I hate is when a game or movie doesn’t know when to end and this was not one of them. It ended climactically and dramatically and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Poor taste to those who contacted the FTC and organized donation bandwagons. Poor taste.

    • True enough, Alexander. Maybe I’ve passionately taken this stance because I, like you, did not dislike the ending. I can see why it frustrated people — and I am bit confused it was the route BioWare chose to take — but it felt suitably sincere and climactic.

  3. It was a good enough ending… I’ve made peace with it… Sure it was a lack luster but I think if you choose the right choice and see Shepard waking up in the rubble. At this point you know this is where the REAL war begins then it fades to black… Leaving it up to the imagination of the fans on how it should end. Where instead the fans started making up theories about “IT” throwing BW’s plans to the dogs…

    Thats what I think…

  4. I can’t say that I entirely agree with the views of the author of this article.

    First and foremost, Bioware doesn’t make games for artistic expression. Like any other corporate entity, they are in it to get paid. They make games to make money. Games are a product like any other. When your consumer base (In this case – People who play Mass Effect 3) are less than happy with the product, they are perfectly entitled to move on and choose not to buy any further products (In this case – DLC). This is the paramount concern of Bioware and is the only kind of pressure that a profit making company understands.

    Mass Effect 3 is very different from something like Star Wars or Matrix because of one concept – DLC. Simply put, it is within the realms of practicality for Bioware to change Mass Effect 3 significantly using DLC. That’s what all the fuss is all about.

    • Danny, you make some good points. However, the argument of my article inherently takes issue with your “first and foremost” — that BioWare does not make games for artistic expression. Maybe they don’t. Maybe it’s a big corporate grab. Maybe I should accept that the whole thing is set up to take my hard earned dollars.

      But I get behind the Mass Effect series because I see real emotion in it. Few games — and while we’re at it, few movies or books — have made me the feel the way I did when I faced down Mordin in Mass Effect 3. It takes someone special to make me feel like that. It takes an artist. I feel this whole “Improve The Game With DLC” or “Change The Ending to Make Everybody Happy” stance is deeply flawed from an artistic perspective. Maybe not so much from an economic one. This may sound like an overly general cop out, but I suppose it depends on what you expect from a game.

  5. Dear joethomma,

    maybe you miss something. If the indoctrination theory is true, well in this case maybe it has been planned this way. We will see..

  6. “In no other artistic medium would this kind of request be tolerated.”

    Untrue. Do your research dear, it’s the least you can do.

    • That statement was a bit vague. Of course the request itself would be tolerated in almost any other medium. Maybe I should have said “In no other artistic medium would this request, fueled by knee-jerk emotional reaction, be caved into this readily.”

  7. Also you forget: the writer changed, the leaked ending, the “continue the story playing DLC” message you get after you finish the game. The fact the docts arleadry said their games are PRODUCTS in interviews in case it weasn’t clear to you by everything they do. False advertising applies.
    The art comments are also ridiculous. I’m an artist. Every artist knows they have to deliver the quality to their clients. Art is not untouchable, sacred. Art has to be well thought out, and to the clients taste, and wil be modified during and post process. Yes even the Old Masters did this. Stop offending artists and art, it’s not an excuse to make crap. Actually the most cherished thing in the art world is to get your art torn down by criticism so you can fix your crap.

    • The thing is this: every artist is going to fail once in awhile in the eyes of the public. I agree that criticism is the best way to “fix your crap,” but I’m inclined to think that what you learn from criticism should be carried over, not used to tweak and mold a current project to the whims of the market. No doubt the Old Masters — not exactly sure who you’re referring to — made art to fit their clients taste, but I seriously doubt Leonardo Da Vinci or John Keats would’ve been onboard with DLC. I can just imagine the headlines: “James Joyce Listens to Frustrated Fans, Re-releases Final Pages of Ulysses with Punctuation!”

      • No I don’t think you understand me, people are commissioned to do art exactly AS THE CLIENT WANTS, it’s called art yes. And in jobs in illustration, design, concept art, etc we all have to mold the art to how the client wants. We keep in touch with them and they tell us all the time “I don’t like the pose here, can you change it” or “this is not what I had in mind, please change it to so and so” or even “I changed my mind, I don’t want him on a boat, I want him on a horse”, calling it art doesn’t make it sacred, so use another argument, it’s not an excuse for doing whatever you want. I was not comparing BW to Old Masters or James Joyce lol, (like that would make sense… even if for some reason you think what BW does is art) I was making a point that art is not the sacred thing you think of and that yes Leonardo had to get paid too, guess how he did that? He could not do whatever he wanted all the time, he had to do work he was asked to, he had to please people.
        Sure, BW can do as they please, they can measure if they care about the fans enough, and then possibly lose money, or get more money by doing DLC / fixing shit.

      • Btw BW has a history of not admiting their mistakes (“we really did think everyone would like DA2 even though we did exactly what we promised not to do with it” in the forums, every time.) so I call it pride and PR. Makes tons more sense than calling it art.

      • pretty sure you’re arguing with a monkey……just saying….

  8. Maurarder Sheilds

    HE DIED FOR YOUR SINS:

  9. Dear Joethomma,

    Though my previous post seems really cynical, I do see where you are coming from.

    I have avidly followed Mass Effect in that I have played all three games multiple times. Make no mistake. Bioware have done a superb job of gameplay, storytelling and character presentation. Those of us who truly like Mass Effect have become so familiar, we care about the fate of the Mass Effect universe and the people (& Aliens) in it. I imagine that not many were unmoved when Mordin sacrificed himself and when Garrus had his last conversation with Shepard. Perhaps this is one of the elements that makes so many fans yearn for more closure and hate the ending.

    Back to my cynicism. I doubt Mr. Myzuka cares what his customers think of the ending of ME3. What he does care about is whether there are enough dissatisfied customers to erode his future revenues from ME3 DLCs and merchandise. That’s why he said what he said.

    • True enough, Danny. It’s getting tougher and tougher to defend the game because I see what you mean: Myzuka’s is coming from a completely corporate place. I’m not saying I don’t see his perspective. I just don’t like it.

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