Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Mass Effect 3 fans push for a "sweet" resolution
Any gamer worth his controller pack has heard the buzz surrounding the ending of Mass Effect 3. Many fans felt that the trilogy's ambiguous ending was a colossal let down after over 100 hours of galaxy surfing.
The disappointment has been so potent that fans have joined together to demand a new or extended ending from Bioware. This movement, dubbed "Retake Mass Effect 3," has generated a lot of press from a variety of sources - especially Forbes.com. Together, they've raised about $75,000 for the Child's Play Charity - and they are working out a plan to support other charities to be heard. Other disappointed fans have taken different approaches. One extreme fan filed complaints of false advertising to the Better Business Bureau and the FTC.Another took a more savory approach and sent Bioware an assortment of cupcakes that mimic the game's "multiple" endings. The cupcakes, which were funded by donations from other disappointed fans, are either red, green, or blue and all taste the same - a very blunt jab at Bioware for the seemingly shallow nature of the ending.
Public opinion has been all over the place on this one. Mainstream gaming media sources, like IGN and Game Informer, seem to be very quick at to mock and ridicule the fans, meanwhile Forbes seems to be their strongest mainstream supporter. Those against the movement claim that the "protesters" are just being entitled brats, other compare them to terrorists. The main argument is that the fans have no right to impose upon Bioware's "artistic integrity." Touchy subject indeed.
While I think there are a few bad apples among the protesters (like the knucklehead that filed BBB/FTC complaints), I think Bioware should give them what they want, but also take a few artistic liberties at the same time.
Word of mouth is one of the most potent forms of advertising, especially in the digital era. Bioware has a legion of fans who are willing to be their advocates for free. These folks are the ones that are your early adopters for new games and series, and will recommend it to their friends and social media followers. Advertisers pay millions of dollars for this type of reach. In addition to the business angle of the fan-base dynamic, there's also the content development assets. Through a variety of fan-fictions and fan-made endings, Bioware has a gold mine in front of them - they know what their audience is looking for. That's thousands of dollars of product development research available to them for free.
Additionally, delivering what their fans so desperately desire is a smooth public relations move. Fans' donations to the Child's Play Charity demonstrates how invested they are. They're willing to commit to a cause and take an upstanding and respectable approach. Why not reward that behavior? Everyone stands to gain from it - the fans get their voices heard, the developer/publishers get additional brand equity, and the needy get helped.
The final reason for "changing" the ending is this: they can do it. Bioware is one of the few studios with an exceptionally capable group of developers that can take consumer feedback and successfully integrate it with their artistic vision. Look at the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC for Mass Effect 2 - they took fan feedback and developed what is arguably one of the best video game add-ins ever made.. While the current ME3 ending may have been a downer, they were able to produce roughly 99 hours and 50 minutes of content that is entertaining and immersible. By examining the fan-made endings, they have the tools to see what their audience is looking for and shape their product to meet that demand. Moreover, I don't think that they need to "change" the ending to do so. Take Fallout 3, for example. Bethesda took fan feedback into consideration and developed Broken Steel. Some arguments against this say that Broken Steel was hokey - but I don't pay those any mind. Like I mentioned earlier, Bioware has some of the best and brightest talent in the industry. If anyone could extend the ending in a non-hokey way, it's them.
Bioware co-founder, Ray Muzyka, mentioned in his statement on the Bioware Blog, we will be getting an announcement in April of the developer's plans to address the ending of their finale. One should notice that he was very careful in his word choice - he only promised "closure." Nowhere in there does he say whether or not that closure will be in the form of new or extended endings. Here's to hoping we get the news at PAX East coming up this week.