Early last year, on this month, Mass Effect 3 was released for the masses to consume, and consume we did. And I imagine most people were pretty satisfied with the bulk of the game, except for one teensy 10-minute long segment that for some ruined the game. The ending which only provided 3 different options, all of which were basically all the same except for a changed color palate.
My oh my was the outrage great. Across every and all gaming boards on the internet people kicked and screamed over the ending. Petitions were being signed, lawsuits were being threatened, co-founders were leaving out of frustration and the anger of passionate people was showing. In the end, Bioware added a proper epilogue to please those who felt robbed. Was the backlash a bit excessive? Probably. But the ending controversy lends itself to some very important lessons that any developer can learn from. Let’s dive right in.
And remember people, GAME-RUINING SPOILERS AHOY.
Deliver on what you promise, or don’t say anything without utmost confidence that it will happen.
Perhaps one reason why so many people were upset was because they felt like they were promised something grand and exciting that never was actually there. One of the main promises made by Bioware during the development of the trilogy was that player choice would truly matter. The actions over all three games were supposed to affect the ending that you got when completing the third and final game. Instead of being provided 3 options that were in no way related to any decisions you ever made, there was supposed to be tens of endings that catered to what you did and how you played over all three games.
It can safely be said that what we got was not what was promised. If you as a developer say something will happen, make it happen before the game is put on store shelves. It’s possible (if unlikely) that much of the anger and backlash could have been avoided if they didn’t build up so much to what was arguably the worst part of the game. On a similar note, retracting what you say for any reason is sure to piss a lot of people off, as recently shown by the SimCity debacle. A good way to not have to take Statement A back is to make sure that you never put Statement A out there in the first place.
Respect the opinions, desires, and loyalty of your fans.
I and many other people dumped 100+ hours into the Mass Effect games. We were invested in the universe. We cared about our comrades and how the story would progress. Games are not passive like most media. They are curious in the fact that we have to work to reap the rewards of games. That work should not go unrewarded nor should a developer ignore the fact that we are going out of our way to enjoy what they have made. This is especially pertinent in a franchise like Mass Effect, where all the games are closely linked together. So naturally, the climax of both the game and the series should be rewarding, and players should leave satisfied that they spent their time on the series, and that they as players felt like they were put in a high regard.
When you’re building a game or a franchise, your players, or more appropriately your source of revenue, should be placed in the highest regard. Not only that, but your devotees and fans are in most cases the most valuable players you have. Their satisfaction is of utmost importance. Time and time again have shown that the most passionate players are the ones most willing to shit on the things they love the most. Do what you must for those who want what you make.
There is no excuse, no matter how good it is.
The fury of the gaming community is mighty and relentless. No excuse will spare you from their onslaught, so don’t even try. When you make a mistake, even if you don’t feel like it was a mistake, you have one of two options. 1) Admit that you made a mistake, disingenuous or not. 2) Don’t say anything at all. Both options are less than desirable, but to try to make excuses will only make a gamer’s animosity towards you grow. The gamer/AAA developer relationship is an abusive one. The gamer will never be wrong or humble, so it’s up to the AAA developer to be those things. You as the developer will always be in the wrong, and that’s something you’ll just have to accept. In the short run, you might be bitter or give up on the whole “game development” thing, but in the long run the developer will always be a little bit better in the gamer’s eyes. It’s often been said that the first step to learning from a mistake is admitting that you made one. It’s important for the gamers to feel like you’ve learned your lesson, because they want your next game to be the best it can be just as much as you do.
There’s much more things you might be able to extract out of the Mass Effect 3 outrage. For most gaming disasters, there’s quite a few things to learn. But one of the main things I hope that developers have learned from the Mass Effect 3 ending, and more recently the SimCity launch, is that the players really do matter. In the end, you don’t make games for publishers. You don’t make games for you. You make them so that people can play them. You make them for the players. Keep that in mind.