A Retrospective on Mass Effect 3’s Ending

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.

mass effect 3 wallpaper

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.

 

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  1. #1 by Sam Hale on March 29, 2013 - 2:14 pm

    Catering to everyone isn’t going to improve the industry. Think about the Call of Duty games and the millions of people who play them. Does the industry benefit from the fact that all Activision does every year is cater to these people? I don’ think so. I appreciate what Bioware attempted to do with the endings to Mass Effect 3 and the fact that they attempted it in a AAA game like Mass Effect 3. I think the industry has enough games like Assassin’s Creed, Battlefield, Call of Duty and Gears of War that do nothing but shovel the same boring unartistic drivel down gamers’ throats.
    That being said, Bioware did blatantly lie about the ending and they deserve the backlash from their fans. Every fan has the right to express their desire to want more, but that doesn’t mean they are owed more by Bioware. If you see a movie that totally sucks you’re not going to go storming up to the director and demand a better movie. And if you do, he definitely doesn’t owe you one, no matter how bad it is.
    The best thing to do is to move on.
    PS: The timing of you post is interesting because I literally just posted an article on my blog yesterday covering the exact same issue as this one. If you want to hear my opinion in detail, head on over to my blog and check it out.

    • #2 by SuperSN on March 29, 2013 - 2:40 pm

      I have a bone to pick with the whole “artistic value” bullshit.
      The way I look at it, artistic vision or value or whatnot is just a weak excuse to get away with anything you do as an “artist”.

      You go to an art gallery, and all the artists stand by their work. Every other artist’s work is fine and nice, but as you approach the end of the gallery, you see a dude displaying a finger painting he did in Kindergarten, and he’s calling it art. You ask him what’s up with his painting, and he makes up some ridiculous meaning that rationalizes his “art”. But you and me both know that a FINGER PAINTING does not qualify as art, no matter how much the artist tries to explain why it is. It’s a GODDAMN FINGER PAINTING, and no amount of “artistic value” will convince me that it deserves to be placed among other actual works of art, like The Girl With The Pearl Earring or David.

      To make matters worse, we payed for Mass Effect with our hard earned cash. Unlike going to the art gallery that was free, there was a steep price of entry for Mass Effect. Let’s make another comparison with traditional art.

      The biggest fiscal year your company has ever had just came to a close. As a reward, all the executives got a 10% bonus from last year’s pay, and that includes you. You and your wife have always wanted to hire an artist to paint a portrait of your family to hang over your mantle, so you do just that, hire an artist. When he finises, you come to pick up the painting, and it looks like this:

      “What the hell is this?! I payed $300 dollars to do something my child could have done?” Needless to say, you’re angry that this artist produced shit work, so you tell him to make a new one.

      The fact of the matter is, I will not let “artistic value” slide, especially on a game that isn’t even art! I stand by what I say, and there is no excuse, no matter how good it may be.

      That being said, thanks for making me think about my own argument. You seem like a pretty cool dude.

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