Consumer vs. creator
Jared Baxter: The power of internet backlash
Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 23:07
There have been endings that were happy, sad, controversial and everything in between. And then there was the conclusion to the Mass Effect series, an internet-fueled beast in a class all its own.
Last month, video game developer BioWare released Mass Effect 3, the culmination of a science fiction trilogy more than five years in the making. In all three games, the player takes on the role of Commander Shepard, a soldier whom the player guides through hundreds of in-game conversations and critical plot choices.
Part interactive movie and part third-person shooter, Mass Effect’s strength lies in player choice. You come across dozens of voice-acted characters and decide the fates of entire alien species. There are friendships to build and romances to pursue (both hetero and homosexual). It’s an epic space odyssey offering the player a chance to sit in the driver’s seat instead of just being a typical story passenger.
In the climax of Mass Effect 3, the entire weight of the fictional galaxy rested on Shepard’s shoulders. And for months leading up to the release, players were told that their choices across all three games mattered — there were vastly different endings depending on the path taken.
“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,” said Mass Effect 3 executive producer Casey Hudson in a pre-release interview. “The endings have a lot more sophistication and variety in them.”
Except it is, in fact, an A, B, or C choice that essentially leads to the same conclusion. Whatever the player accomplishes during the course of 100+ hours of gameplay doesn’t really make that much of a difference as to how it ends.
Mass Effect 3 managed to pull a stunt worse than Lost, creating so much speculation and leaving so many questions unanswered that fans everywhere took to the Internet to voice their concerns — and not just concerns as to whether it was good or bad, but to the point that drastic change was demanded.
Within days after release, an online group called “Retake Mass Effect” began protesting the endings. A charity drive for children’s hospitals was formed to bring positive light to the movement, and thousands of gamers flooded BioWare’s online discussion forums to convey their dissatisfaction.
One person even felt the need to file an FTC complaint, citing false advertisement.
After an endless churn of articles from national news organizations and gaming sites, BioWare addressed the less-than-stellar responses. Co-founder and CEO Ray Muzyka issued an open letter stating:
“Hudson and the team are hard at work on a number of game content initiatives that will help answer the questions, providing more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey. We’re working hard to maintain the right balance between the artistic integrity of the original story while addressing the fan feedback we’ve received.”
What those clarifications will bring, no one can say.
Most importantly here is that the Internet — and Mass Effect’s sheer fandom — has directly influenced the ending to a piece of artistic entertainment. That through Facebook, Twitter and a barrage of complaints, the finale of something its creators chose is being altered due to online backlash.
My response? Keep it going. It’s the right of the consumer to voice his or her opinion, especially when they are paying upwards of $60 for a game based upon certain promises made by developers.
That’s not to say there isn’t a certain level of danger by setting such a precedent, though Mass Effect is not exactly the first to ever do so. You can reach all the way back to 1901 when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle resurrected Sherlock Holmes due to public pressure.
BioWare created its fanbase, provided them with an immersive storytelling experience that demanded more closure than what was provided. And the high-profile developer is reaping the consequences — positive and negative.
As said in the closing moments of Mass Effect 3, “the created will always rebel against their creators.”
With an April announcement on ending specifics looming, how this particular creator reacts could have wider implications for years to come.
Jared Baxter is a senior telecommunications major