It's a dilemma as old as entertainment itself. On the one hand, the people who create plays or novels or music or films or, yes, games want an audience to enjoy what they have created. On the other hand, those same creators also want to make something that is true to their vision and not something that dictated completely by popular demand.
That's the issue that BioWare faces at the moment with Mass Effect 3. The sci-fi RPG is the third and final game in a trilogy that completes the intersteller story of Commander Shepard. The first two games were both critical and sales hit. Mass Effect 3 received raves in the early reviews from the media, including here at Neowin.
Then the general public bought and played Mass Effect 3. While many of them enjoyed the game from start to finish, a vocal group of fans felt that the ending of Mass Effect 3 did not live up to the expectations they wanted for a storyline that took three games and several years to complete.
The outrage over the ending took over BioWare's official message board for Mass Effect 3 as well as the game's official Facebook page. Some fans launched an online petition to ask BioWare and publisher Electronic Arts to change Mass Effect 3's ending. They also took donations that will be sent to the Child's Play children's hospital charity.
One gamer reportedly filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, stating:
This is not somethign (sic) I was happy to do, but after the terrible ending that was in no way the product that had been advertised to me and the lack of any kind of response from Bioware/EA to address this, I felt it was one of my only recourses. I'll be returning my copy of the game before the end of my 30 day return policy if the ending still hasn't been addressed by then.
In the end, BioWare co-founder Dr. Ray Muzyka confirmed this week that the development team plans to do something about the game's ending although he was very vague about what BioWare will actually offer to this very vocal group of fans.
The issue at hand is not whether or not the ending of Mass Effect 3 is satisfying. Rather, the issue concerns whether game developers can create a product that the fans will completely embrace or make one that takes some risk that might also upset gamers in the process.
Ideally, a game developer wants to make a product that has the approval of the fans while still keeping with the original ideas and vision of the game creator. Unfortunately, the world is never 100 percent ideal; some fans would not like Mass Effect 3's ending no matter what BioWare's team came up with.
But should a group of fans demand that BioWare change Mass Effect 3 so that it fulfills the needs of this certain group? After all, gamers spent $50 on the PC version and $60 for the Xbox 360 or PS3 ports. That's a lot of money and fans, and rightly so, expect a lot from a game these days.
But in this case, we are not talking about a game that has a lot of bugs or even gameplay issues that legitimately keeps gamers from playing and enjoying Mass Effect 3. We are talking about a story point. BioWare's team doesn't have any dummies. They likely knew that the ending they came up with might be controversial.
However, it's also likely they didn't expect the reaction to the ending would cause such a large amount of fuss from some fans. It's certainly become one of the most talked about news items in the gaming industry.
Ultimately, we feel that while the game is certainly designed to have some input from gamers in the shaping of the story, the ending of Mass Effect 3 should be BioWare's responsibility. This is the story that the team wanted to tell and Mass Effect 3's ending is the conclusion they wanted to write.
Gamers can certainly complain about the ending all they want. They can even write reviews to say that the ending is not satisfactory. But to insist to BioWare that they change the ending is like watching a two hour movie and then trying to write the film's studio demanding that they release a new version of the film with the ending that a few fans wanted to see.
It's a certainty that gamers complaining about Mass Effect 3 to the FTC is totally out of order; we hope the federal government has better things to do than get involved in this debate.
Entertainment creators should be allow to make products that fit their vision. Reshaping that vision simply to make a few fans happy does neither the creator nor the fans any good at all. If fans don't care for a game from a development team, they can simply give their opinion and then not buy any more games from that team. It's really as simple as that.
We are not the only ones that feel this way. Vox Games reports that Ken Levine. the founder of Irrational Games, (BioShock and the upcoming BioShock Infinite) had this to say about the fan's reaction to Mass Effect 3 during a panel at the Smithsonian a few days ago. Levine states:
I think if those people got what they wanted and (BioWare) wrote their ending they would be very disappointed in the emotional feeling they got because ... they didn't really create it. I think this whole thing is making me a little bit sad because I don't think anyone would get what they wanted if that happened.
We couldn't agree more. We hope that this incident doesn't keep other game developers from creating games that they want to make. If the mob mentality that has arisen from this controversy keeps someone from making a game or adding a story element that could prove to be unpopular with some folks, all of us as gamers will have lost out on a certain degree of creator freedom in the future.