Ad Age – Mass Effect 3’s Ending And Social Media

by Scott Nichols

Ad Age recently sought me out for comment on the Mass Effect 3 ending controversy to provides some quotes for an article. That article was posted today, and will also be appearing in print form in the most recent issue of Ad Age.

‘Mass Effect 3’ Struggles With Social-Media Furor Over Ending is the article in question.

Of course, as is always the case in print interviews, I was asked far more questions and gave far longer winded answers than what appeared in the final copy, so I wanted to include those questions and answers here as supplemental material.

Beth Bulik – Ad Age: Do you ever recall this happening before – that players’ protest or input has changed the narrative (or outcome) of a video game? Is that what is happening in this case?

Scott Nichols: This sort of thing happens all of the time in games, but usually only with mechanics. Fighting games and online shooters are constantly tweaked due to fan feedback, and last year Uncharted 3’s aiming mechanics were changed after overwhelming fan outcry. But this is the first time I can think of that this has happened with a game’s plot or narrative.

Ad Age: What does this say about the power of social media, and in particular, gamers ability to come together and use it?

Scott: Social media is great for facilitating mob mentality. A fan on their own might be disappointed with the game’s ending, but through social media they can find a large anonymous community to fuel and escalate those views. Someone filed a complaint with the FTC over Mass Effect 3’s ending. I can’t see that happening without a large enough social media community to reinforce the idea so that an individual thinks that is an appropriate course of action.

Ad Age: Do you think Bioware Studios is doing the right thing by considering/changing the endings? Why should they stick to their guns, if you don’t agree? Or why should they listen to fans, if you do agree?

Scott: I think, given the degree of the outrcy, Bioware has made the right moves so far. It will really depend on what actions Bioware takes going forward. In general, I think game developers should have control of their creative vision, so to that end I think they should “stick to their guns” regarding the ending. The real question is whether they plan to change the ending or simply add to it. Changing the existing ending would show a lack of integrity in their own work, so I’m hoping for, if anything, additions that still retain and build on the original ending.

Ad Age: What effect will this have, if any, on other video game development, especially the very popular series with mass audiences?

Scott: On the one hand, “the customer is always right”, so it’s definitely in Bioware’s interest to appease fans. On the other hand it sets a dangerous precedent for the industry. I don’t even just mean a dangerous precedent for the democratization of content, but also for how publishers will react. Bioware is a pretty big deal for EA, but what happens if the next time is a smaller studio? Will the publisher back them up and support the post-release plot change, or will they take the fan outcry as a failing and close the studio? Or it could lead to publishers wanting to have more control over narrative-driven games, with plots only approved for production if there is a successful game with the same plot to show demand. This is something that already happens with game genres, so if fans make game narrative a big enough issue I can see the same thing happening there as well.

Ad Age: Some are saying in fact, Bioware and EA meant for the ending to be incomplete. So that they could sell DLC. Do you think that’s true?

Scott: To my knowledge, all DLC that Bioware and EA had planned was for mid-game content rather than additions to the ending, so I would file that under conspiracy theory. Not that it would surprise me if it were true, but I feel that if it were true Bioware’s response would have mentioned that fans shouldn’t worry because they always intended to expand on the game’s ending. Sure that would have made them angry, but it would have shown Bioware was planning ahead, so ultimately it would have been a positive move. They didn’t do that though, so I doubt they were planning to add end-game DLC until now.

Ad Age: Any other thoughts about the controversy?

Scott: What stood out to me most was the ‘Retake Mass Effect’ group’s response to Bioware’s statement. In it they say “Retake Mass Effect is not over by any means; Dr. Myzuka’s statement was welcome, but did not directly address our concerns. You have been heard. Now it is time to make sure they get the details right.” That “make sure they get the details right” bit frightens me. It’s the difference between wanting the ending to be changed to be something consistent with the narrative, and wanting it to be changed to something specific. It changes their tone from concerned fans to a list of demands. With something that’s so hugely popular and subjective, no matter what action Bioware makes it will be impossible to please everybody. With statements like those, I wonder if the ‘Retake Mass Effect’ fans are prepared for that, or whether they will burn out their own cause.