Can art bend to fans’ will? Better yet, should any art form bend to feedback? The co-founder of BioWare apparently thinks that’s just fine. Ray Muzyka, GM and co-founder of BioWare, issued an apology to Mass Effect 3 fans for the finale in the trilogy. He expressed his pain to the reaction from fans surrounding the ending of Mass Effect 3. He wrote, “Our first instinct is to defend our work and point to the high ratings offered by critics—but out of respect to our fans, we need to accept the criticism and feedback with humility.”
You can read Muzyka’s full note here, but beyond praising gaming as an art form and supporting the development team, he said we can expect “a number of game content initiatives that will help answer the questions, providing more clarity for those seeking further closure to their journey.” We can expect to hear more of these initiatives in April.
“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,” he wrote. “This is in addition to our existing plan to continue providing new Mass Effect content and new full games, so rest assured that your journey in the Mass Effect universe can, and will, continue.”
Is this simply pandering to fans’ disapproval? Could this start a new trend? Say you don’t like the ending of the next giant blockbuster title, can fans simply petition the developers and publishers to make an addendum to tell the story fans wanted? Do you see this in any other forms of entertainment? Perhaps it’s nothing more than lip service to diehard fans to keep them engaged in the Mass Effect world when the next money maker rolls into town.
But maybe there’s something more to someone’s relationship with his or her game than say a movie, or a book, or music. All of those forms of entertainment tell a story in one way or another, but videogames represent a new storytelling method where the player is taking a relatively active role in unfolding the narrative. We watch movies. We listen to music. We read books. We actively play games. A game like Mass Effect takes this idea to the extremes, in some respects. Three solids games with unique stories, hours upon hours of gameplay, and a rich world filled with interesting characters are only the basics of the Mass Effect trilogy.
Gamers are very protective of their characters, as they should be. It dates back to that little plumber attempting to rescue a princess in some far away castle. While the stories may be different today, the attempt at engaging people in some emotional level is pivotal and practically a requirement in modern gaming—for better or worse.
“The journey you undertake in Mass Effect provokes an intense range of highly personal emotions in the player; even so, the passionate reaction of some of our most loyal players to the current endings in Mass Effect 3 is something that has genuinely surprised us,” Muzyka wrote.
To be fair, BioWare isn’t making changes to Mass Effect 3, the company is simply adding content after the fact in reaction to fans’ protests. The development team has lurked around industry press, forums, Facebook, and Twitter, Muzyka writes, to learn more about fans’ reaction to the ending.
Some complain the ending didn’t answer enough questions. While it’s fair to want all the little pieces wrapped up, leaving some things to the imagination is a common practice in storytelling. If videogames are an art form—and at this point, the argument against games as art is left to those who still see it as something that rots minds—then this move by BioWare seems like compromise. From a business sense, it makes plenty of sense to keep fans happy. But, from an artistic level, why not stick to your guns and tell your story? The idea of additional content to round out loose ends has precedence in other forms of entertainment—certainly the comic book world is no stranger to extending the life of characters—but it’s this blatant attempt to simply make fans happy that feels, well, lame. If BioWare feels it needs to tell more of the Mass Effect story, then it should do so. But this move is making the artists, the storytellers, bend to fans’ will.
This is obviously not an end-of-world scenario for our form of entertainment, our art form, but it seems like a slight copout. No, BioWare isn’t changing the world by responding to fans’ criticisms of Mass Effect 3’s ending, but let’s hope this doesn’t become too common.
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