Mass Effect 3’s Ending and the Effect it Had

mass_effect_3_logo

It’s been a long, hard bitter battle between the company BioWare and the legions of fans who were disappointed over the ending to the epic sci-fi drama Mass Effect. Even a year after the game was released, a fan campaign launched to get the ending changed and the development of an extended cut, I believe it’s safe to assume that even after all this time, the anger and disappointment is still fresh for those who loved the series. The ending to the popular series created such a controversy in the gaming community and it ultimately brought to life the topic of whether or not fans have any ownership in the games they purchase.

For some people, the idea of upset fans protesting the ending to a video game so feverishly to the point they lobby together to a new one created while also boycotting company products borders on the line of ludicrous. Almost childish some would say, calling them ‘selfish entitled whiners’ who are mostly upset that they didn’t get what they wanted. To that I say, when considering the history and relationship fans had with BioWare prior to the games release, it’s not hard to understand how everything between the two ultimately soured and ended with a once solid community to split.

That’s why I’m here today to try explain the reasoning behind the fan rage against the ending to a video game, and why it meant so much to such a passionate community. The fans of Mass Effect, particularly who protested the ending have been getting a considerably bad rep since this whole mess began, so I’m hoping that this blog will help show things from their perspective and maybe change your understanding of them.

Before I begin, I just want to go on the record to say that I absolutely, irrevocably, positively hated the ending to Mass Effect 3. I am also someone who took part in the fan campaign known as the Demand a Better Ending for Mass Effect (later becoming Retake Mass Effect 3: Initiative Log). I was extremely angry at how the series ended, and even a year after its release, that anger is still fresh. However, while my opinions about BioWare may be bias at times, I will try to be as fair as I can for the sake of this blog.

Emphasis on the word “try”.

Now, allow me to share something with you. The picture below serves representation of me about two years ago when it came to subject of where I stood with BioWare and the games they put out:

Iffem_shut-up-and-take-my-money

An overused joke, but no less true. I was a fiercely loyal fan of the company back in the good old days. I loved everything they released. Games like Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 1 & 2. I even loved their not-so-popular games like Dragon Age 2. I purchased anything with the BioWare brand on it whether it was games, shirts, collectibles, comics and books. Even when it came to their mistakes, I excused them for. Mistakes such as the novel Mass Effect: Deception, a book based on the series but was riddled with grammatical errors and mistakes concerning the universe in which Mass Effect took place.

Chris Priestly posted a message on the Bioware forums addressing fan complaints. "We are working on a number of changes that will appear in future editions of novels."

Chris Priestly posted a message on the BioWare forums addressing fan complaints. “We are working on a number of changes that will appear in future editions of novels.”

So yeah, despite BioWare’s shortcomings, I overlooked a lot of them because I loved their stuff. But mostly because I had known the company to be good to their fans. According to them, they valued their opinions and concerns more than anything else. They seemed to be good to their word because with every game they released, it kept getting better and better. I always thought that BioWare was more in touched in what their fans wanted to see more than any other gaming company, and I highly respected them for it. It was the only company in which I invest my money in without question or doubt.

Many fans, especially those of the Retake Movement, have said the exact same thing. It’s a rare thing nowadays to have a company that is so open to ideas, criticism and recommendations and BioWare prided itself for this policy. In fact, Mass Effect 3 was originally planned for a holiday release in 2011 but was delayed to give the company more time to ‘perfect’ what they had. It was this statement that got me so excited for Mass Effect 3, thinking there was no way that BioWare was going to let me down.

Mass Effect 3

Mass Effect 3 drops on March 6, 2011. It doesn’t long before the world ignites in fire with rage-filled fans.

*sigh* Where to begin?

I seriously could write an entire blog about the sheer level of disappointment  when the ending of Mass Effect was known. I believe the term ‘epic’ doesn’t even come close.

Speaking from a fan’s point of view, it was literally devastating on how it all ended. Now that may sound hilarious, and maybe even a little over-dramatic  for someone to wrap their head around. Car accidents are devastating. The death of family member is devastating. This is a video game we’re talking about. A simple activity where you play for fun and the end result is either you win or lose. Simple! If at the end of the day you say that having lost a game is almost equal to the loss of parent, well then your prioritizes must be completely out of whack, correct? Yes I agree. But then again, try to see this from a fan’s point of view.

The central idea of games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age is that players create a character and can go  through this incredible world, experience impossible things and essentially be the hero that saves the day. The unique appeal however is that world and the people are affected based on the choices you make. Whether they good choices or bad, there are consequences. Worlds could be either saved or annihilated.  People got hurt because of you. Some would live and some would die. In almost every scenario that the game presents you, you as the player can’t help but approach them with the weighted decision of “What would I do in this situation?” That mind set makes the game all the more personal and emotional as your decisions could radically affect the characters you’re teamed with.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about those brilliant and lovable characters!

The cast of Mass Effect. At the end of the day, they were like a second family.

The cast of Mass Effect. At the end of the day, they were like a second family.

BioWare had created such a will-written cast characters with such unique back stories and personalities that players couldn’t help but relate with all of them. These characters would react to the players decisions, respond to events the player took part in, form long-lasting keen-ships, grudges or even romances. The story was a personal one, a story created  completely by the player and their decision spanning a total of three games. With all these factors, it’s no wonder why the level of commitment from players was so high, or why the ending left many fans disappointed and angry.

For you see, BioWare has always said from the beginning that player choose matters. That whatever the player chooses to do will either come back in some form or another or will ultimately lead up to something much more grand or important. This was Bioware’s credo. Your choices matter, as they would say. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

This graph shows the different and unique outcomes of each ending. I think we need to have a discussion on the definition of 'different' and 'unique'

This graph shows the different and unique outcomes of each ending. I think we need to have a discussion on the definition of ‘different’ and ‘unique’

Right when it mattered the most, player choice was taken away and limited to only three outcomes that didn’t spell victory no matter what. The choices that players thought would come into factor didn’t. None of it, absolutely none it, mattered to the overall narrative. To add insult to injury, the ending left more questions than answers, completely lacked closure for the characters and the story narrative was a complete departure from what it was before. So much so that majority of the game in the final moments…well, just didn’t make any sense at all.

BY THE POWER OF PLOT-HOLES!!

BY THE POWER OF PLOT-HOLES!!

Needless to say that reaction was swift and harsh. Fans took to social media and BioWare’s forums to their voice their disappointment over the ending in hopes that the company would do something about it. After all, these were the same people who had long advocated that they listened their fans concerns and took them very seriously. And judging from the overall opinion, the public wasn’t happy.

A poll posted on the Bioware's forums considering fan responses to Mass Effect 3's ending. Hmm...yes, I can see where they would consider it a tough call.

A poll posted on the BioWare’s forums considering fan responses to Mass Effect 3’s ending. Hmm…yes, I can see where they would consider it a tough call.

As it turned out, however, BioWare didn’t see any problem with the ending. In fact, co-founder Ray Muzyka would state that he and everyone at the company was generally surprised at the multitude of fan negativity towards the ending.  They were especially surprised with the formation of the Facebook group Demand a Better Ending for Mass Effect began gaining attention and a petition with over 1,500 signatures just to get a different ending than what was delivered in the game.

Fans tried a number of ways to express their dislike of the endings, including the now infamous cupcake campaign where over 400 cupcakes were sent to the company.  All attempts to get BioWare to listen the plight that their fan base was either ignored or met with the dumb-down rhetoric of ‘don’t worry, we understand’ that came straight from the company’s PR department.

A total of 402 cupcakes were sent to Bioware HQ as part of a fan protest against Mass Effect 3's ending. The cupcakes were three different frosting, but consisting of just one flavor. Bioware in turn gave all cupcakes to charity.

A total of 402 cupcakes were sent to BioWare HQ as part of a fan protest against Mass Effect 3’s ending. The cupcakes were three different frosting, but consisting of just one flavor. BioWare in turn gave all cupcakes to charity.

Finally, the day came when BioWare made their decision on how they were going to handle the outcry. Now, I’m not going to pretend to know what goes on behind closed doors of major companies or even venture to guess what goes on their minds. But what I do know is that sometimes, when faced with the level of negative press such as the one BioWare was facing at the time, your best bet might just to give the people what they want in the hopes of avoiding further bad press while keeping your good name in tacked. Fans can be fickle sometimes. Disappoint them once and they will feel betrayed. And in the market of video games, you’re only as good as the last game you make.

Sadly, BioWare chose a different route. They chose not to give into the pressure and instead, stood proudly by the product they had created siting that it would go against their team’s ‘artistic integrity’ to make any changes to the game to satisfy the displeasure of what they considered ‘a group minority’.

Did I mention that the number of members of the Demand a Better Ending for Mass Effect 3 Facebook page was up to over 68,000 members, and growing?

Casey Hudson put out a statement reading:

k-bigpic

This coming from the same man who said:

sdfghsdfg

“As Mass Effect 3 is the end of the planned trilogy, the developers are not constrained by the necessity of allowing the story to diverge, yet also continue into the next chapter. This will result in a story that diverges into wildly different conclusions based on the player’s actions in the first two chapters.”

dfdfh

“It’s not even in any way like the traditional game endings, where can say how many endings there are or whether you got ending A, B, C.”

Artistic Integrity aside, this was probably the worst move BioWare could make. I understand the argument the video games nowadays are considered an art form and to some extent I can say I agree with it. Still, the gaming industry is just that; an industry. An business in which it seeks to make a profit on the products they produce. And in terms of video games, players play games to win. If the player doesn’t win or walks away unsatisfied, then it’s up to company to somehow remedy it. Claiming artistic integrity is sort of a loaded statement I believe. It comes off as sound egotistical, believing your work is only for the minds you think the same way you do. Artistic Integrity is especially hard to claim for something like a video game when they are mostly designed to be heavily influenced by the player, not the person who created it.

For RPG games especially, when the player practically creates the life of main character and assumes that role, it’s extremely important that it is satisfying from beginning to end. I never liked the phrase “It’s not about the destination, but the journey.”I don’t buy that.  The journey has to be worth traveling, and if it is, the destination has to be even greater. Other wise, the experiences you had along the way are rendered worthless. You walking from it having learned nothing with no lessons to pass on.

The Facebook page Demand a Better Ending for Mass Effect 3 would later evolve into the Retake Mass Effect 3 movement with members dubbing themselves 'Retakers'.

The Facebook page Demand a Better Ending for Mass Effect 3 would later evolve into the Retake Mass Effect 3 movement with members dubbing themselves ‘Retakers’.

I think the common misconception about Retakers is that we hated the series. Nothing could be further from the truth. We loved it! It was as strong a passion for us as anyone else out there who happens to be a fan of Star Wars, Star Trek or Doctor Who and so on. And what people fail to understand about the whole Retake Movement as a whole is that it did start out with the best intentions. Yes, there were those who were angry enough that they unleashed their venom onto BioWare in very destructive ways and because of it, their motives became misconstrued. But as someone who worked closely with the group, I’ll be the first to tell you that majority of the group wanted to be heard on very neutral grounds. We believed the best way to achieve change was to through as much civility as possible.  We advocated open, positive, and most importantly, respectful conversation with the company, because we still believed them to be the company who would be open to them as they always had been.

So I find it rather upsetting that the overall media assessment of the movement is that is was merely  a group of greedy fanboys who either wanted a “shiny, happier ending with lollipops and unicorns” or were just too stupid to understand the deeper meaning and really had no business playing video games in the first place.

I’m sorry, but when exactly was it okay to start insulting the intelligence of gamers? When was it excusable to out right say that if  a gamer is upset with how a game turns out, well then they must be stupid.  It only got worse when Retakers tried to point out the game’s shortcomings and were met with harsh criticism. For example when I got into a heated argument with someone who flat out called me retarded from not understanding the ending, that protesting only showed off my level of ignorance and that I needed to get a {bleeping} life and stop being a {bleeping} baby.

Charming…

A parody comic mocking the fan reaction by Ian Corrao

A parody comic mocking the fan reaction by Ian Corrao at Zombiehood

It’s  assumptions such as this is not only extremely hurtful, but it is also downright insulting to the intelligence of fans. It was this kind of mindset that really helped spearhead the idea that  the fans were nothing more than a group of “entitled whiners”.

A notion started up by Colin Moriarty of IGN, who took it upon himself in a video rant to target not just fans of Mass Effect, but video game fans in general, perpetuating the idea that gamers have become more selfish nowadays in asking more from the games we purchase as well as from the gaming companies who develop them. And while I don’t want to give Moriarty too much credit here (the mention of his name here is already more credit than he actually deserves ), I will have to say that it was his “entitled whiners” slogan that became the defense argument against the Retake Movement.

The gaming media was no help either. Playing the part of cooperate Yes Men, they glorified Mass Effect 3 with top score reviews, praise for the company, overlooked most of the major problems and did everything it could to discredit the Retake Movement. At this point, I think the term “entitled whiners” was pretty much being used by everyone in the media, and BioWare didn’t seem to have a problem with going along for the ride.

Case in point: The Indoctrination Theory

This was a well-thought out, extremely well detailed idea created in hopes of explains some of the nonsensical plot holes leading up the finale. The theory suggests that certain events in the ending was really an hallucination due to repeated contact and influence from the game antagonist. The Indoctrination Theory was well received from fans, even those who did not partake in the protested. Representatives of BioWare however, acknowledged the creativeness of the theory but would later debunk it and then mock it as if to say, “nice try, but no.”

Look, what people seem to have a problem understanding about the people of the Retake Movement as that these were hardcore, passionate followers of what was a great sci-fi series. As much as the critics would love to demonize them and called greedy entitled whiners, you have to try and put yourself in their shoes. I have always said that I’m not sure exactly BioWare knew what they had created. They had managed to create a game that not only was original, exciting, inventive and captured our imaginations, but it was also deeply thought provoking on morality issues that most games don’t even try to tackle. It was a series that made you care about your actions and it set the bar pretty high for future RPGs.

Die-hard fans of any source of media, be it comics, movies, television or video games, tend to take their passion pretty seriously. Mockery of that passion will almost always hit a sensitive nerve. It hurts even more when your trust in a company is not only shattered, but your displeasure is then openly mocked by the masses. Suddenly you’re not a fan anymore. You’re a joke, an pathetic example of what you represent.  You feel as though you’re being patronized to, belittled by those who claim to know more than you do. Even the company, someone you once respected, thinks you’re joke and ultimately joins in on the mockery.

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The truth of the matter is that fans were not just upset of how Mass Effect 3 ended, but more on how BioWare choose to address the problem. We felt betrayed and lied to.  We felt as though all the years of sticking by the company, of pre-ordering and purchases their games and DLC had been leading up to something great. Because that was what we had come to expect from BioWare.  But that wasn’t the case. Rather than try to smooth things over, they made decisions that made they appear supreme and only helped in further alienating the fan base from them, leaving those who didn’t agree with them feeling as if our loyalty was nothing. Even worse, our absence wouldn’t be all that missed anyway. Coming from someone who once held them to a higher standard in terms of  service, this is a bitter pill to swallow. I’ve gotten past the notion in thinking that I was actually a valued consumer based on what I’ve learned from all this. Am I still a fan of BioWare? *sigh* I want to be. I truly did enjoyed the games that they put out and the worlds that they created. But after so much drama, am I willing to go through it again with their next release?

I can’t say.

The bitterness is still there, so is the anger. I still want satisfaction, I guess you could say, for what should have been final end to one of the greatest game trilogies I have ever played. I want to be able to go back and play the series all over again without thinking along the way, “Why am I doing this if I know I’m going to be disappointed later?” That goes the same for future releases as well

*cough cough* Mass Effect 4 *cough cough*

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3 comments on “Mass Effect 3’s Ending and the Effect it Had

  1. Haven’t bought a BioWare or EA title since… F em, I bought all their games and did everything I could to support them. No more. Hold the line? Nah its Hold the wallet time. Everytime I hear we are listening now, I have to sit and laugh. Its basically saying go f yourselves. Jessica Merzain even had the audacity as did IGN who all had a conflict of interest to give their take on the game… “I love it” No kidding, I would love a piece of turd to if it meant keeping my job in the middle of a recession. Then we had IGN who had Jessica Chobot in the game. Don’t know her? This is the girl that licks PSP’s to get nerds all riled up!

    She didn’t even finish the game, and said this game is awesome!

    Every sniveling piggy of a nerd at IGN was quick to call out the outcry to defend Jessica. Hope they got some PSP licking show time.

    So tired of this rush the product and then acting all surprised when people are pissed. We had day 1 dlc we basically paid 70 bucks for the game day 1. Bought more bits and pieces of the game to total 100 dollars spent on the game and then there is the HORDE MODE multiplayer that basically sells you packs for real cash.

    You know who loved the Mass Effect ending… The multiplayer crowd. Every person that I know who buys a game soley for multiplayer and multiplayer only has no problems with ending. Like the kid at the Bellingham GameStop. “I had no problem with it, the multiplayer was cool! BTW he says DEADPOOL sucks because it doesn’t have multiplayer. (AWESOME GAME)…

  2. I am a massive Mass Effect fan and love all the games [apart from the ending of course!] This is a very good article, I couldn’t agree more about your points that fans were made out to be STUPID because they didn’t like the ending and that they “didn’t understand it”! What? All we did was draw attention to the plot holes!
    Sorry if you have heard all this before but:
    I was annoyed because it seemed like they ignored the lore of their own universe and didn’t think about the future consequences [i.e. the destruction of Mass Relays – even if they did not wipe out the solar systems they were in – all the fleets would be stranded at earth. The game had made a point of telling you that the Reapers destroyed all the fuel outposts too – so not even FTL could save them]
    Also the Normandy ending up on a planet that was SO NOT in the local cluster – with no explanation at all. In fact if the waves from the Crucible had made the Normandy crash – then what about all the ships over Earth?! I could go on but had better not.
    I also think the Indoctrination Theory could have legitimately been a good way out of the ending – without having to cut it out completely. Everything you have learned about the Reapers in the last 85 hours+ of your playing seemed to teach you that no-one could seize control and synthesis [to me] just seemed….wrong. It did seem like a test.
    I even thought that the whole doomed run to the Conduit teleporter was a trap to lure Shepard into Harbinger’s clutches. They would switch off that damn teleport if they thought anyone had a chance of reaching it.
    Really wish they had gone with Indoc.
    And yes I didn’t like the way that fans were patronized for drawing attention to the plot chasms and trying to salvage the game!

  3. Good to see people finally explaining and showing why and how fans where disappointed and that they didn’t start crying and raging but that they mostly tried to stay civilized with Bioware in order to make them understand why they didn’t like it. Instead Bioware starts calling us stupid, wants to save their “artistic integrity” and then afterwards releases an extended cut and a story DLC to appease us. No offense, Citadel DLC was awesome.

    But that’s not what we (or at least I) asked for in the first place. We do not want a happy ending, I don’t mind Shepard dying.

    But the way they did it, the way they explained the purpose of the reapers and all around it, it did not in the least live up to the hype the “this is too big for you” “you can not comprehend this” sentences raised in ME1 and ME2.

    Hell, I would even have accepted THAT, since it makes sense a VI that was created draws a wrong conclusion and starts fighting it’s creators (like it happened in all cycles, Quarians, Protheans, they all fought against synthetics which leaned (mostly for actually logical reasons) against their creators).

    But with the “anomaly” being in this cycle that not only instead of an apex race enslaving all others all the races joined a galactic community (sharing power) but also the possibility to broker a peace between geth and quarians the VI (and the Reapers) fulfilled their purpose, meaning in the end there is no sense in destroying or controlling or merging synthetics with organics.

    The only reasonable conclusion would be “this cycle is different, our purpose is fulfilled => reapers are deactivated, VI shuts down, because the VI CAN CONTROL THE REAPERS, meaning in the end all left to do would be to stop the cycle.

    You know on the one hand Bioware wants to let us believe it is all a logical error, a VI drawing the wrong conclusions. But on the other hand they do not give the VI the reasoning capabilities to realize that this cycle is different and that it’s purpose is fulfilled, in the end leading to the assumption that the VI controlling the reapers can either not control the reapers anymore (otherwise it could deactivate them) or it does not WANT to stop.

    This assumption is further fed when having the extended cut option to refuse and seeing that the VI wants to CHANGE something although a change might NOT BE NEEDED after all, IF you saved quarians and geth and cured the genophage.

    I mean seriously, why is there a reason to destroy or control the reapers or for synthesis if the cycle already overcame the problems of the last one. Sure, merging synthetics with organics could be a next step in evolution. But aside from the fact that the method of achieving this is far from any science-fiction like logic (the shockwave that changes the DNA of all beings , yeah sure) , but it does not save the purpose of the VI anymore, since it’s only purpose was to overcome the fact that synthetics and organics were destroying each other every time.

    And then the assumption is strengthened. Why? Because if you choose “refuse” the VI is angry and says “FINE, the cycle continues”. Meaning in short “If you do not choose what I tell you to choose I continue the cycle, even though you actually achieved what I was created for and actually I fulfilled my purpose but I want to continue the cycle anyway.

    Actually a slap in the face for every part of mass effect Bioware created before, even disproving the explanation of the Leviathan DLC and the explanation the VI itself gives you because it tells you that the VI does not want to stop the cycle.

    On the top of that there is a submessage of Bioware: “You don’t want to choose OUR endings? Fine, you loose”

    Those are all things indicating the loopholes and problems with the ending. Hell, there are a lot more I didn’t even touch opon.

    If there would be 1 or 2 little loopholes, 1 choice that wasn’t build in in the end, fine, I wouldn’t be the guy pointing with the finger at minor problems. But those explanations options actions and loopholes just manage to disprove each other and create total chaos when it comes to the ending of ME3.

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