Mass Effect is a great saga and I had a great time playing the main trilogy (I haven’t had the chance to check neither the comics, books, movies nor spin-off games). However, despite all the success it has garnered, after the release of Mass Effect 3 a part of the fan base got pissed off about its ending, resulting in a social campaign that demanded BioWare, the developers of the game, to “fix it”.
The problem with the original ending is that (intentionally or not) it denied all of the choices player had made since the first game. I think this article sums it up very well, specially in terms of game design. Personally, I would like to think the people at BioWare went for a story about fatalism, and I respect that; however, if so, I don’t share the way they did it, as nothing in the game helped build up that theme. The whole saga was about how your decisions shaped the fate of the galaxy; you had to live with its repercussions, but previous choices mattered. Yes, the player could choose an ending, but the ending just felt… weird and disconnected from the rest of the saga.
I’d not like to undermine their work but I seriously doubt they went for a fatalistic approach. Nothing during Mass Effect reflected such theme, so giving it a central and stellar position at such point in the story was just negligence, if you ask me.
This whole thing about displeased fans is not new. A famous and similar example is Star Wars and the big fuzz regarding the re-releases and the prequels. Why is Disney compelled to release an unaltered edition of Star Wars? Is there a difference between both scenarios?
There is. BioWare’s reaction to the controversy was to immediately release an extended cut of the ending via a free DLC (not great but at least it was something) and later the paid Citadel DLC (pure fan service). On the other hand, the Star Wars re-re-release is an attempt to provide access to the original unaltered material to current and future generations (although I guess it will not fit in the canon of the saga). One collapsed to the pressure of the fans and treated its work as a product that must be fixed, the other simply provided a way to both preserve an icon of great cultural importance and satisfy the hurt fan base (and cash-in some more money while at it) while not discarding what came before (oops).
The issue is that either way, fans had an impact on the work. Do customers have the right to ask (or worse, can they demand) the author to give up his artistic integrity?
Art itself is a fuzzy concept. Without going further into deep sea (although I’d like to discuss more about that), there’s a relationship between any piece of art, its creator and the spectators. Having agreed upon that, what’s the degree of entitlement the spectator has (or should have) over the piece of art?
Games are a very particular kind of art because of the relationship between developers and players. As @lobachevscki puts it, “because games are interactive, they deny the author the complete entitlement of their work. […] Their vision can’t be neither processed nor interpreted by itself but only through the player’s input.” And this happens as well to other kinds of art, although at a different degree. While players do have a critical role in the medium, should they have influence over the work from the other half, the developers?
Truth be told, there’s a conflict of interests: any (artistic) product is both a work of art (that responds to artistic integrity) and a commercial article (that should respond to consumer’s choice). And I say “should” because ultimately no one is forcing the consumer to buy the product; however, it’s of best interest to both parties to have a good symbiotic relationship.
I don’t want to speculate the reasons why BioWare decided to respond the way it did it but, sure thing, it probably wasn’t for the best. This subjugation hurts the industry by indirectly censoring and conditioning developers, and by spoiling the players. The author of this article says: “if you enjoy it [the Citadel DLC] and you say so and you spend money on it, you might be confirming BioWare’s stated suspicions: that you just needed a happy ending.”
In the end it doesn’t matter if BioWare screwed up the ending or not. The real problem is how controversies like this can have a negative impact in the industry and the medium.
Do players were rightful in demanding a change? Did developers do the right thing by listening to their fans?
For whom do the games toll? What do you think?