Great Game Design Debate: Mass Effect 3 Ending Edition

Role-playing survival game is willing to take risks

One of the more interesting news pieces this year would have to be the Mass Effect 3 ending controversy. In which fans who did not like the ending choices petitioned and complained to Bioware to the point that they recently released an update with new ending scenes. As someone who hasn’t even finished the first one, the story aspect of the argument doesn’t interest me one way or the other. But the argument does raise an interesting point about entitlement and creative control and at the end of the day: Does the developer or the fans have the greater say?

For the Fans:

The amount of investment and access to the development side fans have is unique to the games industry. Thanks to forums and betas, fans can see how the game they are waiting for is shaping up. While mods allow fans to improve upon the game in question or design something completely new. The Defense of The Ancients craze and Counter Strike both originated as mods to popular games that the designers did not originally think of.

When someone watches a movie or a TV series, their investment is nowhere near the amount of time someone playing a game has. With RPGs, MMOs, and persistent games, someone could easily spend a 100+ hours on one game. For fans of that level of dedication, in many ways, they have as much of an insight and investment to the game as the developers themselves.

Looking at Mass Effect 3, it’s easy to see how fans could be disappointed with how the game ended. We have a trilogy, where each game could be played for at minimum 15 to 20 hours. Perhaps more for fans who explored every inch of the Universe. Not only that, but they were controlling a character of their own creation and made decisions that shaped the development of the story across the three games. With all that investment, the stakes were high for players to see how all that time culminated in the ending.

In a consumer driven industry, when a product comes out that is less than acceptable, the consumer has the right to complain to the manufacturer. And there are plenty of cases where companies have changed their product based on the feedback from the consumer. However, video games are not your usual product which is where the other half of this debate falls.

Artistic Intent:

While video games are products for consumers, there is a lot more that goes into video games creative wise then other products. Designers, artists and programmers spend months developing every inch of the game and creating and fine tuning the game. At the end of the day while a game is a product, some of the best games released have the passion and creativity we see in art.

With that said a fan, no matter how invested in the game or knowledgeable, is still a fan. They did not spend one second or cent on the creation of the game. And regardless of how the fan feels, the designer has the final say of the product. Does someone have the right to complain? Yes. Does someone have the right to force the creator of a project to change their vision regardless of the quality of it? That’s a tough one.

If you go up to an artist and tell them that their painting sucks and they should change it to suit your vision, chances are they would punch you in the face. To put it bluntly, a designer has every right to tell people who want them to change their game to shut the f#@k up. At the end of the day, the designers are the reason why the game existed in the first place.

As someone who is both a fan and interested in the development side of game design, I’m torn on the matter. I can see things from the fan side and if I was a fan of a product and wanted things to be different, I would complain. However, as someone who wants to be a designer, if I spent all my time and energy on a game with a specific vision in mind. Then someone complains and demands that I change it because they didn’t like it, I would tell them to f#@k off. Did these fans help design the game in any way shape or form? No, so why should I change the game from the original intent, just to appease them?

Both sides of the debate have valid concerns and I don’t have a clear answer to which side is right. But there is a deeper issue that I want to briefly touch on.

Art vs. Money:

The Mass Effect 3 issue is a small part of a greater issue of games seen as products or artistic statements or in other words: consumerism vs. art. As a product, consumers have the entitlement to demand change, but when it comes to art, the creator has the last say on it. As a designer, the question is where do they fall on what their games represent? If Bioware cared only about their vision of the game, they could have easily told all the complainers to shut up and that would be the end of it. However, how many of those people would be in line to buy Bioware’s next game?

One positive out of the Mass Effect issue, is that it stands as an example that games have reached the point that they are affecting people in the same ways that a painting, movie or book can. What that also means, is that the issue of whether we view games as art, or as products is only going to get bigger. With that said, I can only think of one way to end this debate for now:

Josh Bycer

  • Rollory

    “One positive out of the Mass Effect issue, is that it stands as an example that games have reached the point that they are affecting people in the same ways that a painting, movie or book can. “

    That was true when Deus Ex came out. Or Star Control 2, for that matter.