Once Released, a Game Belongs to Everyone

For the past few weeks all of us have witnessed the drama unfold regarding the ending to Mass Effect 3. While I won’t go into the details, it’s pretty clear that some are really upset about it. While most people are content with your typical everyday forum raging, some have taken to explaining their position in an adult manner, while others have attempted to organize fundraisers in protest.

Earlier this week someone even sent 402 red, blue and green cupcakes to Bioware that all had the same exact vanilla taste. The variety of ways in which people are expressing their dislike for the ending leads me to believe that despite how unique everyone is they all have something in common; they feel that Mass Effect 3 belongs to them, not Bioware. Sure on paper Mass Effect 3 is property of Bioware, but after 3 games and almost 5 years fans of the series have developed a sense of ownership. People aren’t upset because they simply didn’t like the ending; they are upset because it’s not the ending they envisioned.

This happened again earlier this week. Droves of fans (albeit ignorant racist fans) took to Twitter to complain about Hunger Games, specifically the producers “choice” in making one of the book’s characters, Rue, black. Apparently none of these fans are very astute readers, as the character was black in the book as well. They weren’t upset simply because she was black, at least not some of them, they were upset because in their minds (their sad and tiny warped minds) the character was white. Even though the book was the same for everyone, each person put their own spin on it, misguided or not, to the point in which they felt the version in their head was the correct one.

Unacceptable, I thought she was a 400lb robot

This isn’t new behavior by any means. Anyone who watched The Sopranos may remember all the fuss people made over an ending many felt was little more than a cheap trick (although now some view it as oddly brilliant). After years of watching the series fans had decided in their heads how they felt the ending should be. The same can be said about the ending of St. Elsewhere (spoiler alert, in case you still have a desire to be surprised by a thirty year old show), where it was shown that the entire series had taken place inside the mind of an autistic young boy. Somehow in the minds of fans this ruined not just the ending, but the entire series. Many felt it made the characters less real even though they were fictional to begin with.

Nothing says dramatic conclusion like ordering cheap onion rings

The point I’m trying to make, the thing that all creators of fiction and artists should understand, is that once content is released it no longer belongs exclusively to the people who created it, but also to those who enjoy it. Fans of every medium across all genres put themselves in the shoes of their favorite characters and recreate scenes in their heads, eventually developing real feelings for fictional characters. It shouldn’t be a surprise to think that each individual will inevitably develop an opinion of how the characters should act and where the story should take them. If you polled 1,000 different Mass Effect fans to explain what they thought would be an appropriate ending you would most likely get 1,000 different answers.

If games are supposed to be art, which Bioware CEO Dr. Ray Muzyka seems to think, then where is Bioware’s conviction in standing up for their game? Novelists don’t go back and change the ending to a book when fans express their displeasure, movies aren’t brought back to the editing room (unless you are George Lucas) to change the critical elements fans have already digested and processed. Not only is this not fair to those who did enjoy it, but going back change something because people complained shows a lack of faith on the part of developers in the product they created.  If a waiter presents me with a steak and I eat it, it’s too late to change, the digestion process has begun. Don’t try and pour all the seasonings you forgot into add in the kitchen down my throat just because I complained about the taste.

Nobody will notice if I go ahead and change this after 30 years, right?

To be clear Bioware hasn’t officially announced any new endings, but they have hinted at it, and I think it’s a mistake on many levels. First it sets a bad precedent; a company shouldn’t be rewarded by selling you an alternate ending because people didn’t like the first one. Also, developers should attempt to get it right the first time as it shows an understanding of their own characters and story, instead of making changes to things that some players have already processed and accepted. This isn’t Wayne’s World, you don’t get to make a “Scooby-Doo” ending and then make the “Mega Happy” ending, pretending the first one didn’t exist.

Let’s make a few endings just to be on the safe side

If Bioware is going to bother gathering information from players about how they feel Mass Effect should end, shouldn’t they have done it before the game was released? It’s much cheaper to add or change content before or during production, not afterwards. If they put the same effort listening to fans during development as they did afterwards maybe they could have avoided this all together. While it’s great to see a company taking steps to listen to their community, I’d rather see it done proactively in lieu of reactively. In my book, you don’t get credit for putting out a fire you started in the first place.

Any alternate or additional ending created now would exist because players complained, not because it’s what the developers had originally envisioned. To me, this cheapens the quality of their original story. As artists and developers of fiction, Bioware, as well as other companies, should remember that once content is released it is immediately absorbed by the user. Attempting to undo or recreate the story after users have already seen it does nothing more than show a lack of conviction by those that created it. So while Bioware may have learned to listen to their fans, maybe they should remember this for the next game they make instead of a potential blurring of the Mass Effect canon.


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  1. The big problem I have with this article is that you are comparing a video game to movies and books and such. We consumers do not have any control over story or plot in movies and in books. However, in a video game like Mass Effect, fans have been building their (yes THEIR) story with their Commander Shepard. When a company gives that much control to the players over how their story will develop, it only makes sense to begin and end that way. The thing that hurts the fans the most is that with the current ending they felt as if the rug got pulled out from under them and were not given any real say-so or conclusion to their hard work.

    I appreciate that you can make comparisons to movie endings and such, but us fans cannot interact with movies. Like I said before, it is the story that each individual fan has driven in their mass effect series playthroughs in which choices mean everything that we are upset about. An ending that matters and one that makes sense to the choices we make is what we want.

    1. @Gabriel

      While I do agree that comparing games to movies and/or TV could be misleading, I disagree with you a bit as well, respectfully of course. Just because games have more interaction than TV, books, or movies, doesn’t mean that people FEEL MORE for the stories and characters within them. Did fans of Star Wars not feel like they had the rug pulled out from them as well (repeatedly I might add) in the last fifteen years? What about Twilight Fans, or Harry Potter fans? I think if I’m just comparing the story in a game to the story in a book or movie, they are comparable; everyone feels ownership of a story they enjoy. You are right though, if players create their own beginning and middle, they should be allowed to create their own end. I believe, however, there is a difference between letting players build an ending for themselves, like in the Fallout series, and changing the ending way after the fact due to public opinion. You don’t feel that making changes cheapens the experience for the whole series?

  2. @iamphoenix – Look, I work very hard throughout the weeks and have a family that I enjoy and love. I play games like mass effect because they are fun and have such an amazing story. It is a way to relax for me. So if something in the game happens that puts me off from enjoying the series again then yes I will be upset about it. Video games aren’t my life. Trust me when I say I worry about way more than just games. But I would like to not be let down with something I love regardless if it is a movie or a video game.

    TL;DR version – don’t troll on here

  3. I agree that Bioware should have considered this fallout before release instead of when the angry mob was at their door, and that if they relent, and present new endings it could create a new culture where consumers hold ridiculous amounts of power over developers.

    However, I think Mass Effect may be a special case because of how it plays. The fans are upset because the way they played the game was personal and the story felt like they had physically shaped it themselves. I can completely understand how attached a gamer could get to the characters, plot and their self-styled protagonist when all manner of decisions ground down to them.

    I haven’t played the game aside from the demos. I’m indifferent to all of this apart from the prospect of this outcry starting a worrying new trend in other mediums. But I can understand why the fans feel they have a right to demand better. I think Bioware did their best to deliver a great series of products, but in the process, created a beast they just couldn’t predict.

  4. All of the choices throughout the games feel like a “chose your own adventure” story, but on a massive scale. The difference being that the ending Mass Effect 3 is basically 3 endings, whereas there would been many in one of those books.

    I would love for a RPG to be brave enough to have an ending midway through the story where you die and the consequences of that.

  5. @Albatraus – Chrono Trigger had a bunch of endings…for example if you failed to stop the evil Reptites in pre-historic time you were treated to an ending featuring present-day characters as Reptites. I think it was a nice touch and would like to see more of it – however it was probably cheaper without voice acting and CG cut scenes…

  6. The problem with ME3 is that the whole point of the game was extreme choice. They advertise the game as having high levels of choice and characters die etc according to your playthrough, and presumably a different playthrough would give a very different experience.

    This is completely punctured by the identikit endings that offer no choice at all in terms of video and content for the player. The only difference is the colour of the explosion and there is no payoff for players as to what has actually happened. It artificially draws all your choices which have expanded into multiple strands of progression into one single event which appears and occurs the same no matter what you do.

    That’s why people are unhappy.

  7. Movies and books get changed all the time. Movies get changed based on fan input from test screenings and focus groups, and authors are told to change things in their books that publishers and editors don’t think fans will like. This whole “you never change art” thing is total crap. It happens all the time, especially with art that is designed to be sold and make money.

    Bioware simply failed to adequately test their finished product to make sure that it would pass muster with its fans. Now they’re paying the price for not thinking their ending through.

  8. I haven’t finished ME3 yet and so I’ve been avoiding a great deal of the ending conversations… But what I’ve gathered that all the endings are essentially the same, you save day, right?

    I wish I could find the interview, but this was baked into the series right from the beginning. In it, I think it was Hudson, essentially said, that you’re going to have an effect on your story and the universe around you, but only up to a point.

    He said that you are always going to end up saving the galaxy, the story of how you get there is yours, but outcome was always pretty much going to be the same.

    And comparing notes with my friend as we move through the story, apparently slower than everyone else on the internet, you can make choices that, coupled with what happened in the earlier games, can drastically alter the journey, and the future of the galaxy, as you move towards the end of this story.

    (I made a series of choices that snuck me up to a decision that was thousands of times more impactful than killing off one of your squad mates)

    I’m left wondering, and when I finally see the ending I’ll know, if all this outrage is b/c people are missing the point that the focus of the Mass Effect trilogy was the story and the journey, not the ending.

    The ending was always predetermined, you win, the bad guys lose.

  9. Sure Dave, once you eat the stake there is nothing left to be done but pay. But what if you expected to get a Medium rare steak that the waiter promised you… and it comes to you ‘well done’. Arent you entitled to get it changed?

    If a game is released with many bugs, a patch is released (usually in days of the game), why not give the fans what they want, isnt that the whole point of selling computer games? People who want to shoot at someone will buy a Call of Duty game, it gives them what they want. People who have bought into the Mass Effect series expected an epic ending to an epic series, various people behind it even told us there would be multiple ones.

    Changing the ending via DLC would not set a precedent, as its already happened before. What this whole affair is doing is setting an altogether different kind of precedent, in which games developers will hopefully take more care with “Their” games, and listen to the fans before its even beyond the conceptual stages and avoid such a backlash.

  10. I’m really torn on this. On one hand, I truly believe that Bioware should not have said anything even remotely hinting at adding/editing new endings and they should continue to not say anything. Whether we like it or not, we have to take the ‘good’ with the ‘bad,’ the ‘breathtaking’ with the ‘unacceptable.’ Myriad fans were up in arms with the release of ME2 when they stripped down many RPG aspects of the first game. Eventually most of us looked through it. Granted, that was a game-play dynamic, not a plot dynamic: that must be recognized. But that’s not my point. My point is that upon release, there was an uproar. Not as much as the initial ME3 release uproar, but an uproar nonetheless. We dealt with it, recognizing that the game transcended this complaint. Alas, I digress.

    ME3 is not ME2, that much is obvious. And I myself, upon completing my first run-through of the game, was quite disappointed with, paraphrasing here, that “fucking bullshit piece of shit ending why the hell did arbitrary characters step out of a wrecked Normandy on an unknown planet in the middle of the jungle what the fuck now they’ll never get off the planet since the mass effect relays are gone and the ship is busted and what the shit I am so pissed off etc etc etc.”

    But then came the theories, the interpretations. Paul, you’ve already touched base on the Indoctrination Theory. Love it or hate it, THAT is why this game is still art. The fact that devoted fans have extrapolated content to interpret their own ending. I myself support the idea, not because it gives me a reason to play the game again, not because it makes the ending a little more excusable, but because it’s fascinating. It makes me feel more involved in the game. In this aspect, it is VERY much like interpreting the end of a novel or a movie. I truly hope that Bioware stops discussing the ending soon – moreso, I hope that they never own up to or deny the Indoctrination Theory (I’m aware of all interviews, AMAs, and the like. I don’t believe any statements made that reject the theory. That’s just my opinion, however). The ambiguity of it, the non-concreteness of it makes it even stronger. It wasn’t force-fed to us, like a typical consumer product. We came up with it ourselves.

    On the other hand, however, what frustrated me more than ANYTHING else about the ending of the game was the lack of character closure. Bioware isn’t stupid; they know that people identify more with the plights/emotions/actions of characters we’ve spent countless hours with more than the plot itself (admit it, it’s true. Destroying the Reapers is awesome, but WHAT HAPPENED TO GARRUS). This is where the “Video Games as art” statement by Bioware CEO falters. They clearly are aware of this. It’s becoming increasingly obvious that they planned a lack of closure in the original, retail ending so that they can release DLC that provides increasing shreds of botched character closure. THAT pissed me off. THAT makes me lose faith in the future of video games as art. Granted, that move was probably the work of EA, so I cannot hold too much against Bioware. But the damage has been done.

    This was just a slightly organized rant. I suppose in order to conclude, I need to address a couple of the questions in the actual post. Bioware shouldn’t release an alternate ending. They should have included better character closure in the real ending. Had they added that to the already included ending, color coordination aside I would’ve been content. Bioware would have let us decide on what the starchild meant, they would have let us interpret the ending – but at the same time our choices would have been reflected more in the character-specific endings, which is what I think we truly want but are unable to cohesively express.

  11. I think comparing games to movies and books is fine. Like Mike said earlier, just because there is more interaction with a game than a movie or book it is still following a script or scripted structure, just like a movie or book. Somebody else even talked about how Mass Effect was just like a giant Choose Your Own Adventure book, well those books all had pre-scripted endings. If you didn’t like the ending you got from your choices you didn’t start a massive slander campaign on the internet against the writer or send the writer 400 cupcakes in protest. No, you put the book down and said “I will never read that book again. Fuck that book.”

    Now, I am not saying that the endings were good. Far from it. To have all of those choices made from 3 games boil down to one of 3 endings was a cop-out. Straight up cop-out. But, I don’t want one new ending from them. What I would like is four completely different endings that shows that the choices I made actually matter not just 3 slightly different endings with different colors in them. Now to get those endings am I going to send hate mail to Bioware and EA? No. Will I put up hundreds of dollars to hire a male dancer that looks like James Vega to pop out of a giant cake with the words “4 new endings plz” on it? Hell no, I already spent $80 on the Collectors edition of the game. Will I boycott Bioware and ask all my friends to do the same from here on out? No, because they are grown ass men and women and they can play whatever the hell they want without any input from me. Also, I still like Bioware. Only two of their games have given me a bad taste in my mouth, and that’s only because of some bad decisions on their part not necessarily due to the game. One was the ending of ME3 and the second was the reused dungeons on Dragon’s Age 2.

    Basically, what I’m saying is, yes I want new endings. But I also want to win the lottery and quit my job. I want to buy a bigger tv. I want a lot of things. Does that mean I should get them. No. Bioware caving in to all of these crybabies whining about how a new ending is owed to them will only cheapen gaming as an industry AND as a viable art form.

    @Gabriel – Just because iamphoenix has a varying opinion from yours does not mean he’s trolling. He has as much right to stating his opinion on here as you do.

  12. @Skeebo – Finish the game, then join the debate. I knew there was controversy before I finished it, and even I was disappointed and surprised by how abrupt it was. It’s lackluster, it’s confusing, and it contradicts many of the themes and concepts that you’ve been building towards through all three games. There are even some outright factual errors in there. It’s a very weak payoff, both content-wise and cinematically, for people who have been playing through all three games.

    As for the idea of this article, maybe it’s a troubling trend. Yet, I’ve also been around for the lackluster endings of Lost and Battlestar Galactica. No one disputes their right to end the shows they way they want, even failing to keep their promises saying that it wasn’t Purgatory/Earth, but as a customer I’m much more hesitant to commit to any of those writers’/producers’ shows now. Good business means keeping your ear to the ground with your customers and gauging their expectations. I think Bioware realized they had more than just a few unhappy fans on their hands, that they were at risk of alienating a significant portion of their customer base.

  13. I support changing the ending, or at least expanding on it via “Indoctrination Theory”.

    It’s not because I didn’t get a happy ending, or an ending that catered to my personal experience. And frankly it’s getting tedious having to state that every bloody time.

    People aren’t angry because the ending sucked! They were dissappointed that the ending sucked, sure, but they’re angry because they did some digging and began to find out WHY it sucked!

    A lot of people have gone into great detail cataloging all the outright lies we were fed and all the blatant laziness that went on behind the scenes. The fact that the entire trilogy had been crafted as a collaborative effort by an entire team of creative people but the end was hijacked and withheld from peer review.

    Sci-Fi fans are touchy about that sorta thing in particular, since finding out what Star Wars looks like under George Lucas’ sole authority.

    Fans have also been dreading what would become of the series ever since EA began looming over it and that plothole-ridden ending being topped off by a “Buy more DLC” blurb was like a klaxon alarm calling them to battlestations.

    Gamers have been feeling increasingly exploited and disrespected these past years and their gripes are always met with stuff like “Well it’s your own fault, of course you’re gonna be screwed. They know they can get away it. They’ll keep pushing your boundaries until you all stop giving them your money”.

    Well, now it’s reached a flashpoint and I for one hope that EA/BW make some effort to rectify their errors, and if it sets any precedents well then, GOOD! I hope it forces the industry to at least more be wary of mugging their customers at knifepoint.

    The saddest part of all this for me though is how the gaming press has completely failed to acknowledge why people are so angry and instead resorts to calling its readers “Entitled crybabies!”

    Big thanks to Paul though, for actually paying attention to why people might actually be raising their pitchforks 🙂

  14. Bioware seems to be planning to expand on the ending rather than change it and I wouldn’t be surprised if they made a lame, vague ending specifically to build hype for DLC to give us a better perspective. It will be a bad, bad precedent to give us the “true” ending for an additional charge, but I would be surprised and disappointed if Bioware didn’t give us this one as a freebie given the enormous backlashes they have received in the past few years.

  15. While I can’t follow a couple of the points made in this article — is G. Lucas supposed to be an example of somebody making changes to suit the fans or following his own decisions? Also, movies are re-edited all the time and books are at least re-proofread and occasionally changed as well — it’s a worthy and difficult debate to start.

    The main crux of the issue writ large — that is, not specifically relating to Mass Effect — is whether games are foremost “art” (meaning they come from an artist and can be then discussed and consumed according to the desires of the public) or “service” (wherin the customer’s demands weigh more heavily than the design of the artist). For me, I’m more than happy to just let the gaming companies do their thing, and purchase/play according to my own tastes. Obviously it changes on a case-by-case basis, but I’m specifically talking about narrative-driven games here.

    I disagree with the notion that because a game (movie, book, show) is released into the public, that somehow the public “owns” the material. For one thing, that cheapens the concept of art (which, ultimately narrative mediums are art to me) in my eyes. If I want control, I make the art. For someone else’s content, I can only offer feedback or patronage or a lack of those things.

    You choose to love, like, dislike, or hate something of your own accord. Content developers will try to strike a balance between satisfying their customer base and satisfying the artistic and narrative needs of the medium. Round and round we go.

    From an outside perspective (the only one I have on this specific instance), Mass Effect seems to be a revolutionary step in the RPG gaming timeline, but it’s not the END of the line. I’d rather game developers take this feedback and apply it to the next game, instead of spend more money and effort tweaking this one. In essence, make the NEXT game the one with the dynamic endings. Let Mass Effect be the one with a fluid storyline that paved the way.

    Also, if Bioware sells DLC to “fix” this issue, that’s just them exploiting the fanbase, IMO. And they’re admitting that games are foremost a “service,” which I’d rather a game like this not be.

    On a practical note, it’s just not feasible to make a game/movie/show/book that satisfies everybody, so as a general rule I would say that content providers should provide content (or not), and consumers should consume content (or not), and that should MORE OR LESS be the status quo.

  16. Everyone who says the ME3 endings are all the same except for different colored explosions is severely lacking in observational and critical thinking skills. Seriously.

    Now, I personally enjoyed the ending. I’m cool if others did not, but I’d prefer it be for legitimate reasons. Not vapid and trite commentaries.

  17. You say changing the ending “First it sets a bad precedent” and mentioned earlier in the article that it doesn’t happen in books

    It happened in books with the death of Sherlock Holmes in the 1893. Doyle brought him back in 1901 after the author of the book could no longer resist the public after 8 years. Doyle then ended up bringing Holmes back for good in 1903 by saying Holmes faked his own death in the story from 1893.


    The precedent was already set in gaming with Fallout 3 which was the release of the “Brother Hood of Steel” DLC that fixed what was wrong with the end of the game as well as adding hours of new material.

    So to say that changing the ending of Mass Effect 3 “First it sets a bad precedent” or “It doesn’t happen in books” are both invalid arguments because it has been done before so the precedent was already set years ago (even for books)

    Now do I care if they get changed? I don’t – even though I’ve played all the games and found the ending of the 3rd to be less than satisfying. It’s the dev’s right not to change it if they feel it’s best all though the ending as it stands is pretty bad due to lack of closure or epilogue of any kind.

  18. Personally I didn’t think the endings to Mass Effect 3 were bad, I mean sure I would of liked my own exact ending, but I didn’t make the game or create my own ending from digital scratch but thats not how it works. To be honest I’m satisfied with with the series and will miss it deeply, but I nor did any of my fellow gamers here actually create the game or its story, the creators did…they made the those events and story that you enjoyed and believe you created. All we did was use our imagination to “make” the story “ours”. If you want another ending and make your own in your imagination or you’ll never get that ending you trully wanted.

  19. I don’t play Mass Effect, so I can’t answer for that, but you did bring up the famous “St. Elsewhere” ending. I remember that whole brewhah.

    I think the ending to that pissed off so many people for a variety of reasons that all adds into one thing… it was a smarmy ending. It was so obvious that the writers wrote it so they could give themselves huge pats on the back for being so damned clever and were sitting back waiting for people to go, “Oh. My. God! I NEVER saw that coming!” and of course they never saw it coming, because it wasn’t something planned from the beginning, it was put on just for shock value.

    If you want to shock people and please them, the best way is to then show them that the truth was there all along. Such as in the Sixth Sense… when the twist is revealed, you end up going, “Oh! I should have figured that out!” The same with Citizen Kane “Oh, of course!” But in St. Elsewhere it came crashing out of nowhere.

    And, it was hated because it jolted people out of the show and instead made them remember that yeah, it’s all fiction. It came across as the writers even disrespecting their own “brainchildren” enough to decide that they weren’t even worthy of existing in their alternate reality, they only existed in a sub reality of another fictional character.

  20. You know what “cheapens the quality of the original story”? The bad ending.

    You know what lasting consequences there are from changing an ending? None.

    Sherlock Holmes dies? Bring him back. No one cares except to say that the art was so popular that the public demanded he be brought back.

  21. I hope they change the ending and I hope its worse than before. Be happy crybabies. I am sick of game companies changing their games because a small percentage cries about it.
    I still cant help but think that EA and bioware are actually happy about the whole ending thing because it deflects from the real issue people were pissed about in the first place. The overpriced day one dlc and the stupid online passes. They will throw these idiots their bone just to keep them off the real issues.

  22. is the internet suddently crazy and dumb? why is every site making assumptions that the ending to me3 will be changed? did you not get the ending? it was in shepard’s mind! the “indoctrination theory” is not a theory! it’s the truth, it’s there! they don’t have to change anything per se, they will probably expand on it and explain it to the people (mostly everyone) who didn’t get it.

  23. I consider the extended cut to be a great addition to the series. The issue wasn’t art related, it was an issue of laziness. The game kind of just ends with no real closure. They should have learned the lesson bethesda did after Fallout 3, the extended cut should have been the original ending, it doesn’t change anything, just adds much needed closure. I loved the option of choosing not to choose one of the 3 options. That’s what I wanted all along. Yeah, I died, but that’s ok because I just wanted the option. Also this idea that ‘art is never changed after its released’ is just total bull. As someone who works in film I can attest to this.

    “Movies and books get changed all the time. Movies get changed based on fan input from test screenings and focus groups, and authors are told to change things in their books that publishers and editors don’t think fans will like. This whole “you never change art” thing is total crap. It happens all the time, especially with art that is designed to be sold and make money.”

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