Yesterday, Casey Hudson, Mass Effect 3’s Executive Producer, released a response to fan demands for a change to the current ME3 endings, which left many disappointed. His response was met with criticism, and did not dissuade players from filing complaints with the Federal Trade Commission and the Better Business Bureau.
Earlier this week I reported on action the Mass Effect 3 community was taking to try and spur EA and BioWare into creating a new ending. At that time,29,062 voters (89%) wanted the ending to change. Another poll had 5,340 (70%) votes for a particular change in the ending. The numbers now stand at 50,335 (91%) for a different ending, and 7,794 (69%) for the particular change. That second poll also has 3,257 votes (29%) for just a general change. Only 232 (2%) say it’s fine; 2% in the other poll also say it’s fine as it is.
Hudson’s response argues that not everybody hates the ending, citing the New York Times and Penny Arcade, and emails and tweets from fans. He then states that Mass Effect has always been a collaboration between fans and BioWare, saying:
An outpouring of love for Garrus and Tali led to their inclusion as love interests in Mass Effect 2. A request for deeper RPG systems led to key design changes in Mass Effect 3. Your feedback has always mattered. Mass Effect is a collaboration between developers and players, and we continue to listen.
He doesn’t say this means the ending will change. His response concludes ambiguously, stating:
So where do we go from here? Throughout the next year, we will support Mass Effect 3 by working on new content. And we’ll keep listening, because your insights and constructive feedback will help determine what that content should be. This is not the last you’ll hear of Commander Shepard.
We look forward to your continued support and involvement as we work together to shape the remaining experiences in the story of the Mass Effect trilogy.
This hasn’t placated the community, though, especially since it doesn’t even directly address the issue. A user of the BioWare forum, atghunter, who was formerly a PR guy gives some insight into why BioWare is acting the way it is about the controversy. He outlines the following steps that companies take to diffuse consumer discontent:
1. First, re-affirm and ignore (also known as doubling down), then try and define the detractors in the mainstream with things like “this is all a big misunderstanding”, etc. while remaining civil in the hopes the detractors go rabid.
2. Go dark and use countermeasures through third party sources to prop up your position and brand the outcry as driven by hacks, haters or a minority.
3. Next, offer something distracting known as the “faux olive branch”. Ask the angry people to explain their concerns (without agreeing to commit to a compromise), buy more ad time, and hope it dies down.
4. If the pressure is still on, determine the economic viability of 1) ignoring the outcry and banking on the fickle nature of consumers to get over it, or 2) determine if we can make money off of fixing it.
Step number 3 came up yesterday, when BioWare announced the N7 Challenge weekend Operation: Goliath, which includes rewards: “Any player who is part of a squad that beats the Reaper faction on Silver difficulty or better will unlock one Commendation Pack.” And, “Destroy as many brutes as possible – if the multiplayer community kills a combined 1 MILLION brutes within the hours of the challenge, ALL players will receive a Victory Pack as a reward.”
Atghunter also stresses, “…don’t buy the only X people voted in the poll out of 1 billion customers, so they don’t care. That’s bunk.” But reminds gamers to keep in mind that BioWare an EA have access to data. They know how many people are buying ME3 and how much time people spend playing via Origin. He states,
If sales slow, watch for price cutting within 10 days (just over the two week US release date). It will mean that retailers are getting nervous and will slow new unit orders. As I’ve said before, this will come down to hard currency. If the protests start having an effect on that front, the response will come.
He also takes a look at the statement released by Hudson.
Most of the statement is doublespeak meant to let you see whatever you want as to as to the direction this thing is heading. Mr. Hudson then clearly tries to give validity to the greatness of the game by citing a couple news sources in the hopes of getting those stories more hits and onto search page one (nicely played EA PR)…
Does he continue on holding his own line that they intended ‘bittersweet’ endings? Yes. Is the comment that you’ll see more of Commander Shepard an illusion to an ‘ending’ DLC? Not certain but probably not at the moment. Does he utilize the ‘we’re listening to feedback but not promising we’ll do anything’ line used on the boards yesterday? Sure.
It is clear most of his statement is insubstantial and leaves tons of room for spin either way down the road.
BioWare also created a thread to gather feedback, asking for specific suggestions rather than general discontent. While there were no promises to act on the feedback they collect, it does give gamers a place to feel like they’re being heard. In the thread, BioWare employee Jarrett Lee joined the discourse and tried to put to dispel some of the “conspiracy theories” people like atghunter were coming up with about BioWare’s actions.
Of course we had events and releases planned for the week after launch-week. There are no nefarious scheming evil meetings on this topic. We take it seriously, and are discussing it internally. Nobody is happy or dismissive about the fan reaction, at BioWare. Quite the opposite really. These are good people who care deeply about the work they do.
I would suggest patience but not sure there’s receptiveness to that at this point.
Many users accused Lee of deflecting the discussion, as people responded to what he said instead of continuing the discourse of what’s wrong with the ending.
Atghunter also responded to Lee, pointing out that while those events were planned, it doesn’t mean they were always intended to be released at the time they are now. He notes,
Could those same events have been planned as firewalls (aka potential faux olive branches) or for just plain fun? I don’t know. However, while I certainly wasn’t the most savvy PR guy, it simply seems illogical that someone wouldn’t build some firewalls into a worldwide pre-sale release just in case. Again, no evil intentions, just solid market share defense. Those same firewalls turn into great media boosters if the game had been acclaimed and unneeded. In short, they get repurposed.
In addition to atghunter’s PR experience, user KeldorKatarn threw in his military experience, saying:
Don’t ever respond positively to ANYTHING but your initial demands. Don’t even think about responding to maybes or let’s talks. What you want is a full surrender; NOTHING else. DON’T stop before they bow down and literally talk to you on YOUR terms. YOU are the customers. Use that. This also means:
DON’T play the game, DON’T buy and DLCs unless they are EXACTLY what you want. They will feel the dropping numbers, they have Origin. Many people didn’t like Origin, but now it is YOUR weapon. Don’t play and the WILL see that. They do have the statistics. The fewer people order anything, the fewer people use origin the heavier you are threatening their supply lines…
Also never become angry or uncivil, because that is another one of their strategies. If you become an angry mob, they will be able to sell you as such, gathering allies. You don’t want them to be able to do that.
You can view a full discussion over those events in this thread by Bachuck, but it’s not the end of the movement.
User El_Spiko created a thread explaining how he filed a Federal Trade Commission complaint against EA. Apparently, EA and BioWare failed to live up to the claims they made about ME3 and its ending. El_Spiko also encourages users to file Better Business Bureau complaints as well. He explains his actions by stating:
THIS IS NOT A LAWSUIT. THIS IS NOT SERIOUS LEGAL ACTION. This is a complaint about EA/Bioware’s advertising, filed with the the organizations that handle false advertising in the U.S. As EA is the publisher, they were the appropriate people to complain about. If you don’t think that exercising one of the few, civil, legal ways available to hold a company accountable is stupid or immature, that’s fine.
He doesn’t expect the FTC or BBB to do much more than alert EA to the complaints, but he believes that could be enough to spur EA and BioWare into taking their complaints more seriously. Though some responses disagreed with El_Spiko, and considered the action in vain, it still prompted 27 pages of discussion.
All of this has also prompted discussion outside of the BioWare forums, including several on Reddit’s r/truegaming, r/masseffect, and r/games. Gameranx has also published an article on El_Spiko’s thread about filing complaints to the FTC.
Mass Effect 3 was released on March 6th, only 11 days ago. Some gamers believe they should at least give EA and BioWare a month before they start to file complaints, while others think the pressure will prompt faster action. We’ll have to wait and see how this all plays out – so much has already happened in less than two weeks. Stay tuned for further developments.