The Five Worst Things to Happen to Gaming in 2012: The Mass Effect 3 Controversies

Hello, again!  GameSparked’s countdown of the worst things to happen to gaming in 2012 continues rumbling on, getting us all hot and bothered and face-palmy and stuff.  Today, we’re going to closely examine how the highly anticipated finale of a well-regarded trilogy managed to piss everybody off before, during and after its release and tank its developer’s reputation thanks to their desire to try and appease their unappeasable fanbase.

3] Mass Effect 3 & Bioware prove why catering to every “fan”’s desire is a terrible idea.

Mass Effect 3

If I’ve learnt anything in 2012, it’s that there is no such thing as a Bioware fan anymore.  There are no fans who are simply able to trust in Bioware’s ability to deliver a great game, there are no fans who will simply accept certain minor flaws or changes without kicking up a huge storm over it, and there are no fans who won’t whine and whine and whine and complain whenever Bioware does something that they don’t like.  Those people do not exist anymore.  They’re wiped out; extinct, like the dinosaur or the dodo.

In their place are Bioware “fans” who do pretty much everything I listed above.  And yet, they still buy their products, they still play them to death and they will still be first in line for the next one.  It’s an extremely expensive version of hate-watching.  It’s people wasting money on something that they have forced themselves to believe that they won’t enjoy just so that they can complain about it on the Internet.

That’s kind of how I felt about the Internet’s reaction to Mass Effect 3.  Bioware were being belittled and insulted over every little decision they made in an effort to appease their clearly unappeasable fanbase whilst simultaneously being accused of not listening to them enough.  The biggest problem is that neither party came out of Mass Effect 3 looking good.  In fact, I’m going to go about taking each major controversy related to Mass Effect 3 and trying to explain why both parties were equally in the wrong.  Equal opportunities belittling!

Yes, a few of these were from 2011, but I feel that they are indicative of my overall point so I’m going to talk about them anyway.

If only they’d put this much effort into the ending.  HA!
If only they’d put this much effort into the ending. HA!

The FemShep Default Design Facebook Contest

Why Bioware Are In The Wrong: Commander Shepard is loved because she (not he, for there is only Female Shepard for there is only Jennifer Hale and I will fight you if you say otherwise) feels, in several cases, like a real person.  She’s strong, willing to make the difficult decisions and has actual relationships with the characters in the universe.  Her looks barely factor into it.  We didn’t grow attached to her because she looked like a supermodel.

By making the strategy for deciding her default design for Mass Effect 3’s publicity material be “get all of the fans to pick which of the six designs we’ve posted on Facebook they like the best” cheapens that.  It turns it into a popularity contest based entirely upon the shallow decision of looks and beauty.  Why couldn’t you have just cooked something up yourselves, Bioware?  You have the artists with the talent to whip something capable enough up in an hour; use them.  Or, alternatively, just use the default option on the character creation screen!  It’s not hard.  You didn’t have to cheapen your lead character by making her default appearance be decided by a fashion show of who has the whitest skin and the nicest hair.

Why The Fans Are In The Wrong: Let’s skip the high horse reason of “you people propagated this sh*t by voting along with it in the first place” because I don’t see that as a legitimate enough avenue of complaint.  Instead, let’s deal with the reaction to the reveal of the winner.  Initially, the winner was due to be BlondeShep having clearly gotten the highest number of Facebook likes.  However, not five hours after this announcement had been made did sh*t hit the fan.  “Shepard can’t be blonde!  Blonde is the colour of stupid bimbo whores!” did the Internet cry like a bunch of pathetic teenagers.

So Bioware re-opened the polls and, lo and behold, our new winner was the white girl with red hair; the Internet’s new flavour of the month.  Bioware’s “fans” literally got their knickers in a twist because they could not picture a blonde woman saving the world; failing to realise that we were only voting for the default look.  This was not a royal decree that, once voted in, would cause everybody’s FemShep to magically turn into this new default character.  It was just for the marketing.  They were making mountains out of molehills; something that would be repeated to a much darker degree in our next controversy.

The absolute worst thing in the whole of human everything ever.  Clearly.
The absolute worst thing in the whole of human everything ever. Clearly.

Giving MaleShep The Option To Have A Relationship With Another Man

Why Bioware Are In The Wrong: Ha!  Fooled you!  They aren’t in the wrong.  At all.  It’s a mature decision that will hopefully lead to more such relationships cropping up in AAA games.  Of this list, this and the next entry are the two things that Bioware aren’t in any way, shape or form wrong about.

Why The Fans Are In The Wrong: Oh my, was this whole thing ugly or what?  You see, nobody has any legitimate complaints about the inclusion of male gay romances.  The only legitimate one of how poorly they were handled applies to pretty much every single non-Liara romance in the Mass Effect universe anyway.  Plus, if they did have that reason, they didn’t get it across well.  Essentially, instead of having legitimate complaints, the move turned into the Internet shouting homophobic remarks at Bioware which was, in all honesty, just plain disgusting.

The worst part is that homosexual relationships already exist in the Mass Effect universe if you roleplay as a FemShep and romance Liara (let’s just call a spade a spade for this article, folks), so this entirely comes off as “fans” hating the concept of two men making love to one another but finding two women doing the same thing hot.  It’s despicable behaviour that everyone involved should be ashamed of.  It is 2012, grow up.

Completely deserved.
Completely deserved.

The Metacritic Review Bombing

Why Bioware Are In The Wrong: I’m… trying to come up with something here but I can’t think of anything.  Er… maybe not have released such a “crappy” game?

Why The Fans Are In The Wrong: You know, folks, some people actually use Metacritic to decide on their game purchases.  Now whether or not that’s a sound idea is not for discussion in this article, but it’s a simple fact, nonetheless.  They’re looking for well-written and well-reasoned reviews that can help them decide whether or not they should drop 40 notes on a game.  They are not looking for 1,000 extreme 0 scores not 4 hours after the game came out slamming it over including multiplayer, gay romances, the ending you couldn’t possibly have reached yet, the length of the game that you clearly didn’t play properly or just the fact that Bioware sold their soul to the EA devil.

It’s childish, for one thing, petty, for another and a waste of time, at least.  How many people do you think even played five minutes of the finished game that they were trashing?  It’s the equivalent of the VUE website where people score films that haven’t even been released yet 5 stars because “it looks kool” or 0 stars because “WHY NO VUE BWING MOVIE TO MY CINEMAAAH!”  Seriously, grow up.

Mass Effect 3

The Ending.  Sweet Mother Maker, The Ending

Why Bioware Are In The Wrong: To be honest, though I liked the ending, Bioware set themselves up for this fall ever since they started hyping Mass Effect 1 way back in 2005.  You can’t promise your players total control over a story all of the way up to and including the ending where all of your decisions, be they major or minor, will have huge ramifications and consequences because that’s simply not possible.  Game design will not allow it, let alone modern hardware.  And by repeatedly shouting it from the rooftop, Bioware promised something that they had no hope of delivering.  They could have turned in the greatest ending in the history of mankind that included a cure for cancer and the secret to world peace and it still would not have been enough.

The ending that we got, which, again, I did like (probably because I reached it a month after hearing about how it was the worst thing in the history of ever), did feel insanely rushed and tried to bring back one of the most blatant pieces of emotional manipulation from the start of the game (and, in a year that gave us Clementine, there is no excuse for the blatant attempt at manipulation that that bit at the start of ME3 had) in a way that’s supposed to make the game feel like it had come full circle but just felt meh.  Bioware could have tried a little harder and, if you look at it the way that I am, did kind of bring a lot of the backlash on themselves.

Why The Fans Are In The Wrong: We live in an age where if we don’t like something, we can (mostly) complain about it and get it changed to something we like.  This is pretty much how talent shows work, after all.  It’s an age of unprecedented consumer control over products and works of art.  Honestly?  That scares me.  Call me old-fashioned, but I like seeing what the artist’s vision is.  How they want to finish their work, what they think the direction should be and leaving it at that.  Yes, sometimes you’ll get a bit of crap and something that goes off the rails (hello, Glee-after-the-first-13-episodes) and sometimes you’ll get something that’s great and works spectacularly (anyone who complains about the more dramatic direction Daria took in its final two seasons needs to line up so that I can shoot you); but that’s how it works.  You take a chance but you see their vision and how they wanted to end it.  You should respect their right to do that, if nothing else.

I’m not banning complaining.  If you see something that you think is bullsh*t, you have a right to call the people responsible for that bullsh*t out.  What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t force the artist to alter their product to suit your needs just because it didn’t go how you wanted it.  And that’s how a lot of the complaints about the ending went.  Most of them came across as “fans” butt-hurt about how the game didn’t get a happy ending or the ending that they specifically wanted.  Newsflash, art doesn’t work like that.  You can’t please everyone all of the time.

There are legitimate complaints here, and I respect them.  What I can’t respect is this sense of entitlement.  This idea that the fans “deserve” a better ending.  That the ending was so utterly dreadful that it renders the previous 60 odd hours that you spent playing and loving the game and the 5 years you’ve spent as a dedicated member of the fandom retroactively awful and wasted.  You want a better ending?  There’s this thing called Fan Fiction.  Try that, if you’re so inclined.  Pretend the game ends once you board The Crucible.  You don’t need Bioware to go back and change the ending in order to validate your beliefs.  You come off as entitled brat and the constant hounding of Bioware and the review bombings and the thousands of identical forum threads don’t help matters.

Bioware Releases “The Extended Cut”

Why Bioware Are In The Wrong: They caved, plain and simple.  Again, I’m old-fashioned and I prefer to see the artist deliver the vision that they wanted to.  Bioware wanted an ambiguous, bittersweet ending for you to interpret how you wanted.  The fans demanded that Bioware give them a new ending.  What they gave as a result satisfied few.  It wasn’t the new ending that the fans wanted; merely an extension, essentially flat-out telling you that EVERYTHING WAS THEN FINE, OK?!!  Imagine if the ending of The Sopranos lasted a bit longer so that you could see what actually happened to Tony.  It’s like that.  Artistic integrity was shown to mean nothing.  Sure, you may have complaints about the ending but Bioware should have had a right to that “stupid” ending.  It’s their series and their vision and they are entitled to end it how they want.  But they chose not to because they wanted to satisfy their unsatisfiable fans.

I could go on, and in fact, I would love to go on but this is currently on page number 6 right now and I’m getting a headache from anger, so allow me to sum up.  Ultimately, the worst part about Mass Effect 3 is that it’s a fantastic game (or, at the very least, a solid and well-made game) that was overshadowed by controversy after controversy and Bioware’s consistent attempts to please the unpleasable (with the one time that they defended a decision, truly defended a decision, being the time when it was morally the right thing to do).  And by caving on the ending, they sank their reputation in the eyes of us games journalists by demonstrating that there was almost nothing that they wouldn’t do in order to win back the fans who hate them anyway.

Bioware recently sent out a tweet asking where we’d like Mass Effect 4 to take place in the Mass Effect canon.  Clearly, they haven’t learnt a thing if they’re leaving the decision up to us.  I’ll see you back here in 2015 to do this dance all over again, yeah?

Join us tomorrow for number 2 on our bile-filled countdown!


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