Why Changing Mass Effect’s Ending Won’t Compromise Art

The announcement on March 21 that BioWare had decided to give in to unhappy fans and change Mass Effect 3′s ending may have been welcome news to the members of Retake Mass Effect, but it was met with a collective gasp of horror from industry professionals and game journalists alike. The emerging consensus seems to be, whatever you think of the ending, the fans begging for a change are behaving in a most unseemly fashion, and BioWare’s ‘capitulation’ to them is a betrayal of artistic integrity with dire implications for the creative future of the industry.

While we’re certainly among those who think the ending is not up to the quality of the series overall, we recognize that it is ultimately BioWare’s call, one they’ve made by deciding to give the fans what they want. But was it the right call? Was it a surrender of creative control to mob rule? We don’t think so. In fact, we think that BioWare’s decision, and the fan reaction that prompted it, is instead a demonstration of gaming’s greatest strengths.

More importantly, we think changing the end of Mass Effect 3 doesn’t compromise artistic integrity, and we’d like to discuss precisely why that is.

Precedent Exists

One of the most common complaints about BioWare’s decision, most famously articulated by IGN, is that it sets a ‘dangerous’ precedent. Apparently, by acquiescing to the demands of Retake Mass Effect, BioWare has performed the video gaming equivalent of negotiating with terrorists, ensuring that developers are now forever doomed to have their every decision second-guessed by fickle fans.

The problem is that for this to make any sense, we have to pretend that BioWare’s decision is unique and unprecedented. Which it totally is, if you ignore every other artistic and entertainment genre in the world. Face it, every entertainment art form, particularly literature and film, contains example after example of creators making crucial changes to their work as a direct result of feedback. Charles Dickens is perhaps the Ur example, having rewritten the ending of Great Expectations after his friend Edward Bulwer-Lytton commented that the original was too bleak. You might have noticed that those lamenting the incoming changes to Mass Effect 3 haven’t pointed to this as the moment when literature lost its soul.

Of course, the most expensive special effect in a novel is the ink used by the printer. Film, on the other hand, is a much closer analogue, and it is impossible to ignore the fact that countless movies have changed their ending based on audience feedback. The superficial difference is that the changes occur as a result of test screenings, rather than release day reactions. Fatal Attraction, for example, originally ended with Glenn Close’s character commiting suicide and framing Michael Douglas for her ‘murder’. Test audiences hated it, so the studio shot a new ending; and this is by no means a rare occurence. Mysteriously, no one suggests that test audiences are entitled whiners, or (in the event the film is improved) that filmmakers have compromised their artistic integrity.

The gaming industry itself has a long history of tweaks subtle and not so subtle, Bethesda’s change to Fallout 3′s ending being perhaps the most famous. Originally, the player choice mechanic was abruptly removed and the player was forced to either commit suicide by radiation sickness, or send someone in to die in their place. This was despite the player having a radiation-immune party member available. After considerable outcry from players, the Broken Steel DLC changed that, allowing the player to use all options they brought with them to the final choice, and to survive for more adventures afterward.

It’s true that while the changes to Fallout 3′s ending weren’t as far-reaching as the still-unknown changes to Mass Effect 3′s are likely to be, they were still considerable, and yet the industry has not since suffered a decline of ‘artistic vision’. Fancy that! Well, unless you count the insistance that video games and movies are the same thing.

Join the Conversation   

* required field

By submitting a comment here you grant GameFront a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate or irrelevant comments will be removed at an admin's discretion.

35 Comments on Why Changing Mass Effect’s Ending Won’t Compromise Art

Kyle Meredith

On March 27, 2012 at 3:58 pm

Colin Moriarty is dumb

Mark Burnham

On March 27, 2012 at 5:19 pm

“Far from a betrayal of BioWare’s artistic vision, changing the ending of Mass Effect 3 is in fact its apotheosis. It signals what might be the very thing that establishes gaming’s uniqueness.”

Word.

Yogondu

On March 27, 2012 at 5:40 pm

I couldn’t agree more with this very well written article. This is the very thing that is so frustrating when listening and reading other video game pundits. Video games are not movies, paintings, songs or books they are video games. If we put video games in the same category as any of these things limits them rather than builds them up. What really destroys an industry is elitism and BioWare giving in to fan demands will not destroy the industry; it will create consumer trust. This issue that it takes away from video games being art to change the ending is utter foolishness.

Mark

On March 27, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Gamefront,

Three weeks ago I didn’t know your website existed. Now, with the combination of this article and “Mass Effect 3 Ending Hate: Why the Fans Are Right”, you have turned into the number one site (in my opinion) for gaming news/articles. Your pieces are written EXTREMELY well and clearly show intelligence and real thought. They are the polar opposite to IGN posting things like Colin Moriarty’s temper tantrum. You hit the nail on the head everytime. Your articles seem to convey that you do actually have a legitimate background in how to properly analyze a storyline or piece of art. Versus the guys at other gaming websites who have a background in being angry, acting like they are above us all, and overrating the latest COD game yet again. Keep up the good work, and pay Ross Lincoln however much he wants.

Kevin

On March 27, 2012 at 7:48 pm

I just wanted to say thank you for not attacking gamers like some other high profile gaming sites have done. One in particular, Gamesradar.com, put up a ridiculous article about how anyone who didn’t like the ending was a “rabid fanboy”. Needless to say, they’ve been deleted from my favorites. Keep up the good work.

Joshua A. F.-T.

On March 27, 2012 at 7:52 pm

I’m in agreement with Mark. I didn’t know about you guys, but the Mass Effect ending coverage via the intelligent articles reeled me in like a fish to the boat of appreciation. I don’t know if that metaphor even works. Keep on being as fair and critical as y’all can be, be they articles or reviews.

Jerrold

On March 27, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Beautifully written, and well-thought out. I am a professor of theater, who loves the ME series (and detested the ending of ME3), and I completely agree with all that you say about art, gaming, and the impact of an audience upon the medium. We acknowledge audience input in the theater without question, and gaming should be no different.

krohn

On March 27, 2012 at 8:08 pm

i feel as if you are not just a fan who feels betrayed but a journalist who took steps back to see both sides of this and make educated decisions on what is going on. i feel represented in a way that barely ever happens i feel as if you truly understand what it felt like to finish the game a feel like yelling ” DA FUQ IS DIS T!” so kudos to you.
also fyi this website is now my first stop for gaming news.

Raven

On March 27, 2012 at 8:12 pm

People who say BioWare shouldn’t change the ending have no right to make such claims as “betrayal of artistic integrity.” In fact, it makes them that much more ignorant for saying so. If tens of thousands of people told Da Vinci that the Mona Lisa was terrible and ugly, of course he would toss it out and change it.

BWchief117

On March 27, 2012 at 8:12 pm

I continue to love Gamefront more and more! Awesome article. It’s hard enough convincing people the endings need to be changed, let alone arguing this artistic vision stuff right along side it.

Greg

On March 27, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Great article. Well evidenced, thoughtful and free of name-calling. Gamefront has won a new reader in me.

septerra

On March 27, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Mark +1

I am three weeks old to this website, and you guys are the best out there. Articles that actually mean something.

noble1988

On March 27, 2012 at 9:01 pm

great article, aid everything i have been thinking

Zack F.

On March 27, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Well said! Thanks For a well reasoned and well written argument. My game is as much my art as BioWare’s, and in a much more pragmatic way, it’s my darn money invested in the game, and my time as well. I’m not going to waste my limited gaming time in a game I’m not going to enjoy, and I won’t waste my money buying add-ons for something that disappointed me as much as the last bit of ME3 did.

Herple Derp

On March 27, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Video games are not art. They are an interactive product with artistic merit.

Name*

On March 27, 2012 at 10:01 pm

EXPERIENCE THE BEGINNING, MIDDLE, AND END OF AN EMOTIONAL STORY UNLIKE ANY OTHER, WHERE THE DECISIONS YOU MAKE COMPLETELY SHAPE YOUR EXPERIENCE AND OUTCOME.

I haven’t played Mass Effect 3 yet. The game shipped with a glitch that prevents me from importing the face I’ve used since I booted up Mass Effect five years ago.

EA and Bioware have completely betrayed anyone who bought into this trilogy because of promises like the one quoted above. In Mass Effect 3 my face doesn’t matter, and my choices don’t matter. All that matters is if I buy DLC. That wasn’t what I signed up for.

Frank

On March 27, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Artistic integrity stands mostly for the artists working alone and willing to die in hunger if needed. In that case they didnt had to please the audience to sell paintings, statues, etc. they could fulfill their vision. And if someone liked their work, then he/she could bought it. (so they decided first, paid later…)

But for those who worked for order had to paint what others want, and even make some changes sometimes (plus they usually made people look better than in life). And those lucky few who had a patron had to completely surrender their own art, and realise the patrons vision from time to time, whether they wanted to be on the painting of Jezus born, or look 2-3 feet taller on their portrait.

As the Monty Python sketch shows (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1IJiAXjj7k) it was a buyers market.

Chris

On March 27, 2012 at 11:21 pm

Great job on this article, its nice to see someone actually doing their homework rather than just stating their opinion while attacking a group of people like colin moriarty at ign.

BRBonobo

On March 28, 2012 at 12:46 am

I read the article, put my thoughts and opinions together, and realized that Mark had already said them. I came here from a link on an ArsTechnica comment about a week ago and read “Mass Effect 3 Ending-Hatred: 5 Reasons The Fans Are Right.” This site is now at the top of my RSS Reader and Ross Lincoln is my new favorite voice on the subject of video games (since Anthony Burch rarely posts any analysis anymore).

Kenrae

On March 28, 2012 at 6:55 am

I hate the use of test audiences on movies and series, so you can guess what I think about this :P .

SXO

On March 28, 2012 at 9:25 am

In the interest of full disclosure, let me start off by saying I think the current ending(s) is/are terrible, but I’m also against changing the ending. Changing the ending will not magically erase all the other plotholes and retcons that go as far back as Mass Effect 2. Regardless, I don’t think Bioware is actually changing anything. What you’ll see is some sort of ticker update, or something equally small, that will detail what happened to each of your crewmates after the end.

Jen

On March 28, 2012 at 9:26 am

Just… <3. Thank you.

Steven F

On March 28, 2012 at 10:05 am

It is well known that art is evaluated in the eye of the beholder ;)
In my opinion the series as a whole is Art but unfinished. Imagine you get an offering to buy a Paining base on the personal account of the Artist. You know his former works of Art and decide to buy the paining based on his account without seeing it before. As you get the Painting it is as described and match perfectly with the former Art of the paining accepted that the white spot at the bottom left. He just stopped painting and sold it earlier because hey it is art Right ? Right ;)

Kerry

On March 28, 2012 at 11:01 am

I really like how you handled this. You at least backed up your arguments with examples. IGN bordered on what I imagine being a mouthpiece for Bioware’s private criticisms of fans. They relied totally on fear. That said I do disagree that are no negative consequences to this decision. Look at Spielberg and 1941. The movie was a flop but the next project he worked on was Indiana Jones. I would like to think such a failure drove him to do better on his next project in order to salvage his image.

beema

On March 28, 2012 at 12:16 pm

Wonderful, well-written article. I would love to see more thoughtful pieces like this from the gaming media. Gamefront is fast becoming my favorite gaming article site. Keep it up!
I feel like a lot of people railing against the “Retake” movement are the very same who said Roger Ebert’s opinions don’t matter because games are so unique from film or literature that they shouldn’t be judged the same way. There’s definitely some latent hypocrisy going on there.

Lucas

On March 28, 2012 at 6:41 pm

the problem is: bethesda never destroyed the fallout world (again) killing the main character, Bioware destroyed the entire mass effect universe with the ending. It was like Neo from matrix, he did a lot, he bled tons, but in the end he achieved almost nothing! no wonder its one of the most anticlimax productions from hollywood.

It doesn’t matter what happens with shepard, as long as it means something!

I really dont wanna games like star wars, where u need to put an “old” on every tittle.

Beckett

On March 29, 2012 at 1:05 am

Thanks to your articles about ME3, I finally found a place to stop by for some sense. Not like on IGN, which I can now leave with a smile on my face.

Thank you Gamefront!

eXodus2287

On March 29, 2012 at 9:53 am

well written article

keep up the good work

Jim

On March 30, 2012 at 11:47 am

Wow…I had no idea who you guys were until today. I have since read a few great articles about the end of ME3 and, while I don’t agree with every point made, I appreciate that the points are well thought out and well presented.

I’m hoping that some of the DLC (preferably free stuff) offers a bit more closure to Shep’s story. One of the things that has kept me hooked on the ME universe is the level of detail given to the galactic history, and the quality of its presentation. It’d suck if they did such a good job on that, just to botch the landing. Barring that, I’d hope for some kind of key combo that’d allow you to punt the VI kid into space…

And, if it turns out that Bioware has been planning this whole thing from the beginning, it will just prove my theory that Andy Kaufman is alive and a Reaper.

Orion

On March 30, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Well played, Filefront! I really enjoy reading such fine, honest and fair articles. I find them to be both unbiased and professionally written. To be honest, I was fine with the ending and didn’t get all the tantrums and fits and stuff… Now that it seems they will rewrite the ending, I honestly am very excited.

Since BioWare does a lot of good work, I’m excited to see what they do with the new ending.

Dwigt

On April 2, 2012 at 8:04 am

The whole coverage of the Mass Effect 3 ending on this site is first rate. You have explained a lot of things that many players couldn’t articulate as well.
I’ve just heard (I’m late for the game) about some early plans to explain the actions of the Reapers because of a more dangerous threat, the erosion of the entire galaxy due to some dark energy. In these plans, the Reapers wanted to put together a force that could bring this menace down, hence their periodical “harvesting” of any intelligent species, so the essence of its species could be incorporated into additional Reapers. The dark energy was responsible for the supernova in Haelstrom (the mission in ME2 in which you recruit Tali). The ending would have involved Shepard deciding between processing all humanity into grinders/reapers (given the importance of the threat), or getting rid of the Reapers forever, even if it implied starting from scratch against a much more threatening menace in the future.

These sketches (that were not developed after ME2) wouldn’t have fixed some of the issues that make people mad, even with some polishing and development, but they would have made a little more sense. And this suggests there was actually some kind of regression over the course of the development of ME3. I now think that the conclusion was more or less sacrificed. You give the example of Great Expectations and there are actually tons of examples in classical literature of some endings being changed because they were more organic to the story. The new ending wasn’t was the authors had in mind, but so was the rest of the book. Ultimately, coherence should prevail. If your story becomes a tale about overcoming hardships, the reader doesn’t need a final slap in the face, even if you wanted initially to have a pessimistic take.

I don’t see any way to make the ending of ME3 more organic. The current ending takes a few elements from the plot, mixes them with other sci-fi ingredients and has a go with it. Sure, you can change it, but the plot is more concerned with presenting a good, even great conclusion, to the conflicts between species and characters depicted in the previous episodes, than with having an overarching theme that would bring the game to its natural final development and organic alternatives.

Josie

On April 2, 2012 at 9:47 pm

Thank you very much for this article. Fellow fans (and especially my brethren in Retake Mass Effect), these are the sort of articles we should be circulating among each other. I notice this page has somewhere around 30 comments and only 1,000 likes (which, considering how many people are upset about the end, comes as a surprise to me). Plenty of people have written on this subject, but every one of them brings a unique perspective to the table (I even read one where someone compared the “God-Child” in ME3 to a third-act rewrite of LoTR where Tom Bombadil shows up when Frodo is about to chuck the ring and we get three different colored explosions as a result).

Please. Let’s pass these stories around. I’ve already put this article on both my Facebook, posted it on one of the many FemShep Facebook profiles out there and plugged it into my Pintrest. I encourage you to do the same.

SeanHarper

On April 20, 2012 at 5:12 am

I thought nothing could compromise my joy of this triology, I even disregarded my friends sayin this end is absolut bull, then I ended the game myself and up to the point where Shepard gets lifted up it all felt good, though I missed Aria and the mercenaries in the ground battle…, whatever it was horrifying to see this end unfolding!!!!!
What the hell, it does answer nothin but gives you headaches what the idea behind this was and how drunk or mad the developer must have been!
Sure I, “we” created the reapers and control them because we don’t want synthetic beings to overcome their Creators, so we kill, ohhh sorry preserve them by diggesting them through synthetic beings every 50000 years.
And we let the biological beings build a crucible that does only work with the citadel and with the being controlling the reapers, then when they really manage that we say ups our plan does not work anymore…am I to sober to understand this end or does it simply lack a reasonable not to far fetched not even necessarily philosophical end that most likely most finds would prefer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And like everyone else I want more of my decisions to affect the end! Let it be as simple as Repers once created to get some order in solar systems took that to serious and beagn to destroy everything chaotic but creators managed to develop a plan for a deathswitch that would kill or make them signicifantly weaker, which was found and developed by organic beings every 50000 years… wahtever but NOT this end they have now!

Calum

On April 29, 2012 at 11:32 am

Amazing article. Just amazing

Disenfranchised Gamer

On July 10, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Mass Effect is NOT art to begin with. ‘Artistic’ and ‘art’ are not the same thing. Mass Effect was made for one reason alone – to make money. They may have wanted to tell this excellent, mostly intelligent story as well, but this was always a consumer franchise first and foremost. The development of the third game especially has been hugely affected by EA’s quest to earn more money, and artistic integrity has taken a backseat at best. Therefore, it is flat-out DELUSIONAL of people to say that changing the ending to make it actually consistent with the rest of the series is somehow compromising the artistic value of the franchise. If anything, this constant lashing out from the mainstream press and refusal to acknowledge a single one of the legitimate arguments against the thematic contradictions in the ending – as well as the fact that Bioware simply lied through their teeth for months about the level of interactivity and resolution in the original climaxes – proves that they themselves have utterly, unequivocally failed to ‘get’ the artistic value of the series.

Gamefront continues to represent the true fans in an impartial, articulate and balanced manner, and for that I am very thankful.