'Mass Effect,' indeed: How one game changed the industry forever
Command Shepard pursues his destiny in popular sci-fi videogame series "Mass Effect 3."
April 5th, 2012
01:03 PM ET

'Mass Effect,' indeed: How one game changed the industry forever

Editor's Note: Colette Bennett is CNN Geek Out's main Otaku writer. She has written for several gaming blogs, including Kotaku, Destructoid, Gamasutra, GamesRadar, Touch Arcade and GameSugar. She also runs a personal blog on gaming, which can be found at blowinthegameslot.blogspot.com.

Today, the gaming industry was permanently changed by a single step, proving that fans, if they voice enough dissent, have the power to change the ending of a published game.

BioWare, a subsidiary of gaming powerhouse publisher EA and creator of the popular "Mass Effect" series, announced today that it will release an "Extended Cut" version of the final installment in the series, "Mass Effect 3." Normally, that wouldn't be news, as downloadable content for released games has become somewhat of an industry standard.

However, the voices of displeased fans are what drove this decision.

Shortly after its release, people who faithfully played every title in the series started to complain that the ending was a disappointment.  The heart of the dissent settled around the sentiment that it strayed from a key feature of the previous installments in the series: that they had challenged players to make carefully crafted decisions that seemed to closely affect the direction each person's game took. But in the end, those decisions were for naught.

A recent survey found that 58% of the fans who played "Mass Effect 3" hated the game's conclusion.

"It made me, the player, irrelevant," says devoted series fan Ian Hoopes.

"I played more than 100 hours of a video game series that went through ups and downs," Hoopes explains. "I developed huge attachments to characters, especially Garrus and Tali, and I valued their feelings and opinions, which I felt were truly developed. In my experience playing the game - over 100 hours spent on "Mass Effect 3" and five additional years of "Mass Effect" gaming - the ending tried to distill the entire journey into three rigid, ambiguous decisions that made me feel left out in the cold."

"I went from being Shepard (the game's central character) to just watching Shepard through a movie screen. Worst of all, according to the ending, my Shepard died. I know sacrifice was inevitable, but at the same time, I feel like my Shepard had so much to live for and he would have worked, would have tried to find a better answer," Hoopes said.

As other gamers finished playing, forums were abuzz. Facebook pages united fans with the desire to demand a better ending from BioWare. A petition (called "Retake Mass Effect") raised $80,310 and donated the proceeds to the gaming charity Child's Play. The founders of the Retake Mass Effect movement state on their website, "We would like to dispel the perception that we are angry or entitled. We simply wish to express our hope that there could be a different direction for a series we have all grown to love."

The game was released on March 6, which dates BioWare's announcement of new content at just under a month later.

BioWare co-founder and general manager Dr. Ray Muzyka issued a statement saying he hopes this new content "will give fans seeking further clarity to the ending of 'Mass Effect 3' deeper insights into how their personal journey concludes."

"Since launch, we have had time to listen to the feedback from our most passionate fans and we are responding," he said. "With the 'Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut' we think we have struck a good balance in delivering the answers players are looking for while maintaining the team's artistic vision for the end of this story arc in the 'Mass Effect' universe."

Their official blog post on the release states that the new content "offers extended scenes that provide additional context and deeper insight to the conclusion of Commander Shepard’s journey."

As a gamer, I respect BioWare's desire as a company to satisfy their devoted fans. I hope that the fans that were disappointed in the ending find something more here to make them feel that their time investment has not been wasted.

On the other hand, it's obvious that this marks the opening of a door into a new era for the gaming industry.

Fans have had say before on elements of games they didn't agree with ("Eve Online" and "Star Wars Galaxies" also changed partially due to fan dissent). However, the crucial difference is that those titles were MMOs, which are consistently changing beasts to begin with. "Mass Effect 3" was a released game with a decisive ending that most gamers hated. But was it simply rushed? Or was there more to why it didn't resonante with longtime fans?

"It's not really that the ending felt rushed," says Burton Durand, comic artist and devoted "Mass Effect" fan. "It felt like a completely different team of writers worked on it. It felt completely out of left field, and seemed to ignore many of 'Mass Effect's core themes."

"The game is never really about Shepard - it's about bringing people together to surmount an impossible enemy. But this ending made it about him. Or, specifically, his decision that is completely unassociated with any other decision or consequence previously presented in the 100+ hours that gamers have put into this universe."

By telling the world that the game did not satisfy them, gamers learned one very important lesson today: They can be more powerful than the people who are making the games they consume. Today, they succeeded.

What is to keep them from succeeding again in the future?

In the past, gamers consumed art as it was given to us. We are allowed to love it, feel nothing about it, even rail against it. But the moment a creator chooses to alter an artistic expression to suit the needs of others, something about the original artistic expression is compromised. It weakens.

In this case, BioWare clearly communicates that they care more about what we as consumers think than they do about the product they just released. And as a longtime gamer, I find that says something pretty significant about the art they create: They aren't so sure about it in the first place.

CNN spoke to "BioShock" creator Ken Levine on the topic recently, and he believed the petition to change "Mass Effect 3" was interesting and a bit strange.

“At the end of the day," he said, "is that going to be satisfying for the reader? That their game now ends the way they’ve asked for it to end? It is, by nature, somebody enforcing their creative will on you. That’s what being a viewer is. Games are a little different as you interact with them. That’s not what they’re really asking for. They’re not asking for an interaction change. You’re asking for a storytelling change.

“Part of the joy of experiencing art is surrendering yourself to it. Sometimes it is a good experience and sometimes it is not. But I don’t know if it works that way.”

soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Steve

    Have people not figured out that Shepard did not die? The whole end sequence was kinda of a dream of Shepard fighting indoctrination...it was great!!.

    Go back and play again...notice that Anderson and IM don't address each other....

    April 10, 2012 at 4:06 pm |
    • Seraphim0

      The indoctrination theory, really? Just direct people to look it up. I hope the theory is BS, personally, because it wasn't a running theme through any of the games and to make your entire ending of the series what the Idoc theory suggests is utterly ridiculous on a story level and rather amateur.

      April 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
      • Amit

        It should be ok, they been ootimispng me3 engine for ps3, and already done lot of work for me2 on ps3, so will have had plenty time to optimise engine further , bur unless they choose to develop it so both are held back slightly , there will always be minor differences due to differences in architectures and their respective strengths and weaknesses , and design of ue3 engine( unless they really heavily optimise engine)VN:F [1.9.17_1161](from 0 votes)

        July 3, 2012 at 3:12 am |
  2. Rich

    Nerd rage. There's nothing quite like it.

    April 8, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
  3. Tim

    I played ME 2&3 and completed both. I was just upset because one was only available on XBOX. Anyway I do agree with cryopaine. I did feel disappointed at the end of the game. There weren't really many choices to take. I just hope if they put th story in movie format they do a better job with the ending.

    April 6, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  4. Bob

    This is hardly a new thing. I'm looking at you Fallout 3 ending.

    April 6, 2012 at 11:59 am |
  5. Brent

    Thanks, jerk!!! I've been avoiding spoilers about the ending, and here you go spoiling it for me by telling me that Shepard dies at the end! Freaking idiot!!!! I hate you!!!

    April 6, 2012 at 10:42 am |
    • Nizaam

      "I'm commander Shepard, and this is my fotirave teaser on the citadel"Seriously though, I can't Wait for the final chapter in this epic trilogy!Lets hope they dont blow it by cheapening the Reaper threat.Hopefully they will not be defeated through martial might of the younger races alone.

      June 30, 2012 at 6:31 pm |
  6. Dan I

    Groan, another gaming article that is 100% wrong.

    Bioware is NOT changing the ending of Mass Effect 3. The ending(s) that exist are being left in fact and they are adding some storyline scenes to close out some of the other character's stories that were left hanging.

    The actual ending of the game is NOT changing. What we are going to get is something like those slide shows that play at the end of "Based on a true story" movies. Nothing more.

    April 6, 2012 at 10:30 am |
  7. T

    How about a spoiler alert? C'mon.

    April 6, 2012 at 10:13 am |
    • Sanjay

      Good for you, Jay! I'm glad you're fulfilling your highset dream!Hopefully one day soon, you and I will be working together. All the best of luck, although I'm certain you won't need it MichelGame Designer and Game WriterJedi Grandmaster

      July 1, 2012 at 7:45 am |
  8. Dan

    I dont care about the endings, the three games were all good, but please get sony to let ps3 players take part in N7 weekend operations!!!!

    April 6, 2012 at 9:16 am |
  9. Geoff

    "Worst of all, according to the ending, my Shepard died. I know sacrifice was inevitable, but at the same time, I feel like my Shepard had so much to live for and he would have worked, would have tried to find a better answer"...

    I think it's time for some of these gamers to go outside for a while.

    April 6, 2012 at 7:13 am |
  10. Jupman

    Trilogies always suck anyways

    April 6, 2012 at 2:41 am |
    • Thiago

      How's everything intnhe engine ???Its a poor analogy but I'll use it anyway.You can have best race car in the world ( the console) , but if ur driver ( developers ) dont know hoe to use it properly by using it'd strengths and avoiding it's weaknesses , then u won't get nest performance out of it. Every race car has different engines , different wheels, been tuned and adjusted so they will react differently on different kind of tracks etc, so needs treating differently by the driver.Similarly , you can have a great driver , but put him in a mediocre car against a good driver driving a great car and he can't win.Its a combination of driver and car needed ( engine and hardware ) .The ue3 engine is an old engine designed in old fashioned manner that's been updated to accommodate the ps3 s architecture which isn't traditional at all, so it doesn't work to it's strengths in how to do certain tasks etc, whereas it works ideally for the 360 s strengths and it's way of performing tasks. Biowarw have no doubt optimised their engine further still for ps3 , even optimising further than what was used in me2 on ps3, but it will always be doing things slightly differently than best suited for ps3 hardware at points , putting it at a disadvantage. It's like putting a race car with wheels designed for dry weather etc out on a wet track and then tying one of his hands behind his back or something, he's completely disadvantaged.VN:F [1.9.17_1161](from 0 votes)

      July 3, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  11. Aristocles

    So, by caving into the fans, Mass Effect 3 changed gaming?

    April 6, 2012 at 12:44 am |
    • Mark

      I played ME 1 and 2, beat them both and have my end game save file from ME 2 ready for ME3. However, when I look back at ME 1 and 2 I can't say that I actually enjoyed the games. They were more like a waste of time. I just couldn't get into the story and I thoght the gameplay was boring.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:33 am |
    • Vako

      only benefit In hanivg played the first one is that you get to import your character to mass effect 2.I too didn't play the first one. I just read the plot on the internet and picked up the second game. It was still an incredible gaming experience.

      July 1, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  12. TwoCents

    Better as a rental than a buy? Yeah if you don't mind skipping through the entire Mass Effect universe of over 40+ hours in each of the 3 games and are content with skimming through a fantastic work of art like it's an outdated People's magazine in the bathroom.

    I've been a faithful MA fan since the beginning and while I'm only about half way through the 3rd game I can guess how it's going to end by watching my internet lag with the thousands of angry nerds expressing their dicontent at the same time over BioWare's open forums.

    [Possible SPOIL Alert]
    To be honest, if the game were to end with Sheppard sacrifising himself to stop the Reaper cycle from continuing at the expense of the universe exploding and essentially starting over; it would be a good ending to me. However I do understand how someone who has been through the character developement of the entire crew could feel cheated that ultimately everything they did resulted in the same outcome as the person who rents the game, barely scratching the surface of it all, and gets the same ending.
    [End of Possible Spoiler Alert]

    I'm an artist myself and take pride in pouring my heart and soul into what I do, whether it be through paintings, graphic novels, or poetry. If someone were to read/see my work, throw it back in my face and say "Redo it." I would likely punch them in the face. So BioWare is kind of bending over for this one for the sake of the buyers (and lousy renters). I say life is full of dissapointments people, if a real reaper invasion were to happen in our universe we would probably all die anyway so why not sit back and enjoy the amazing ride and realize that an ending, no matter how you look at it, is an ending.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
    • derp

      Maybe you should actually finish the game and see how terrible the ending is (it's a lazy copying of the ending to Deus Ex) before weighing in.

      April 5, 2012 at 9:20 pm |
  13. Amalia

    Mass Effect games were always more of a rental than a buy.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:00 pm |
  14. bob

    There will totally be a fourth game. Shepard was being indoctrinated at the end. That's the only thing that makes sense. BioWare has good writing. There's no way that they made that crappy of an ending on purpose.

    April 5, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Amuura

      I think MW3 was treated haesrhr because terrorist attacks like No Russian and the bioterror attack on London (I almost threw up when I realized what was gonna happen) are more likely to happen than a race of interplanetary machines coming to harvest all life in the Milky Way, starting with Earth. The absurdity of the situation in ME3 cushions the blow a little. You could liken it to a plane getting shot down in real life, but even that is a rarity in our world.

      July 3, 2012 at 3:53 am |
  15. Larry

    from @bioware blog: "Are we going to change the ending of the game? No." So will this be the "ending" everyone wants? http://blog.bioware.com/2012/04/05/mass-effect-3-extended-cut/

    April 5, 2012 at 3:06 pm |
  16. cryofpaine

    "The game is never really about Shepard – it's about bringing people together to surmount an impossible enemy. But this ending made it about him. Or, specifically, his decision that is completely unassociated with any other decision or consequence previously presented in the 100+ hours that gamers have put into this universe."

    I disagree. Shepard is, up until the last few minutes, the protagonist of the story. It is Shepard's decisions that drive the story. The goal of the story might be to unite the galaxy against the reapers, but it is still Shepard's story.

    Until the ending. The ending betrays the player, by turning Shepard from protagonist into plot device. It is no longer Shepard's decision to end the reapers, it is the star-child's. It is not Shepard's decision on how to end the reapers, it is the star-child's. The star-child, a character introduced, with no foreshadowing, in the last minutes of a game that has spanned over a hundred hours across all 3 games, is the one that decides what "choices" you have, in much the way that Jigsaw decides what "choices" his victims have in the Saw franchise. If I offer you the choice of having your arm cut off, your leg cut off, or your spine broken, is that still your choice? Shepard is simply the vessel by which the star-child executes his decision.

    No amount of expansion of the current ending will change that. The ending broke every fundamental rule of good literature. http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/the-dos-and-donts-of-novel-endings Every plot hole, every contrivance, everything wrong with the ending can be pointed back at this. The only way to fix the bad writing is to rewrite it.

    Mass Effect is unique, possibly even a singular experience in all of human history. The line between audience and artist is blurred, as we are given a great deal of control in the direction of the story. We become a blend of audience, actor, and artist. That unique combination causes players to become invested in the story in a way that few things before have. Add to that brilliant storytelling that created characters that felt real, and emotionally engaging and thought provoking situations that challenged your own core beliefs, and you have an experience that draws the player into the world they've created like nothing before has. It is why so many of us are so passionate about it, and it is why this ending, and this announcement, is such an insult. I've been a loyal BioWare fan for 10 years. I've always trusted them implicitly to, even at their worst, provide an entertaining and enjoyable experience with a smart story. I've lost that trust, and I'm mourning that loss, that relationship.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
  17. MogKnight

    I would actually argue if the fans have truly won in their endeavors to change the ending. It's still going to be awhile before we see the changes but the core intent of the ending will undoubtedly stay the same.

    It will be interesting to see what will happen, regardless.

    April 5, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Sueli

      Shepard is not a super hero like Cole, I'll give you that. But most soldiers can jump and climb. I just felt the ccreahtar's range of movement is limited. He could have been faster and more agile. Also his melee reach is like zero. I guess I keep trying to play him like Niko, Ezio, Kratos or Cole, which I shouldn't. I still think they could've given him a bayonet or something for when enemies get too close.

      September 15, 2012 at 2:29 am |