Tales of the Rampant Coyote

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Didn’t Like Ending, Please Change.

Posted by Rampant Coyote on March 20, 2012

There’s a lot of sound and fury around the ending of Mass Effect 3 right now. I haven’t played it yet, and I probably won’t be playing it for a while, so I’m simply commenting on secondhand information for part of this. And I’m not worrying so much about keeping myself spoiler-free (I’ll also warn you that these links may contain spoilers.) From what I can tell, the complaints seem to revolve around three issues: 1) The player’s choices in the game seem to have very little effect on its conclusion, 2) It’s very hard/tedious to get the “best” ending unless you play multiplayer, and 3) even the “best” ending is very unsatisfying and a downer for the entire series.

Okay.  You know what? I hated the ending of Fallout 3. It’s especially stupid when you have a super-orc or robot companion that should offer an easy alternative to a ‘terrible decision’ you are supposed to make. I guess there’s some DLC for it that kinda retcons it a little bit, but after completing the game and getting that ending I simply felt like I was “done” and had no more interest in playing further (or buying DLC). I had a blast playing up until that point. But then I voted with my wallet.

But for ME3, gamers are campaigning to get Bioware to change the ending – and Bioware has stated that it is considering doing so. Maybe in some premium DLC that you can buy to get the ending of your choice. Okay, that latter one strikes me as cynical (especially if I theorize that this might have been their plan all along – which may be a sideways interpretation of the quote at the second link above that they intended the endings to “get players talking.” ).

But I have to wonder. Is this just a vocal minority here? Or are gamers getting to the point where they feel their $60 payment entitles them to dictate the terms of a $60 million game? I mean, I do feel entitled to a few things when I buy a game. Like, that it will actually run on my machine and be (relatively) bug-free.  I’ve only returned games a couple of times in my life, and both were for technical reasons (although Trespasser, despite running at only 2 frames per second on my relatively decent machine in a certain level, was quite simply so horrible – and buggy – that the unplayable frame rate was really more of an excuse that a motivating reason).

Within those constraints, I pretty much assume that as a retail-level customer, I get what I get. If it sucks, I will perhaps be reluctant to patronize the publisher / developer in the future. Maybe it’s just me, but I remember Karateka and Loom being far too short, Twilight: 2000 crashing 100% of the time before the final section of the game (on two different machines and two completely different play-throughs), and several games with completely lame, tacked-on endings. I can’t say I was fine with these problems, but while in some cases I felt like I’d gotten less value for my money than I’d expected, it wasn’t a big deal.

These sorts of things do affect my future purchase decisions, but I certainly don’t take it personally. I might offer suggestions (especially if I was included in a pre-release test) for improving the game or future games, but I certainly didn’t feel like I should start some kind of online petition to make demands of the developer. That’s just… weird.

As a developer, there’s a little bit of a fine line. On the one hand, you do have a financial and social motivation to Give The Players What They Want. So I can kinda understand Bioware saying, “Uh, hey, we’d really like to keep our jobs ‘n stuff, so if we miscalculated this badly and making new endings would make you happy, then we’re all for it.”

But on the other hand, there’s an artistic / creative desire that’s equally strong to do something different that doesn’t cater to the lowest common denominator and formulaic expectations. Oh, wait, that’s what the indies do. Sometimes. But … uh, sidestepping that particular tangent … I can understand the talented crew at Bioware really wanting to break the mold a little bit, and tell stories that have a bit more meat and meaning to them.

The problem in this particular instance – going beyond the “gamer sense of entitlement” issue – is the core issue that game designers are shared storytellers with the player. This is not a linear, writer-is-in-control storytelling medium. In the past, the designers did a pretty good job of letting player choice influence the plot and certain events – setting expectations – which made a clamping down on ending options to “bad” vs “worse” naturally pretty jarring.

So I guess that while I can understand the sentiment, I don’t understand the reaction. Again, I haven’t been really thrilled by any Bioware game since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, so I’m not exactly an expert here.

I’m just kinda curious. Is the sense of gamer entitlement really getting out of control? Or did Bioware really screw up really bad? Or is this really just a tiny vocal minority getting an inordinate amount of press for acting up?


Filed Under: Biz, Geek Life, Mainstream Games - Comments: 19 Comments to Read

  • Zerbin said,

    Little from column A, little from column B….

  • Mark said,

    Histrionic anti-fans are a fact of life, but in the case of Mass Effect 3, they’ve got a point: more than merely disliking the ending, by to whatever degree there can be said to be objectivity in storytelling, it’s a stinker – which is especially jarring considering that before the last five minutes it had a strong claim to being Bioware’s finest work. The best data available (which, admittedly, isn’t that good) says that maybe 90% of the people who reached the end fall somewhere south of “dislike” – but all of this disapproval is focused with laser-like intensity on the way the story was resolved.

    There is the matter of artistic vision, but with commercial art, the creator and the audience enter into a relationship of trust, and when the creator screws the pooch this badly (without going into spoiler territory, I will reiterate that yes, it really is that bad; I’d put it as one of the least satisfying endings in the last twenty years of pop culture, and only because I don’t remember significantly farther back than that), that trust is damaged. If they don’t take steps to repair that trust, then it’ll hurt them when they see the low attach rate on their next DLC pack, or even worse, in their next release.

    Interactivity exacerbates the situation but it’s not at the core of it; it just makes people care more. And that’s what it’s important not to overlook about this: it’s not just a matter of whiners (though there are always whiners); people built up a huge emotional attachment to Mass Effect, and when those emotions weren’t released at the end, they went nuclear instead.

  • Dave Toulouse said,

    “Is the sense of gamer entitlement really getting out of control? Or did Bioware really screw up really bad? Or is this really just a tiny vocal minority getting an inordinate amount of press for acting up?”

    I’ve been trying to blog about this but all I end up with are more questions.

    I played ME3 and kinda like the ending. Probably for the very same reasons some didn’t like it. My first thought when seeing the ending was “it’s obvious some kind of DLC following that is coming” so as you can see if they really didn’t plan for a “post-ending DLC” then I’m also left with a bit too much holes than I’d like. Still not enough for me to rage about it though.

    The more I dig the more I think Casey Hudson (executive producer) should have kept a bit more quiet. There’s this infamous quote where he said “It’s not even in any way like the traditional game endings, where you can say how many endings there are or whether you got ending A, B, or C” (source: http://www.oxm.co.uk/37677/mass-effect-3-citadel-is-bigger-than-ever-endings-will-be-more-sophisticated/).

    Even for someone like me who enjoyed the ending I must say that the “A, B or C” thing is something he shouldn’t have said because… well… Even I must admit it’s pretty much “A, B or C right in your face”… Devs should not say too much as we all know plans always keep changing. But once it gets out there people will do anything with your own words.

    One thing they got right is when I read the “lots of speculation from everyone” on the bottom of the page on which lead writer Mac Walters wrote notes for the ending (source from the Final Hours of Mass Effect 3 from Geoff Keighley). It did bring a lot of speculation so part of this was intended that way. Maybe just not the “we want a new ending part”. The same app (final hours of ME3) also shows that they indeed struggle with the ending and kinda had to change their plan so I’m assuming there was a lot of pressure to release the game and that maybe they miscalculated some moves.

    All we know so far is that there will be indeed some kind of DLCs coming. We just don’t know what it will be about and they keep teasing about it. Maybe it is the “missing” piece. Maybe not.

    I still don’t feel sorry about anyone feeling cheated by the ending but I do get where this feeling comes from. Players became so involved in the game (by making thousand of choices, initiating romance, etc.) that just knowing that “this is it” you’re going to disappoint some of them no matter what the ending is.

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    … crap, this is gonna get too long for a comment. Okay, taking it to my blog. 🙂


  • Eldiran said,

    “I’m just kinda curious. Is the sense of gamer entitlement really getting out of control? Or did Bioware really screw up really bad?”

    As far as I can tell, both. Some gamers are demanding change with such vitriol (such as literally making a federal case about it) that it makes it hard to agree with them.

    However, from evertyhing I’ve read, the ending looks really crappy. It’s the kind of foisted ending twist that negates previous content without even making sense.

    So on the one hand, I agree that it was poorly done. And I dislike the implication that an author’s writing and intent is sacred, and shouldn’t be changed — there is such a thing as poor writing. This is poor writing.

    On the other hand, purchasable retcon DLC really stinks of excessive monetization, and it kind of sets a bad precedent to let the fans making death threats have their way.

    In the end I’m now sure what Bioware ought to do (besides hire better writers, or work on a better schedule so that writers can do a better job).

  • Felix Pleșoianu said,

    I don’t understand how fans could be accused of entitlement issues in this case. If a book or a movie has a crap ending, what happens?

    It gets poor reviews, that’s what happens. Reviews that may even hurt its sales.

    But if a game has a crap ending, suddenly, “it’s their game, they can end it any way the want”? I don’t buy that. It smells of double standards, and double standards are evil. Unless it’s that brand of postmodernism that dispenses with standards entirely and claims there is no good or bad art, in which case it’s just stupid.

    Nice of them to fix the ending on request. It’s expensive, but an editor should have caught it beforehand anyway. Unless it was the result of a rush job, which is all too plausible unfortunately.

    Either way, the fan reaction was perfectly normal.

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    @felix – I guess the ‘entitlement’ comes from: if a book has a crap ending, it gets shit reviews. People don’t (usually) demand that the author rewrite the end of the book and mail it to them free.

  • Dhruin said,

    I don’t *get* it. If they change the ending, it’s not like these people didn’t already experience the crappy ending. If they patched it away, I’d always feel the original ending was the “real” ending.

  • WhineAboutGames said,

    @dhruin: But what makes that the “real” ending, or even the “original” ending, compared to say, the ending they had planned but didn’t ship? (As ISTR reading that they stated that at one point they were going to AT LEAST get into a lot more detail about the changes to the universe and what it meant for everyone, before deciding “no, we don’t need to explain, let’s leave it hanging”.)

    Which is the “original” ending for KOTOR II, the one that shipped or the one that they planned to write and didn’t, which fans have been trying to piece back together ever since? (Did that ever get finished?)

    In general, in a case of multiple endings, people tend to believe that the most personally satisfying outcome is the ‘real’ ending. That doesn’t always mean the happiest ending, it usually means whatever they think fits best with the plot and themes that were developed earlier.

  • Moon Monster said,

    Huh, I didn’t get the feeling that ‘this is pending DLC’ from my ending. Mine seemed very, very final.

    I think everyone would be a lot less whiny if they got a dragon-age style slideshow after the cinematics. I don’t agree that it would fit or would even be a particularly good idea, but I bet it would quiet people down.

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    Well, without having played the game in question, I can’t comment too much.

    I will say that I didn’t find the main quest/story in ME2 to be particularly good, and I also thought the final battle and ending were poor. (I liked a lot of the side missions/crew missions though)

    Generally though, it seems like these sorts of protests tend to be vocal minorities, and even if they’re right (that it is that bad), I’d find it pretty strange if the consequence of this would be “alternate ending DLC”.

  • LateWhiteRabbit said,

    I think Mass Effect 3 is rather a unique case, for a few reasons:

    1) It has often been described as one of the best new science fiction universes to come along in decades, so a lot of people got VERY invested in it.

    2) That same universe spun out numerous best-selling novels, and Mass Effect 3 was set to wrap the entire expanded universe up.

    3) Mass Effect 3’s ending isn’t the ending of a single game – it is the ending of THREE games, and again, an entire story-telling universe.

    4) Due to all the choices in the series, everyone becomes very attached to “their” Shepard. Vast swaths of the 3rd game can be different depending on who died in 1 or 2 or what the player did. Most people had YEARS invested in a single character built solely off their choices. No final choice is going to be able to match that kind of expectation.


    I’ll admit that on first impression, I didn’t care much for the ending. I felt a little sour about it. But the longer I thought about the ending, the more I liked it.

    Basically, there is NO “happy ending”. Everything CANNOT come out right and the final set of choices is very “Faustian” in nature. It is almost beautiful. Shepard is alone, almost dead, with all the races of the galaxy fighting around her(or him) for their very survival and that of Earth’s. You can see the battle raging as you stand at the nexus of decision.

    And this is the part that I think is frustrating a lot of people – this is the point when the player realizes their Shepard has LIED to the galaxy. Inadvertently, maybe, but it becomes crystal clear Shepard cannot keep the promises made. There is no way to save everyone.

    The choices are also seemingly “reversed” in tone. The Paragon option doesn’t seem very good, the Renegade option doesn’t seem very bad. The neutral choice seems most extreme of all. And every one of the choices is horrifying in its implications.

    And of course a lot of players are bound not to like the realization that WHATEVER they do, their Shepard, the one they have built up in personality and skill for years, is not coming out of this alive.

    But the more I dwell on it, the more beautiful and poetic I find the whole ending. My personal ending for my Shepard, a paragon I’ve carried over since the first Mass Effect game, was the “green” ending. My Shepard didn’t save her cycle. She destroyed the Mass Effect gates. She violated the rights of nearly every being in the galaxy, but she brought peace, and saved every cycle to ever come in the future. I was satisfied.

    And personally, I’m loving the “Indoctrination Theory” put forward here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynYgr1rqEec&list=UUlCELfvFjb4ufKEU7Y_xXJA&index=5&feature=plcp

    Everything seems to fit with that theory and it would make another DLC ending REAL EASY to explain, without even over-writing the original ending.


  • PsySal said,

    You know what, I think it’s really an interesting thing that BioWare is considering changing the ending. It’s interesting that it’s even an *option*.

    The truth is you look at something very close up and you think you are doing the right thing, but you get some feedback you weren’t expecting and maybe you realized you should have done things a bit differently. Sometimes it’s the big things you don’t see so clearly in game dev.

    I had a really similar experience with The Real Texas. Basically one fo the first players to playtest said the ending was a letdown. He explained why. He was right, I changed it, and I was happy to change it. The ending didn’t do justice to the rest of the game, or to what the player had invested.

    So I say, if BioWare “caves” to the players intention, it’s just one more reason why games are a unique medium.

  • slenkar said,

    The customer is always right?

  • Hanako Games on Endings… said,

    […] Commentsslenkar on Didn’t Like Ending, Please Change.PsySal on Didn’t Like Ending, Please Change.Bad Sector on How To Ruin the First Fifteen […]

  • Xenovore said,


    Quote: “So I say, if BioWare “caves” to the players intention, it’s just one more reason why games are a unique medium.”

    I was just thinking this. There are the inevitable comparisons to bad book or movie endings, but books and movies are fairly immutable. Only in a video game would this be possible (or expected).

  • arglactable said,

    I think it’s both a matter gamer entitlement and the vocal minority having absolutely no sense of perspective. The pretentiously named Retake Mass Effect 3 page on facebook has 50,000 likes right now. The game had around 900,000 confirmed sales on day one. Not to imply that that’s an entirely insignificant number, but when these same people, of varying degrees of obnoxiousness, leave comments on pretty much every post relating to this with the assumption that pretty much every fan agrees with them and everyone else is a moron or likes EA’s “dick in their mouth…” I have to think that the industry as a whole would be better served if Bioware told them to piss off. It’s simply ridiculous how much effort these people have invested into complaining ad nauseum about the last ten minutes of a game that they (and most other fans of the series) loved for the 30 or so hours leading up to the inevitable conclusion. Frankly, I don’t care who liked it or didn’t. This reaction is moronic regardless.

    When you get down to it, there is no easy way to wrap up a series of this scale. No way to satisfy everyone. And these weak arguments, convoluted indoctrination theories, and incessant mention of plot-holes with few specifics really look like these fans over-compensating for their own unrealistic expectations of how it should end. I don’t think it looks good for the growth of video games as a story telling medium when people are actually suggesting a nice little SLIDE SHOW to tell you how your choices (those being the only ones people expect to matter in a game universe) turned out. Or that you should get a different cinematic at the end based on a bunch of arbitrary choices that realistically should have very little impact. People want a story, but at the same time they expect all of these dated, “gamey” constructs at the same time.

  • True to Design: What I’m Reading « Managing the Game said,

    […] Didn’t Like Ending, Please Change: http://rampantgames.com/blog/?p=3411 […]

  • Robyrt said,

    Yes, there is fan entitlement, but it’s also that the Mass Effect 3 ending is truly bad. It railroads the player into doing the exact opposite of what they’ve spent the last 20 hours doing, i.e. saving the galaxy. It reneges on the “Your choices matter” main selling point of the trilogy, which is especially jarring when the rest of the game pays meticulous attention to your choices, and is very cleverly set up so that you feel like you’re making big, impactful decisions that will carry forward to the final scene. It provides no sense of closure, introduces several plot holes which just one or two lines of extra dialogue would have explained, and completely ignores the progress meter you’ve been building for the entire single-player game and 8 hours of multiplayer.

    The reason a slide show sounds so appealing is because that’s how a lot of games salvage an otherwise bad ending. Fallout 3, for instance, has a little voice-over where it shows how your actions affected the world, despite your pointless mandatory death in the disappointing ending.