Monday, July 18, 2011

Mass Effect 3 Is Going To Suck pt. 5: Have You Sold Your Soul To The EA Devil?

At long last, we have come down to it. The final obstacle that stands in the way of Mass Effect 3’s success. Yes, I am nearly done with this massive rant. You will soon be able to go back to your porn. And so will I! Today we discuss the one aspect that that has the individual power to both enhance and destroy. Our parents can forge us into great people, or they can throw our development completely out of whack and destroy our futures. This is also true of business. The parent company will always be just like a parent to their child. Such is the way for EA and Bioware.

Remember way back when I said that Bioware was the license holder for Mass Effect. Well that’s not entirely accurate. Mass Effect was at one time the sole property of Bioware, but that was only in ME1. EA bought Bioware, and now, EA pulls their strings, which means that they have the final say in what makes it into the game, not Bioware. Now B-Ware says very specifically that EA does not meddle in their games and stays out of their business. While that may be true the fact is that EA has the final say in what gets put in and what gets removed from ME3, so if EA wants multiplayer in ME3, its going in, whether B-Ware likes it or not. Now the Docs (Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuck, the founders of Bioware) may argue that if they put multiplayer in ME3, they may have to remove certain elements of the RPG play, canonize certain choices, and streamline the gameplay further. What EA will say is, “Do it. We need that multiplayer in order to expand or consumer base and increase profits.” PS: Multiplayer is heavily rumored to be included in ME3. If this is true, it is very possible that something is going to be sacrificed to fit it on the disk.

EA has a bad reputation of buying smaller developers, taking their games, streamlining them for wider audiences and ripping out the soul of the original developers’ visions and obliterating the quality. EA swears this isn’t the way they operate anymore, but they also said at this year’s E3 that they don’t resort to petty celebrity endorsements 5 minutes prior to bringing out a handful of football stars to play the new Madden. Obviously these guys don’t put much thought into their own words.

EA is a corporation that needs to make money. They want their games to appeal to the widest possible audience and they are not afraid to piss on the loyal fans in order to appeal to the mainstream market. Don’t believe me? Look at ME2 compared to ME1. It’s true that ME2 was an overall better experience than ME1 , but can you honestly deny that ME2 wasn’t overly streamlined? Didn’t it feel like ME2 lost that special spark that ME1 had? Okay, maybe you’re not convinced. Maybe I’m alone in feeling that ME2 lost something along the road. Maybe nostalgia is influencing my opinion. How about Dragon Age Origins compared to Dragon Age 2? I liked Dragon Age 2, but I can recognize that the game felt like it was made in a focus group. EA will throw out the big choices, the diverging gameplay, the well written story and everything else that make Mass Effect Mass Effect if it means they can secure a wider audience. DA2 was a commercial disappointment. ME3 needs to deliver the goods. If they don’t, EA will need to do what is financially appropriate. You see EA isn’t interested in the art of the game. They’re interested in the profit it can produce. Bioware thought that by joining EA they would have enough money to see their games become the complete masterpieces they deserve to be, so long as they make money. When art is dictated by money, often times, you end up with neither.

One thing that is also very interesting to me is how many long time Bioware employees have quit since they were bought by EA. Drew Karpyshyn Lead Writer of KOTOR and ME1, two of Bioware’s best written games, quit the company shortly after the EA buyout. He still is outsourced for writing assistance on SWTOR, but his involvement, from what I understand, is not official. Half of the writing staff of ME2 quit before the game was released (Karpyshyn, Chris L’Etoile, Brian Kindregan, and Luke Kristjanson was moved to the DA2 team). Lead Gameplay Designer for the Mass Effect series, Christina Norman recently quit as well. The Dragon Age Origins Project Director (I believe it was Brent Knowles, but I don’t quite remember) left Bioware because he claimed that under EA, Bioware is no longer making games he finds appealing. I’ve heard rumors that his departure is due to the fact that EA had gutted his baby, DAO and made it into DA2. Why are all of these fine and talented employees, each of which saying at one time that Bioware is one of the best places to work in the gaming industry, suddenly jumping ship? Switching gears real quickly, you remember that whole debacle about the reviews and Metacritic, right? Bioware employees were writing positive reviews for DA2 and negative reviews for its chief rival (and overall better reviewed) The Witcher 2. EA even demanded that Metacritic remove some of the negative reviews for DA2. Yeah, that was a PR dream come true, just not EA’s. Maybe Activison’s.

EA is a shitty company to be associated with, and according to one anonymous employee’s review on, “EA is destroying what was once a good company.” I cannot confirm or deny how legitimate this review is, but since I don’t have a whole lot of scruples when it comes to being a writer (just look at Grace Comes Home) and I’m going nuts on an EA rant, so I’m adding it anyway. I do think that EA has way more control than Bioware will ever admit to. Why would they? Can you imagine what would happen if Dr. Ray came out and said, “Well yeah, Mass Effect 3 really is designed by John Riccitiello. He only cares about making money, so having him design ME3 will obviously increase our profits.” Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s a smart marketing maneuver considering the very negative view people have for EA. I will say it right now: EA’s involvement is potentially Mass Effect’s biggest enemy. If ME3 fails to deliver the goods, I guarantee that it is due to EA and their mainstream mindset. But that could be cynicism again.

To recap a bit, I discussed that Bioware has a few problems that may stand in the way of Mass Effect 3’s success. Mass Effect 2 was well written, but it was not written like a second act should be, and Mass Effect 3 could very well not be written like a third act, which would be disappointing. Bioware’s constant streamlining and heavy emphasis on shooter game play could lead to the core fan base to become alienated, and the newer audience that Bioware and EA are trying to secure will still be put off by all of the boring talking and side quests. Bioware has put a larger focus on pleasing consumer bases that generally dislike their product, leaving the consumer bases that do like their product feeling a cold. Bioware will out of necessity be leaving characters who some players feel are principle cast members out of the cast of ME3 due to budget and technical limitations, thereby potentially ruining the story experience for many players. EA’s involvement could cause some problems, being that their sole focus is profit. Bioware built up their games to compete with the likes of EA by doing nothing more than creating a quality product and maintaining a solid and loyal consumer base. Since EA and Bioware merged, so far EA seems to have done more harm than good.

All of these factors could in fact cause real problems for ME3’s success. Let’s say for the sake of argument, that ME3 story disappoints the wider audience. It’s filled with plot holes, inconsistencies, ass-pulls, and baffling character derailments and has an ending like The Matrix Revolutions. The gamers who play Mass Effect for the story all walk away with negative opinions. The game is further streamlined to be a Gears of War clone, so the RPG fans walk away with a negative opinion, but the game features enough RPG elements and conversations to cause the shooter boys to walk away with a negative opinion as well. Most of the characters and plots unfold in a way that screams it was written in an attempt to please the hater crowd, leaving the fans with a negative opinion and the haters (shockingly) still hate it. Fans who would be pleased with just seeing their favorite characters back are disappointed with their lack of screen time and relevance and also have a negative opinion. EA demands multiplayer, so many of the core fan base do not even pick the game up. Those who do buy the game feel EA is responsible for all of its problems and its fall from grace. The negative opinions catch up to Bioware and ME3 has some of the worst reviews a Bioware game has ever had. New players who were interested no longer are, and sales are in general, very disappointing. EA needs to protect its corporate ass and begins laying off Bioware employees, starting with the writing staff (most big companies don’t get why you need so many professional writers to work on a video game. That can be outsourced to freelancers for much cheaper). Future Bioware releases sell poorly due to the negative stigma Bioware and EA have amassed over the colossal failures of the seemingly slam dunk Mass Effect and Dragon Age series’, causing SWTOR to also sell below expectations. The monumental cost of the MMORPG causes EA to shut Bioware down completely and realize that buying a niche studio and attempting to portray them as a AAA studio was not the smartest business strategy. They soon buy up another developer, downsize and cut the quality in half, and the cycle begins again. The cycle cannot be broken!!!!

Obviously I just presented literally the worst case scenario. I sincerely doubt it will come to that, but the possibility remains. And if you believe in the theory of unrealized realities and the multiverse, it has already happened somewhere. Now, I may have said this whole time that Mass Effect 3 will suck. That’s not necessarily true. In fact, Mass Effect 3 will probably be the best game in the series, be a monumental commercial success, and spawn thousands more spin offs and maybe ten or fifteen years from now, get a remake. I do not have complete faith in Bioware and certainly not in EA (they have some bridges to mend) but I remain cautiously optimistic. I have never fully hated a Bioware game. I could even see merit in DA2, which in retrospect, was a bit of a letdown. The only thing that really causes me to be concerned is just how important ME3 is to Bioware and EA. If ME3 is a failure, I cannot imagine that EA will have Bioware up and running for long. Take a look at EA Louse, and EA Spouse. It could provide many of you guys with further insight to how EA operates. The other thing that causes me to think ME3 will fail is cynicism. Ignorant, enlightened cynicism. Oh and to anyone who posts “Trust Bioware” in the comments section, don’t bother. I’ll delete them because you’re stupid. Blind faith is the quickest path to disappointment. To quote a great man, “I like to expect the worst. There’s a chance I’ll be pleasantly surprised.”


Voidhand said...
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Voidhand said...

I agree with pretty much everything you've said. It really breaks my fucking heart that a game like Mass Effect could have been THE RPG of my young adult hood. Something to remember fondly over all the piles of garbage like Halo and COD. BUT NO EA had to come by and RAPE Bioware. Now I'll never have a game to fondly remember like people who talk about Baldur's gate, etc. *sigh* Anyway thanks for going over whats coming out, in-fact I'll just go play some Baldur's gate from the start (never actually played but heard quite alot about it) Lucky bastards who know what true RPG's are!

Ryan said...

It's nice to have someone agreeing with on this. Thanks for the comment! Let me play devil's advocate for a quick second. It is still possible that Mass Effect 3 could turn out be one of the best RPG's around. They have made some intriguing promises about the new stat progression and weapon customization.

If the exploration factor is worthwhile and the story is excellent, I see no reason why it won't be one of the best RPGs ever, even with the combat devolving into a lazy Gears of War clone.

I'm still very skeptical, even more so now that multiplayer has been announced. We'll see what happens, but for now it seems like a smart move is to expect the worst.

V said...

I have to say that I agree with you on the aspect of multiplayer being added into ME3. Casey Hudson assured us that it's strictly optional and you can still get the best play-through without it, but something doesn't feel right. I played the multiplayer for Dead Space 2 and it was utter crap... mainly because the game wasn't meant to be played as a multiplayer platform.

When I look at Mass Effect, I see a lot of things that tie well together. Frankly, I'm not too upset about what they did with the characters as you as, but I respect how you feel about it. And it makes sense. What I'm upset about it Bioware and their lack of tact when it comes to sticking to their guns. I mean to say that throwing multiplayer in seems like a big cop-out rather than an actual innovation. You're supposed to hold specific locations across the galaxy to help Shepard in the fight against the Reapers, but that's it. I'm curious about it, but I'm not overly impressed with the concept.

The gameplay does seem to be devolving into something reminiscent of Gears of War, but I'll love it just the same. I've been waiting to finish the story, but I hope they don't give me some lame solution to defeating the Reapers.

Ryan said...

Thanks for the comment V. Naturally, multiplayer in Mass Effect wouldn't feel right. The entire concept of the ME series revolves around the player making choices, interacting with characters, and how those choices and interactions impact the story. The multiplayer takes that away, which is a betrayal of concept.

In regards to what you said about Bioware's lack of tact, I couldn't agree more. I remember back before multiplayer was announced and interviewers asked about the multiplayer rumors. Bioware would always respond by saying something like, "We at Edmonton have not yet discovered a way to include multiplayer without it taking away from the single player campaign, so we are not currently working on multiplayer at this time." That is essentially confirming that there is no multiplayer, until it was announced and they said that Edmonton wasn't working on it, but Montreal was. The Bioware PR campaign seems to be, lie with the truth. And I love the line about how the fans demanded multiplayer, even though we didn't. A small minority did, sure, but most people did not. The BSN had tons of threads titled "Will there be Multiplayer in ME3?" But that was soon followed up by the poster saying, "God I hope not." I guess Bioware only hears what they want to hear when listening to fans.

Had-to-say said...

Mass Effect 2 is critically heralded as one of the best games this generation, yet its sales are just average. Is there something wrong with this picture? I have a hard time as a long time game player when I play games that I feel are of less quality than Mass Effect, yet they have sales three times as much as Mass Effect.

Should Bioware want to make more money? Yes they should. Should they put the pursuit of money over artistic vision? No. I think they are trying to have both critical success and commercial success. The shift in focus from a core RPG experience has lots of fans feeling betrayed. Truth is MP should enhance the RPG experience while at the same time catering to the shooter crowd. This seems like a win-win situation.

The real issue here is as developer would you rather have critical success or commercial success? I think this is Bioware and EA attempting to have both. 3 million sales is so sad for a game that is clearly head and shoulders over everything else in the industry.

Had-to-say said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Interesting series of articles! I posted something similar in my own blog (The Atomic Hate Bomb though you went into far, far more detail than I did.

Like you, I wasn't pleased with ME2, but I was fully on-board for ME3. I preordered the Collector's Edition as soon it was available. But lately, every single bit of information that was revealed about the game made me more and more disinterested in it as a whole, to the point where I cancelled my preorder a few months ago.

The whole game has the stench of executive meddling all over it, from the multiplayer component shoehorned in to the ridiculous amount of DLC being put out. I can't see it ending well.

What really irked me, however, was the leaked script. Some of the things in there, well, words are hard to come by. The phrase "something out of fan fiction" comes to mind. If you haven't read any of it (and haven't learned about the two new teammates that were recently revealed in screenshots from the art book), then I highly suggest you do not do so, as it may lower your opinion of the game even more.

Ryan said...

Thanks for the comments Redcoat and Had-to-Say. Redcoat, I left you a comment on your blog. Had-to-Say, you double posted so I removed one of your comments so it didn't clutter this area. I hope that's okay.

Darth Asriel said...

You basically have summed up all of my fears about ME3. Bioware dumped the RPG part of the game, added an unwanted and unneeded multiplayer, and has turned a great franchise into a COD clone. Even the advertising is all shooter, explosions, and now exploding heads! And worst is when Bioware themselves say this is the perfect jumping on point of the series!!!

So you're telling me I've wasted my time and money supporting you so you could get here? No one with a brain reads Return of the King before they read the other 2 books. EA and BW have shown no respect or care for the people who made this series successful.

Ryan said...

Thanks for the comment Darth Asriel. Allow me to play devil's advocate here. Bioware has been talking a lot about their new RPG features like weapon customization and the new stat progression system (which I think looks quite impressive). Hopefully, these additions enhance the RPG aspects delivering a true RPG/TPS experience, rather than just a dumbed down shooter mixed with a dumbed down RPG.

As far as them saying that Mass Effect 3 is the perfect jumping on point in the series, that's just Marketing speak. I don't pay attention to that at all. They said Mass Effect 2 was a great jumping on point too, which is ludicrous considering the Reapers, the Protheans, Spectres, the Citadel, nearly all of the main characters from ME1 and the Keepers were casually mentioned and offered zero explanation to new players as to what they are and why they are important. From what I understand, most of those plot elements have great importance in ME3. I haven't read the leaks so I don't know for sure.

But I can't defend multiplayer in anyway, nor can I say that Bioware has been very respectful to their core fanbase. They have lied and mislead their fans an awful lot in recent years. It's kind of funny in a way. If Bioware says it isn't happening, chances are, it's happening.

Ryan said...

To Luna24, the next time you choose to leave a comment, please leave one that is not disparaging to my readers. We all have opinions and we are free to disagree with each other, but that does not mean we should be unreasonable and resort to petty insults. If you would like to insult me, whatever, but I will not tolerate disrespectful remarks targeted at my readers. Thank you.