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 glassdoor.com, “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.”