Confirmation Bias, Video Games, Art, and Interactivity
Mass Effect 3 was released two weeks ago today (Tuesday) and there have been a lot of little swirling dynamics when it comes to the game, consumer response, corporate response to the consumer response, and so on. (Now, I can’t talk about the game and some of the problems that folks have with it without touching on spoilers. I will try to make these spoilers be as broad and non-specific as possible but if you want to enter the game completely spoiler-free, you should definitely not go past the fold.)
I’ll share my experience first because I suspect that that is the best way to explain the emotions behind many of the dynamics. (I should also point out that I will touch on some points that the Founder of our Feast discussed at his Forbes site with far more pith.)
I bought Mass Effect (the first one) when it first came out and was immediately entranced by it. It took all of the stuff that I loved about previous Bioware games (such as Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, and Jade Empire) and brought it to the XBox 360. Sure, it had more “shooty” stuff than KotOR or Jade Empire (both of which used the Odyssey Engine which worked more like a d20 system as opposed to the Unreal Engine 3 that ME used) but they made it work and it *FELT* like an updated version of Bioware. This is a game that had me create my own character and I played through as a good guy… then, after beating it, I yelled to Maribou how very good it was and then started a second character *WITHOUT GETTING UP TO PEE*. (This is the highest rating I can possibly give a game.)
Mass Effect 2 came out and I was there for launch. The first thing I did was import the face of my character and the game started with a bang (minor spoiler: they figured out one hell of a way to restart your character at level 1 in the sequel). While the game had dumbed some stuff down a bit (combat had been somewhat simplified, equipment had been massively simplified, and accessorizing had all but disappeared), they still had the heart of the original game and, when it came to conversations, they added an “interrupt” ability that changed things completely. If you had sufficient Paragon (good guy) or sufficient Renegade (bad guy) points, you could take a conversation an entirely different direction than the conversation trees would take you. (For example, during one scene where a squad mate is giving a speech about approaching enemy robots, you’re looking through a sniper sight at the robots in question… if you pushed the Renegade button at the right moment, you could interrupt his speech by getting a headshot on one of the robots). You were given new friends, new options, and, most importantly, the choices you made in Mass Effect 1 carried over. If a squad member or major storyline character died in Mass Effect 1, he or she (or it) was not available for conversation in Mass Effect 2. The game felt like a complete continuation of the first and it felt like the choices you made in the first game *MATTERED*.
Which brings us to Mass Effect 3.
I got Mass Effect 3 home and the first thing I did was import my character from Mass Effect 2. My transfer failed. I successfully transferred over the choices my character had made from the previous two games (who lived, who died, who smooched) but the face I had carefully constructed as I began Mass Effect 1 did not successfully get read by the interpreter. (I was one of the lucky ones. Many folks found that their save files were unreadable in their entirety.)
In the first 5 minutes of the game, I was told that my face import failed. This was my first impression with the Mass Effect 3 game. Quickly googling, I found that *MANY* folks had the exact same problem. At first, I thought that the problem was one of faces being made in 1, then imported to 2, then imported to 3 not working out. As a day or two passed, however, we found that, no, there were problems with the faces being imported from brand new faces made in Mass Effect 2. (One person in the aforementioned thread even said that s/he used the default shep and *HIS* face didn’t import correctly. I have not gone to the trouble to verify this but, hey, confirmation bias right?)
Some decided to go for a close-enough version of their character’s face and play through the game and (watch out, here’s where the minor spoilers begin) they were disappointed by the “best” ending.
Now, there are things that got added to Mass Effect 3 that were not in Mass Effect 1 or 2. The first was Multi-player. The second was Kinect support. These were things that the community didn’t particularly ask for but they found that more development time was spent on these things than on the ability to import the faces made in previous games… and, more than that, they found that Multi-player had an effect upon the ending of the game. On top of that, given that the so-called “best” ending of the game was disappointing, some players began to argue that some of the other endings were preferable to the one Bioware considered the “best” and the numbers were crunched and it was found that some of the other endings required multiplayer to reach them… which made one of the Bioware employees who posted a thread called something like “you don’t need to play multiplayer to get the perfect ending” to one called “A note about multiplayer in relation to the endings” in which he had to clarify by saying “changing post title, “perfect” ending may create confusion. This post indicates how military strength, war assets and galactic readiness affect the endings.”
Suffice to say, I had been swimming in a sea of the folks complaining about the game for the last two weeks and I figured that, well, maybe this is just a vocal minority of folks complaining. The hardcore fans who would complain if they felt that the uniforms were the wrong color, right? But there were a number of little things that were… well… off. Penny Arcade’s “PA Report” had an article titled, I kid you not, “Why the ending of Mass Effect 3 was satisfying, and worthy of the series (Massive spoilers)”. (This reads to me similarly to a title saying “Why you should have enjoyed that sandwich.”) I noticed this. There is a “Retake Mass Effect” group of folks that is donating money to Child’s Play in the name of changing the ending to Mass Effect 3. So far, it has raised $74,751. $74,751! On top of all that, I found this thread detailing various things that the developers were saying and how the promises that were made were not, in fact, kept. (Warning, that thread contains spoilers too.)
Today, I noticed this. Amazon is selling Mass Effect 3, new, for $37.97. A game that came out two weeks ago that was originally priced at $59.99. I also noticed that Amazon is accepting open box returns of Mass Effect 3 (seriously, this is *NOT* something that happens with video games). I also saw that Kotaku was talking about how the Microsoft store was selling Mass Effect 3 for $39.99.
At that point, I figured “well… maybe I should do some serious research of my own…” and so I went down to my local Entertainmart and my local Gamestop (the one with the cute counterperson who calls me “darlin'”) to ask what’s going on with returns and/or game sales and/or complaints. Well, I got a different story. Entertainmart is offering $40 for Mass Effect 3 and selling used copies for $49.99. When I asked if they’d had any complaints about the game, both of the folks I talked to said “oh, yeah… oh, yeah they all complained about… have you beaten it yet?” and I told them I hadn’t. They nodded and said that people were disappointed with the ending. The numbers they gave me were that 3 people had sold them their copies of the game so far (the people behind the counter were impressed by this number more than I was… they told me “but it came out only two weeks ago.” They see more trends than I do so take that for what it’s worth). By way of comparison, Gamestop was offering $25 for Mass Effect 3 ($27 with Gamercard) and only two people had traded their game in so far. When I asked about complaints, I was told that they had heard a *LOT* of complaints about the game’s ending but everyone loved the main part of the game (I was the first person that they had heard of having the issue of faces not importing successfully… which really, really ticked me off for some reason).
So, locally, there hasn’t been anything happening with a flood of used Mass Effect 3s hitting the market (Entertainmart’s people notwithstanding). But there is Amazon’s pricing. There’s the deal Kotaku mentioned. And, of course, there’s this. That’s a thread that quotes, at length, the opinions of a professional PR guy who deconstructs the various things that the various Bioware people are saying (and the various actions that Bioware is taking).
To begin to sum up, there are a lot of really interesting dynamics between the fans and Bioware/EA going on right now and how this stuff plays out will change such things as Dragon Age III (indeed, Dragon Age II (which had a lot of fan pushback as well) has just cancelled the DLC it was planning and the team assigned was pushed, presumably, to DAIII).
I don’t know what’s going to happen. Heck, I don’t even know what the endings are (apart from that they are, apparently, much less interactive and have precious little to do with what you’ve done in Mass Effect 1 or 2). I’m still waiting to be able to import my own danged face.