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Burden of BioWare - Pandering to the Masses
It’s no secret that a collection of fans were less than pleased with Dragon Age 2 in its entirety and the ending to Mass Effect 3. As such it is a bit expected that BioWare may be a little gunshy with Mass Effect 4, as they certainly don’t want to be the subject for scathing articles yet again. I suppose as an effort to circumvent any fan disappointment, BioWare has an online survey for fans, asking what games they like to play and what they would like to see in the next installment of the Mass Effect franchise. Many people, including Uros, were pleased with this move and thanked BioWare for wanting to please its many, many fans. I, however, have donned Uros’ cranky pants on this topic and am quite displeased with the developer for seeking input from the fans.
Scrapped Mass Effect art #1
Scrapped Mass Effect art #2
When I first heard this news, my immediate first thought was, “Pleasing the many ends up pleasing no one,” much like “too many cooks spoils the broth.” Mass Effect fans fell in love with Mass Effect because of the stories its writers originally had. Yes, it was also because it was (and is still) fun to compare different playthroughs and experiences with your friends. However, those were only enjoyable because the writing was so great and it was what those writers wanted us to experience. So now just because many people didn’t like the last two minutes of one game, we need everyone’s thoughts as to what should go into the next one?
There has been a huge surge over the last few years in support for indie games over triple-A or just large company games. And there’s good reason for such indie games to be so popular; it’s because for the most part, they’re fantastic games. I really believe that the reason why indie games are so great is because they never leave their creative direction. This is the game this particular developer wants to do, with this story, this art style, and these mechanics. No publisher has forced their own money-making agenda on them. Of course indie developers want to make money, but more importantly, they want to make the games they want to make.
Isn’t that why we’ve seen so many individual developers leave big companies to form their own studios? Look at David Goldfarb from Overkill, Cliff Bleszinski, or Ken Levine from the company formerly known as Irrational Games.
These triple-A devs left to form indie studios so they could get away from someone else changing their personal creative vision. And when I see BioWare posting a survey asking for fans want to see in the next Mass Effect game, isn’t that compromising any creative vision they have? Or could it be that they don’t know where they want to take Mass Effect 4, so they’re asking where fans want it to go? Ugh, I shudder to think of that. That scenario is infinitely worse.
Thankfully, the survey does not point blank ask what fans explicitly want to see in Mass Effect 4 or any other RPG BioWare is creating. They aren’t taking calls for scripts or anything crazy like that. It’s a little more subtle than that. The survey instead asks what games you have recently played, what elements you like most in a Mass Effect game, how many hours of RPGs you typically play in a week, and what three things you like most in RPGs. In other words, they’re asking for what RPG elements fans want emphasized in the next Mass Effect. I assume they’re still looking for that perfect balance between the hardcore RPG features in the first game (which I loved, for the record) and the stripped-down, action-oriented Mass Effect 2.
Scrapped Mass Effect art #3
Scrapped Mass Effect art #4
I still think this survey infringes upon the Mass Effect 4 development team’s own ideas. What if they were considering a new RPG system that fits better with the story than Mass Effect systems or past BioWare systems? This survey could kill that idea before it even has a chance to make the prototype stage. I’d rather have the developer’s own ideas than play whatever the masses deem worthy, especially if their ideas correlate with the story and other game mechanics.
I realize that in the triple-A world, these games cost so much money, publishers and developers both don’t want to take a risk in creating a game that few will like. It’s a horrible cycle that only indie devs and games seem to be able to break out of. I suppose that’s why we all turn to indies for the great new ideas. So then, why do we make demands out of the triple-A developers to adhere to what we want, and why do they give in? I’m confused.
Obviously, BioWare is going to do whatever BioWare is going to do. All I can do is hope they stick to their own guns, follow through with their own ideas, and not pander to what they think the majority of their audience wants. And of course, I’ll continue to hope that Mass Effect 4 will wow me as much as the first trilogy did.
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