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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.

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.

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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Reader Comments
finaleve Jul 23 2014, 09:26 am EDT
I just say Meh usually.
Creative input means there is a good chance for more sales. It means they ran out of ideas. It means they don't want to look like the bad guys when it comes out like shit and shift blame on us.

I usually don't partake it this stuff because it usually sucks in the end.
im_stardust Jul 23 2014, 09:35 am EDT
Dumb article.

Bioware is a divison of EA and it is going to do (and has been doing so) whatever the majority of the audience wants.

And all the ideas in the Mass Effect series haven't been genuine to begin with. It's all a Star Wars rip-off with a twist.
Shurj Jul 23 2014, 09:36 am EDT
Actiontrip should do more features.
im_stardust Jul 23 2014, 09:39 am EDT
It's multi-million dollar product that's being sold to the masses. That's all it is. You are making the mistake into thinking that it is something else.
im_stardust Jul 23 2014, 09:53 am EDT
I won't speak for other sorts of entertainment but when in comes to the success of video games, every developer is following a certain pattern that works. And they never stray too much from it.

Bioware has been following the same "wealthy recipe" since Knights of the Old Republic. It has been expanding nuances of the same idea.

Now that Skyrim went to everyone's head, Bioware's community also wants an open-world RPG. So comes Dragon Age 3 ... Mass Effect 4 is not far behind.

Those "closed corridor" maps in both ME and DA had to go anyway.
GallenDugall Jul 23 2014, 11:37 am EDT
Bioware is asking fans what to do because they're too chicken shit to do anything bold after their "bold" total party kill ending was derided as the lazy bit of writing that it was.
DRAVNT Jul 23 2014, 01:28 pm EDT
What a silly article. "I think this survey infringes on their creative ideas." What bullocks!!!

The purpose of a survey is to collect data on buyer behavior and attitudes. This in no way means that data must be used when crafting a piece of software.

The point and purpose of having a business (and specifically a game developing company), is to sell games. But if no one likes the games, then they don't sell and the company goes out of business. AND no one makes any money.

Creativity is great and all but it doesn't necessarily pay the bills.

I agree with im_stardust in this matter. It's a mistake to think games produced from a Triple-A studio is anything less than a multi-million dollar product and, to ensure a high RIO, a smart company/studio is going to do it's market research (aka, ask the fans/people that buy the product).

Done!!!!
Terminator Jul 23 2014, 04:05 pm EDT
Bioware does what EA tells them to do.
Dean_Demon Jul 24 2014, 12:42 am EDT
First things first, it won't be called ME 4 and the game whatever it's going to be called is in retailers at this very moment such as amazon. It tells me that either the game isn't as far advanced as many have been led to believe otherwise there would be no reason to ask the fans what they want for the next title.

Sounds like they don't know where they want to go with the game but feel forced into it seeing how fans reacted to ME 3, i would give them more credit if they had just stuck to their original plans and just ended it at 3 like they always wanted too, sure this could just be EA forcing the issue which let's face it wouldn't surprise anyone and NOT that they really like me anyway, seems they have a problem with employees NOT signing their contracts.

All i can really say is that yes the ME series was a great experience but the whole situation since the last release looks really stupid if i'm totally honest, why ask fans what they want ? Surely you as a developer are the ones in control, well at least they should be and it's all starting to sound like a botch job if you ask me and will probably just avoid the next release as it all sound very amateurish, hey that's my view valid or not.
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