Monday, 25 June 2012

Unprecedented Disaster

You know you did it right. You've poured in all your resources, all your time, all your energy. You've crafted an excellent trilogy, tied with a bow, written, edited, and published by a team of the most amazing people you've ever know. Release day for the last book arrives, and you wait with baited breath.

The fans aren't happy, they aren't bored. They aren't apathetic, and they sure as hell aren't satisfied. They are furious; a force of thousands calling for blood. Doesn't sound familiar?

It does if you're BioWare.
As writers, the name may not be familiar to you - however, if any of you love games as much as I do, you'll know BioWare has an excellent reputation for character driven games featuring excellent mechanics and brilliant plot. This is a double-edged sword; their fans expect the best, and when the third installment of the science fiction Mass Effect series was released, they expected excellence.

For the first 98% of the game, they received that, and better.

All the anger, disappointment, and hatred for the game stem from the final ten minutes of play. This is roughly equivalent to half of the last chapter in a novel.

How could the final moments of the game destroy it so completely? Check the ratings on Amazon, look at gamer forums... you see a community rage that's more than mob mentality, it's organized and frustrated.

Here's the problem: the people who are most upset are the people who are most loyal to the game - and to BioWare. And they're about ready to leave.

If you were BioWare, what would you do?

You can write a new ending and release it, but you made an artistic decision that does have a powerful impact on the readers (players). It would feel cheap and dishonest, to yourself and your team, to rewrite it.

You can stick to your guns and risk losing your most loyal demographic.

You can apologize but not change anything, also possibly losing your most loyal demographic.

BioWare has chosen a compromise. Some people are upset about it, but honestly, it makes me even more proud of the company. They wanted to lash out, to defend their work, but they took player feedback into strong consideration even while standing by their work.

As authors, we should try to do the same.

Maybe, if we're lucky, some of us will earn BioWare's reputation for excellent storytelling. If we're really lucky, we'll learn from their example when things go wrong.

In the meantime, good luck out there... Commander.


Stina Lindenblatt said...

I never realized that could be a problem for a game. We don't get much say as readers with the end of stories. If we don't like it--tough!

Sangu Mandanna said...

That's a really interesting story, especially in light of how it applies to other forms of storytelling - as a writer, do you stick to your guns even when fans are furious? Or do you try to give them what they want? (I'd opt for the former, but that's easy to say now, when no one's calling for blood!)

L E Waters said...

Great post, Bethany. I'm wondering if they used a test population before they launched this? I'm sure if they had with a large enough population they would have foreseen this. This is a good example of why you must send your work around to AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE! If a majority comes back with the same problems you need to seriously think about changing things. And better to do that before you get into this public forum.

Angela Brown said...

This puts me in the mind of working on a project and being willing to accept feedback so that the end result can be improved. Sounds like BioWare did just that.

Jemi Fraser said...

I know diddley-squat about games, but I think your analogy is awesome! That fan feedback is amazing - and can help us get better! :)

Talli Roland said...

I don't know anything about games, but I have been pretty annoyed at times after reading last chapters that were a let down.

Christina Lee said...

Wow, so interesting!!! Living with "gamers", I think they could relate and i love how you tied it to novel-writing. Spot on!

Lisa Gail Green said...

After watching my son and husband play games for hours, I get it. It's an investment, just like reading or watching a movie, but maybe more so.