Almost a decade ago the internet blew up over Mass Effect 3’s controversial ending, resulting in death threats and online harassment of BioWare developers and helping to set a new, terrible tone for the video game fan/developer relationship in the years since. It also reportedly resulted in more crunch.
Some of the game’s original developers recently sat down with the documentary group People Make Games to reflect on the original ending, the backlash, and the months that came after when the studio decided to rush out a new, extended cut of the game’s final scenes. Long touted as a series in which players’ choices mattered, Mass Effect 3 notoriously wrapped up the trilogy with three endings that were largely similar in appearance save for different-coloured explosions.
But the criticisms quickly morphed from understandable to vitriolic, fuelling a protracted hate campaign in some quarters of the internet. Eventually BioWare acquiesced to fan pressures and announced a new extended ending would be added to the game for free. The game had taken years to develop, but BioWare pushed out the Extended Cut DLC in just a few months, necessitating even more extended overtime work.
“I think there was definitely a morale hit on the team,” said then-gameplay designer Manveer Heir, who in 2019 co-founded a new studio called Brass Lion Entertainment. “You’re kind of ready to be done with a game and a franchise at a certain point, and then when [that point] gets extended out, one that’s just like, wait, the people who were crunching the hardest at the end now had to go back and start crunching again so they didn’t get good rest.”
“That live period was very hard, and I don’t know that anyone’s ever talked about that, but yea we crunched,” said then-systems programmer, Mark Jaskiewicz, who’s now at The Multiplayer Guys in England. “A lot of people went through hard times to get through that.”
One thing that made the extra months especially difficult, former developers told People Make Games, was going from Mass Effect 3’s post-launch plans directly into the thick of Dragon Age: Inquisition’s messy development. Instead of a longer respite, some of the developers were thrown right back into the deep end because of the backlash over the ending.
“I remember us being pretty ok, but within two years once we got into Dragon Age: Inquisition … everybody was fried, everybody was completely destroyed, morale was incredibly low,” ME3 cinematic designer Zachariah Scott said. “I don’t normally attribute much of that to Mass Effect, but it is safe to say that like, around that time a lot of people were starting therapy.”
BioWare has been criticised for a crunch-heavy culture as recently as 2019’s disastrous launch of Anthem, though that game didn’t spark a similar level of vitriol from longtime fans.
One ex-BioWare developer People Make Games spoke with likened the decision to create a new ending to opening Pandora’s box. While some of the people interviewed who worked on Mass Effect 3 shared criticisms of the game’s final scenes, others were adamant that it was creating bad precedent when it came to the creators’ ownership over their art vis-à-vis fans. In any event, the online harassment campaign that precipitated it was heinous, and unfortunately became something of a blueprint for fans of other blockbuster games.