After Backlash, Mass Effect 3 Devs Say Team Crunched To Deliver New Ending

After Backlash, Mass Effect 3 Devs Say Team Crunched To Deliver New Ending
Image: BioWare

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.

Comments

  • I absolutely hated the ending, but as someone that creates, I completely understand the desire to keep a vision intact even if the viewer doesn’t agree with it. I felt the extended cut was pointless anyway and didn’t really solve the issue that the original endings left the universe in. My biggest gripe with it wasn’t “these endings are bad because they are the same” it was “these felt rushed with no consideration for what came before, and might come after.” It’s a shame, because it turned me off buying any of the DLC, which my friends said was stellar. It’s just not my place to force a change, I just merely showed my disappointment with my wallet.
    These days if I do play ME3, I generally just stop playing before I get to the starchild part. It’s not canon to me because it just feels so out of place in my playthroughs.
    I do think there is a place for community feedback on creations, and acknowledgement that perhaps the direction chosen could have been different. What makes that harder in this scenario is it was the last game in the trilogy so you couldn’t come back with the next game and tweak it, plus that whole controversy with the leaked script. Hopefully something was learnt here though, about crunch, how much sway a community should have, artistic integrity, but also honesty and owning the choices made during development even if they are unpopular.

  • They had such stellar storytelling in the trilogy, I have no idea how that original ending got approved. It was subpar and not at all up to the standard they set.

  • I think way too much focus is given to the community here. We all know EA/BioWare wouldn’t change a god damn thing based on fan response. That’s not how these companies operate. Player reviews and petitions mean less than nothing to them. BioWare employees could have begged to change it, offered to work for free, and the hierarchy they work under would have still said no if the only goal was to please fans.

    They changed it because they very obviously sank their IP. It’s as simple as that. They’ll blame the worst community members they can find and play their own actions as noble but at the end of the day they screwed up badly enough that people high up were going to have to face consequences and while grasping at straws to fix it they defaulted to ‘just whip the drones harder’. Everything else is just opportunistic spin.

    It’s designed to manipulate everyone inside and outside the company into putting the blame for these kids being bled dry on people who didn’t like ME3’s ending when the reality is those people had zero power in the decisions being made and regardless of if it was ME3, the ending or DA:I BioWare/EA never stopped exploiting their employees.

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