Fan campaigns are nothing new, but the fan campaign demanding that game developer BioWare produce a new ending to its blockbuster Mass Effect 3 is unusual for a couple of reasons. For one, it's got an extraordinary number of followers, and for another, the complaints against BioWare just hit the next level.
The Mass Effect 3 furor has been impressive, but until now it's been limited to gamers and the gaming press. That changed earlier this week when the Better Business Bureau weighed in. In a blog post on the group's Consumer News and Opinion blog, BBB director of marketplace services Marjorie Stephens said this controversy goes beyond some customers simply disliking the product.
The Mass Effect franchise gained immense popularity and acclaim, in part, because of its unique decision-making system that allowed players to directly influence the events of the game through their choices. Many fans felt the game's open-ended conclusion betrayed this system by not giving players as much of a say in the ending. They were also none too happy that the franchise's hero, Commander Shepard, bit the dust in the end.
So why's the BBB getting involved? Well, Stephens believes that BioWare didn't just deliver an unsatisfying ending to franchise fans, they also committed false advertising.
Stephens based her claim on two key statements used throughout the Mass Effect 3 advertising campaign. One claims that fans will "Experience the beginning, middle, and end of an emotional story unlike any other, where the decisions you make completely shape your experience and outcome." The other says, "Along the way, your choices drive powerful outcomes, including relationships with key characters, the fate of entire civilizations, and even radically different ending scenarios."
The problem is that the game's ending does not allow players to "completely" shape the outcome, nor does it deliver "radically" different ending scenarios. And because the statements were used to help sell the game, Stephens believes BioWare is guilty of misleading consumers.
"The issue at stake here is, did Bio Ware falsely advertise? Technically, yes, they did. In the first bullet point, where it states 'the decisions you make completely shape your experience', there is no indecision in that statement. It is an absolute. The next statement is not so absolute. It states 'your choices drive powerful outcomes'. A consumer would have to very carefully analyze this statement to come to a conclusion that the game's outcome is not 'wholly' determined by one's choices."
None of this means that BioWare will necessarily end up in hot legal water over how they chose to end their game, but Stephens does note that at least one gamer has already filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over the incident. The moral of the story? If you're selling something, choose your words carefully.
"The lesson to be learned here is companies should give careful consideration to how they word their advertisements," Stephens said. "Otherwise, there could be detrimental effects, especially in the era of social media and online forums."