[Updated: Following the brew-ha over the ending, BioWare has announced that it will be making some modifications to it. The details of those modifications, how they will be distributed, and when we can expect them will be announced in April. Check out the full story here.]
EA has shipped 3.5 million copies of Mass Effect 3 worldwide since it was released last week on March 6. And while the game has sold over 1 million copies and counting, the launch has been marred by controversy. There’s been the influx of negative player reviews on Metacritic, the blowback from the introduction of same-sex male relationships, the perceived letdown of the game’s endings, and the Day One DLC issue. The BioWare game franchise, which is also in development as a major motion picture from Legendary Pictures, remains one of the tentpole titles for EA and BioWare. Casey Hudson, the Executive Producer and Director of the bestselling franchise talks about the game’s launch and addresses some of the concerns that have arisen in this exclusive interview.
What impact did fan feedback from the previous Mass Effect games have on what you guys set out to accomplish with Mass Effect 3?
Well, to a large degree we always take feedback from every source very seriously. It’s very important to us because as a game designer, you and a small group of other people design a game–and everything that you have and everything that you know–to make it as good as possible. But that opinion really pales in comparison to the opinions of millions of people that actually play it under the intended conditions, buying the game, wanting to enjoy it as a piece of entertainment, and then providing their honest feedback. That’s where we learn a lot as game designers and artists and developers–really listening and really trying to analyze what’s behind a lot of the feedback that we get and convert that into a new set of principles that we carry forward into each game. So it has everything to do with finding a really good balance between action and role-playing systems that we did for Mass Effect 3, or even deciding which characters we really want to feature strongly, or what we want to do with those characters.
Do you have an example of how fan reaction has impacted the new game?
Some of the characters in the Mass Effect series were never intended originally to be potential love interests — characters like Garrus or Tali who are quite alien. From the outset, we didn’t envision them as characters that people would want to have a romance with. And yet they were successful as characters, and so popular amongst a lot of people that people really wanted to develop a relationship with them, so we integrated that from Mass Effect 2 and it’s become a big part of the series.
What impact do you feel Kinect voice commands has added to Mass Effect 3?
I think we do story and conversation with greater depth than you get in most games even without the Kinect functionality, but when you’re deep in the game experience and you’re speaking to these characters, having a conversation using your voice and you’re not even holding a controller, that’s when it got really interesting for me as a player. I realized that there is essentially no game. The game, or gaminess of the experience, disappeared and all that was left was me in this virtual world with these virtual characters having a real conversation. I think it hints at where things are going in the future of interactive storytelling.
What are you most proud of with this third game in the franchise?
I think what I’m most proud of is that we’ve told a story that will be remembered. I think so much of what we set out to do was create something that would be a memorable experience for people that they would think about after they played it. There’s so much throwaway entertainment out there. I didn’t just want to make something that was essentially the videogame version of a popcorn movie. I wanted to make something huge and exciting and the biggest thing possible that felt like a blockbuster and had that big action science fiction feel.
What are your thoughts on the reaction to the game’s endings?
I didn’t want the game to be forgettable, and even right down to the sort of polarizing reaction that the ends have had with people–debating what the endings mean and what’s going to happen next, and what situation are the characters left in. That to me is part of what’s exciting about this story. There has always been a little bit of mystery there and a little bit of interpretation, and it’s a story that people can talk about after the fact.
How closely do you keep track of the fan reaction when it comes to that kind of stuff?
Oh, we pay very close attention to it. It’s very important to us and we will always listen to feedback, interpret it and try and do the right thing by our fans. That’s why if you look at Mass Effect 2 we knew that people wanted to spend more time with a character like Liara, and so we created an ongoing storyline with her as part of the comics and then built it into the DLC stuff, and we’re always listening to fans. We have some really great multiplayer content and some really great single-player content coming over the air, and their feedback will become part of how we design that.
How do you feel Mass Effect has pushed the acceptance of relationships, first with same sex females and now with same sex males in this universe?
I think we always just strive for being inclusive. Over the course of the series, in a lot of ways the Mass Effect series has been in uncharted waters because even right down to the endings there are examples of TV or movie series that have a big fan following and a lot of expectations, but none of them have told a 50 to 100 hour interactive story where people feel not just an attachment to these characters, but an ownership of the story. It’s a different thing than has ever been done before. A lot of this stuff is new and that’s what’s exciting about it for us and for fans. It’s also a learning experience and I think we’ve learned a lot about how people perceive their experiences with our characters and what they wanted out of them. Some of these things that we’ve added or changed about how we view this is in response to things that we’ve learned or feedback that we’ve had from them.
What are your thoughts on the fan reaction on the Day One DLC, From Ashes?
I think a lot of the common sense is prevailing. Initially, it was spun in a direction that suggested that we had taken the lore out of Mass Effect 3 and were holding it inside the DLC only, which now the people who actually have played Mass Effect 3 and the DLC they know that that’s not true. So that fear was set aside and, ultimately, I think people get it now. They get the fact that sometimes the way that things work in game development isn’t known very well by a lot of people, so there’s an opportunity for misunderstanding, including the fact that as a multi-studio team and company, we have many projects that are ongoing. When we finish a game, we finish it many months before it actually hits the shelves and that team goes on to work on something else that in those intervening months represent millions of dollars of development time, which either goes towards the next game that you might not see for several years, or a different game that they might go to work on like Dragon Age or the Old Republic. We work on all these different things. So in this case, we chose to work on a DLC which people really enjoyed for Mass Effect 2 and we also wanted to make sure that people had it as an opportunity to build it into their first play-through if they wanted that as an optional thing. That’s what they did and now that people have played it they can see that, yes, it was optional versus the way it was initially spun by some people on the Internet.