“Mass Effect” Triggers Backlash Effect [World of Tech]

on Friday, Mar. 9th

Each week Turnstyle News entertainment and tech reporter rants and raves about the intersection of his two beats. We call it the Game of Buzz.

Let’s get this straight from the start: this is not a review of Mass Effect 3. I just haven’t had the time to finish the game this week, and frankly I’m glad I didn’t have to face a review deadline on this one. The Mass Effect series has been my favorite of this console generation, even over my beloved Halo.

BioWare, the developers of Mass Effect, and their parent company Electronic Arts have been experimenting with the business model of the game since they realized they had a hit on their hands. The problem is that this appears to have triggered a hefty backlash from a vocal part of the gaming community.

At the time this is being written, the Metacritic score — a publicly available averaging of review scores used by the game industry as a barometer of a game’s success — for Mass Effect 3, across all platforms, is hovering in the mid-90s out of 100. This is good news for BioWare. The game industry takes Metacritic scores seriously, too seriously if you ask me. At one point some publishers even tied the payment of developer royalties to review scores.

Critics love the game. Yet that’s only half of the Metacritic story. The user reviews are averaging in the basement. The highest average is the XBox 360 at a whopping 5.0. The PC holds a 3.3 average and the  Playstation 3 is running at 3.6. These aren’t small sample sizes either, as over a thousand user reviews have been turned in for the PC version.

Now, there is some level of shenanigans going on. In the past few years BioWare has aquired some serious haters as they’ve migrated their style away from the role-playing games that made them famous amongst gamers. Mass Effect has become more and more of an action game as the years have gone on.

What strikes me as curious is how fast these reviews popped up. Many of them on day one. While game critics have access to copies of the game before release, the users don’t. That lends more than a few of the negative — and positive — tang of fanboy partisanship. Hordes of the reviews seem to be little more than complaints about the business model: railing against the downloadable content that was put up for sale on the first day. Many gamers hate that. They feel cheated by the practice, which makes lines like this one from Metacritic user Cryoware all the more ironic:

I’m just glad that I’ll never have to sit through the arduous two hours it took to pirate this game ever again.

Okay, Cryoware aside, the complaints of the anti-DLC crowd strike a chord. I get it: when you shell out 60 bucks on a game, you want to feel like you’re getting a complete experience. It is, after all, a lot of money to us working stiffs. What’s unfortunate here is that EA/BioWare have actually built themselves an interesting little transmedia project; and if you’re not a Mass Effect super-fan, you may be missing it.

My own Mass Effect week started with a Twitter story detailing the alien invasion of Earth in real time. When I finally booted the game up, I was delighted to see Commander Shepard (the game’s lead) finally meet a character I’d been introduced to years ago in the first Mass Effect novel. Then, away from my console, I played the iOS game only to discover that what I did in that game could help me out in the fight against the galaxy killing Reapers.

I’m having a blast with how immersive the whole thing is. My one complaint so far is that a promised app to turn the iPad into a datapad with in-game information hasn’t hit the app store yet. At the rate things are going, I just might have to commission a costumer to build me some N7 armor so I can play the game properly suited up.

You see, where some gamers see a cold, calculated ploy to get gamers to waste money on elements that detract from the core game experience, I see a dozen opportunities to indulge my Mass Effect fandom in absurd ways. Bioware has been playing with the lines of what a role-playing game is the entire time they have been developing Mass Effect. That this has gone hand in hand with radical departures from the standard gaming business model shouldn’t be demonized.

Nor should it be punished with what are clearly fake review scores. Not when there are real criticisms of the game in those user reviews. Dig around and there are plenty who were clearly disappointed with how the game turned out. However, I fear that some of that disappointment may come from those gamers blasting through the game in a marathon session on day one.

Mass Effect 3 may be the end of a trilogy, but its release marks the beginning of a new way of building a video game world. I encourage gamers and devs alike to open their eyes to the possibilities EA and Bioware are putting on table here.

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