BioWare’s co-founder, Dr. Ray Muzyka, released a statement today addressing Mass Effect fans upset over Mass Effect 3’s endings. Suffice to say, it doesn’t put an end to this mess the game developer is currently in. In fact, considering initial reactions to Muzyka’s statement from the BioWare Social Network, it makes matters worse. Particular attention is being paid to his comments on “artistic integrity.”
…I believe passionately that games are an art form, and that the power of our medium flows from our audience, who are deeply involved in how the story unfolds, and who have the uncontested right to provide constructive criticism. At the same time, I also believe in and support the artistic choices made by the development team. The team and I have been thinking hard about how to best address the comments on ME3’s endings from players, while still maintaining the artistic integrity of the game…
Is it any wonder why there’s a negative reaction to this statement? Muzyka uses the “games are art” argument to defend Mass Effect 3’s depressing and incoherent endings. I’ve already wrote at length why this argument isn’t valid, and yet here is the co-founder of BioWare using it to excuse Mass Effect 3’s poorly conceived endings. The rest of the statement is no better as Muzyka further dodges legitimate criticism by pointing to sycophantic reviews to bolster his position, while attacking the ‘Retake Mass Effect’ movement for the actions of a few.
…The reaction to the release of Mass Effect 3 has been unprecedented. On one hand, some of our loyal fans are passionately expressing their displeasure about how their game concluded; we care about this feedback, and we’re planning to directly address it. However, most folks appear to agree that the game as a whole is exceptional, with more than 75 critics giving it a perfect review score and a review average in the mid-90s. Net, I’m proud of the team, but we can and must always strive to do better.
Some of the criticism that has been delivered in the heat of passion by our most ardent fans, even if founded on valid principles, such as seeking more clarity to questions or looking for more closure, for example – has unfortunately become destructive rather than constructive. We listen and will respond to constructive criticism, but much as we will not tolerate individual attacks on our team members, we will not support or respond to destructive commentary…
The team won’t respond to “destructive commentary”? How about any commentary? Myself and others have been looking for any kind of statement from @masseffect on Twitter addressing these endings to no avail. Even the replies we have received are cryptic, leaving us more confused than we were previously. Muzyka’s statement is either purposely disingenuous or he has not idea what’s going on. What’s even more telling is that the comment section for this article is closed. So much for listening to feedback eh?
Before going further, I would like to address this nonsense about how those upset with Muzyka’s statement are just looking for something to complain about. Firstly, this statement is a repeat of Casey Hudson’s statement earlier this week. Having it come from one of BioWare’s co-founders does give us the impression that the game developer is taking the complaints of fans seriously, but that’s all it gives us. Muzyka didn’t say anything we didn’t already hear Hudson. Clearly, this “grand gesture” was just a public relations stunt.
Secondly, he makes the same mistake as Hudson in assuming that fans don’t want new endings, but clarification of the current endings which will bring about closure. Apparently, they think we’re not capable of understanding their “genius.” If the only problem Mass Effect fans had with the game’s ending was that it needed to be better explained, does anyone honestly believe that BioWare wouldn’t have already addressed the discrepancies between these endings and established canon in one way or another? Fans don’t like the endings because they’re depressing and incoherent, not because they can’t understand them.
Finally, fans have already laid out the groundwork for a better conclusion to Commander Shepard’s story. While I’m not entirely sold on it, the indoctrination theory has already received a lot of support from Mass Effect fans and could easily be used to take the ending as it stand now and lead into an expansion which BioWare could easily put together and make a nice profit from. Instead, we have statements by the game developer and its supporters about how “you can’t please everyone.” Why shouldn’t fans be upset when BioWare is not only ignoring them, but being purposely disingenuous about this whole situation?
Anyways, it’s not just me who sees this statement as an obvious public relations maneuver. Forbes Erik Kain has already weighed in and he is also not entirely impressed with Muzyka’s statement either.
…Moving on, Muzyka acknowledges that the fan reaction is important but quickly deflects, holding up Metacritic in BioWare’s defense. “However, most folks appear to agree that the game as a whole is exceptional, with more than 75 critics giving it a perfect review score and a review average in the mid-90s.”…
Kain doesn’t stop there, however. He then deconstructs Muzyka’s comments on accepting constructive criticism, not destructive criticism.
…Oh, to be sure, there is such thing as destructive commentary. True ad hominem does exist in the wild. But the notion that artists ought only respond to constructive criticism is delirious. If games are truly art, and the teams who develop them truly artists, why should they be treated with kid’s gloves?
“There is no need to take a “constructive” attitude with talented artists,” writes Stephen Bond, “if anything, they find such an attitude more offensive. As H.L. Mencken said: “I do not object to being denounced, but I can’t abide being schoolmastered, especially by men I regard as imbeciles.” The constructive critic is a crow who takes it upon himself to educate the eagle; one who tries to force his own limitations on those who can soar far higher, unencumbered.”
Constructive criticism, Bond argues, is a “mass hallucination.” It is “inimical to the purposes of criticism as art. I’ll say it again: the point of criticism is not to improve you, but to express me. And each time I digress to offer you helpful suggestions, encouraging remarks and other pep-talk, I am not truly expressing myself. I’m merely being polite, nice, even a bit condescending — in other words, I’m being aesthetically repulsive.”
Imagine, for a moment, if the only criticism BioWare had received was of the constructive variety. Imagine it was all polite platitudes, condescending clutter, and helpful suggestions about how to improve the game. Do you think for a moment that we’d be reading a blog post like the one Muzyka just penned?
Not likely. Of course, criticism of art can be as bad as criticism of critics. Plenty of dumb things have been said about Mass Effect 3 and, as is always the case with the internet, many of those dumb things can be found in places like Metacritic user reviews.
But the plethora of positive professional reviews are less helpful by far than much of the ‘destructive’ commentary BioWare faces. Truth rarely lies in what we want to hear. Dozens of fawning reviewers tripping over one another to offer up their perfect scores hardly encourages BioWare to improve their product. “Look how exceptional our game is! We appreciate your concern and we are listening, but by the way did you notice all these perfect scores we just received? You’re delusional, but we care.”…
I want readers of this post to remember this point. BioWare admits in this statement that it isn’t interested in listening to all feedback. They only want to hear constructive criticism, not destructive criticism, which explains exactly why they have yet to respond to upset fans who want some clarification. Muzyka, in this display of utter arrogance, shows us that he’s more interested in bragging about the opinion of professional critics than dealing with the complaints of paying customers. If anything, this statement shows that BioWare is indeed an entitled game developer.
As for “artistic integrity,” it’s clear that Muzyka’s refers to it in his statement simply to deflect criticism of the game’s endings. As Kain pointed out, if BioWare wants to be called artists, then they should act like artists and accept all forms of criticism. So if they won’t accept valid criticisms like an artist, will let allow for their “artwork” to be judged as such? Clearly they don’t want that either. Nowhere in Muzyka’s statement is there any mention to the artistic failings pointed out by those like Adam Robert Thomas from the California Literary Review and Eternalsteelfan. I guess their criticism wasn’t “constructive” enough to be listened to. So if we can’t judge them as artists, nor their work as art, then why is “games are art” a valid defense? It isn’t. As I said earlier, Muzyka is simply using it to excuse Mass Effect 3’s poorly conceived endings. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if his “maintaining the artistic integrity of the game” did mean that BioWare wasn’t going to make any real changes to the game’s current endings. “Games are art” afterall right?
If BioWare and Electronic Arts were hoping that this statement would calm things down, they were clearly mistaken. It wasn’t an apology, nor an attempt to find common ground between the game developer and its fans. It’s a dodge, an insincere gesture done to give ‘Retake Mass Effect’ a false sense of accomplishment. This wasn’t humility, but arrogance, on display for all to see. This was a statement from an entitled game developer telling upset fans that he understands they’re upset, but is far more interested in sychophantic praise of from the gaming media. If Paul Muzyka and BioWare are incapable of apologizing to Mass Effect fans for this debacle and promising to provide better endings, then Electronic Arts should replace them with people who can.
And to all those who are celebrating this statement as some kind of victory, think again. BioWare didn’t surrender. This was, at most, an attempt by a losing side to seek a cease fire. Until they’re ready to raise the white flag, HOLD THE LINE!
Once again, for those who still haven’t already liked ‘Demand a better ending to Mass Effect 3’ on Facebook, if you feel as myself and thousands of other Mass Effect fans do about Mass Effect 3’s endings, do it. Also, I recommend supporters of the ‘Retake Mass Effect’ movement go to ‘Retake Mass Effect’ and make a donation to Child’s Play. It’s for a very good cause.