Bioware tweaks Mass Effect 3 for a larger market

In an investor Q&A yesterday, John Riccitello (CEO of EA) announced that Mass Effect 3 was going to be tweaked for a larger market via some handwavey changes that involve game mechanics.

You might think that – with an eye to the console best sellers of last year – they’d be aiming to CODBLOPSify the game and make it more shootery. But no, what they’re actually talking about is shooter-meets-RPG which is what I thought ME2 was anyway. (I’m still not finished with ME2, I was kind of getting bored with it for no explicable reason – I’m not actually that interested in any of the companions except Mordin so not motivated to go do their missions, and def. not motivated for any romantic involvements. It’s also a very questy game.) I suspect this is tied up with recent comments that they’re introducing a melee class into the next game.

But aside from all this is the question of how much you should really be changing the gameplay in a successful franchise to try to attract new players. What about the old players who liked it the way it was? Bioware fell foul of this audience with Dragon Age 2, another game that got rather streamlined away from the original DA:O mechanics.

We see the same reaction from MMO fans when any kind of content or mechanics is streamlined “to reach a wider audience.”

This is not because it’s inevitable that the game gets worse, it’s because players don’t like change. Also it’s very logical that if you liked a previous game, you’d want the devs to turn out another similar one so that you could like the new one for the same reasons. Yet, if things change that means they can get better …

For all the commercial drive to increase market size though, I think it’s a shame that games with a solid niche are prodded to change. And a shame for the solid niche gamers. One can only hope that gamers who loved the original ME1, original DA:O, original WoW, etc and don’t like the subsequent changes will be catered to by the indie crowd. (And will recognise games designed for them when they turn up.)

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13 thoughts on “Bioware tweaks Mass Effect 3 for a larger market

  1. There’s a difference between changing a game , like what they’re doing with Tomb Raider (the reboot of the franchise looks to be good) to make it “better” or at least “different” from something that was getting stale or dying.

    Not Mass Effect or Dragon Age was in a state of “dying”, nor were they getting stale…not yet.

    Bioware is not doing this. They are consolidating their franchises into a generic platform in classic EA style ala Fifa/Madden/NHL/Need for Speed . They want churn out a Mass Effect and a Dragon Age EVERY YEAR.

    This implies they just want to flip a switch between sci-fi and fantasy and slap some generic story and skin on top and voila you got a AAA title you can sell for $60 and nickle and dime on the DLCs until the next one.

    So yes, this approach will reach more people, eventually. However i’m not convinced this “change” is in favor of gamers, this is in favor of capitalists. Dragon Age 2 was already showing huge signs of a generic, forgettable game. Unlike a FIFA game, you actually have to write a compelling story in these games, you can’t just update the teams and rosters and tweak the gameplay a little and hope it sells.

    I won’t be surprised if Bioware got hammered with the DA2 feeback [particularly the rather lazy re-use of assets, kinda like FIFA re-uses the soccer playfield] and was already doing the same thing in Mass Effect 3 and instead now they’re making more unique environments.

  2. In general I can agree with the ‘stop changing the game during sequels’. It’s like, if it’s a single story, try to keep the basic gameplay pretty similar.

    On the other hand … I enjoy ME2 more than ME1; the companions are more detailed, the environments more beautiful, the combat more satisfying, etc. They made good changes. I liked the more light-spacey-opera feel of ME1 more but that change feels more like a consequence of the story.

    So I dunno. I guess we have no choice but to trust Bioware, ‘cos it’s their games. I’m actually glad ME2 is getting delayed, because I think if DA2 had been delayed 4-6 months, it would have been *much* better. I like it as is, I think the combat changes are almost entirely an improvement, but there’s a lot there that could have used a bit more attention and time to make it great.

  3. DA:2 had me starting to doubt. Then I started hearing rumors about the quality of SW:TOR. Now this about ME3. My faith in Bioware is becoming extremely shaken. What some people predicted when they fell under the EA banner appears to be coming to pass. They are starting to just churn out the same mass produced crap that EA has been pushing for years. And that formula may work for the latest installment of Madden or Call of Duty, but RPG’s require a bit more refinement than a yearly produced sports game. Sad to see this happen to another good developer. I’m not quite ready to write Bioware off entirely, but it isn’t looking good.

  4. I liked both ME 1 and DA:O more than the sequels, but in neither case were the simplifications / streamlinings they made the reason for that. So from that point of view I have to support any efforts in that direction.

    That said, CODBLOPification would be bad. That part scares me. I doubt that Bioware will take the story from us though, so they can’t really go too far in that direction.

  5. I am an oddball, I like ME2 and DA2 better than the earlier games. They weren’t perfect by any means, and DA2 obviously was rushed, but it clearly shines for me in companion design. The ME2 companions are near forgettable compared to the DA2 ones.

    I liked the combat better in both games than the older ones.

    I think they might be learning from DA2 bombing with the hardcore RPG fans, and am saddened by the release being pushed back, but at the same time it’s heartening, because a solid game experience with lots of polish is what I am looking for.

    • Tough call for me. I enjoyed both DAO and DA2, and I agree that the companions were done really well in the latter.

      Yet, my warden from the first game felt like more of my character. She was a flawed hero, not a megastar like Hawke or Shepherd.

  6. “For all the commercial drive to increase market size though, I think it’s a shame that games with a solid niche are prodded to change.”

    Solid niche? much like the Easter Bunny and Santa they don’t exist.

    This year’s solid niche is next years EQ1 or worse D&DO.

    The problem is that people who “want it like it was” may well be early adopters that will always gravitate towards the next shinny thing and have Don Juan style loyalty.

    It is always the early majority and late majority markets that don’t pull up stakes and keep buying your updates and games of established franchises. AND bring that mass market cash!!! squeee!

    [quick check – if you can buy a game to play 3-5 years… then you are in these majority groups… otherwise you might be either a game blogger/commenter or an early adopter ;) ]

    These early-late majority buyers ARE ALWAYS different in their tastes than early adopters.

    They like progression
    They like positive feedback
    They don’t like hard
    They don’t like frustrations
    They don’t like to get ganked
    They like Big worlds
    They like to be a Tourist sometimes

    Net net if I were an executive directing development I WOULD tell my developers to make a game on it’s 3rd installment to have broader appeal.

    But, I would also have my senior designer tell me how big and obvious the kiddie pool needs to be AND listen to him.

  7. They were very clear that DA:2 was not going to be a massive origin story like the original DA, im still unsure how so many people missed that. Sure DA: 1 rocked, i loved it, i love how massive it was, but i also loved a very fine focus on Hawke. As with ME, i absolutly loved #1, beat it 2-3 times. Story is amazing and gripping, but the same could be said with ME 2, and ive beaten it over 7 times, the replay value is fantastic. And im curious where silvertemplar is getting the information about “churning out Mass effects every year” Bioware was very clear that # 3 would be the end to the series. The MMO thing came up, but that was “well garsh guys of course we’d love to do a Mass Effect MMO” commenting on the desire to do something is in no way a decleration of intent.
    Bioware has been churning out amazing games for over a decade, and yet there are people who are absolutly terrified that they will somehow forget how they made the millions of dollers/fans. They know how to make video games… they know how to craft epic story lines. Have a friend Tranq shot you, because at the end of the day…. their gonna make games the way THEY want, and theirs nothing you can do about it, so why get all worked up?

    • There is one small flaw with your argument. “their gonna make games the way THEY want.” Wrong. They no longer have that freedom. EA holds the purse strings and so at the end of the day, EA makes those decisions. Now the question is, does giving Bioware free reign make more money for EA and their investors than micromanaging them? If EA decides that a more direct hand will profit them and their investors more, then that is what they will do. That endpoint decision making is out of Bioware’s hands.

      What people like myself are afraid of, is that we are already seeing some consequence of EA’s “meddling” in Bioware’s creative and developmental processes. The end result of this, however, remains to be seen.

  8. Something that strikes me me about Codoblopsisation is that it isn’t a bad thing, especially for MMO’s.

    Have people seen BLOPs skill system and the way it actually manages to make every other MMO’s talent trees look like clumsy, awkward crap, partially due to the fact that it is designed to let people play the way they want and clearly shows the effect each ability will achieve? And it does this partially because of the elements people are disparging?

  9. bioware is taking few extra months to improve their game – oh noes, they are dumbing it down and commercializing it to a degree that makes all games look the same! >_>

    I’m a huge Mass Effect fan, both 1 and 2, at the most recent count I have 13 Shepards. I like DAO a great deal. I’m not as happy with DA2, mostly because it needed more polish but also because it doesn’t work at all as a sequel (why doesn’t it ever occur to people that maybe bioware is using those extra couple of months to polish the game, while waiting for more favorable release spot that doesn’t compete with so many other holiday releases)

    One thing I’ll say for ME team – they don’t retcon as blatantly as DA team does and they actually make at least a passing nod to story/character continuity, even as they change the gameplay mechanics.

    there’s nothing wrong with making a game a bit more appealing to wider audience. if they didn’t do that from the very start, I never would have picked up Mass Effect in a first place, because personally, I don’t play shooters. and I know of quite a few people who picked it up because it looked like a shooter and got sucked into it because of the story. As long as they don’t overdo it. and judging by interviews, the feedback they have been giving so far? I have to be optimistic that they won’t.

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