Mass Effect, Marketing, and the Perpetually Displeased

We had not one but two Mass Effect 3 stories this morning. The first was about a free app that lets you access the Codex and chip away (very slowly) at your Galactic Readiness rating. The second story, which I wrote, was regarding a rumor of some multiplayer DLC.

The game has gotten a bizarre amount of hate, and things like this just seem to be fanning the flames. People accuse BioWare of milking, or selling out, or whatever it is that companies shouldn’t do. “You’ve changed, BioWare! It used to be about the purity of experience!”

BioWare is a company. They want to make money. And if you don’t want to give them money, that is fine! But as someone who enjoys Mass Effect, a lot, I am the target market. I do not mind giving them some extra money for more of a product I enjoy. You do not have to be in that target market. You can go spend your money on other things. No one is stopping you.

I suppose it comes down to this notion that the game should speak for itself, and I can understand that. But I’m some amount through Mass Effect 3, and the game is speaking for itself. I don’t feel that the emotional experiences have been cheapened by seeing ads during the Walking Dead or downloading a little app that I can tap a few times while I’m out at the mall. Games are a bustling business — yes, business — and marketing is part of that. Maybe my background in marketing makes me more sympathetic to that.

But here’s the dirty secret about marketing: it’s only as good as its product. I’ve worked on marketing campaigns for great things that I had an honest, personal faith in. It was my job, sure, but it was also a cool thing and I wanted to tell other people about this cool thing. And when you’re on the marketing team for a blockbuster video game, perhaps the epitome of “cool thing for the sake of being a cool thing,” I have to imagine most of the people on that team are probably Mass Effect fans. If that’s the case, they’re not trying to trick you into liking it. They’re trying to show you something that’s cool.

None of that will appease the people who feel that BioWare has become cheapened somehow, and they’re entitled to their opinion. I’ll just say that Mass Effect isn’t Journey. Journey is fantastic, but it’s an artsy game. That’s its identity. Mass Effect is not an artsy game. Mass Effect is, and always has been, a throwback to big-budget sci-fi adventure stories. So BioWare markets it like a big-budget sci-fi adventure story. It’s not being marketed as a small niche RPG like Baldur’s Gate, because it is not Baldur’s Gate. BioWare got big. They’re making big games. Smaller developers are now making the games that will be looked back upon like Baldur’s Gate, and if they find success, they’ll grow too. It’s how the industry life cycle works.

All of this touches on gamers being exceedingly, unrealistically protective of “our” entertainment, but I’ve rambled long enough. That’s a rant for another day.

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