Usually, if a brand removes user posts or content from a social network or a public (owned by the brand) forum, the world unites in denouncing them as suppressing users’ voices. This has happened with many brands in the past, including big ones like Nestle. (Read more on it, here).
But it looks like the gaming community is slightly different. To be clear, there is outrage – a LOT of it. But interestingly not enough is being done about the specific issue of removal of users’ content from the forum. The forum in question is Canadian game developer Bioware and its latest game Mass Effect 3.
Here’s BBC on the background of the issue. In essence, Mass Effect 3 is part 3 of the trilogy of games and fans are not happy with the way it has ended.
A post on Bioware’s online forum, by Chris Priestly, Biowareâ€™s community coordinator, two weeks ago, has 130,000+ views, but not a single reply. Comments were perhaps not allowed, or simply deleted, for all we know. Even the forum’s rules and code of conduct seems to have been updated as early as March 2, 2012, to keep pace with the frenzy of fan activity since the ending-controversy broke out.
A fan of the game has even gone to the extent of compiling the game developers’ pre-release quotes to build support for a class action suit against them – with the quotes, it seems, ‘Bioware can be legitimately accused of, at best, fudging the truth if not outright deceit given the inconsistency between notions of choice, closure etc. expressed before the game was released and the ending as it currently stands”.
The most interesting fall-out, at least from a PR perspective, is a call by fans of the game to donating to a charity called Child’s Play, that provides toys and video games to children in over 70 hospitals worldwide! It seems this call has generated $70,000 already!! What this campaign demands is that Bioware makes available a ‘downloadable patch to add additional endings’!
Now this has vastly intriguing implications, beyond gaming!
Think about it! You watch a movie by paying for it, in a theater. You don’t like certain scenes and the ending. Do you go and rant about it on your blog and on Twitter? Of course – we all do that because we had invested our time and money in it and we perhaps like/dislike the film maker enough to rant about it online.
Do you demand a change in the film’s ending and changing certain scenes? Of course not! Part of this equation has to do with the format of form of entertainment – films in theaters are completely static (unlike games that are entirely digital and can be dynamic). They are made once and showed multiple times using projection, without any change. We have also heard – rarely – of a film maker adding a new ending to a movie because of fans’ outrage, but these are very, very rare.
But, given digital distribution of content (to digital projection theaters, or for those films made available digitally online), I suppose film makers could explore the option of customizing the ending or certain scenes in a way that completely changes our current notion of content consumption.
Digital distribution allows this change – a digital e-book, audiobook or a TV series or even a film could get a ‘patch’ that offers multiple/alternate endings/scenes and this requires significantly more thought from its creator. This may also mean diluting the artistic integrity of the creator since it seems like he/she is pandering to the wisdom of crowds and trying to please them instead of his interest in creation, but this can always be positioned as endings other than what the creator intended.
This is not new, however. Years ago, when I was in school and was in the Enid Blyton reading mode, I had come across a few titles of The Famous Five that was actually interactive – in print form. These were books that had user-options in certain pages to ask us to turn to certain pages directly if we thought a particular course of story is what we wanted!!
Considering this is precisely what Mass Effect 3 fans are demanding, it is interesting to see that this idea has come a full circle – from printed books to a completely digital medium. Imagine this moving to mainstream Hollywood films or television series – it could open up a dramatically new frontier in fan engagement and interactivity in forms that we never thought were possible so far.