The Mass Effect Effect – or, don’t piss off your fans… 0

I’m not a huge gamer. Though I am still a fan of a few, like EverQuest (the original one) and play from time to time, but it takes a hell of a lot to get me really into a game. Getting me into a series is nearly impossible. As a matter of fact, since the advent of the Xbox, it’s happened a grand total of three times. BioShock – for all its flaws – grabbed my attention, and I can’t wait for the next one to finally make it out the door. Fallout was another, but I admit that fascination went all the way back to the pre-Windows days when I played a game called Wasteland – the “spiritual grandfather” of the Fallout series.

The third is Mass Effect. Once I figured out how to turn off the stupid film grain so I didn’t get continually motion sick, I was hooked. For those who don’t follow gaming, or don’t follow the Mass Effect series, it had some problems. Most notably, the ending of the trilogy didn’t go so well. You can read some of the details (with minor SPOILERS!!) here.

I will not go into the details in this post, as I have no intention of spoiling the storyline. I will, however, outline what happened:

Mass Effect came out, bringing a true role-playing aspect to Space Opera Fantasy gaming. The concept has been tried before, but something in Mass Effect clicked and the game took off like a rocket (or a Mass Effect Starship).

Mass Effect 2 took that concept and rammed it into overdrive. The depth of characters, story lines, settings, and events was immense. The studio in charge (BioWare) not only created a successful sequel, they created one that far surpassed the first chapter. With a galaxy-spanning storyline that was directly (and sometimes radically) changed not only by the characters basic choices, but by the very way they interacted with he galaxy around them. Moral, ethical, and logical choices all changed the way you played through the entire game.

BioWare wasn’t done. After a bit of a wait, they launched Mass Effect 3 to a now rabid fan-base. As the series was always meant to be a trilogy (the future games have been hinted to have totally different storylines/characters), ME3 was going to be the end of the story. No one was unsure of this, and everyone from fan sites to the creators themselves had accepted that everything would be brought to a close.

Most of the game was spectacular. Yes, there were hiccups – there always are. Yes, some things might have been done better – they always can. However; the story itself, the characters and their trilogy-spanning development, and the epic nature of the game made it amazing to play.

Right up until the end.

Long story short, the publishers of the game – who will remain nameless in this article – forced the developers to rush the game out the door. So a major mechanic of the game, one that literally determined the fate of the galaxy, fell flat. Suddenly, gamers who didn’t really like multi-player found themselves forced to play that aspect of the game. Secondary methodologies for avoiding multi-player ran into massive technical difficulties – when they worked at all.

Secondly, the developers – no doubt feeling immense pressure to launch – basically phoned in the ending sequences. An epic story that spanned an entire galaxy and three in-game years ended with a whimper at best, and a kick to the genitals in many cases.

The fans – understandably – went to grab pitchforks and torches and raised a holy uproar the likes of which is seldom seen in the gaming community. Everyone complains about games, but getting that many gamers to all complain about the exact same thing is remarkable. To have them do it loudly enough to worry a media giant is unheard of!

Eventually, BioWare saw the error of their ways (and/or got tired of constantly deleting hate emails) and created a free DownLoadable Content (DLC) pack that corrected the majority of the issues. The requirement for using multi-player or half-assed mobile apps was removed, and the endings were given a proper treatment. While many gamers still found the ending to be missing something, I found it to be a fitting end to the trilogy, and exceptionally well done.

So, what can we learn from this that we can apply to using Social Media effectively? Quite a lot, actually.

First, don’t do things half-assed if there is any way (including delays) to avoid it. If you’re going to build a community, you have to see it through. Deciding you will just push things out because you’re pressed for time can be worse than making people wait a little longer. While the developers managed to dodge a lot of the backlash by fixing things, the media giant of a publisher left a horribly sour taste in the mouths of consumers. You know, the people who actually buy their stuff.

That brings us to the second lesson. If you make a mistake, own it. Apologize, make it right as soon as you can and make it good. BioWare took a publicity hit over this, but managed to win back most of their fans (and many of the most vocal ones) by creating the DLC that satisfied them. They didn’t plan to, but the public outcry was so severe they needed to do something, and they did. Responding to the needs of your followers, especially when you do something that gets them angry with you, is a sure way to turn a follower into a fan, and someone who likes your product into a true believer.

Of course, you try not to make mistakes. They do, however, happen. Avoid them whenever you can (especially if they can be avoided with slight delays) and apologize when you can’t. Your fan base may not be as big as BioWare’s, but that’s today. Tomorrow you write a new chapter, and who knows how far your influence will reach. Gain it carefully, own it well, and never leave the masses on your doorstep with pitchforks and torches.

Unless, of course, you actually have a Mass Effect drive and can safely get the hell out of the building.