Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Better Business Bureau Agrees "Mass Effect 3" Falsely-Advertised

Well, so much for THIS nonsense being over with.

The Escapist reports that a communications director at the Better Business Bureau has come out in public agreement with the position that Bioware's pre-release hype about ME3 was sufficiently different enough from the final product as to constitute wrongdoing.

Bad PR day for EA/Bioware to be sure, but I have a feeling folks are going to over-inflate the importance of this. Despite the name, The BBB isn't a government organization and has no legal power in such matters - they're an activist organization whose primary focus is corporate malfeasance, so it's not at all surprising that they'd come down on the anti-corporate side of this particular discussion.

I really worry about the logical-extremes of this kind of thinking in regard to entertainment products. Outright lies are seldom "cool;" but when it comes to narrative media like movies, books or games a certain amount of potential consumer misdirection is an essential tool. For example, "Cabin In The Woods" - entering movie theaters this weekend and you should ALL go see it because it's fucking amazing - is advertising itself as, essentially, a mashup of "Evil Dead" and "Saw." It's NOT. Not at all. And the shock of the various reveals of what the film actually IS to unsuspecting audiences is the whole point of the film. Will the BBB etc next come for it? Should we also retroactively call-out Ubisoft for not mentioning the HUGE first-act surprise in any of the "Assassin's Creed" trailers?


NiGHTS Noob said...

Well considering that Assassin's Creed's overarching plot and first act twist is the single stupidest thing in all of modern gaming, yes even stupider than the ending of ME3, we just didn't rage since it wasn't after 3 games worth of stuff. I'd say yes on that one.

Sylocat said...

Wasn't there someone a while back who sued a theater for false advertising because they saw Drive and it wasn't enough like the F&F movies and that made the marketing campaign "false advertising?"

I loved the schpiel you wrote about that as well: These days, "smart" movies HAVE to mislead in order to find a decent-sized audience, and trailers making it look like another movie are an unpleasant but effective way to do that.

(personally I thought Drive was garbage, but I'm not ringing up the FTC demanding they force the producers to refund the ticket price)

6FootImp said...

While I agree that this is really a non issue as the BBB has no power, it is patently wrong to mislead consumers about what you are selling. Its perfectly fine to say that it is a surprise or give out no information, but to purposely mislead consumers is wrong. While there is a difference between what Cabin in the woods is doing and what a ebay scammer does, the way you have described it they are both justified in falsely advertising their product as long as they feel it necessary.

Anonymous said...

You probably underestimate the ability of the BBB to understand the difference between marketing and lying. A lot of the greif the ending gets is that is was such a sudden tonal shift that differed from the marketing, but they're really only covering the idea that greeen / blue / red explosions don't consititute "completely" different enough to match the advertisements.

Pushing falsehood in marketing is a delicate business. You don't want to ruin the twists in the Matrix or Sucker Punch, but outright duping people can get ugly. Forget Assisasan's Creed, let's mention Metal Gear Solid 2 which swapped out the protagonist, and was probably the last time I saw gamers this upset over content. I guess the lesson is that if you lie, lie down so it's a pleasent surprise not a dissapointment.

Aiddon said...

true; since the whole POINT of film is narrative you're going to get a LOT of misdirection (and sometimes outright lying) with what the narrative is about. It's actually why I found Kojima's gigantic plot twist with Raiden in MGS2 to be so brilliant and why the lack of something like it is why I found subsequent titles in the series to be hollow in comparison.

Anonymous said...

First off, I find it pretty interesting how you and most of these journalists (the ones I've found at least) claim that we, the fans of the games, are acting like children for wanting a better end are also people who never have nor will play the games (save for one, anyway). This may just be my preference, but I like to think an informed opinion would hold more weight in an argument then an ill/uninformed. Don't get me wrong, I know you are entitled to your opinion and all, I'm just saying maybe you consider looking up what exactly happens in the game before casting judgement down on people on us. Or don't, the choice is yours.

Secondly, are you saying that "The Cabin in the Woods" is NOT a satirical take on torture porn and/or reality TV? (That's what I got from the ads, anyway)

Oh God... Is it like The Condemned?! Does this movie lecture you on how torture porn is bad and how you shouldn't like it because then you would be bad too?!

If yes, then I think your plug-in for the movie kind of backfired.

The Offender said...

This will lead no where good. The ripple effect this has started will do so much damage in the long run.

Sabre said...

I have no opinion or stake in the mass effect 3 ending, but I do find the fallout and debate interesting.

That said, I'm pretty sure you are aware that you are grasping at straws with this argument. There is a difference between suprising the audience, and completely lying to them.

What if, for example, there was a new game promising to be a 2D side scroller, but when you bought it, that was the first 5 minutes and the rest was a grey-brown multiplayer shooter?

I don't get why people are being negative about all this. To me, it shows people care, and that companies can't get away with bullshit, that there are limits to how gamers can be pushed.

Mads said...

OMG Bob, you're whining again. Crying thick streams, getting your tears all over everything. Baby screams echoing throughout the internet because you're such a big baby.

God, film fans are so entitled. Every little thing that happens in another medium must be considered from the perspective of how it can affect the next "brilliant" art film. Like, every business reaction the BBB has must be seen through the prism of how it might affect movies, just because movies have been an incredibly fortunate and special business for a long time. You feel so entitled to the special status of movies that you don't even realize it. Stop being so entitled!

In fact, your entitlement is the reason we can't have nice things! The BBB is trying to just get a little bit more of consumer honesty, but no, you must try to stop that.

[/AD Hominem]
[/Bad internet arguments]
[/disengenuous assertions]
[/being an ass]

My point is, your rhetoric on the Mass Effect subject has been incredibly here's a bit of unfairness back.

Popcorn Dave said...

Bob, I think it's pretty low to argue that false advertising is totally okay just as long as it's in the name of "art". Withholding plot twists is a completely different thing and you damn well know it. Seriously, why are "artists" so bloody special that they can just ignore the rules? Imagine someone selling counterfeit handbags and defending himself by saying "I had to put that fake label on, because if I hadn't, no-one would have bought them!". You'd have no trouble calling that guy a criminal, would you?

PadMasher said...

Well, as someone who dreams of someday getting their own IPs into the spotlight, I think this whole Mass Effect fiasco brings up some interesting questions. Should we really demand Bioware change their vision? What is the worth of artistic integrity? Is it alright to outright lie to your consumers?

Here's what I think. For starters, in regards to Cabin in the Woods, if your ads have to basically trick people into watching your movie, 2 things are wrong here.

Either people are so afraid of change that they NEED the same ol' shit to entertain them, you know your movie is shit and/or you have no faith in it so you pretend it's something it's not to push sales, or both. This is somekind of living hell for people who have truly innovative ideas and people who want to see those ideas come to life on the big screen.

I think Phillip J. Fry said it best.

"Clever things make people feel stupid and unexpected things make them feel scared."

Really, no "artist" should have to lie about anything. Either people want "smart" movies or they just want 5 more F&F sequels. Lying to them about your work doesn't change what your work actually is.

As for Bioware, I highly doubt that dev team has any "integrity" left thanks to EA. Honestly, I think demanding the ending be changed is just redudant at this point. Fans were expecting a plethora of well-written endings (which Bioware promised them) and got 3 shades of shit. To change it now would be them playing damage control. I think the real issue is should Bioware or any other company get away with what is basically lying?

"False advertising" is only the tip of the iceberg. Remember when PS3 Slim got leaked and Sony denied its existance? Then some months later, turns out it's real. OMG, big surprise right? Well, you see it's still lying. Not only that but, they obviously lied to push PS3 Fat sales so they could reap as much as possible from the old models before releasing Slim.

That shit shouldn't have been leaked but, once it was leaked, IT WAS LEAKED. The rest of their damage control was them lying directly to us. I'll let you guys determine wether or not that's OK but, it's lying non-the-less.

When you really get right down to it, artistic vision has little to do with how these businesses run themselves. I'm not saying that artistic integrity is utter garbage but, I don't see how lying to your consumers and writing off any negative fan feedback as "being entitled" entitles you to any kind of artistic integrity. Fuck artistic integrity. Where's the integrity period?

^Why I contine to hate "game journalist".

Anonymous said...

Man, this just goes on and on doesn't it?

Remember people, pirate before you buy!

JPArbiter said...

except Pirates never buy Anon. EVER! Pirating with the justification of "I will buy it if I like it." is a fallacy because you have no incentive to buy after completing a game.

Mads said...


Except the statistics say pirates buy more music than other guess who's wrong? Wrong again? JP's wrong...tell a friend!

he's so wrong he's so wrong he's so wrong he's so wrong ladadada da da da da da ladadada da da da da....


Not that I condone piracy, but wrong is wrong.

Deadpool said...

You know a LOT of people are going into this "slippery slope" argument like it's just now become bad practice to falsely advertise something.

Thing is, the argument with Mass Effect isn't "They said it would be GOOD but it wasn't." The argument is "they said it would include feature A and it DIDN'T."

It's not about a car handling badly when they told you it was easy to drive. It's about a car not having a sunroof when they told you it would...

Look, push comes to shove, Bioware straight up LIED to the consumer. This isn't up for debate. Are they LEGALLY liable for it? Honestly, probably not, despite what the BBB says... But having loopholes to squeeze out of doesn't make you any less of a liar...

Sanguine Symphony said...

If your misdirection relies on marketing I would consider you a bad artist though... Eventually people are going to be rediscovering your art without the benefit of the marketing or if you like me skip most of it in fear of spoilers.

Also I highly doubt BW or EA are intelligent enough to be using misdirection in marketing anyways. They are a lowest common denominator company and do whatever they can to push sales.

Bob it sounds to me you're just grasping at straws. EA/BW are the ones who caved. Whether you agree with how the dorks lobbied their cause or not is immaterial because a greater artist would have simply ignored them. If they were speaking to an self truths or had a greater purpose to their writing they would have done what many artists have done and let themselves be judged by their work.

Anonymous said...

Movieblob- But but but the artist has a right to rip you off! Stop being elitist!

Nick said...

First let me say that I don't really care either way about Mass Effect, and don't know much about it. I'm just calling it as I see it.

When you said in your video (Crass Effect) that "BioWare said the endings would be different, and TECHNICALLY they are," I believe you were mistaken. If I understand it correctly, Bioware stated that there would be SIXTEEN endings, and this is not the case; even if you say they are technically different, at most there are three endings, four if you count the fact that one of them is slightly longer under certain circumstances.

That's not the same thing as a misleading movie trailer, it IS false advertising; the question is how big a deal it is.

Mads said...

@ Nick

That's not actually correct. If an in-game statistic is too low because you didn't do enough fetch quests, not only do the reapers get blown up by the red does the human soldiers fighting on earth in a change to the cutscene that lasts ½ a second.

And if that same statistic is too low, you don't get to see as much of your team exiting the crashlanded ship.

And if that same statistic is too low, you don't get to see the main character gasping for air.

It's a strictly linear stat, increasing from less to more, but along the various values it can assume, and if you multiply some of them by 3 because obviously the main colour theme is different in some of them, then you get 16.

So in a certain sense, there are a grand total of 16 uniquely identifiable slightly different ending cinematics.

Of course, that certain sense is fucked up. Bethesda made the same mistake with fallout 3, saying it had 216 different endings due to the permutations available during the denuement sequence of that game.

If that's how we're doing things, fallout 2 had 4000 different endings, which any human being who'd played it would say is a ridiculous number to throw around. Just as the 16 permutations is.

And honestly, that's what the BBB are getting at. It's not that there's some technicality around the term "complete control" and Bioware choosing not to offer up a build-your-own kit of lego's.

It's that Bioware called the same ending with 16 permutations completely different, untraditional, and something the player had the power to profoundly influence.

And you know, the BBB has it right. Whatever else Bioware did, they also lied, because what they said was clearly meant to be construed as something different than what the product contained.

But I think this is the weakest of all the reasons to attack bioware, because noone is really dissapointed because they lied. They're dissapointed because bioware made an ending which was incredibly poorly made, executed, and thought out.

T4_was_here said...

You know who the Better Business Bureau needs to team up with?
Then the ad's will truly be put to the test.
And make great TV.

JPArbiter said...


Music sure, what about games? it also makes no mention, nor does that study how often media pirates purchase what they specifically pirate. i know in my halcyon days i grabbed big label stuff off of Napster, then grabbed 2-5 dollar indie band albums, cause I bought the bullshit of "supporting the little guy"

plus there is the massive ethical problem of STEALING

Jannie said...

Three things:

One, no one MADE Bioware claim there was more than one ending in the game. They chose to do that, knowing for a fact it was a lie. Cabin in the Woods is NOT lying when they say, in no uncertain terms, "You'll never guess the secret of the cabin in the woods". You won't, trust me, and even if you do it's not saying there IS NO secret it's saying, outright, this movie has a huge series of (convoluted and too-clever-by-half, but that's not necessarily a bad thing) plot twists...guess what they are.

Bioware said, and have been quoted as saying, there were sixteen endings and each would be different. Even by the most generous assumptions there are THREE and they are about as different as identical twins.

Secondly, Drive was a terrible movie. It was trying to be "smart" and ended up being obnoxious, shallow and boring. If I wanted to watch a sociopath try and fail to redeem himself via car, I'd watch Transporter...and enjoy it more, and probably not almost dose off. On the plus side it finally taught me what the usefulness of Emma Stone is as an "actress", in that men seem attracted to her so they see her movies even if they hate them because she's pretty, which basically describes my relationship with Ryan Gosling.

Thirdly, Forbes, of all people, has been saying from day one that Bioware was in the wrong here and they have NO skin in the game unlike most game journalists who get their money directly from companies and need to cover their asses (except like, Bob, Angry Joe and maybe Jim Sterling) so I'm not surprised that when an outside observer with NO allegiance to anyone looked over the situation they said "Yep, I call bullshit" because an outside observer with NO allegiance to anyone already DID.

I don't think it's a slippery slope. If people don't trust their product they lie, if they do they tell the truth. If anything Cabin in the Woods (not a sterling example of cinema but also a good example of my point) perfectly illustrates this:

Cabin in the Wood's ad campaign was NOT a lie, it was perfectly accurate in that it basically reveals, straight up, "There will be twists...we DARE you to figure it out!" which is actually kind of brilliant frankly. It's almost like a mystery, giving you clues and then asking you to guess before the mystery is solved as to what is going on. And yes most people will walk out of the theater saying "What the actual fuck did I just watch?" but I doubt anyone will be upset by it. Some people may be disappointed they didn't guess the twist(s) but I doubt they'll be upset or feel cheated or want their money back.

Anonymous said...

Apparently Bob is going to beat the dead horse of the ME issue again in the next (whenever) GO.

I am sure it will be just as objective and rational as the last two videos and constant twitter posts he has put out so far.

Mads said...

@ JPArbiter

"plus there is the massive ethical problem of STEALING"

I don't care about that. I care about the fact that you said something which was wrong. Which it was.

"Music sure, what about games?"

What about games? You're the one who made the incorrect assertion. Why don't you go out and find the study for games to prove that you're right. Why should I do your work for you?

Secondly, it's clearly the same mechanism at work. Same laws being broken for the same reasons.

Mads said...

@ Anonymous:
"Apparently Bob is going to beat the dead horse of the ME issue again in the next (whenever) GO."

Oh...I see. Maybe he'll offer some clarification to his first episode to the fans who had a negative reaction to it.

I can already taste the irony. Delish!

Xaos said...

Er...I technically wouldn't count the issue dead until we actually see the DLC later this month. I mean, its still kind of topical until then.

However, I do think that by releasing an explaination of the ending rather than a change, Bioware has made the worst possible move.

In politics, if you are explaining, you're losing, and its no different here.

The people who wanted them to stand fast are unsatisfied, and they didn't even answer the cries of the fans who wanted a change.

Its a typical case of trying to please everyone and pleasing no one.

Nathan said...

I've not played Mass Effect 3. All this crap about the ending has hammered home that I don't want to play it. Not because the whole 16 vs. 3 endings ordeal has enraged me. But because the whole thing is bloody stupid. Seriously, people are complaining because the endings are on a scale and where ever your notch is determines what ending you get? Here's a head's up. In games with that kind of scale... That's how ALL endings are calculated.

Deadpool said...

@ Nathan

There are three arguments at work here.

Some people are upset that ioware straight up lied about the endings (not implied things, straight up said it was A and it ended up being B). To be fair, I'm a bit cynical about this stuff and am surprised people are this upset about it. On the other hand, I can't exactly FAULT them even if I don't feel the same way. It's okay to be upset about being lied to.

The other arument (which is tangentially related to the first) is that there is little to no variation in the endings. There's a youtube video showing the six possible video files side by side and they are 90% identical (two of them are 100% identical) short of color coding.

The OTHER argument is that the ending categoricall fails at everything an ending needs to be. All six possible videos provide no closure, no denounment, no validation and lack thematic and plot cohesion, not to mention oodles of logic flaws and internal consistency issues. It's actually kind of beautiful how they managed to cram SO many things wrong in such a short time...

Some people care about A, some people care about B, some people care about C... VERY few people care about NEITHER, hence the mass of complaints.

For the record, CHRONO TRIGGER, a SNES JRPG from over a decade ago managed more variety in endings than Mass Effect, a triology of WRPG heavily based on the multiple paths defined by choice concept... That's just sad really.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Bob saw the Jim Sterling video.

Anonymous said...

Was I the only one who noticed that this wasn't "THE" Better Business Bureau that said this, per se, but an officer of ONE BRANCH of the BBB. While her comments certainly carry weight, it isn't like she is necessarily speaking for the organization as a whole.

B.L.C. Agnew said...

Wow, really? REALLY Bob? Did you just point-blank compare cutting together a fracking movie trailer (one that makes NO secret of the "there are people behind the scenes" that make up the framework of "Cabin" no less) to out-right LYING about features in a videogame?

Because that's what it looked like. And for such a smart guy, that's a REALLY stupid thing to do.

This isn't a "release some screenshots and gameplay videos and let customers jump to false conclusions for the sake of springing a twist on them" ala Metal Gear Solid. This was an empirically false statement made many, many, MANY times about what the ending of Mass Effect 3 would provide. This was an outright LIE about a pretty damned significant feature of a videogame (which, again, are PRODUCTS even more than any other form of artistic entertainment). And it wasn't mentioned in interviews, previews, and official announcements for the sake of surprising the audience - it was to cover up the fact that the ending was a last-minute replacement that takes NONE of the actions from the previous games into account.

Bob, you're a smart guy and have a lot of great things to say, but if you are going to keep going back to this well you really should man up and do your research. How you play the game changes NOTHING about the ending. You could commit genocide - multiple times - during Mass Effect 3, and still get the EXACT SAME ENDING as someone who did things in the exact opposite way. Nothing would change. This is the exact OPPOSITE of what multiple people developing the game - including Casey Hudson - bragged would be the case.

Do I think this legitimizes the fringe elements that filed the FTC complaint or have been legitimately belligerent or hateful towards BioWare? No. Does it change the fact that I still am personally okay with how my game played out regardless of how transparently thrown-together the ending was? No.

But it DOES mean that the developer LIED about the game. As blatantly as if a film's marketing were centered on a big-name actor who then proceeded to have NO SCENES WHATSOEVER in the actual film.

Anonymous said...

I would not be surprised if pirated games showed less sales then pirated music. Most games are shit these days.

Probably because people seemed to have forgotten what a game is, a toy. You can put a lot of glitter/bells/whistles on a ball but at the end of the day it's still just a ball and people will easily tire of it. Especially because all that extra shit on it isn't helping. Games these days have a lot of fluff but don't offer any better of an fun experience, and cost a hell of a lot.

Despite all that, there are only ever increasing profits made in the gaming industry. I don't see why people are so butt hurt over piracy.

smile said...

Bob, why are you such an apologist for a game you admittedly haven't played?

If Mass Effect 3 had any artistic integrity worth defending, they wouldn't have hired that glorified booth babe from IGN as one of their characters.

Hypershell said...

As ME3's ending IS a matter of ethics more than it is legality, I can kinda see the BBB's point. Although yes, I do expect the nutcases who filed complaints with the FTC (ridiculous) will only be further encouraged. But just because Bioware didn't do anything worth suing them over doesn't mean it was necessarily right, in terms of decency with its consumers. That's the price of the free world, folks. You can be misleading, in a bad way, without being legally wrong.

Interesting point, Bob, on the film industry and its use of deliberate misdirection. The thing is, while that IS a valuable tool, it can still be misused, and I don't think it's wrong to call out a company that's done so. To pull an example from the film industry: Lord Of War. It was advertised as a witty movie in its previews, and there were maybe three jokes in the entire film that weren't in the previews. Now there IS a big twist in the end, one that is extremely well presented whether you think it's as black-and-white as the authors claim or not. Disguising the fact that the movie was "serious" was not AT ALL necessary to obtain that twist. Is that bad advertising? Is it misleading? I'd say absolutely. Is it worth suing and/or censoring the industry? No, of course not.

ME3's ending, whether to "patch" it or not, is ultimately Bioware's decision and nobody else's. As you yourself said people have a right to be pissed, and the BBB has no power except to say that people have a good reason to be pissed. And, well, they do.

Another point of interest in the "artistic" angle: I don't necessarily agree that, should Bioware change the ending, that it would be as detrimental to the industry as you claim, so much as it would be one more brick in a crappy road that the industry is already well on its way down. My reason for this is that I don't agree with your presupposition that art is inherently static. All art is changed, revised, and evolved by the artist at some point from just their initial vision, that's what we call deleted scenes, director's cuts, rough drafts, outlines, concept sketches, etc. There comes a point when the artist, and the artist alone, decides that the art has been "finished". We're assuming that public release constitutes "finished" from the author's perspective, mainly because most respectable artists hate showing unfinished work, but that really depends solely on the author, in this case Bioware, and the reality of the business means that things are often rushed out to meet certain schedules. Did or didn't Bioware do this? Do they or don't they want to take another shot after hearing their audience's complaints? That's up to them. I agree that it's a poor practice for an author to deliberately release an unfinished product with the intent to patch it later, something you already addressed in Episode 61, but unfortunately that is the author's decision. Artistically speaking, the general public has no right to tell an artist when their work is and isn't finished. All artists must balance their need to express themselves with their desire to find an audience. Bioware has to do the same.

Anonymous said...

Ah Bob, I can only imagine how fun it would be to be your girlfriend. Honestly, I've been in relationships that were full of irrational, never-give-an-inch arguements that went nowhere and made no sense but neither party stopped because they couldn't stand losing. You're wrong and you've lost. You picked the wrong side of the wrong fight with almost no information or knowledge that wasn't already tainted, and you've offended a lot of people needlessly with your deathgrip on wrongness. Sorry to kill the thread, but it seems that telling one big lie often enough doesn't always work. You've been called on your bullshit, now person-up and try to cobble together some dignity sir, before people start disliking you enough to start questioning your moral stances on important issues (So sexism = bad, but lying is perfectly valid in narrow sets of circumstances so shut up already I win?).

Sylocat said...

Someone in the comments section at BAD raised an interesting point:

We've all been thinking of "the ending" as nothing more than the cutscene after the last level. But is it really? Certain members of the fandom are making such a big deal over games being *gasp* interactive, that perhaps the ending itself could encompass that interactivity?

Viewed from that angle, the entire game is the ending of the trilogy. And it's filled with ripples and results from choices made in the first two games.

So, the re-takers are hoist by their own petards.

Mads said...


The problem is not truly that the game ends badly. It's that the last 10 minutes of the experience are horrible.

You can call them what you want. You want to say, "the ending is actually the last 2 hours, so on average, it's pretty good" is fine. That's a fine statement, I won't disagree with it.

But the last 10 minutes are still horrible even if I have to call them something different from "the ending". They're still broken. They're still a mess.

And that's what people are criticizing.

Sylocat said...

Fine, Mads, I won't disagree. I think it's not nearly as bad as the fans are bleating about... though that's partially because the game could have had Joseph Stalin coming back to life and taking over the galaxy and it STILL wouldn't have been as bad as the fans have declared ME3's actual ending to be... but yeah, it wasn't "good."

And it's nice to see that you finally seem to have made up your mind as to what specifically is wrong with the ending.