Interviews

Mass Effect 3: Can it sell big - without selling out?

BioWare on getting the balance right...

BioWare's difficult third album is nearly upon us.

For two years, the studio has been battling with one of the toughest questions ever faced by a games development unit: How do you follow-up one of the best-rated games of all time?

The Canadian giant wants to woo two audiences that don't easily snuggle together: the RPG heads who first sung about Mass Effect's brilliance, and the action-hungry mainstream crowd.

The former wants to make an idiosyncratic imprint, controlling the complex evolution of minutiae; the latter just wants to blow shit up.

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Whose side are you on: The geeks or the luddites? You can only pick one - can't you?

We're talking to you, David Silverman - BioWare marketing boss and willing multi-audience fathomer.

What do you reckon?

We hear a lot about how Mass Effect can become gaming's Star Wars - as Cliff Bleszinski memorably pointed out. How can you reach that level of audience without alienating your core RPG fanbase?
We actually like to look at Mass Effect as HBO meets Star Wars. Star Wars is obviously an amazing franchise, it offers an epic saga in space - lots of things that make it obvious why people would draw parallels.

The only difference in what we offer is that we have more mature tones - that's the HBO filter. There's complex characters, it's a little bit more dimensional. We're not trying to appeal to little kids, so we can specialise there for the adult audience. Obviously we want as many people as possible to play the game, but obviously it would be a bit weird if five-year-olds were playing Mass Effect. Certainly the BBFC wouldn't like that.

What we're trying to do with Mass Effect 3 is that it's a new beginning for the series. It's probably a natural entry point. Given the fact this is the beginning of an all-out war with this ancient alien race. We've been foreshadowing this war with this race that's been dormant for 50,000 years. Well now they've finally woken up, launching their full scale invasion and trying to wipe out all life as we know it. It's a natural point for people to jump in.

To use that Star Wars analogy, when you started on episode IV, you didn't realise you were missing anything, right? There was the Death Star, and there was the empire; they were attacking and Luke Skywalker was going in to take 'em down.

You didn't need to know that there three movies before that setting up who Darth Vader and Anakin were. It's kind of a similar thing. In ME3, you're going to start the war and end the war in the same game. It's pretty self-contained.

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That'd said, we want to make sure we're pleasing both audiences. One of the things we have on the team is to make this an amazing entry point, but also to acknowledge our roots. We don't want to totally dumb it down for the people who have played through the first two games three, four, five times. We've really struck a great balance. Obviously, if you've played the game before you'll see things that apply to you.

And even if you've played the games multiple times before - Mass Effect came out almost eight years ago - you're not going to remember all the details from when you played that game, right? Even I can't recall everything that happened to me when that came out in 2007. It's human nature. We're not Rain Man.

Getting some of this refresher stuff and having video set up the state of the universe in the beginning, it helps. It's those kind of things that will help new people and give people a quick refresher.

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