The End is the Beginning is the End
So the gaming nirvana that is Mass Effect 3 has come out, been played and a vocal section of the game's fans have been very unhappy with the ending. This has led to some anger and demands that a new ending be provided, which the game developers BioWare appear to be responding to by offering an alternative, which has generated even more anger among people who thought the original ending was just fine.
In the name of full disclosure I haven't played any of the Mass Effect games. In fact I haven't had any games console in my flat for about 2 years, so I am viewing this argument from an outsider's point of view. Initially I understood why people were angry at fans demanding an alternative ending. It comes across as a little arrogant to say to the developers that they got it wrong and the fans know better, but the more I think about it the more I think where is the harm?
Gaming technology has evolved and with the advent of DLC, games have become a far more adaptable medium. Gamers know this which is why they know they can demand a new ending without having to buy a whole new game. What annoys me is that the most vocal detractors of the ending think they should be entitled to it for free. Providing a new ending for free is a slap in the face to all the people who were perfectly happy with the original ending and gives the impression that they were in some way wrong to accept it. However, if there is a DLC market for an alternative ending then it makes sense for BioWare to cater to that, but of course they are going to charge for it. If nothing else it makes good business sense and will provide the game with a little extra profit it wasn't expecting. I imagine it will be doughnuts all round in the BioWare offices that day.
The people angry at the idea that the haters are getting their own way are concerned that it sets a dangerous precedent. That it gives licence to any vocal minority to force changes on people who were happy with the original product. I think that so long as any changes made to a game via DLC are optional and charge those who want an alternative, then it shouldn't really affect those people who are happy with the original.
What I find interesting about the whole debate is that it is a uniquely gaming argument. While there were sections of fans who didn't like the endings to shows like Lost or Battlestar Galactica there was no one demanding the the final episodes be remade to their satisfaction. Mainly because that would be impossible to do as no network in their right mind would pay for an extra episode of something to silence some raging fanboys on the internet. Maybe they are missing a trick. After all, alternate endings can be marketable.
Alternative endings for films have existed for many years, in cases where the original endings don't go down well with test audiences. These changes are not always for the better; for instance the original ending of the Will Smith-starring I Am Legend was apparently much more in line with the original story, but was changed for a happier ending after test screenings. Thanks to the medium of DVD and Blu-ray we can see these original endings and judge for ourselves which is better. More savvy DVD publishers have come to realise that catering to divided opinion on alternate endings can pay dividends. Army of Darkness notoriously has two different endings. The double disk DVD had a full version of the film with each ending allowing fans to chose their favourite. The murder mystery comedy Clue had the unique selling point of having three alternative endings. Which one you saw depended on which screening you went to. The DVD has the option to play one of the endings at random or show all three as the film does when shown on TV.
I'm not saying that having a flexible conclusion is right for everything, but there is clearly room to do so for the right projects. Gaming is a medium that lends itself to this kind of flexibility, but that shouldn't come with a sense of entitlement. If enough people want an alternate end to a game then a developer is going to listen, but they shouldn't be expected to do it for nothing. It's the development of the charged-for DLC business model that allows gamers to be in this unique position. They should be happy that the opportunity exists rather than trying to bite the hand that feeds them.
Of course if you don't like the ending of this column I may be persuaded to change it...for a price.