An open letter to Bioware and EA

by berv

I can’t remember what turned me on to Mass Effect in the first place, but somehow I ended up borrowing an Xbox, buying the game, and proceeding to get utterly lost in the world that lay before me. Adrian Shepard explored every corner of the galaxy, chasing down every last side quest, pursuing each conversation down every possible branch, and mining every single rock on even the most remote of planets. Suffice it to say I was hooked.

When I heard Mass Effect 2 was incoming, I scrambled to prepare, no longer having access to the Xbox I’d begun on. Once more, I recreated the story of Adrian Shepard on PC, down to the tiniest detail, so that the character I had imagined might continue the story. And so we did, enjoying the second chapter even more than the first.

From the moment the last boss went down, I craved closure to the story we had woven together. Mass Effect 3 was little more than two years away, and slated to be released on my birthday, of all days! My anticipation and excitement couldn’t have been more palpable. But as the day drew nearer and nearer my enthusiasm began to fade. “Might not be on Steam?” It would have been nice to have the trilogy in one place, but no biggie. “Requires Origin?” I don’t really have a problem with other distribution platforms; let’s just have a look at the EULA here…

And that’s when my heart sunk.

Adding to EA’s already rocky track record (concerning DRM, customer service, legal muscling, etc.) was a clause that would inflexibly grant Origin knowledge of all software use, installation, and uninstallation on my computer. How is this at all appropriate, or necessary for me to play Mass Effect 3? I can understand EA’s desire to ensure legitimate use of their software, but disagree on principle with these efforts extending beyond the particular instance they are attached to. I’m not a pirate and I don’t have any programs I would be ashamed of owning; I essentially have nothing to hide. But I can’t support this invasion of privacy, forced on users without the opportunity to opt out.

Come the wave of public criticism in the fall of 2011, I was glad to see the adjustment of the EULA away from marketing and personally identifiable data. However, Origin users are still being commoditized, with EA collecting more data than I believe they have any right to. Vocal criticism has all but faded, leading me to believe that this is, in the public perception, “just another one of those things we’ll have to accept.” To me it seems the familiar story of a corporation forcing dependency on their customers and then having their way with them. I’ve seen it with Google, I’ve seen it with Apple, I’ve seen it with Facebook. Each has cultivated their user base with a valued product or service, then slowly taken more and more from their customers. EA is acting in much the same way, which I feel is a disservice to Bioware and all those who worked to tell the continuing story of Shepards everywhere.

The strength of Mass Effects 1 and 2 as well as the burgeoning tide of glowing reviews for 3 would certainly suggest that the latest instalment is fantastic. But as long as a purchase would support corporate meddling of Origin’s sort, I won’t be able to see for myself. Were there a way to purchase the game direct from Bioware and support the studio fully and directly, I would be on that in a heartbeat, even going so far as to install Origin on a separate hard drive to keep it from its inborn poking around. But EA as a publisher is inextricable from the equation and I can’t bring myself to support them with my money.

So for now the final chapter in the story of Adrian Shepard will remain unwritten. Perhaps the future will bring more options for a consumer and longtime fan like me, but the present direction is not looking good. In making publishing and distribution decisions, please consider the rights of the individuals who enjoy your products and would love to support future development. There are some costs, however, that I am simply not willing to pay.

With hope,