The Soapbox: What the Mass Effect Andromeda kerfuffle ought to teach us about games criticism

Today is the official release of Mass Effect: Andromeda, which was preceded by the frankly baffling decision to allow people access to an early build of the game ahead of time. Or perhaps the final build without everything enabled? The point is that you could play a bit of it if you were willing to drop some money. That seems like a bad idea that we’ve been dealing with in online-game-land for a long time, but regardless, it gave people the opportunity to see some of this RPG ahead of time.

This, in turn, allowed the typical internet trolls to find any and all animation flubs and then happily declare that it was all the result of one woman working on the game and handling all of the animations. Which, you know, is a conclusion that would be helped significantly if the woman in question actually worked in that role on the game, which she did not.

Obviously, the game under discussion is not an MMO. But it is symptomatic of two all-too-common problems in gaming culture that are worth noting to people who do not have balls of spiders in place of a soul. So let’s talk about those.

Games are big

Have I mentioned lately that I like this game?Do me a favor and go watch the credits for Final Fantasy XIV. (If you don’t already own a copy of FFXIV, you have made a poor choice and you’ll have to just take my word on everything here.) This is a game with a big budget and large production values, and its credits are… substantial. And in what should be not a surprise at all, the name “Naoki Yoshida” crops up exactly twice in those credits as the game’s producer and director.

That means, at the end of the day, that those were his areas of focus. That was his job. That was what he did. He oversaw the production of the game, directed what people were doing, but he did not, in fact, have personal oversight of every aspect of the game’s design.

Does that mean that he signed off on everything in the game? Yes. But it also means that the sheer nature of how much stuff is in the game meant he couldn’t carefully check every single part line-by-line. Even if he could check and see certain issues, he may or may not have been able to address those issues before the game launched. He was not the only person involved in the making of this game.

In fact, there are very few MMOs for which you can point to a single person as the sole proprietor of a game. Pretty much everything else is the work of a lot of people working in concert, and while people at the top of the pile have a pretty big influence on what happens on down the line, it’s not absolute.

Let’s take a half-step back and look at a situation in the opposite direction: Mark Kern and Firefall. By most first-hand accounts, Kern’s leadership was an impediment to the game’s development and well-being. However, the game itself still stumbled out to reasonably warm perception in the MMO community. The big problem wasn’t that Kern personally killed the game, just that he burned through a huge amount of money that greatly diminished what Red 5 Studios could do from there on out. He made the game a lot worse than it could have been, but it would be downright wrong to say that everything wrong with the game was his fault personally.

This goes even more strenuously for people further on down the line. The animator who worked on a game is likely not the person making top-level decisions or even the person making mid-level decisions. That animator’s work was checked by several people and was subject to several other parts of the game working correctly, like the game calling for the right animations at the right times and the models all corresponding properly. The best animations in the world don’t matter if the game isn’t indexing assets correctly and everything displays like a mess.

So there’s the first part: Games are big. You cannot, in most cases, point to one person and say that it’s Jerry’s fault; it’s usually the result of a lot of factors coming together. Even on indie titles, you’re looking at more than one person making things happen.

Don’t choose the targets you want

Sometimes it really isn't the undead, for example.Of course, as mentioned above, all of this would be much better if the woman being attacked had actually worked on the animations at all. This was not the case. She was targeted because she had worked in roughly the right field at around the right times and she was, well, a woman. That was all the legions of grousing Twitter denizens really needed to launch a harassment campaign: They already wanted to dislike her. She was a woman working with video games. Any actual evidence was secondary.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this is beyond awful. And it’s another thing we have a nasty tendency of doing: We pick the targets we want to be responsible for something and assume they must be at fault.

This is something we’re all unhappily good at. It’s tempting and easy, for example, to say that the reason why X game didn’t take off is because a whole bunch of World of Warcraft players just jumped into the game and then jumped back out, neglecting questions like “why didn’t the developers plan for exactly that” and “why is it that all of the complaints from people who started playing and then stopped are centered around the game being too much like WoW.” It’s easy because these are the culprits you want, and that means it’s more satisfying to blame them.

Alas, life rarely works that way. What happens more often is that you see certain patterns repeat with certain common elements, and that points to those common elements as a shared contributing factor. You can even see it when people accuse this site of hating, say, subscription games or sandboxes or raiding or whatever.

Leaving aside the fact that this site is not a monolithic establishment and we frequently disagree (Bree and I argue for hours sometimes in good-natured debates), the simple reality is that we don’t hate any of these things. I don’t hate subscription games; I’m playing three of them right now, and historically I subscribe to any game that gives me that option when I’m playing. But I also recognize that a subscription game in the current market is facing constant competition from an army of free-to-play games, and it’s far more likely that the subscription model is going to turn people off than that it will convert new people.

That’s basic logic. Don’t decide on what you think is true and then find situations that support it; find what evidence there is and then draw a logical conclusion from that. And be reluctant to accept reasoning that coincidentally lines up exactly with what you want to be true.

Neither of these things is new, of course. Neither of them is even particularly unusual. But as we look at the latest person being harassed about a game unfairly to punish a perceived slight that isn’t any one person’s fault to begin with? It’s worth considering.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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152 Comments on "The Soapbox: What the Mass Effect Andromeda kerfuffle ought to teach us about games criticism"

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Steinar Bergstøl

Personally I’m enjoying the game. It certainly has some animation issues and certain NPCs do have the “I’m dead inside” look, but that’s nothing that can’t be ignored if necessary. The most annoying part to me is that after a while of playing the game will start stuttering badly, dialogue will get scratchy, eventually to the point of being impossible to enjoy and FPS drops sharply. The only way I’ve found to do something about it has been to shut down my PC entirely and restart it. Just closing the game and restarting it won’t do the trick as then the scratching and stuttering returns after just a very short time. I’m really hoping they do something about this problem.

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Ailsa Nordstrom

Let me give you my perspective:

My son recently showed me a gameplay video from Mass Effect Andromeda of one of the dialog/cutscene parts of the game. I was of course familiar with Mass Effect even though I never played any of the titles. I’ve seen my husband and sons playing them in the past. Other than being aware of the series of games and the companies involved in developing/publishing them, I had no other information that would bias my opinion

And I have to tell you that my opinion about the facial animation was that it was poor. It was not a step forward from the previous title, it was two steps back. I was impressed with the skin texture quality and detail, but that was about it.

Reading this article just now was the very first time I became aware of this controversy involving the gender of someone involved in making the game. I can safely say that my opinion had nothing to do with the particular people involved, their genders, their race, or any other superficial characteristics. I hope that no one is using that manufactured controversy as a way to excuse a poor product.

Aaron Biegalski

It is fair and right for customers to looks at the bugs and problems and ugly characters and criticize. It is NOT appropriate to harass and attack people for perceived ‘injustices’ against games. Vote with your money and patronage. Internet vigilantism accomplishes nothing.

As with any product, the end result is all that matters, regardless of how it got there. The finished game — as released to the public — undeniably has janky animations, abundant bugs, and horrendously ugly human faces. (Like seriously. We aren’t even talking Oblivion ugly. It fairly obvious that whoever build these face models simply does not understand basic anatomy.)

It doesn’t matter HOW it got to be that way. Maybe it really is an “SJW” plot to make the women ugly. Or maybe it’s just innocent incompetence. At the end of the day it really makes no difference. I can promise that if customers stop giving EA money for these games, it will change.


. That was all the legions of grousing Twitter denizens really needed to launch a harassment campaign

Here’s the issue right here. Don’t use Twitter.


People were still harping on about Hamburger Helper over this game? All I heard in the dev circle blaming game is Mac Walters for continuing the shoddy writing standards of the recent games from bioware, and that manveer guy for being a racist cunt and a reason people would not buy the game (or at least threaten not to), not sure how much the latter was involved though aside from being a game developer.

As for the game itself, after ME3 I’ve come to terms with the reality that the old guard that made the mass effects I enjoyed aren’t employed there anymore. So it wouldn’t matter who replaced them, it won’t be the same mass effect no matter which direction it goes. Though from what I gleamed from what gameplay footage I found I was not impressed with what they had to offer, even the ones with more positive spin of it did not give me much to desire for it.

Evan Schultheis

It is clear that with the massive decline of SWTOR over the past few years and with Andromeda that something is inherently wrong with Bioware (that thing probably being EA), but you can’t blame it all on one person.


“What the Mass Effect Andromeda kerfuffle ought to teach us about games criticism”

This is a perfect example of why i disappear from forums and avoid reviews and people’s incessant whining about every little thing. They are games, you either have fun or not.

Nutshell the game is F’ING AMAZING!!! It’s an Epic Space Opera, maybe peeps miss this?

Here is what my checklist (should be everyone’s).

Am i having fun? Check!

Done, checklist complete.


The narrative seems to be trying to get everyone to agree the game was bad outside of the personal experience. It’s what all the cool kids are saying. /bleh


To deprive oneself from this experience due to immeasurable misinformation is a shame.
I played the trilogy numerous times, read all 4 novels, almost didn’t pre-order as i was trying to keep my hype level down (not excited), and nearly didn’t due to the rhetoric of fools whom do not or can not enjoy a space opera masterpiece.
Anyone whom is on the fence, tune out the idiots, tune out the bad reviews, because they have done you wrong on so many levels.


Heh. I almost teared up when I read this. :)

I agree whole heatedly. MEA is Mass Effect and by defenition fantastic. Yes, I agree with the critiques in as so far as the workmanship of animations are concerned. But, it doesn’t invalidate how good the game really is.

All the SWJ stuff, arguments over the reasons why, and the game issues are secondary. MEA is judged by the highest standard because of the franchise but it is in and of itself worth the time and money.


This is why *I prefer to call them as “Straw Justice Warriors”. As it seems internet folks who opposes them are often making up the arguments this perceived, imagined or otherwise group have supposedly made. But I digress…

…yeah I get it. “WoW is for kiddies!” “WildStar is terrible!” “You must be a lolicon for playing TERA!” “Only folks who played CoH are those who wear **Underoos!” I could go on. But if I took everyone’s advise not to play so and so game because of so and so, there wouldn’t be much to left to play. /sigh

*Note 1: Don’t look at me, I am a Social Justice Mage! <3

**Note 2: Yeah, someone did make that argument back in Massively-that-was. :(


What’s a lolicon?!


Trigger warning and maybe also be NSFW, but here you go: :(


I don’t know what all the whining is about. I’ve played for 7 hours so far and am having fun. I don’t regret my purchase at all.

The facial animations are awful, but I can’t remember a time when that kept me from playing a game.

This doesn’t excuse people trolling someone over it, but frankly, BioWare should be ashamed of the quality of animations in the game.

Roger Melly

Looking around at the reviews it sounds like most think it’s a mediocre game . I rarely buy a game at release of this reason . I won’t rule out ever playing it but I’ve got a load of games on my steam to play through first by which time it will probably be on offer anyway .

I know a lot of people though who have been looking forward to this as one of the highlights of the gaming year . It’ll be a shame for them if it’s not that great .

John Kiser

It isn’t by any means. I’ve had the most fun in any mass effect game in this one and I’m a big fan of the series. There is a lot of quests to do and reason to talk to every NPC. Yes animations and some things have glitches, but it is overall a fantastic game worth the money. A lot of negative reviews come from people that never even played the series at all.


This isn’t really the fault of an animator though. Andromeda appears to use an automated animation process, probably audio driven, but possibly text driven. This works from a library of animations which are associated with specific words or sounds, the library would be common and used for all human models. There are two immediate problems with this, the first is that apply the same animation to different faces will look different in each case, some of which will appear unnatural, and the second is that some lip movements are common for multiple sounds, which draws the risk of certain animations not flowing correctly in all circumstances of their use.

Utilizing this method of animation was, and always will be, a management decision at the studio. It is expensive to motion capture, and very expensive to motion capture multiple people for different face types. They probably only did it for the key characters (Ryders).

And then if we actually look at the BioWare Montreal team who made Andromeda, we find that all the discipline/team leads are men. So, the question is then, even if this women was an animator on Andromeda, why would anyone target her? It wasn’t her decision to do this, she was limited by the tools and technology available.