So just in case you didn’t tap into the hue and cry yesterday, BioWare announced that Jessica Chobot is going to be a romanceable character in Mass Effect 3. It’s ok if you don’t really know who she is – while you may have seen her hosting various video segments on G4, she’s not exactly a household name. A lot of folks are pissed about this for a variety of reasons. Some are angry because in her capacity as a correspondent for G4, Chobot previewed the game – seemingly a clear conflict of interest. Some just think she’s a talentless hack who doesn’t deserve the notoriety. Personally, I’m tweaked that her character was made to look like her. The emphasis should be on the game, not the guest star. The character is the important person on that equation, not the person playing them. Every single time her journalist character comes on screen, I’m supposed to remember that it’s Jessica Chobot, which is unfair because it takes away my ability to escape into the game world.
So, yeah, I’m annoyed, but mostly, I just plain don’t get why BioWare put her in there. This is hardly the first time the company has toyed with non-canon crossover, but at least in previous examples, I could understand the basic motivation. Sliding Blood Armor into Mass Effect 2 not only let BioWare cross promote its two biggest franchises, but also provided incentive to buy Dragon Age: Origins brand new. The inclusion of Dead Space 2 star “Ser Isaac”‘s armor in Dragon Age 2 was anachronistic and clunky, but it gave EA a chance to cross-promote a game that it wasn’t sure would sell well with one that it figured would (I’ll let you figure out which is which). Things got a bit more heavy-handed when it came to Mark of the Assassin, the Dragon Age 2 DLC starring geek culture icon Felicia Day. As frustrating as it was to see BioWare compromising the game’s visual choices to accommodate Day’s likeness (why not just make her human if you want to make Talis look like her?), the motivation made basic sense. Making Day the star was an effective way to get people’s attention and quite probably got at least some folks to try the DLC who wouldn’t have otherwise. As an unexpected bonus, it may have even also nudged the public perception meter a bit more towards the “Dragon Age 2 maybe didn’t give me cancer, after all” end of the scale. (People really, really hated that game, man.)
So as blatant as these maneuvers have been, their motivations were at least pretty clear – get people like me writing about the games, and people like you buying them. Buying them new, buying them months after release, buying their DLC. A big part of getting people to buy your product is getting them to make it a habit. EA wants you to get used to plugging in those download codes, looking for what kind of goodies you get from the brand-new game you just bought. They want you to do it often enough that it becomes habit, because it’s what’s best for their bottom line.
I get all that. I don’t like it, but I get it. This is a business, after all, and EA is very, very good at gaming the system to get more of your munney. Which is why I just plain don’t understand the Chobot thing. What does including her hope to achieve? Let’s go through the options.
1. BioWare/EA want to sell Mass Effect 3 to a mainstream audience.
Well, that’s certainly true, but Chobot doesn’t help further that goal one bit. The guy who buys a handful of games a year from Best Buy has no clue who she is, and even if he did, isn’t likely to pick up a game just because he can digitally bang her. If BioWare was doing some stunt casting to try and grab the attention of people who don’t normally play games, it makes more sense that they’d go for someone like Lady Gaga. Don’t even tell me you wouldn’t play a game just to have an alien Lady Gaga on your crew, because you know you would. She’s practically an Asari already.
2. BioWare/EA wants to generate interest in the game, and Chobot’s inclusion will get a lot of press.
Again, true, but it’s not like we weren’t already writing about Mass Effect 3 constantly. Game journalists love Mass Effect and we’re desperate to play the third installment. You don’t need to trick us into writing about the game – tell us what kind of shampoo Commander Shepard uses, we’ll write about it. Do we still get to stock the fish tank on the Normandy? Just let me know, I’ll whip up 1000 words on it. (Seriously, I loved my fish tank.)
3. BioWare/EA wants to attract more players, and is hoping Chobot’s fanbase will buy the game.
This makes sense, except that Chobot’s fanbase – the kind of core gamer that watches G4 and reads IGN – is the kind of player that has probably already made up their minds about Mass Effect. The first two games were universally praised, hyped, and praised some more. If that wasn’t enough to get Chobot’s followers playing a game in which you quite literally save the universe, it seems unlikely that just adding her to the cast will persuade them to finally join the party. And if they already know how good Mass Effect is, then they hardly need a bribe to dive into the third installment.
4. This really isn’t about getting people to buy the game.
The possibility certainly exists that Chobot’s inclusion has nothing to do with marketing the game and is just some sort of shadiness involving less than sterling morals or ethics. But I doubt it. Yes, people do stuff to get laid, get paid, or get ahead all the time, but the amount of manpower and hours that putting Chobot in the game requires is simply too monumental to make something along these lines all that likely. I’d find the idea that G4 paid EA or BioWare much cash to include her in the game more likely if they were getting some really choice exclusive content out of it, but so far, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Also, these people aren’t jerks. So while I must concede that this might be the case, I just plain don’t buy it. I include this only to stave off the inevitable obnoxious comments about Chobot “licking something besides a PSP” to get into the game. Let’s show some class, gang.
5. They genuinely think she’s an appropriate addition to the cast.
Yeah, sorry, no. I have no reason to assume that she does a lousy job, but I don’t think that as you peruse a cast list full of experienced actors from TV, movies, and voicework that you arrive at the conclusion that a complete newbie would be the perfect person to add. That just doesn’t track at all. Also, if this was a serendipitious discovery – a sort of “We were just talking one day and discovered that Jessica is actually really good at voice acting!” – then why isn’t that part of the message? It humanizes BioWare and EA, and turns Chobot into a plucky, lucky little everywoman who was just in the right place at the right time…the geek version of being discovered in a soda shoppe.
So, yeah, I’m discouraged, disappointed, and above all, confused. Perhaps I’m being overly dramatic, but this whole stunt has actually killed a lot of my enthusiasm for Mass Effect 3. I’m sure the game will be brilliant, and make no mistake, I’ll end up playing it. But I feel really let down by this crass maneuver.
Oh, and hey, BioWare? The next time you want to include someone tangentially related to geek culture in one of your games? Make it Wil Wheaton. Girls play your games too, you know.
(EDIT: Some folks are pointing out that Miranda actually resembles her voice actress, albeit with different color hair. True enough, though I wasn’t familiar with her at the time I played Mass Effect 2, having never watched Chuck.)