Might one of the as-yet-untapped benefits of e-books be the ability to revise?

After the ending of Mass Effect 3 sent fans into an uproar, BioWare and Electronic Arts have announced that a free downloadable content pack will be released this summer including additional cinematic sequences that will “give fans seeking further clarity to the ending of Mass Effect 3 deeper insights into how their personal journey concludes.”

Make no mistake, fans were extremely upset at the ending of the game. Instead of the expected multitude of different endings depending on the choices characters had made, there were only three, they were all somewhat depressing (and cryptically short with no denouement whatsoever), as well as somewhat jarringly different in tone from the game that came before. This was probably a contributing factor in the vote for The Consumerist’s “Worst Company In America” award that ended up selecting EA over such competition as Bank of America. (British Petroleum was the winner last year.)

But the thing that interests me is that the company is now taking advantage of the ability to rewrite the ending of a game that’s already sold 3.4 million copies. (Whether the rewrite will satisfy upset fans is an open question, of course.) What if you could do the same for books?

Some authors have later come out with revised editions of earlier works, changing or expanding them for various reasons, but these were usually sold as separate, entirely new print editions. By the same token, there have been a number of cases (most notably, Neal Stephenson’s Reamde) where e-books have been retroactively revised and reissued to fix typos and the like. (And I had previously discussed the idea of correcting e-books that way in general.) But I don’t think we’ve ever had a case where a writer pushed out a revised version because he wanted to change what he had originally written.

And I don’t expect it is terribly likely to happen, the way things are now. There’s a lot more money at stake with video games, and it’s important to give people incentive to buy the one you have now. Since authors wouldn’t be getting any additional payments for making corrections on the same book, coming out with a new edition in a few years would actually make them more money. (The same with textbooks; textbook publishers intentionally issue new editions every few years so that used copies of previous ones go out of fashion.) Still, today’s e-book delivery systems make it at least theoretically possible.

Funny thing is, BioWare could benefit by replacing e-books that way, too; as we mentioned earlier, the latest Mass Effect tie-in novel was so reviled by fans that BioWare actually promised it would have a “corrected” second edition. I’m sure the fans who bought it would be happy to get the version they bought replaced by that second edition when it comes out. (Though who knows whether there’s any chance that will happen?)