BioWare does not want you to refer to the next Mass Effect game as Mass Effect 4. Doing so would imply it was a sequel to Commander Shepard's story.
But that doesn't mean it will be a prequel, either.
"To call the next game Mass Effect 4 or ME4 is doing it a disservice and seems to cause a lot of confusion here," BioWare community manager Chris Priestly wrote on the company's forums.
"We have already said that the Commander Shepard trilogy is over and that the next game will not feature him/her. That is the only detail you have on the game. I see people saying 'well, they'll have to pick a canon ending'. No, because the game does not have to come after. Or before. Or off to the side. Or with characters you know. Or yaddayaddayadda."
The next Mass Effect game is in development at BioWare Montreal, which worked on Mass Effect 2 and 3 side-quests and the latter's excellent multiplayer.
BioWare Montreal boss Yanick Roy has since clarified Priestly's comments and dropped several hints that, despite not being a sequel, events in the next game could take place after those in Mass Effect 3.
"Thinking of the next Mass Effect game as Mass Effect 4 would imply a certain linearity, a straight evolution of the gameplay and story of the first three games," he wrote. "That doesn't mean that events of the first three games and the choices you made won't get recognised, but they likely won't be what this new story will focus on.
"If you had three games centred around a group of key soldiers in the US army during World War I and then decided to make a game about another group of people during the Second World War, the games could have many points in common and feel true to one another," he continued.
"You likely would have to recognise how the events of the first war influenced the ones of the second, but you would not necessarily think of it as a sequel. Again, the analogy is not great, but what I'm trying to say is that the ME universe is so rich that we are not limited to a single track when coming up with a new story."
Questioned as to whether the next Mass Effect game could still feature the same galaxy, the same alien races, and honour the series' existing lore and history, Roy suggested it would.
"What makes it Mass Effect is indeed the alien races, the technology, the lore, history, etc. You can safely expect those in the next Mass Effect."
Firm information on the project, first announced by BioWare last September, won't be disclosed "for several more months".
"We don't have a firm communication timeline established at this point, but I don't expect it will be for several more months," Roy concluded. "Early in development, things fluctuate so much that any detail we communicate could have to be 'uncommunicated' a few months later. I think we'd rather have something solid to show by the time we step in the spotlight."
BioWare still has a significant (and likely final) Mass Effect 3 single-player DLC in the pipeline, along with another multiplayer update.