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Game Journalist May Have Been Fired Over Negative Review 397

Posted by Zonk
from the that-was-not-a-move-you-should-have-made dept.
It started as a rumour post on Kotaku and a Penny Arcade comic strip: reviewer Jeff Gerstmann was fired from the gaming news site Gamespot for giving the co-op action title Kane and Lynch a low score, and snarking on the game in the review. The catch? The firing was dictated by games publisher Eidos, who didn't appreciate the veteran reviewer's tone in the piece. Their ad campaign (spread across the entirety of the Gamespot site) may have been used as a bargaining tool of some kind. Joystiq has a lengthy, detailed summary of this event and its implications, which is no longer technically a rumour. Gerstmann confirmed to the blog that he has been let go from the C|Net-affiliated site, but as of right now can't talk about the details. "The ramifications of the story, if true, are huge. Readers should fairly expect there to be an inviolable firewall between advertising and editorial in journalism, and game journalism (yes, that includes "just reviews") is no different. While our industry has had its fair share of accusations of impropriety, nothing so far has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. Giving a publisher the power to fire a senior editor is a line no outlet should be willing to cross." Update: 11/30 17:40 GMT by Z : The Joystiq story continues to be updated, and Tycho has put up what the PA guys heard about the tale in text. Joystiq also has an additional post about the story, with a brief (noncommittal) response from Gamespot.
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Game Journalist May Have Been Fired Over Negative Review

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  • I frequent Gamespot often enough that I set up a Firefox quick search ("gs gamename" in my address bar), and I recognize Gerstmann as one of their senior, more talented writers and personalities. I actually thought he was one of the founders of Gamespot, considering his seniority and tendency to review many of the more anticipated AAA titles.

    The site won't be the same without him. I may even change my quick search to 1up.com or metacritic.com as a result. I can't attest to the veracity of this gossipey claim in the article but Gerstmann has earned enough journalistic integrity that I'm not surprised that he'd review high profile games honestly.

    Really, is getting fired for accurate journalism a curse or a great bullet point on your resume? I'd wish Jeff luck but thanks to his outstanding track record I'm sure he won't need any.
  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Friday November 30, 2007 @09:44AM (#21531521)
    I really enjoyed listening to Roger Ebert's opinions when he was alive and doing his movie review show. I also love the Filthy Critic and his lively take on modern movies.

    But as much as I like them, I find that I disagree with them almost all the time. My own movie experience is so different from theirs, my reaction to the movies being sometimes in direct opposition, that the only benefit I get from reading their "reviews" is the entertainment value.

    I can't imagine how much more divergent something like a game would make these types of opinions. After all, you're not just a passive viewer of a game anymore. You're actually taking part in it and shaping the outcome as you play. How can someone's impressions of something as personal as this be of any value to anyone else?
  • by redscare2k4 (1178243) on Friday November 30, 2007 @09:45AM (#21531535)
    I like gamespot reviews because they're usually quite tough with the games. Most games get an inferior mark on gamespot that in most other sites, which I find nice. I like to know that if they give a game an 8, it's probably a really good game. And that if they give it a 7, and I like the genre, it's a solid buy too. Now I'll start questioning their reviews. If I see a game advertising at gamespot, then I'll go to read that game review somewhere else, just in case.
  • suspicious (Score:3, Interesting)

    by adml_shake (1196483) on Friday November 30, 2007 @09:47AM (#21531575)
    How many gamers here haven't been suspicious of Gamespot being influenced by their advertisers, I stopped going to their site for reviews after feeling burned a few times by the reviews and wondering what the hell that person was thinking.
  • Relevance (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jayhawk88 (160512) <jayhawk88@gmail.com> on Friday November 30, 2007 @09:47AM (#21531581)
    To me, this doesn't really represent any kind of crisis of gaming journalism, so much as it just highlights how pointless most "magazine" game review sites are. Does anyone still go to Gamestop caring what one of their reviewers think of a game? Or IGN or Gamespy or any of those places? What do I care what one guy who is trying to play through a game on a deadline thinks about it?

    Say what you will about amateur game reviewers, the fact of the matter is that when it comes to games, the wisdom of the masses usually holds true. If I'm not sure about a game, or I have a choice between two similar games to make, I'd much rather go look at GameRankings, or heck even the GameFAQ's reviews.
  • by erroneus (253617) on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:08AM (#21531839) Homepage
    I once worked for a Village Voice Media publication and a music writer was fired for giving a bad review of the local musical venues... advertisers. The clients were livid and the sales team did everything they could think of to appease them, but in the end, termination of the writer was all they could do.

    It is a terrible thing when journalistic integrity it compromised by selfish business interests. But then again, it's terrible when selfish business interests compromise the integrity of just about everything. There should be SOME drive to make profit and all that, but there should be some understood limits to what a company can or should do. Unfortunately, it would also be bad to legislate morals and ethical behavior into law. But still, if someone were to pass laws stating that business interests cannot be allowed to influence government or journalistic integrity, I'd be all for it. Not gonna happen I think... at least not until we can get a more interested public.
  • by Symbolis (1157151) <(symbolis) (at) (gmail.com)> on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:16AM (#21531941)
    If you want some review-tainment(ogod!), you might want to consider checking out Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw's contributions to The Escapist.

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/zeropunctuation [escapistmagazine.com]
    Also? God I hate /. "html".
  • by njfuzzy (734116) <ianNO@SPAMian-x.com> on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:16AM (#21531943) Homepage
    "but in the end, termination of the writer was all they could do"

    That's funny. I would have thought journalistic integrity could have been on the table. Tell the advertiser "no, you can't influence our reviews, take your business elsewhere".
  • Re:Unsurprising (Score:5, Interesting)

    by garcia (6573) on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:26AM (#21532027) Homepage
    I don't even think it goes that far. I know plenty of restaurant reviewers for news print magazines that refuse to have their poor experiences published. Only the good restaurants (according to their opinions) get exposure and the others don't get jack. It's disappointing that our media culture is full of a bunch of pansy motherfuckers who are afraid to say exactly what they think.

    Bloggers are happy to write their opinions honestly and truthfully and I'm glad they exist. I refuse to believe any "real" restaurant reviewer. They're all full of shit and in my experience have never hit the nail on the head.

    All this (and many other examples) prove is that for-profit journalism is really declining fast. I just hope that the government, the advertisers and whatever future groups don't get a stranglehold on the citizen journalists too.
  • Re:Unsurprising (Score:2, Interesting)

    by heinousjay (683506) on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:30AM (#21532087) Journal
    It's disappointing that our media culture is full of a bunch of pansy motherfuckers who are afraid to say exactly what they think.

    That's a funny sort of opinion to post on Slashdot, where if you don't avoid offending the groupthink, you soon aren't able to post at all.
  • by guidryp (702488) on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:37AM (#21532183)
    Which sites nail bad games? I notice long, long ago that you almost never see a bad car review at any of the big pages. I read "Edmunds" now, they don't seem afraid to say something sucks. Or "The truth about cars", it is rare when they say anything is good.

    Where are the gamer equivalents?
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:48AM (#21532325) Homepage Journal
    on the larger available boards out there.

    I know in IGN, their VN boards to be specific, that posts with negative comments about Turbine were regularly whacked and the poster banned as someone from Turbine made it known they would not frequent IGN or its boards unless some ground rules were in place : mainly no negative comments about the state of the game and no anti-turbine comments allowed.

    It seriously tanked the boards. Needless to say within the year Turbine had their own boards as most sites balked at the restriction. Those that didn't saw their user numbers go down.

    Game publishers hold big sticks. With professional level magazines they withhold money, with fansites, even big ones, they withhold their people. Works wonders until the word gets out.
  • by JamesF1 (918998) on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:48AM (#21532329) Homepage
    Being one who works in the gaming press, I have experienced just this problem. I often have to moderate or edit my team's writeups and articles to line up with publisher's expectations and to avoid receiving letters about reviews that are 'overly negative'. This often makes it difficult to give anything much below about 70% if you want to hear from the publisher ever again... we made that mistake with Codemasters and they're not very co-operative.

    There are very few companies who will actually continue to co-operate with you after a negative review towards one of their products. I tend to find that reviewing products by dividing reviews up into two 'categories' of target audience, you achieve better results. By saying

    This game is brilliant for those who don't care about the details of , but just want to kick back and relax with friends on a Friday night

    you make it look good... and then simply follow it by

    For those who are addicted to their games, you might want to wait until it hits the bargain bins.

    That tends to mean you can average up your rating a bit... and no-one tends to notice - and your readers get to know your strategy after a while, resulting in 'accurate' reviews whilst keeping publishers happy.
  • by spinkham (56603) on Friday November 30, 2007 @11:00AM (#21532489)
    The interesting thing is that his review is lower then the norm on metacritic, but not by all that much. IGN and EGM, other big reviewers gave it a 70 and 72. 1up, which often has good reviews but inflated scores, gave it a 75.
    No reviewers I would consider at all "respectable" gave it higher ratings then that, and many lower. Gamepro, Gamespy, and Edge Magazine all gave it the SAME score as the GameSpot reviewer.
    See the Metacritic page [metacritic.com] for more details.
    From GameSpy:

    For everything cool that the game does, from the heightened tension of breaking into a prison to a shootout in a Tokyo nightclub to some amazing chase sequences, it shoots itself in the foot with a terrible cover system, artificial incompetence, and a multiplayer mode that sums up everything that's half-baked about the experience.

    From GamePro:

    Sure, the gritty atmosphere and balls out gunplay offers up some thrills, and yes the multiplayer options hold some potential but the hard-boiled noir tone and interesting amalgam of varied ideas never truly comes together to form the cohesive action thriller that the game aspires to be.
  • by Loosifur (954968) on Friday November 30, 2007 @11:03AM (#21532517)
    Seeing that they're willing to can an honest (and talented) reviewer rather than risk losing an advertiser is definitely a disappointment, and I'm finding myself relying more and more on user reviews and Metacritic as a result. However, consider this point: Gamespot is a business; they're trying to make a profit. That profit can come from user subscriptions, and it can come from advertisers. Right now, I'd hazard a guess that something like 85% of their income is from ads. How much of a subscription fee would you be willing to pay to remove all software and hardware advertising so as to ensure that reviews would be unbiased?

    Now, you may be thinking that game adverts could be replaced by non-tech companies as mentioned earlier in this thread, such as Frito-Lay, Honda, etc. Maybe that's doable, but pretend you're the head of their sales department, and you're trying to get advertisers. Would it be easier to convince Eidos to buy ad space on a game site, or Pepsi? Because Pepsi can reach a lot of its target audience on the websites for ESPN, mtv, etc. Eidos can't really have that same level of success shilling this Kane and Lynch monstrosity on, say, MSNBC. And, after all, pick up any car or motorcycle mag that does reviews, and you'll see a whole host of car or bike ads.
  • by DaedalusHKX (660194) on Friday November 30, 2007 @11:10AM (#21532611) Journal
    Political parties aren't teams... they're FAN CLUBS!

    I.E. You're rooting for either the home team (incumbents) or the visitors (newcomer) to win. They're on "your team", but they are actually the football players, while you're merely turning out to put money in their coffers (just like real fans do, buying all that stuff and going to all the games.) This is fine and dandy, but the fools need to realize that the team winning is merely a way of living life without actually living it. The difference between WATCHING the NFL Cup, and PLAYING in the NFL cup is no difference than the schmuck criticizing a JV team without having even been on a middle school football team. There are those who live through others (fans, political voters) and those who actually live via the means of others (sports figures, political rulers, pretend representatives, etc.)

    Hope that helps.
  • nothing new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nedder (690308) on Friday November 30, 2007 @11:22AM (#21532757)
    I was the head reviewer for AGN3D (allgames.com). I gave Turok 2 a fairly scathing
    review and Acclaim contacted my boss (Jeremy Alford) and tried to have him pull it
    or give it a higher rating.

    Thankfully, Jeremy had high integrity and he stood behind my review.

    We didn't say anything about the matter on the site, but now I'm starting to think
    that all sites should expose publishers/developers who try to coerce review sites.
  • by Scrameustache (459504) on Friday November 30, 2007 @11:49AM (#21533127) Homepage Journal

    Does every republican candidate truly support the war in Iraq?
    All but one: http://www.ronpaul2008.com/ [ronpaul2008.com]
  • by jidar (83795) on Friday November 30, 2007 @12:44PM (#21533843)
    I will quote from this thread on Gamespot: http://www.gamespot.com/xbox360/action/kanelynchdeadmen/show_msgs.php?topic_id=m-1-39530902&pid=934403 [gamespot.com] I'm sure some of you are aware Jeff Gertsmann, now the face of GameSpot is responsible for the review. It should come as no surprise he played this game on an Xbox 360 for the review and like most people with a 360 he has a GamerTag attached to his account... as I gazed upon his weak gamescore I found only two achievements had been unlocked. One for beating the first mission and one for trying the co-op. It should be noted that the OP is dated prior to the firing, so perhaps Gertsmann wasn't sacked for a bad review, but sacked for not doing his job.
  • by gknoy (899301) <gknoy@anasazisTW ... com minus author> on Friday November 30, 2007 @02:27PM (#21535531)
    I am extremely grateful for the negative reviews of things. There will always be people that like it just fine, and then there are those (like Mr. Cranky) that can find even more todislike than I can. They will tell you the things that irked them, that made them regret it, etc -- and that helps me avoid bad experiences.

    If all I had were positive reviews, it'd be hard to narrow down the field of potential restaurants (especially in an area I am visiting), or games. If all I heard were negative reviews, I'd still buy things, but either expect them to suck (and then be pleasantly surprised), or just determined to experience them for What They Were.

    At the same time, I'm grateful for dissenting views, even if positive. For example, I've been interested in Assassin's Creed for a while. (In case any readers aren't video gamers, it's a "sandbox" style game for the Xbox360 which has you tooling around in Crusades-era holy lands.) Many reviewers said it was very pretty, but that some things got repetetive (and didn't really like the combat system). I was worried that I might not like it, until I read Penny Arcade's "trust us, it does actually rock" post.

    I appreciated Gabe's argument that reviewers don't play games the same way many of us do, and that the review process is poorly suited for sandbox games. Reviewers play with a deadline, whereas in a sandbox game the point is to take your time, explore, and find cool stuff. Perhaps even replay to do things differently. Gabe saying this, and his subsequent "real world" review (along with Tycho's explanation of the combat system), convinced me that I will probably greatly enjoy the game. (Assuming I manage to buy an XBox360 and the game. D'oh.)
  • by 6350' (936630) on Friday November 30, 2007 @03:43PM (#21536813)
    Difficult to say if it is related to the events described above, but the editor Tim Tracy appears to be leaving Gamespot as well.

    His (exceedingly brief) post on the site blog: http://www.gamespot.com/users/TimT/show_blog_entry.php?topic_id=m-100-25233420 [gamespot.com]

    A comment or two on destructiod.com http://www.destructoid.com/gamespot-drops-reviewer-to-appease-eidos-w-r-hearst-rolls-in-his-grave-56683.phtml [destructoid.com]

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