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The Media Entertainment Games

Game Journalist May Have Been Fired Over Negative Review 397

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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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 30, 2007 @09:42AM (#21531497)
    "While our industry has had its fair share of accusations of impropriety,..."

    Actually, I think your industry has its fair share of genuine corruption. What make you think you're any better than other industries?
  • by advocate_one ( 662832 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @09:43AM (#21531503)
    why else are there so many fawning reviews of hardware in computer magazines... and why else doesn't Linux get any real press in the same magazines when there's no advertising money in Linux anyway... just remember the "Golden Rule" folks... who pays the piper calls the tune... magazines etc. are not gonna jeopardise their major advertising accounts... when it comes to the crunch, they'll buckle...
  • by Rakshasa Taisab ( 244699 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @09:48AM (#21531597) Homepage
    Being Republican myself, I do not like censorship, which I guess is an oddity perhaps?

    It only seems like an oddity because you think a single name can sum up your political orientation, especially one that doesn't really define any. It is actually little more than the name of a football team that has a high player turnover rate.
  • Sad but inevitable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by megla ( 859600 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @09:48AM (#21531601)
    This is what happens when companies start valuing advertising revenue above all else.

    To be honest I've avoided Gamespot for a while. Partly this is due to the increasing trend of locking away everthing to subscribers only, but mainly it was because I've read several reviews there that I felt were far too generous towards inferior games - and this was backed up by much lower scores on other sites.

    I wouldn't be surprised to find that advertisers have had leverage over Gamespot reviews for quite some time now (ever since the CNET aquisition maybe?) and that we're finally seeing the fallout of that.

    It's a double kick in the face really - not only are they selling out their core values and business, but they're effectively cheating their subscribers out of what they are paying for.

    Hopefully this will generate enough negative publicity (and drop in subscribers) to make the management team wake up and realise that they've completely lost the plot.
  • Unsurprising (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheMeuge ( 645043 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @09:49AM (#21531615)

    Readers should fairly expect there to be an inviolable firewall between advertising and editorial in journalism, and game journalism

    You'd have to be seriously naive to think that such a thing would be true. Maybe I am cynical, but I think that realistically one can expect no wall at all. Any separation between money and journalism is out of the norm, and should be a pleasant surprised.
  • by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @09:50AM (#21531619) Homepage
    Pretty much everyone knows that game reviews have been co-opted by advertiser bias, and that this has been a problem since pretty much forever, although things always seem to be getting worse. Reviews are simply not looked at as though they were objective works of criticism, but rather as more advertising and hype masquerading as information. It's an intolerable situation, and the wonderful thing about it is that the days are numbered.

    It's the easiest thing in the world stop paying attention to reviews, turn off the hype channels, and buy games based on information that you can trust. Word of mouth from friends who game is hugely more trustable than a game magazine or web site. Rent the game or download a demo and play it before you buy, or watch a video of the game being played on YouTube. Suck can't hide from direct experiences like that.

    Maybe some day the video game critic will be able to throw off the oppressive advertiser dollar and write finely crafted reviews that read more like serious art and film criticism [] than they do press release and ad copy. Maybe the way to start is to start selling advertising space to people advertising stuff OTHER than games. Sell more ads to Doritos and Mountain Dew, they don't care if $newshineygame sucks or not. It's possible to sell adveritising and maintain a certain amount of independence and objectivity. It's not easy, but it is possible.
  • User Reviews (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blackholepcs ( 773728 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @09:53AM (#21531657) Journal
    I've always ignored the Gamespot review score and just looked at user reviews. Nothing more honest than a pissed off user spilling the beans about bugs and crashes and what not.
  • by Kodack ( 795456 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @09:57AM (#21531695)
    What can we do?

    Avoid Gamespot like the FN plague. Do what we all have the right to do, go somewhere else.
  • by realinvalidname ( 529939 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:01AM (#21531739) Homepage
    ...someone other than bots reads Gamespot? Now that's news.
  • by LDoggg_ ( 659725 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:04AM (#21531791) Homepage
    If we're doing analogies, I'd say it's even less than name of a football team. At least the players on the team really want the whole team to win. Members of political parties just use the team as a means of getting elected.
    Does every republican candidate truly support the war in Iraq? Is every democrat really pro-abortion?
    Just a means of raising enough money to get elected.
  • Seriously - if your headline for a story contains the word "may", you're a lazy journalist.

    But this has to happen once every few years, everyone needs to blow off steam.

  • by aepervius ( 535155 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:10AM (#21531853)
    And where is the original review by the above persons ? Or how one can see it in some sort of internet archive if it was deleted ?
  • YouTube video (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:25AM (#21532017)
    Here is the link [] to the video review.

    My own opinion is that if you continue to read Gamespot that you should take note any game that is prominently advertised on their site, by means of flash ads, wallpaper or whatever. Then go read the review of that game and automatically deduct 2 points from that game when considering to buy it. A 10 means 8, an 8 means 6 and so on. After all, if Gamespot is the go-to place for shill reviews, you simply cannot trust the score they give and it must be modified accordingly.

    Better yet, ignore Gamespot. There are plenty of other game sites and some of them care a great deal about their editorial control. Send traffic to those sites and show the likes of CNET and Eidos that such strongarming does not pay off in the long term.

  • Re:YouTube video (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Bud Dickman ( 1131973 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:34AM (#21532135)

    "My own opinion is that if you continue to read Gamespot that you should take note any game that is prominently advertised on their site, by means of flash ads, wallpaper or whatever. Then go read the review of that game and automatically deduct 2 points from that game when considering to buy it. A 10 means 8, an 8 means 6 and so on."
    I think your second suggestion is the proper one. Just because a publisher isn't paying Gamespot to run ads all over their site doesn't mean the publisher hasn't paid Gamespot to run a positive review. You can't trust Gamespot reviews at all.

    I'm just going to avoid the site entirely.

  • Long suspected (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LarsWestergren ( 9033 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:36AM (#21532173) Homepage Journal
    I've always found it odd that games with massive advertising budgets behind them always tend to get VEEERY high scores from the mainstream gaming sites. Case in point - Halo 3. Ok, so I haven't played it myself, but a perfect 100% score on some sites? There is NOTHING that can be better about this game? Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation fame put this best []. He argues that the 10/10 score is especially strange since they go on to say in the review that the single player campaign is flawed, but the totally awesome multiplayer "makes up for it". If the game was really perfect, it wouldn't need something to "make up" for any flaws.
  • by WED Fan ( 911325 ) <> on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:37AM (#21532175) Homepage Journal

    ...Is the game as bad as he said? Is this guy dead on with his review?

    Game reviewers are like movie reviewers. There are the ones you trust. Then there are the ones you don't. Is this guy an asshat reviewer like Harry Knowles or Michael Medved? Or is he generally right on about the games?

    Here in the Seattle area, we have local movie reviewers and game reviewers that I trust a hell of a lot more than some of the national ones. I only wish they'd get national attention, but maybe national publication brings with it the risk of being coopted by the purse string holders.

  • Re:Unsurprising (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Joe the Lesser ( 533425 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:45AM (#21532281) Homepage Journal
    You are cynical.

    We can live in a civilized society where publications are known for accurately rating things. Where the media does not takes bribes. Where reporters have ethics, and say what they see, not what they're told to say. Especially when they claim they are unbiased.

    We should demand such a world, and we can.

    There's a lot of talk around how the internet is killing journalism with blogs and whatnot, because the professionals have less clout and amateurs can't be trusted, but perhaps the internet can free journalism. The fact that we're discussing this know is a victory for ethics.

    No one who reads this story can trust a Gamespot review again. The more corruption is exposed and reacted to (by not going to gamespot ever again) the more likely we can select what mediums have not been corrupted. If we teach our children to shun corruption, perhaps there is hope for the future.

    All it would have taken is for the lead men at Gamespot to have a spine and say 'we won't sacrifice our site for your shitty game'. But they thought they could cut corners, and deserve to loss their business.
  • by timftbf ( 48204 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:52AM (#21532385)
    And 6/10 should be 'a bit above average'. *Bad* games should be getting 2s, 3s and 4s. What's the point of a 1-10 scale where half of it is effectively out-of-bounds?
  • by ajs ( 35943 ) <> on Friday November 30, 2007 @11:01AM (#21532493) Homepage Journal

    Being Republican myself, I do not like censorship, which I guess is an oddity perhaps?

    It only seems like an oddity because you think a single name can sum up your political orientation, especially one that doesn't really define any. It is actually little more than the name of a football team that has a high player turnover rate.
    I'm glad someone else notices the sports mentality of the arbitrarily polar U.S. party system.

    As for the idea that reviews are somehow sacrosanct... it's a great idea. I've been ignoring review sites (other than my own []) for years because of this. The only shocking thing here is that someone at Gamespot managed to get a negative review published before they were fired. It was really the publisher that was, I'm sure, taking the heat.
  • by DaedalusHKX ( 660194 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @11:01AM (#21532497) Journal
    You must've never worked with hard core "republicans" or even "mild core liberals"... both are adamant in views. Difference? If an equal set of experiences is shared, objectively, by two people, they are MORE likely to swing right wing anarchist (libertarian?) rather than left wing totalitarian or right wing totalitarian. The experiences I speak of are simple. Wrongful arrest within a year or two of being robbed without the police showing up. Top it off with a police officer and later judge saying "nope, cops aren't supposed to protect you, cops aren't even supposed to be on time or actually SHOW UP... and so says even the Supreme Court! Public peace means cops have to show up and arrest whoever disturbs the peace, so if you are murdered quietly, cops just clean up the mess and pretend to care. Tough tamales son! And no, no tax refund for you, we stole that fair and square!!"

    I'm actually happy some righties are arguing with the vast leftist zone that is NY... but IMHO, the East Coast is LOST. Collectivists have conquered the East Coast almost 50 years ago, with a solid and resounding victory. Whether they call themselves "new republicans" or "liberals" or "neo-conservatives", they're all collectivists (people who believe the collective entity has ALL the rights and the individual members have NO rights if an argument arises, course these are also the same people who get upset when THEY are the organs the collective sacrifices on the "greater good" altar, but that's cosmic justice if I ever heard it.)
  • by 7times9 ( 955358 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @11:02AM (#21532511)

    It's the same with all published journalism:

    What is the product? The publication. No. The product is the reader.

    And who is the customer? The reader. No. The customer is the advertiser.

    So a publisher sells readers to advertisers. Got it?

  • Re:Unsurprising (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Roxton ( 73137 ) <> on Friday November 30, 2007 @11:07AM (#21532573) Homepage Journal
    Your cynicism does you a disservice. Most publications of any merit grant independence to the senior editorial staff, often in the form of tenure. That the sacking of Gerstmann was even possible is a reflection of the relative immaturity of game journalism, although the backlash against this event may improve matters.
  • by DuctTape ( 101304 ) * on Friday November 30, 2007 @11:19AM (#21532725)

    There seems to be a huge community backlash in the user scores section

    Don't worry. They'll be gone soon.


  • by GISGEOLOGYGEEK ( 708023 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @11:41AM (#21533003)
    This is why I stopped reading PC Gamer.

    When CIV 4 came out, I bought it right away. It was massively buggy, huge memory leak problems, was not ready for release ... all the things PC Gamer used to scream about in game reviews, trying to protect the average gamer from crap.

    A large percentage of CIV 4 players could not complete a single game due to the problems that got worse and worse as the game progresses, even when setting the game to a gimped version with few opponents and low graphics.

    But, PC Gamer mentioned nothing about the problems, except that it was 'a little unpolished'. CIV 4 got a great score just because it was another Sid Mieir Civ game.

    Of course there was no reply when I wrote to them, my letter wasn't published.

    I've checked back with them a couple times in the couple years that have passed since they stopped being fair and unbiased, and it all reads like crap. It's all slanted to who they are promoting. Dungeon Siege II was similar. A huge pre-release major story on the game ... and it was crap. No where near living up to the promises.

    PC Gamer hasn't received a penny from me since.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 30, 2007 @12:16PM (#21533437)
    Oh stop. It was NOT a huge percentage. It was a small number of people who had problems with CIV4, but were the most vocal. I, and most other people, had no issues what so ever. Whenever someone has a problem, they go screaming to the forums, saying EVERYONE is having trouble. And if you respond saying that you aren't experiencing the same problems, they say you must be lying or are an apologist.
  • by Delusion_ ( 56114 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @12:25PM (#21533557) Homepage
    During the heyday of Ultima Online (I think in 2000), as a Seer (rpg volunteer), we had an event based on a group who worshipped an ancestor named Zog, which if I recall correctly, was the name of the first human in the Ultima mythos. It was a minor plot point at best.

    This group of characters (the Zog Cabal) and their storyline was created by Origin GMs, and acted and fleshed out by GMs and Seers.

    We never saw where the end of this story went (and it was one of the few that was actually successful, in my tenure), because one day, the GMs received a letter from Gamespot outlining some "concerns" players had had about the "Zog Cabal" actually being a veiled reference to Z.O.G. (Zionist Occupied Government), which is a slanderous name anti-semitic and/or white power groups give to whatever governments they oppose (generally, the US, which they believe is controlled by "Jewish interests").

    It was utterly preposterous. Richard Garriot may be many things, but a racist or anti-semite he isn't. Most of his games have been highly derivative of Tolkien and Tolkien-inspired knockoffs, and having mysterious characters with funny names is a STAPLE of science fiction and fantasy, and X and Z being pretty popular letters to add a sense of "exoticness" to newly-minted names. Xenu anyone?

    What was leaked to us by other sources in EA and in Gamespot was that the "players" whose concerns the Gamespot editor had addressed were actually other Gamespot writers: essentially, they were trying to make news instead of reporting it, by inserting themselves into the story.

    While this isn't related to the current row, it lessens my ability to be shocked and horrified by the idea of editorial sleaze by the Gamespot staff.
  • Re:Long suspected (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ochu ( 877326 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @12:26PM (#21533579) Homepage
    To which I would refer you to this Kotaku article [].

    If there is no such thing as a perfect game, when why the hell are you scoring out of 100? It's not just PC Gamer that thinks this way--most publications, even those who do give out "perfect" scores, do so begrudgingly. It's as if the developer has somehow cheated and broken their system.
    The movie reviewers solved this problem a long time ago. That's why most adopted a simpler rating system in which a 4-star movie didn't imply "perfection" but supreme excellence. In most cases, games are penalized through being divided by a sum that they can never possibly reach. What does that make a 94 or a 9.5 that our mortal interpretation of perfection? Is that the closest we can fly to the sun before our wings melt and we're doomed to playing Spongebob Squarepants XVI for eternity?
    But even more so, what does this scoring system say to developers? What are they aiming for when they hand over that review disc? Because essentially, they're taking a test with 5 points docked for signing their name.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 30, 2007 @01:21PM (#21534477)
    In school, your percentage grade is fairly objective.

    Apparently, you've never had an essay graded.
  • Re:Unsurprising (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @01:26PM (#21534585)
    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.

    Bullshit. For all its faults, there are certainly plenty of opinionated people on both (or more) sides of most contentious issues. Look at the flame fests when "evolution" or "Gun rights" are mentioned. Plenty of +5 rated posts on both sides. And you can support OR piss on Microsoft, Apple or Linux and find support for your view.

    Just look at this thread where all these wacky Ron Paul supporters have made a bunch of off-topic posts promoting their candidate, yet are still not modded down.

    About the only thing guaranteed to get you modded down is if your (foreign) country is attacked by some redneck American and you complain about it, or worse, retaliate. Then you will be attacked and modded down quickly enough. As you may guess, that has happened to me often enough; yet still I have "excellent karma" from my other posts so always start at +2.

  • by xtracto ( 837672 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @01:37PM (#21534735) Journal
    It's the same with all published journalism:What is the product? The publication. No. The product is the reader. And who is the customer? The reader. No. The customer is the advertiser.So a publisher sells readers to advertisers. Got it?

    Therefore, if you really want unbiased and critic journalism you should get it from sources which objective is to satisfy *your* demands. To achieve that you would have to PAY for such kind of work (instead of allowing advertisers to pay for it).

    But guess what, it seems nobody is willing to pay for that, you can see it as less and less it is a sane business model. People prefer free stuff... even though the quality of such stuff is less than the quality of good paid for work.
  • by gamer4Life ( 803857 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @01:46PM (#21534891)
    Many other sites have probably been compromised or "influenced" by their advertisers. Consider Slashdot for example - notice the Games section of Slashdot - all of the stories are chosen by Zonk, and none of them are from contributors. Since Microsoft advertises quite a bit on the site, and the fact that Zonk is a XBox fanboy, it's no surprise to see most news on the Xbox 360 to be positive. People might point out to the other negative stories about Microsoft - well Microsoft might not care as much about it's OS or Office business, because they have a monopoly.

    There are other gaming sites that have heavy advertising from Microsoft - you'll see that many of these sites describe Sony in a snarky tone, while giving a much gentler hand to Microsoft. This is no different when PC Magazine had many, many ads from Microsoft, and you wouldn't be surprised to see Word, Excel, and it's other Office products rate consistently above WordPerfect, QuattroPro, and so on - based on dubious factors as "ease-of-use".

    If you take a look at Halo 3 - look at the huge advertising campaign, full of schwag - people focused on the schwag, but the real dollars exchanged comes from advertising. It's not surprising that Halo 3 got perfect 10s, even though they criticized how short and repetitive the single player campaign was, and how the graphics were nothing special compared to other games. Mmny sites even claimed that Bioshock or COD4 were better.

    Bottom line is, many sites are bought out by advertising, or behind-the-scenes bribes/schwag. Weblogs, Inc (Joystiq, Engadget), Gawker Media (Kotaku, Gizmodo), CNET (Gamespot, CNET) all have shown a correlation between the advertising dollars and reviews.
  • by danaan ( 728990 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @03:13PM (#21536349)
    It's worth noting that the large Game Review sites have put themselves in a very vulnerable position by reaching well beyond their supposed core product, the review of games, and instead becoming part of the entire game promo, news and asset cycle. They rely heavily on game producers for "exclusive" access to news, game development info, trailers, screenshots, etc. That makes it that much easier for the large publishers to squeeze off their liveblood if they don't get their way. If you can't get a response from the EA or Ubisoft teams while your competition can, and likewise can't get the newest trailer for the Next Big Game while the other guys can, there go your eyeballs, and there go your advertising dollars.
  • by zerocool^ ( 112121 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @03:24PM (#21536531) Homepage Journal

    Consumer reports doesn't accept free products. They go buy things, with real money through a real sales experience, and review based on that.

    It's why people *are* willing to pay for it. People trust Consumer Reports.

  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Friday November 30, 2007 @03:25PM (#21536551)
    Ok, this may be a naive question here but I'll stick my neck out. I'm going to lump games, TV shows, movies, and music together here. They're all creative products.

    Now, the cynical view says that there are certain games that are licenses to print money. A Harry Potter game, EA could have the programmers shit in the box and put it on the shelf and it would still sell. If we want to get all filthy and accountanty here, you could probably model a function here were you put in the price of the license and then the cost of making the game, figuring where the profit would be. I'm sure that the max profit comes in somewhere at about half the funding level to make a good game. So from their perspective, spending the money to make a good game is mismanagement because it cuts into the profits.

    Ok, that may be the case. But what about games that don't have a license to go with it, where you are talking about the potential of creating a franchise instead of continuing one. If we look at movies, the script has to be the cheapest part of the production. When you're looking at spending a few million on a single stunt in a $100 million blockbuster, why not throw a million at the writers? Surely making the fucker good would be a better return on investment. If the movie is a brainless popcorner, you'll maybe get one viewing tops. But if the movie is fun and rewatchable, you'll get people buying it 20 years down the line. And to think that there's all this money spent on bribing reviewers trying to polish a turd, wouldn't it be easier if they were pushing fillet mignon instead?

    Let's talk about games. When I've been blessed enough to encounter a new classic fresh on the market, I'll be evangelizing the fucker to my friends like a Jehovah's Witless on Saturday morning. They do the same when they discover a classic before me. When it comes to TV shows, networks don't see fans storming the gates when idiot knock-off comedy #3 goes off the air but they'll see the geeklerian jihad when a Futurama or Firefly gets canned. It's the quality that creates the rabid fans. So shit, if quality is what makes people happy, why don't the suits just go for quality? I still find it hard to believe that with all the money involved, it's more cost-effective to crap out a clunker than to craft a classic. I understand that you will run into clusterfucks from time to time when the team is given the proper time and resources to make it happen and things just fall apart due to personality clashes, politics, acts of God, etc. But I just don't get the willful disregard for quality that goes into most of these efforts.

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