In video game journalism — like any other media industry — people come and go all the time, but an Internet rumor behind the recent departure of a Gamespot senior editor is sending a ripple through the industry.
Jeff Gerstmann had been with the popular gaming news site since 1996. He was let go after giving a negative review to Eidos’ new game, Kane and Lynch: Dead Men, which arrived on store shelves to mixed reviews recently.
The core element to the rumor is that Eidos had been pumping a large amount of money into advertising on Gamespot.com and CNET, the parent company buckled under the pressure and fired the veteran journalist.
Gamespot took down Gerstmann’s video review, but it has come back to life via YouTube. They are catching plenty of flack, whether the rumor is true or not.
“Fuck Gamespot, you can’t trust them anymore,” wrote one YouTube user. “They rate games according to how much money they get from the company that makes it. You pay and you get a good review. Money talks bullshit walks.”
Gamespot admitted they let Gertsmann go in a recent press release but hasn’t said much to explain their actions.
“GameSpot takes its editorial integrity extremely seriously,” the release said. “For over a decade, GameSpot and the many members of its editorial team have produced thousands of unbiased reviews that have been a valuable resource for the gaming community. At CNET Networks, we stand behind the editorial content that our teams produce on a daily basis.”
After the story broke, the internet community quickly responded, with some going as far as to boycott any site owned by CNET and others protesting outside the company’s northern California headquarters — and it wasn’t just crazed gamers protesting either.
According to Joystiq, Ziff Davis’ 1UP staffers — Gamespot’s most fierce competitor — protested in support of their dismissed colleague.
One forum poster on Valleywag.com, a popular gaming portal, claimed to be an employee of CNET’s advertising team. The unidentified poster said Eidos was indeed furious at the review score, but doubts that alone caused Gertsmann to lose his job.
“The ads went up and the Eidos brouhaha was settled over two weeks ago. Jeff got fired yesterday. Furthermore, I’d heard a few people tell that he’d already been skating on thin ice for ‘unprofessional reviews and review practices,'” said the poster. “I don’t know much about that, though, so I can’t say one way or the other. My gut tells me that he got canned for larger reasons. Maybe the Eidos debacle was part of it — I don’t know. But I sincerely doubt that Eidos made Gamespot fire him. CNET doesn’t kowtow to its advertisers, and I’ve more than once seen the higher-ups turn away big advertising dollars for the sake of the company’s integrity. I think the whole thing is likely a combination of factors, the biggest being poor timing.”
The post has since been taken down.
Gamespot responded to the controversy again Tuesday with a front-page statement from the company’s management.
“Jeff [Gerstmann] was a central figure in the creation and evolution of GameSpot, having written hundreds of previews and reviews and anchoring much of our multimedia content,” said Ricardo Torres, editorial director of previews and events. “The award-winning editorial team he leaves behind wish him nothing but good luck in his future endeavors.”
Torres wouldn’t comment directly on Gerstmann’s departure but denied any wrongdoing.
"Due to legal constraints and the company policy of GameSpot parent CNET Networks, details of Gerstmann’s departure cannot be disclosed publicly. However, contrary to widespread and unproven reports, his exit was not a result of pressure from an advertiser.”
The sentiments were echoed by CNET.
“Neither CNET Networks nor GameSpot has ever allowed its advertising business to affect its editorial content,” said Greg Brannan, CNET Networks Entertainment’s vice president of programming. “The accusations in the media that it has done so are unsubstantiated and untrue. Jeff’s departure stemmed from internal reasons unrelated to any buyer of advertising on GameSpot.
Adding to the hilarity of it all, when the smoke cleared, Gamespot ending up staying with Gerstmann’s 6 review and a video promo is still active on the site. Penny Arcade also put together a comic about the situation
There is no smoking-gun proof that Gamespot let Gerstmann go because of a poor review to an advertiser’s marquee game, but the sheer fact that this kind of rumor persists shows the growing distrust consumers are showing towards video game reviews.
Case in point: Assassin’s Creed by Ubisoft. Blast and IGN gave the game a 7, while Gamespot gave it a 9 and Gamesradar gave it a 10. Ubisoft did in fact post massive amounts of advertising for “Creed” leading up to the game’s release.
Most of these websites, including Blast Magazine, rely almost completely on advertising for operating capital. This also applies to most traditional print magazines and print publications. The difference may be that most traditional newspapers have larger staffs and advertising departments that are completely separate from the editorial division.
In the end, the advertising isn’t going to go away, but online outlets need to do more to show their objectivity, and advertisers need to steer clear of any editorial conflicts.
With that take on things, we’d like to remind Ubisoft and Eidos that we have several leaderboard advertising spots open for January.
Blast Magazine staff writer John Guilfoil contributed to this report