Are Positive Reviews For Sale to the Highest Bidder?
This week's commentary deals with a very serious matter that might affect all members of the gaming press as well as those who read the reviews, myself included. However, before we get to it, I want to update everyone who wrote in to ask about Kelly, our Guitar Hero star who was diagnosed with MS. Kelly Adams was recently interviewed by Activision in response to our column entitled "Guitar Hero 2 As Therapy." Activision really made her a star by letting her tell her compelling story. You can see the whole thing and the Guitar Hero III angle over at Activision by clicking on "Reporter Package." Way to go Kelly!
Now, to business"
"Mr. 6.2," "Stupid fat hobbit," "I 10'd Tony Hawk 3," Yes, its well known that in the past I did not totally agree with Jeff Gerstmann. We have had our differences. Even when meeting up at the Tapwave booth at E3 we had our, shall we say, disagreements. But still, he is a fellow reporter and reviewer, and all of us need to uphold our journalistic integrity.
I should take that back. Jeff Gerstmann is not a fellow reporter anymore, at least over at Gamespot. It's no surprise to anyone anymore as this issue is hotter than fire that Gamespot fired him last week.
But for what reason? Is it because of the review he gave Kane and Lynch? Or is it a lot more? And if it's more than that, why isn't Gamespot, or its parent CNET Networks, coming out and telling us? The whole matter is very fishy.
All we know is that Jeff Gerstmann did both a text and video review of Eidos' game Kane and Lynch: Dead Men. I will admit that when I saw the video review, he was quite harsh in his opinion of the game, perhaps overly so. But still, isn't that what reviews are? Personal opinions?
Apparently not at Gamespot.
Since the reviews were posted, Getstmann was fired from GameSpot, and an advertising skin that was purchased by Eidos promoting Kane and Lynch disappeared. Coincidence?
Eidos and CNET/GameSpot both claim that Gerstmann was not fired due to advertiser pressure. But when anyone tries to get any answers on why the firing took place, their response is the typical "legal constraints and the company policy of GameSpot parent company CNET Networks prevent us from doing so."
But as far as I'm concerned, that is not enough. It all just seems too suspicious. Gerstmann reviews Kane and Lynch. He gives it a 6.0, which I admit is his usual score level (hence the name Mr. 6.2," but it falls in there with both the aggregate scores of Metacritic (67 for the Xbox 360 version) and Game Rankings (68.3%.) If people were going to be fired because of low scores, why not Cameron Lewis at GamePro (3/5,) Sterling McGreevy (3/5 on IGN affiliate GameSpy,) or even Tony Barrett (C- at Gaming Age?).
The only thing I noticed about these sites is there was no advertising in regards to Kane and Lynch. And again, my fellow readers, this brings us back to the whole Eidos advertising scandal. While Gamespot claims they have never succumbed to advertiser pressure, then why outside of pure coincidence was the Kane and Lynch skin pulled from their site? Why was the video review removed? (Gamespot claims that it was because of "inferior audio quality due to an inferior microphone," but from what I heard the microphone quality was acceptable.) You can still hear and see the review on Youtube unless Gamespot's lawyers got to it, but I watched it and it looked and sounded just fine.
Why was the text review severely edited as well? Did Gamespot want to come up with a sugar-coated equivalent of Gerstmann's opinion, even though they claim it was done so it "better meshed with the score." Even after the firing, Gerstmann admits that he stands 100% behind his Kane and Lynch review.
And why did Eidos, according to GameBump, lie about the Gamespy score on their official Kane and Lynch website, giving it a 5/5 while Gamespy actually gave it 3/5? Is Eidos trying to hide the truth to sell more copies or did someone at Gamespot tell them that it was getting a different score before the review hit? (In an ironic twist of fate, GameBump gave Kane and Lynch 1 out of 5. Guess they will have to be fired as well.)
In addition, according to 1UP, this was not the only time that GameSpot received flack over a review posted on their site. Apparently Sony Computer Entertainment America went off on GameSpot for a 7.5 score given to Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction. This is the same Sony that actually created a false movie critic named David Manning of the Ridgefield Press for movies that were otherwise universally panned (Vertical Limit, A Knight's Tale, Hollow Man and The Animal.)
In the end, we all know this whole matter falls into the heated debate of journalistic integrity versus the almighty dollar. When advertisers and marketers start to affect those who review games for a living, and in doing so, providing our personal opinion over the matter, then that's where journalistic integrity goes to hell and sells out to the highest bidder.
In the ten plus years that I have been writing here for Gameindustry.com and providing honest, unbiased reviews, I can say that I have never been pressured by the editors of Game Industry News, nor our parent company, Noble Order Press Enterprises, to write a positive review. And I do cause controversy from time to time. But all of our reviews are based first and foremost on our opinions from having played just about every game on the planet. And that's the way it will always be here. I won't ever sell out, and I know GiN won't either. But selling out is what many people, myself included, believe that Gamespot has done.
I no longer look at that site for any reviews, and I know a lot of others have turned their backs as well. How can you possibly trust Gamespot from now on? In fact Gamespot rival 1UP, which is owned ironically by GameSpot's former owner Ziff Davis, showed support for Gerstmann outside of GameSpot's San Francisco headquarters by holding a sign stating "We Support Fellow Game Reviewers."
Many members of the gaming press are taking Gerstmann's side as well, even on Gamespot's own forums. A one day "blackout" of visiting any CNET site, including Gamespot, has taken place, and there currently are plans for a public protest outside of CNET Networks Headquarters this Saturday. I wish I could be there to represent critical and journalistic integrity, but hopefully this OPINION will be my form of protest.
And Jeff, if you're reading this, we here at GiN will be more than happy to have you speak your opinion. You can even come and work with us if you like. We might not pay as much here as Gamespot, but at least we stand for something more valuable than the almighty dollar"
In all seriousness Jeff, we are with you one hundred percent. Gamespot revealed its true colors, and the ironic thing is that this may end up being their downfall.
And that is my HONEST OPINION, not influenced by any corporate sponsorship!
Special thanks to www.joystiq.com for their ongoing coverage on this matter.
Currently Playing: Rock Band (Xbox 360,) Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
Waiting for: Mass Effect (Xbox 360)