Did GameSpot Commit Brand Suicide with Jeff Gerstmann Firing?

December 1, 2007 -
If the highly detailed rumors surrounding Jeff Gerstmann's firing are true, then the people who run GameSpot have, by their own hand, utterly trashed a great media brand.

The Spot has long been regarded as the most professional of all the game-oriented news and review sites. It's a personal favorite of mine, so this news makes me especially sad. When GamePolitics occasionally links to a review for a particular game, it has always been to GameSpot.

I don't know Jeff Gerstmann, although I met him once or twice at various E3 shows. But any working journalist can summon righteous indignation over what appears to have happened here. Fired because an advertiser didn't like your review of their crappy product?

Disgraceful, if true.

Impossible to defend.

There's no official confirmation, of course, and that may never come. Corporate apparatchiks - like those at CNET who apparently pulled the trigger on Gerstmann - will invariably hunker down in times like these, preferring to ride out the storm behind vague press releases which pretend they are protecting their victim's privacy. And Gerstmann may have obligated himself to keep quiet in return for some type of severance package. But the mounting unofficial evidence is so detailed that it rings true.

If there's any legitimate damage control to be done here, CNET should do it, and quickly. Frankly, I don't expect any.

And GamePolitics readers shouldn't expect to see any more links to GameSpot.

UPDATE: Check out this compilation of Gerstmann news by GameSpot reader Subrosian. Penny Arcade has a great cartoon (we're showing one panel at left) and commentary on the scandal.

This Valleywag post, citing an anonymous commenter with the screen name "gamespot" is probably the most daming information on the Gerstmann affair:
...I'm sure management wants to spin this as the G-Man being unprofessional to take away from the egg on their face... This management team has shown what they're willing to do. Jeff had ten years in and was fucking locked out of his office and told to leave the building...

There has been an increasing amount of pressure to allow the advertising teams to have more of a say in the editorial process...

When companies make games as downright contemptible as Kane and Lynch, they deserve to be called on it... everyone at GS now thinks that if they give a low score to a high-profile game, they'll be shitcanned...

Joystiq has tracked down more commentary from past and present GameSpot staffers.

Comments

The fact that the entire team vets the reviews should put the lie to the claim that Gerstmann was fired for his tone. If his tone was inappropriate then the entire team was to blame. You don't lock someone out of their office and then not tell anyone until the next day over a guy who was riding the line and about to be canned anyway. This is classic Management BS, and I for one am extremely happy that they are taking the flak that they are.

well not that i ever give reviews for stuff much attention but why should anyone now give these guys any notice when its very clear that scores reflect just how much money a company is willing to give to the site, and if somone gives an honest review they can get canned.

Id say they just commited brand suicide if i didnt know how fickle people are.

i would love to know what the wording of GameSpot's advertising and employment contracts.

The industry I work in doesn't have as much emphasis on reviews. However, the few "review" outlets there are have VERY specific wording in their agreements should you choose to either submit your product for review and/or advertise with them. You sign a contract specically stating you understand that your advertising $$ has nothing to do with the review, and you cannot complain or back out of it even if you don't like the score.

I would be suprised if review sites/mags don't have similar wording in their contracts.

I always thought gerstmann was.. lets say, less entertaining... than other reviewers i've seen on the site. His "first hour of halo 3" segment being probably the lamest thing I've ever clicked on...


but as for his firing's possible link to.. i guess we'd call it payola or extortion... I have no opinion on that.

The proof, unfortunately, is in the pudding.

Go to GameSpot, click "Xbox 360" and "Reviews". Scroll down. Even though Kane & Lynch's review was posted on Nov 13, it's clearly missing from the review list.

They were so stupid as to delete it from the Kane & Lynch page, but they're certainly doing a bunch of little things to discourage you from finding it unless you're actually looking for it.

"Other publishers have started giving us notes involving when our reviews can go up; if a game's getting a 9 or above, it can go up early; if not, it'll have to wait until after the game is on the shelves."

I hate to say it, but I noticed this too. It makes me wonder if "gamespot"'s little blog entry at valleywag is the real deal or just a perceptive individual.

I only use Gamespot as a source to find out what games are comng out, I don't care about their reviews.

[...] So by now you’re probably heard about Jeff Gerstmann — former Gamespot reviewer. He was fired this week, and if all the other websites out there reporting on this story are correct, he was fired for giving a game a bad review. [...]

Excuse me, but did Gamepolitics just censored PA's cartoon?
Last time I checked, there was no ***** in the original.
I would really like to know what made you think you could do such a thing, particularly on a site dealing with ethics in gaming.
http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2007/11/29

@Dave

That rules out the possibility that the man has more than one gamer tag.

Honestly. I say it sucks if it's true, but enough already. Everytime you mention Gerstmann, you're mentioning Gamspot. How does the old saying go "Any publicity is good publicity."

@ Mauler: what sort of proff are you looking for? I'd say the fact teh review was altered and hidden off the main list of reviews is all we need. Gerstmann is most likely under an NDA. Lots of peopel seems to be just taking the fact that their theoretically could be explanation if you stretch and giving GameSpot a pass. It's up to them to provide an explanation here.

"And GamePolitics readers shouldn’t expect to see any more links to GameSpot."

I understand that you don't want to support CNet, but come on, Dennis. The reviewers at Gamespot aren't the ones at fault; they're hard-working, passionate people that still deserve support, especially with what they'll have to face in the coming weeks.

It's possible to give this incident a thousand different words, but the very clear effect it's had on the public speaks for itself what a mistake it probably was.

I don't know enough to form an opinion, but what I do know is that one member of my family has been very fond of GameSpot for quite some time, and seeing this had a terrible effect on them, empowered by a profound lack of understanding as to why.

Reviews are simply opinions, plain and simple. You either agree with them or you don't. Different people have different tastes, but you can find someone who details what they liked or didn't like about the game then judge for yourself. If you're lucky, you might find someone who has at least similar tastes to you.

Professional reviewers are paid to do something, which makes it suspect from the beginning. For one, they're running on a deadline and don't play the game as much as they should, which then taints the game from the beginning. For two, they're under pressure to give games good reviews, a la advertising dollars, etc. A 6/10 score for Kane and Lynch is generous judging from what he said in his video review. From what I've heard friends say, it's way too high, especially for the PC version.

@Mauler

Are you paying any attention to our rebuttals, or following any of the links to do your own research, or are you just trolling?

The fact that the editor in chief stepped down and didn’t say that he did it because of pressure from Eidos or Gamestop and whatnot but because of someone hitting “a disaster button.” It’s clear that he didn’t want him fired but that doesn’t confirm the reasons behind it.

The editor in chief didn't step down, he was fired. The disaster button comment was from one of his shocked co-workers. You seem to be mixing the two.

The EIC stepping down has absolutely no reason not to speak up about it. He wasn’t fired nor does he have a lawsuit. He has every reason to make it public which is what most journalists do when they step down under such circumstances. They make it public. Nothing of the sort is going down.

See that's the point,he didn't "step down" he was fired. If he stepped down and left of his own will because of a disconnect, he could say so, and the company could say so. The times you get the "Can't comment" response like we're getting now is when someone was fired against their will. Therefore as by all reports he was fired, and all reactions match him being fired; he was fired. The reason he was fired is what is under question, not the fact that he was.

The bottom line despite your claims otherwise, is that Jeff Gerstmann was fired, by Cnet under unusual circumstances. There's decent circumstantial evidence that management being unhappy about negative reviews making advertisers unhappy was a factor. That's enough to call for some hard questions and a critical eye towards Cnet.

To say it was nothing and stick our heads in the sand like you say we should is to be fools.

@shithead

It must suck to have no friends. How goes your search for ManBearPig?

Also, the review controversy about TP was completely unnecessary, and was only a problem for the Nintendrones who hadn't even PLAYED the damn game.

@ pen gun

In his opinion, the story sucked. That's what a review is, someone's opinion.

Frankly, I'd be inclined to agree with him based on what I saw of the game at PAX. Like the multiplayer mode, good ideas with poor execution. I mean, come on... Even the GTA games don't have fuck be every third word out of the characters' mouths. They waaay overdid it.

It is also possible for someone's opinions about a game to change between preview and release, especially if bugs and flaws that were present in the preview versions weren't fixed by release version.

@GrlGmr

It isn't true that a review is pure opinion. Things like overused curse words, bad graphics, bad AI, and bad control aren't based on opinions. If your bad guys are walking into walls, that's bad AI. If you can't tell where a wall ends and a floor begins, that's bad graphics. If you can't shoot the gun in the game to save your life, and you are usually a sniping badass, that's bad control. If the word fuck is being used every fuckin' sentence, that's an overused curse, right there. (Note: all of these are exaggerations)

@Mauler

The proof is there, you refuse to see it. I mean really, this has been pointed out before, there could very well be a clause in his contract keeping him from speaking out. In addition, there is what seems to be an editor quitting over this. Do you seriously belive that all of these people, all of these sites, would be getting upset over nothing? That they would just spout off baseless rumor? Go see Virtual Fools's article. They had the best rundown.

What kind of wacky scoring system is that anonymous employee endorsing if 6 out of 10 means "downright contemptible"? Assumably a 9.5 is "just about playable".

Nah mate, your scale's out of whack. I see where you're going wrong though, you're forgetting about all the numbers below six. There are at least five of them! Crazy, I know.

Exactly the reason I handled things myself during my time as a video game reviewer. Nothin' like the annoyance of PR.

----
Papa Midnight

Gamespot has lost a ton of credability over the years. On the community side, their mods are infamous for suspending and banning posters for little, if any, valid reasons. On the rating side, their ratings have been at time contentious and absurd... it does not help that the rapid increase in advertising revenue with Cnet occured months before this event.

I enjoyed GS to, but this entire incident has left me quite sour in the mouth. Anyone have suggestions for other good rating sites (can't stand IGN)?

"If the highly detailed rumors surrounding Jeff Gerstmann’s firing are true, then the people who run GameSpot have, by their own hand, utterly trashed a great media brand."

GameSpot a great media brand? Are you serious? I don't know Jeff Gerstmann, and I am not entirely familiar with his work but I don't recall a time where I would consider GameSpot a great or even decent media brand. It does sound like GameSpot handled the termination very poorly. But I can't exactly say I'm surprised. Regardless, this is a pretty bogus way to terminate an employee. If I was a writer, I wouldn't want to work for them.

I stopped taking reviews seriously a long time ago. Best way to find out if a game is good or not is to rent it or borrow it. I usually prefer to play a game before I start putting it down. Saying a game is bad and basing my argument on an article written about it doesn't seem like a good idea. "Oh yea it sucks because [insert media company] gave it a X out of 10 and they said it had really bad frame-rate issues yada yada yada." If I ever hear that I immediately think "bullshit!"

I'm still reserving outcry untill more information is given, in truth there could be some other reason that hasnt been publiciesd for privacy reasons, maybe Gerstmann sexually harassed his boss?

Highly unlikely, nearly impossible, but I'm not getting the pitchfork untill I get more info, otherwise we're no better than thompson and his cronies. Innocent till proven guilty applies to both parties.


That said, IF this is just over the review then 100% this is absolutely unforgivable, it highlights the pure hypocracy of the reviewing process if advertisers are allowed to control their own reviews, its complete and utter crap, its betraying the consumer, journalistic integrity and quite simply any degree of common decency. I'll no llonger trust the opinions of anyone with a paycheck for them.

Pandralisk -

Metacritic.com

I like it because it compiles reviews from most online sources and averages their score; based on a 100 point scale. I've made purchasing decisions based on the meta-score for a game and I've yet to be let down.

Wow, what a bunch of sleazebags. I never paid much attention to them in the past, but I certainly won't listen to anything they say now.

This is why I tend to only look at reviews for the screenshots.

Hey Dennis, Typo GET.
"probably the most daming information"
Feel free to delete this post once you see it. ^^

I'm one of those guys that doesn't read the articles...

unless its something I'd be interested in. There are a lot of games out there that I'd buy if I just followed the reviews, but the games themselves have to interest me. Kane and Lynch, I was going to buy solely for its multiplayer aspect. Fragile Alliance sounds like an amazing idea for a multiplayer game.

My problem with Kane and Lynch was that it almost felt like someone had sat down and thought..'' Hmmm.. GTA...Manhunt...GTA.Manhunt. GTAManhunt.... Kane and Lynch!'.

At least, that was the impression I got from what I had read about it and seen on Steam.

I've always thought personally that Gerstmann was unprofessional in his reviews and came across as an arrogant smartass and long wondered why he hadn't been fired before this. His in-your-face style didn't seem to fit in with the generally more professional reviews over at Gamespot.

If this indeed was the case for his firing and the K&L review was the straw that broke the camel's back, then I say goodbye and good riddance. However, if the review was the ONLY reason for his firing (and I suspect that it wasn't based on everything I've been reading), then it is indeed inexcusable.

I have long liked Gamespot. It's on my Favorites list and they're also the site I go to for downloading new patches, demos and the like. But if these allegations are borne out beyond the shadow of a doubt, I'll remove them, only going to them if I need to download files (and even then I just might cancel and subscribe to FilePlanet instead).

Personally I've never thought of Gamestop's reviews as necessarily "better" than any other sites, although they do seem more professional as I said earlier. What I tend to do is look at reviews from a variety of sources that include not only Gamestop, but IGN and Gamespy, magazines like PC Gamer and Computer Gaming World and even shows like X-Play. And I form my own decisions based on the consensus.

Personally I'm curious about Kane & Lynch, and if other reviews are generally more positive I might want to check it out. But if the reviews are mostly mediocre and negative, then I'll give it a pass.

My concern about all of this is that it's all 'An anonymous insider', 'someone who appears to be....' etc....

I'm glad that Dennis is still keeping an open mind about this, whilst I'm very concerned about it, I'm not quite ready to throw either Gamespot or Eidos to the wolves until something concrete happens. If what this 'Gamespot' character is saying is true, then it will become pretty evident over the coming weeks.

Again, after it was proven by server logs that a Gamespot reviewer played Savage: The Battle for Newerth for less than two hours before writing his review, I stopped taking Gamespot seriously as a review outlet.

Before, I thought the game was The Savage Lands, but the game was called Savage: The Battle for Newerth.

This pretty much confirms GS is a PR machine for the industry not a competent reviewsite,hell IGN is as bad but they are more subtle in their PR ways.


frankly I think the whole review side of the industry pad's scores to sell products, PR is everywhere now, you can't do anything with one of the hive mind overlords whining you are not pushing sales hard enough 0-o

Zerodash raised an interesting point as to the nature of this problem, where the contract falls on this matter, because that can give gerstmann legal ammunition to fight back, and he'll have the internet behind him if more evidence doesnt come to light.

If they did have a clause int he contract as zerodash suggested, that the advertisers cannot discriminate for bad reviews, than gamespot could have sued eidos over this to protect their employees, but no, this clearly paints hwere their priorities lie, with the payroll, not their people or their journalistic integrity.

makes me sick.

They really should of axed this guy earlier. I could certainly understand why he was canned if this controversy isn't true. I mean, I've heard him repeatedly get the names of characters wrong in the games he reviews and sometimes sound extremely bored. His Kane and Lynch review was hardly hitting the nail on the head either, IMO, though he did point out a couple of actual flaws.

But yeah, regardless how much I dislike the guy's professional performance, if this controversy is true then that really sucks to say the least. I think we'd be able to tell better if it was true if it wasn't Gerstmann who gave Kane and Lynch the disappointing review.

@GoodRobotUs

The problem with fidning "concrete" infromation is that the only ones who could provide such infromation is gonna be an employee of gamespot, CNET, or Eidios... And if this is indeed true, then those insiders are very likely to get fired like Jeff for leaking out the truth; hence the need to remain unknown... unfortunatly this leads to the problem that anyone can pose as an "unknown"

The only other source would probably be Jeff... though it's uncertain how he would aproach talking about this if it were true. Afterall what he says could harm his chances at getting another job.

Problem is this, I know, for a stone cold fact, that I would rate a city-builder over a FPS, and that I would rate a game lower if I personally felt it had too much 'gratuitous' violence in it, and that rate for 'gratuitous' would be set by me and no-one else. Game reviews are biased, they aren't supposed to represent everyone's opinion of the game, just the reviewers.

I'm fully aware of my bias when it comes to games, and that other people don't hold the same opinion as me, I don't consider them 'wrong', they simply have different tastes.

That said, mistakes etc, are another matter, but it's still not really fair to judge the guy on an opinion of his reviews.

I'd love to say that we can wait for concrete evidence to surface prior to condemning anyone, but as the article says, the Gamespot higher-ups may be circling the wagons until this blows over to keep any such evidence from getting out.
The problem with this strategy is that, in the courtroom of public perception, the illusion of impropriety can be almost as damning as impropriety itself. We can't PROVE that Gerstmann was fired due to pressure from advertisers, but it is a possibility and the available evidence makes it an entirely plausible possibility. Of course Gamespot will say it's not possible, and of course we won't take them at their word because they wouldn't say it was possible even if it was what happened.
It also means that apparently the other Gamespot staffers are living in fear. They also can't prove that Gerstmann was fired for the wrong reasons, but the possibility is enough that maybe some people would alter their review to prevent the same fate. That, coupled with the general public backlash, means Gamestop's lost almost all credibility in the eyes of many. If Gerstmann was fired for the wrong reasons - then they deserve to lose credibility. If he wasn't - then Gamestop is still guilty of not managing things well at all and allowing the illusion of impropriety, which is harsh enough.

@Monte

I agree, it will be hard to find confirmation immediately, but the reaction of other reviewers at Gamespot will become apparent over the coming weeks, if these posts stating that some reviewers are refusing to do any more reviews etc are indeed coming from Gamespot staff, then that of itself will be picked up by the press as it happens.

I'm just aware that the reaction could make the whole idea of Gamespot reviewers worrying about their jobs a moot point, a scandal like this could lose them all their jobs if there is a backlash from the customers, so they could very well be caught in a severe conflict of interests.

@ jds

Metacritic is owned by CNet... so take that into consideration as you endorse another site. Same company as what's caused this fiasco.

As a long-time very active GS member (5 years) I can say I'm disgusted with what happened with Jeff. The advertiser - editorial barrier has been breached there and the money grab for ad dollars is on. It's obvious that upper GS management (the suits, not the editorial staff) had a problem with Jeff as he was known for being a tough reviewer. Yes, his tone was what I've seen one poster describe as "snarky" but personally I thought he was funny (most of the time). Some of these games deserve the potshots he takes at them.

And Jeff wasn't the only one on that staff with that tone... and I can understand why the ad guys would find that a problem, but that's just tough. Don't like it? Go shill for another company then. You can't do what you just did. If you cruised around the members section of GS yesterday you'd notice how many members canceled their memberships, or just up and left the site. All those years that those guys built that site and community... in one day the ad guys laid it to waste. It's hard to sell advertising when you don't have readers left.

Well here is how I have my thoughts planned out. I own K&L, on the Havana level now.

If this is true, I will be calling Eidos and asking them for an RMA on it citing this as the reason. I will also be sadly giving up Gamefaqs as a place to find walkthroughs when I am stuck in a game. I never visited Gamespot as I found their reviews to fall into my "6-10 point review and nothing else review problem" and they panned Savage (great game in my opinion and many others).

If this is false, I will continue on with my life, enjoy K&L, continue reading Gamefaqs, continue never visiting Gamespot, and thumb my nose at the internet in an "I told you so." fashion.

The largest problem is all of the damning evidence is from anonymous sources. And as we have seen on this site, it is very Very VERY easy to spoof people if you so desire (how many JT trolls have been banned?) The internet is in an uproar because "The Man" did something to Mr. 8.8 and it would not surprise me in the least if most if not all of these so called "sources" inside Gamespot are just internet trolls trying to cause problems for Gamespot and Eidos. Innocent until Proven guilty, which sadly may never happen. However as to Mr. 8.8, I said good riddance. As to everyone in the reviewing segment of the game industry, learn to review, learn to grow a pair. If you are honest and stick to your guns the fans will flow to you (and Mr. 8.8 has no idea how to review).

that's a god damn shame.

To mort and other doubters: Jeff left under non-cordial circumstances. This much is clear. His Kane & Lynch review is being. This much is also clear. The responses from former employees of GameSpot Bob Colayco & Adam Buchen seem to indicate they find the rumor plausible, which doesn't say much for the site. The editor in chief, Alex Navarro has more-or-less said on his blog that he didn't fire Jeff, meaning rank was pulled. Former editor-in chief Greg Kasavin seems to be supporting Jeff. Add to this that it is standard practice to issue a public statement when firing a journalist for unethical practices (see Stephen Glass & Jayson Blair), yet CNET isn't commenting. I cannot think of any explanation where CNET looks good. Proof isn't coming and with what we have, the ball is in CNET's court. I urge gaming sites to just resolve this by never meantioning Eidos or any of its products again and for readers to never go to the CNET network.

@ Ace of Sevens

Again, all here-say, rumors, speculation, and guesses. Give me something I can touch and examine. Until then I will ask for more, expect none, and not pass judgment.

As far as the "issue a public statement" bit, that is not SOP. I work in the development field in a large IS dept with over 100 programmers. Recently we had a project manager leave, the same day we got an "effective immediately this person does not work here." Legally they can't tell us why he left, was fired, or anything else. Just as Mr. 8.8 can't say why, nor can Gamespot legally. We will never get the full story on this so it will all be guesses, rumors, and speculation.

Give me facts and stop spreading rumors that only lead to more flaming idiot fanbois creating more rumors causing it to spiral out of control.

By the way, did you hear that Gamespot forces all their reviewers to sleep in tubes in a special room so they never have to leave and can review all day every day without being exposed to the outside?

Damning. The word is damning.

And we in the game DEVELOPMENT industry have a saying:

Those who can, do.
Those who can't, teach.
Those who can't do either, review.

And those who can't review need to take a hard look at their lives. I think all the hubbub is over the gap between the *perceived* honesty of gamespot and the *reality* of game-advertised game-reviewing sites...now eliminated for the naive and foolish.

We get paid as developers based on the metacritic score, so our money is directly tied to these doritos-stained words on an electronic page. Pardon my bitterness. Perhaps I should go into reviewing.

I'd tell you E.T. was a good game if there was money in it for me --

Check out www.gamerevolution.com if you are interested in reviews that tell it like it is. I have been faithfully reading their reviews for the past 10 years, and have generally agreed with reviews of any games I have played myself.

If you liked Jeff Gerstmann's "snarky" review style, GR should be a good fit. This is a site (rating on a A-F letter grade scale) that is not afraid to give D- and F reviews. It might be a bit of a shock if you are used to looking at the scores coming off of mainstream sites, but give them a try and see what you think.

Also keep in mind that GR is a much smaller site, so reviews usually take a few days to break, but that also means that they are not tied up in enormous advertising campaigns that have the potential to compromise their journalistic integrity.

@Damning:

First off, if you'd say E.T. was a good game if there was money in it for you, you've got no business even thinking about anything remotely like a writing career. I've said it elsewhere, and I'll say it again ... I've busted my ass earning my reputation, and I'm not one to piss it away. Have I HAD publishers try to exert some pressure? Sure. Did I change my review? No. I've spent plenty of time working on news and the like alongside the p/reviews I've written. I've butted heads with all sorts of people on all sides of the industry. So don't go tossing out buckshot attack condemning and mocking the people who work in this field and keep their integrity intact.

And if you're getting paid based on the metacritic score for a game, don't take it out on the reviewers if a game scores low. Make a better game. A review is one person's informed opinion at a given time. Sometimes readers will agree, sometimes they won't. If you don't agree, that's perfectly fine ... just don't automatically assume at either a) someone's been paid off or b) someone has an axe to grind.

SH1SNO, your blatant advert would be sickening if it wasn't so poorly executed!
 
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