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The Gamespot “Scandal”

December 1st, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · 7 Comments · Media

People have been asking me for my take on the Gamespot/Gerstmann issue. For those who haven’t been following it, there are allegations that Senior Editor Jeff Gerstmann was dismissed from Gamespot for matters related to his scathing video review of Eidos’ Kane & Lynch, a game that had been heavily promoted on the site. All the usual places have all the usual speculation. (Games media observer Kyle Orland has a great summary of the story over at Joystiq.)

I don’t have a lot of contacts over at Gamespot, and they are all too professional or out of the loop to tell me anything that hasn’t been confirmed. Suffice it to say that we really don’t know much about what has happened. Alex Navarro’s comments confirm that the firing was a shock to some people there, Valleywag has alleged insider information. And it’s hard not to make some conspiratorial connection to new business priorities of the recently hired Stephen Colvin, who built the advertiser friendly Maxim and Stuff magazines.

But let’s face it. We know very little beyond a timeline. Though a wave of resignations would probably confirm the worst, the lack thereof doesn’t prove the opposite, since most people don’t leave jobs without a lot of deliberation. (And it’s not like there’s a plethora of full time games media work out there.)

What does this tell us about the larger games sites? Very little, actually. If the lesson is that the priorities of the corporate masters and editors/writers often clash, we already knew that. (That’s why so many have firewalls between editorial and marketing, including Gamespot.)

It tells us that even established professionals are disposable, which is also no surprise given how many people want to be games journalists.

It tells us that you can get in more trouble for saying things out loud than you can for writing them. (Gerstmann’s print review is still up, with some minor edits.)

It’s much too soon and too unclear to draw any firm conclusions beyond those rather obvious lessons. The ‘net wide outrage is not very surprising, and since this is over one of the largest internet media companies and one of the most long-lived games media sites I don’t think the storm will pass very soon.

But I don’t think that it will lead to any long term damage for the site. Gamers are pretty forgiving, especially since so many of them assume the worst of journalists to begin with. Unless there is a mass exodus from the Gamespot, people will still go there to read opinions, participate on their forums and maybe even watch their video reviews.


7 Comments so far ↓

  • Ken Wootton

    I think you are wrong that most people assume the worst of journalists. The people that spend mountains of time crowing about reviews from behind their keyboard don’t necessarily represent the general audience who, at least in my case, read a review to actual help with purchasing decisions. That requires a bit of trust.

    Is GameSpot a credible source of reviews? Maybe. I’m not certain what maybe means to the average GameSpot reader. There are certainly a lot of choices for your time and money. To me, it means one less subscription to a gaming website.

  • Scott R. Krol

    Billy Kirk will get to the bottom of this. :)

  • Alan Au

    Whether or not there was actually anything amiss, there’s still the perception of impropriety, which is a large part of why GameSpot is taking so much heat.

  • steve

    The funniest thing is that Gerstmann could have been fired because he mooned a receptionist, but Gamespot can’t actually say this. So he’s a martry and Gamespot is corrupt.

    Which may be true, but my own insiders (in my head) make me wonder if the edits on the article say more about the issue than the timing of the Kane & Lynch stuff.

    Also, that review was up for a couple of weeks. You’d think Eidos’ outrage would have bubbled up sooner. And anyone who knows the kinds of ad dollars floating around know that Eidos doesn’t have the kind of juice required to terminate an editor… well, unless CNN is really wussy.

  • Troy

    And anyone who knows the kinds of ad dollars floating around know that Eidos doesn’t have the kind of juice required to terminate an editor

    I don’t think Eidos was looking to terminate an editor, at all. I can see them pulling their ad buys because they don’t want to support a site that slagged their game and then Maxim-Man loses his mind over it.

    Given how busy everyone is this time of year, the couple of weeks gap between review and dismissal doesn’t necessarily dim my conspiratorial thinking. It is entirely plausible that there was an internal process of some sort, a meeting that got out of hand, etc. Throw in a holiday week, take out weekends and we’re talking a matter of maybe eight to ten days.

    But yeah, Gerstmann could have been fired for a number of reasons.

  • steve

    “I can see them pulling their ad buys because they don’t want to support a site that slagged their game and then Maxim-Man loses his mind over it.”

    Sure, but the ads would have disappeared when the review ran on the site, not two weeks later.

    (And the review itself was in-line with most other views of the game.)

    I’m going to guess the Kane & Lynch ads disappeared because… well, they probably ran two weeks before it shipped, and two weeks after it shipped.

  • Troy

    The latest spate of insider gossip from GSpot via Kotaku makes it look a lot less like corruption and more like an executive decision that no one was prepared for and poor management in general.