Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Duff: Rumor mill says GameSpot critic lost his job over bad review

Duff: Rumor mill says GameSpot critic lost his job over bad review

Jeff Gerstmann lost his job last week. Jeff was editorial director at GameSpot, one of the most popular (and most profitable) game sites on the Web.

Jeff worked at Game-Spot for 11 years, churning out hundreds of high-quality reviews, building his reputation as a guy who knew his stuff and didn’t pull punches.

Jeff was at the top of his game – one of the most respected figures in gaming journalism. Then he lost everything in a very public (and very suspicious) firing.

The rumor mill says Jeff was fired for giving a bad review to a game called “Kane & Lynch,” a product that Eidos had just spent six figures to advertise on GameSpot itself.

Every corner of GameSpot was plastered with “Kane & Lynch” ads when Gerstmann’s review went up, giving it 6.0 on a scale of 10. Jeff’s video review (available on YouTube but quickly pulled by GameSpot) is absolutely devastating.

Jeff tears this game apart, using a crisp, authoritative tone that leaves no room for doubt.

“There’s no one to root for here,” Jeff says, “not even in a cool anti-hero sort of way.”

He calls “Kayne and Lynch” “an ugly, ugly game” and warns us that “every third word out of every character’s mouth is the f-word.”

This looks like a classic example of a company using nihilism and profanity to cover up lazy design. Jeff’s review makes that crystal clear.

GameSpot eventually restored the video and released a statement categorically denying the rumors, but the damage had already been done.

The remaining GameSpot editors sound like they have guns to their heads, praising Jeff in careful, measured tones, quickly retracting statements that sound critical of management, hiding behind legal agreements that keep the principals from talking.

The Eidos message boards are under siege from an army of angry gamers, convinced that pressure from their marketing department got Jeff fired.

CNET execs are implying that Jeff was fired for the unprofessional tone of his reviews, but the “Kane & Lynch” review is effective precisely because it is professional.

It looks like GameSpot is bowing to pressure from advertisers here. To quote the guys at Penny Arcade, “It’s the firm belief internally that Jeff was sacrificed. And it had to be Jeff precisely because of his stature and longevity. It made for a dramatic public execution that left the editorial staff in disarray.”

Pulling the video makes it look like Jeff was fired for his virtues, and the weak denials from CNET are just making it worse.

Game review sites walk a fine line in the best of circumstances. Their livelihood depends on the good will of the people they’re reviewing. There’s a constant battle between sales staff and editorial, and in this case, it looks like the sales guys won.

I’d like to propose a solution that will help GameSpot untangle this knot. They already use a graduated 10-point scale for reviews – just assign a dollar value to each point.

Drop a hundred grand on advertising and we’ll give you a guaranteed 8. Or maybe just replace every rating with a dollar value and skip the point system entirely.

It’s called prestige pricing. If it costs more, it must be worth more, so a company that’s willing to spend 100 grand is obviously making better games than a company that can only spend 20.

Jeff is a talented guy who will land on his feet after this. GameSpot and Eidos may not be so lucky.

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Written by Michael B. Duff

December 14, 2007 at 13:44

Posted in Columns, Games

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