Reviews and advertising  

Sunday, December 09, 2007

This season the big news in gaming doesn't seem to be about the record-breaking sales of Halo 3 or even the rash of new video games released in November. It's about the recent firing of game journalist, Jeff Gerstmann.

On November 28, CNet's Gamespot fired Jeff Gerstmann without official comment. Within hours the internet was talking about it and linking his firing with a written and video review of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men. The unfavorable review was released on November 13, during a time when the game publisher of Kane & Lynch, Eidos, was advertising heavily on the Gamespot website. Jeff also bagged the game pretty heavily on the November 13 episode of the Hotspot, a podcast sponsored by Gamespot.

CNet's early silence only fueled the rumors. A few days later they announced that they could not disclose the reasons Gerstmann was fired due to legal reasons, but stated it wasn't due to any pressure from a publisher or advertiser. The crew of the Hotspot reacted on the November 7 episode by stating that although they were angry and missed and supported Jeff, his firing wasn't due to just one review.

The circumstances do seem to indicate that the review influenced management actions at the Gamespot, even if it wasn't the only reason. Personally, I think a divide between the parent company CNet and Gamespot has been revealed by not just the firing, but the reactions of the employees who, I'm sure, want to keep their jobs.

And even if the review had nothing to do with the firing, public opinion has called the integrity of the company into question. What does this mean for Gamespot? If they allow an advertiser to pressure them into re-evaluating reviews, even if the reviews aren't changed it doesn't bode well for them. Reviews are meant to be impartial if they are to be trusted. Their reviews will be scrutinized heavily for some time, but does that guarantee impartiality, as the Hotspot crew points out?

And what of the parent company, CNet, who provides reviews on a much broader range of products, including most electronics. I use them myself when I'm unfamiliar with a technology. Will they be harmed by the scandal or is gaming still too small of a niche market to influence the traffic of people shopping for things as mundane as cameras and mp3 players? And with most of the fingers pointed at them, will they end up taking the blame?

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