When Gamespot editor Jeff Gerstmann was fired after giving the highly-touted Kane & Lynch game a negative review, some in the gaming community found the timing a little suspicious. Rumors have swirled since Gerstmann’s firing that Eidos, publisher of the game and a major advertiser on Gamespot, exerted pressure on the website to fire him.

Gerstmann gave Kane & Lynch a 6 out of 10 in his review two weeks ago. The brief one sentence summary at the top of the review reads, “Kane & Lynch: Dead Men has a lot of promise, but nothing in this game works out nearly as well as you'd hope.” It’s not a ringing endorsement for the game but it’s not exactly a hatchet job either. Gerstmann’s video review (below), viewable on Youtube but since removed from Gamespot, came off as a little more caustic (that might just be because a video review is more vivid) but still wasn’t incendiary.

His basic point isn’t that the game is horrible - just that it isn’t as good as some of the other shooters on the scene right now. It’s hard to believe someone would be fired based on this review alone. Wired spoke to an unnamed “insider” who said, “I’d heard a few people tell that he’d already been skating on thin ice for ‘unprofessional reviews and review practices.’” The anonymous source went on to say, “I sincerely doubt that Eidos made Gamespot fire him. CNET doesn’t kowtow to its advertisers, and I’ve more than once seen the higher-ups turn away big advertising dollars for the sake of the company’s integrity. I think the whole thing is likely a combination of factors, the biggest being poor timing.”

The rumor has struck a chord in the gaming community, however. Penny Arcade, the popular gamer web comic, released a strip today based on the controversy. Tycho stated in the PA blog that, according to his own anonymous source, Eidos pulled hundreds of thousands of dollars of future advertising from the site following Gerstmann’s review. Any visitor to Gamespot in the past month or so can tell that Eidos had invested a substantial amount of money to promote Kane & Lynch on the website (which actually had a Kane & Lynch skin up until today). Tycho seconds the Wired source’s statement that Gerstmann had been warned about his editorial tone in the past, and points out that this tone threatened the “carefully crafted relationships that allowed Gamespot to act as an engine of revenue creation.”

Gerstmann told Joystiq that he can’t comment on the specifics of his termination. Gamespot is not going to come out and say “oh yeah, we totally fired him so we’d get more money from Eidos” so it’s safe to say we’ll never get a definitive answer on whether this rumor is true or not. Regardless of the reasons for Gerstmann’s firing, this whole controversy sheds light on the precarious position of gaming journalism – it depends upon advertising funding from the very companies whose products it criticizes. It would be like the New York Times being funded by the Republican Party or something. While we don’t know whether Eidos did in fact exert pressure on Gamespot, the fact remains that they could.

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