Gerstmann Fired: Moneyhats Run Rampant

Rolling around in my usual gaming haunts last night some disturbing news came to light. Rumor has it that Gamespot Editor, Jeff Gerstmann, was fired this week possibly due to a negative review he gave for Eidos’ Kane and Lynch: Dead Men. At the time of this writing, any connection between Gerstmann’s firing and the review is pure speculation. Whether true or not, this is a disturbing thing to be learning for myself as a game reviewer, and as an avid reader of the work of my colleagues.

According to the rumors what happened is Gerstmann gave Kane and Lynch an accurate 6.0/10 score, which was followed with a scathing video review. Looking at Metacritic, there should be nothing wrong with that, as it’s just another average score for the game. Eidos supposedly went to Gamespot, which is part of the CNET Network, and threatened to pull advertising. Gertsmann was then fired.

Does that sound fishy to you? The written review is still up, but I’m having trouble finding the video version at Gamespot. If Eidos is indeed putting this pressure on Gamespot, then why is the review still active? Most likely it’s because the editorial content is indeed separate from ad sales. But the overwhelming circumstantial evidence that Gerstmann was unceremoniously booted does not bode well for all parties involved. Whether it’s fair or not, the debacle calls into question Gamespot’s credibility as a review source.

The problem we’re all having at the moment is that, as suggested by IGN’s Hilary Goldstein, an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) was likely signed by Gerstmann. This means that we may never find out the full truth behind the accusations. Anyone who has worked for a company of any substantial size, as CNET is, may have run into having to sign a similar agreement. It’s protection for both the company and the former employee. There’s nothing shady about that. The sad thing is this shouldn’t hurt Gerstmann, because he opined in an honest fashion only to be offered up for slaughter, but there’s a decent chance the mob will raise him up as the prime example of corrupt review policies. That is simply not fair, and I hope the few forum posts to this affect floating around remain in the minority.

Eidos has some things to answer for, because if they’re not in the wrong that needs to be cleared up. But most of all, we need some answer from Gamespot. Sarah Cain, a CNET spokesperson, told popular gaming blog Joystiq that, ” we do not terminate employees based on external pressure from advertisers.”

So where does this leave game journalism in general? There has long been an underlying feeling by the hard-core readership that shenanigans are in place. While it’s doubtful that corrupt practices are going on any more than in other entertainment news, there is reason for the suspicion. Major gaming sites use the magazine model for their ad sales, and that means publishers are paying big money to be splattered across our favorite outlets. There are only a handful of the “big boys” like Gamespot who get this direct contact with their ad clients. Even worse is the very things being advertised are those that are critiqued. It’s a possible conflict of interest. One that Dan “Shoe” Hsu, Editor-In-Chief of EGM Magazine, has commented on in the past.

The likely problem here is that Stephen Colvin, former President and CEO of Dennis Publishing – Maxim, Blender and Stuff magazines – took over as CNET’s Executive Vice President recently. The world of Maxim magazine and gaming magazines are quite different. There is no room for error when it comes to ad support and editorial content when critiquing. It sounds like a few people in high-level decision-making positions had no clue where to draw the line when it comes to this tenuous professional relationship.

Valleywag ran a piece with comments from a rumored Gamespot employee, which details what has happened since Josh Larson has taken over as Executive Editor. If even partially true, this is horrible news for Gamespot. The alleged employee stated, ” Over the last year there has been an increasing amount of pressure to allow the advertising teams to have more of a say in the editorial process; we've started having to give our sales team heads-ups when a game is getting a low score, for instance, so that they can let the advertisers know that before a review goes up. 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.”

Here’s a hint for next time: Never allow any changes in editorial content as it relates to how you make money. Ever.

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend.