The Gerstmann Thing

  By Shamus   Dec 4, 2007   58 comments

Most common question here in the comments and in email last weekend: What do you think of the thing with Jeff Gerstmann?

Some people have been waiting for my take on this. Others will have no idea what I’m talking about. I haven’t commented on this yet because it’s one of those things that needs a thousand words or none, and I wasn’t sure anyone would be interested to hear my efforts to join the predictable pile-on now that the story is over and everyone else is dusting themselves off and walking away.

Here is a quick recap of the story. Note that that I’m just passing along details as I read them – the story goes something like this.

  1. Jeff Gerstmann, reviewer for Gamespot, gave a bad review to the newly-released Kayne & Lynch. You can see a subset of his complaints about the game here:

    The game sounds dull and tedious in a number of very predictable ways. We’ve played this game before, as it were, but with more varied gameplay and more likeable characters. Those few minutes of gameplay footage tell a story that hardly needs the narration of Jeff Gerstmann to help make its point.

  2. After the negative review, Eidos (the publisher) pulled their advertising from Gamespot. (Gamespot was drenched in Kayne & Lynch promotions at the time of the review.)
  3. Gamespot fired Jeff Gerstmann.
  4. Eidos advertisements reappeared.
  5. Excuses were made in an attempt to airbrush over what looks to be the abandonment of the pretense of journalistic integrity.
  6. Life goes on.

For an even quicker summary of what people see when they look at this story, check out this Penny Arcade. To those of us pressing our noses up against the frosted glass of videogame journalisim and trying to look inside, it looks a lot like Eidos pressured Gamespot to fire Gerstmann. Of course, Gamespot denies this. Gerstmann has no comment. Eidos isn’t likely to subscribe to this view of events either. Some people doubt. “Anonymous sources” confirm, and hint that the story is everything it seems to be and more.

You can read more about this at Primotech, Destructoid, Kotaku, or Joystiq. I’ll also give the Rampant Coyote a nod for rounding up the above links for me.

Gamespot’s stated reason for canning this ten-year employee – that they had a “problem” with the “tone” of his articles – is nebulous enough to mean nothing, and sounds pretty weak when used as justification for getting rid of a high-profile guy like this. This guy has been with you since the original Quake hit the shelves. A decade. And now his tone is suddenly a problem? Did his tone aburptly change? If not, what did?

Gerstmann claims he can’t comment on his firing, which is only true if what he has to say is negative towards his former employer. A few words from him could take the wind out of this story: “I was fired for repeatedly emptying the office coffee pot and not making more.” He hasn’t done this, which means he probably has something nasty to say and is avoiding doing so in hopes that he’ll be able to find work elsewhere in this industry. Humiliating your former employer is not the way to make a good impression on prospective employers.

Deprived of a reasonable alternative explanation for the firing, this story has gained traction and is quickly becoming the accepted version of events. I guess I’m buying it, since it reinforces my preconceived notions about gaming journalism.

For cynics like me, this just makes clear what I’ve always suspected, which is that mediocre big-budget games tend to garner better reviews than they deserve because the publishers make life difficult for reviewers if they don’t play along. I’ve always thought they did this with the more nebulous threat of cutting off “access”. As in: If you pan this Tomb Raider game, then maybe we won’t bother sending you screenshots, granting interviews, or giving you a review copy for the next one, thus giving the “inside scoop” to other, more malleable game sites and magazines. Review sites went along with this because of their OCD-like obsession with being “first” to review / preview something.

(And this is why I’ve come to loathe game previews. What possible use could I have for a four-page article filled with publisher-approved prose and screenshots about a game? Such a thing is essentially indistinguishable from advertising from the consumer’s point of view. It’s worse, really, since it’s presented as journalism. It’s gotten to the point where more page space is dedicated to previews than reviews, which shows just how screwed up things have gotten.)

But until this happened I would never have guessed that money was used this way, that the use of it as a weapon would be this explicit, or that they would have been so brazen about it. If this was some sort of aberration they might have tried to disguise what they were doing. They certainly could have waited a few weeks before taking action, thus spanking Gamespot back into line in a way which would have been undetectable to those of us on the outside. They way they’ve done things indicates to me that they think there’s nothing wrong with doing business this way and they don’t care if we know.

Many times I’ve played a game which had glaringly obvious flaws, and wondered how, during a two-page article filled with squealing about graphics and the mechanic du jour, the reviewer never found space to mention them. Eventually I (and a lot of other gamers) decided that either gaming magazines and websites employed abject masochists, or the review process was broken. I don’t expect a reviewer to predict if I like a game or not (How could they?) but I do expect them to accurately describe the contents and experience of a game. The moment I realized they stopped doing that they became useless to me.

Will gamers care about this in the long run? Is this going to be a blow to Gamespot, now that they have revealed that publishers can essentially buy positive reviews, simply by buying advertising space?

Not really.

I gave up on review sites years ago. A lot of us did. What about readers who still turn to those magazines and sites? Next year, when reviews tell them that the next Tomb Raider game feeds the hungry and heals the sick, will they think back to the whole Jeff Gerstmann story of ’07 and hesitate? I don’t claim to be a psychic or anything, but I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that they won’t give Jeff Gerstmann a nanosecond worth of thought. If their memories reached back that far, they would remember the last review of [overhyped game from a big publisher] and how that compared to the actual experience of playing the game. There will always be a contingent of people who buy first, and use reviews to rationalize their foolishness later. That group is large enough to constitute a market, and Gamespot has decided to go after it.

I do hope Gerstmann is able to find work elsewhere. If I was running a gaming site I’d grab this guy in a second, if only to establish a reputation as a fearless rogue and a tell-it-like-it-is publication. Interesting that nobody has done this yet.

20201858 comments. It's getting crowded in here.


  1. I suppose the point is, where would such a fearless rogue, tell-it-like-it-is publication go for advertising dollars?

    Incidentally, this isn’t a characteristic of the game industry in particular. It’s true across the board, from politics to food to computers.

  2. Snook says:

    Purple: Penny Arcade does a decent job it, but it’s not a game review site, really.

  3. MintSkittle says:

    Interesting. The gametrailers review is almost the exact opposite of Gerstmann’s.

  4. MOM says:

    That was interesting to me. Lack of integrity in jounalism in general causes periodic scandals that erode the publics trust and over a period of time rob them of their influence/power/audience. The pattern is predictable. Gerstner silence is troubling. If the appearance is what is true he owes his readers the truth. Perhaps a golden parachute was employed? This reminds me of the disc jockey scandal in the 50’s when disc jockey achieved a place of influence in popular music, which they quickly began to trade for money. Many many many other parallells in the market place I am sure.

  5. RobertB says:

    In response to the first post: I used to trust Computer Gaming World reviewers to be fairly unbiased with regard to their reviews. I remember some fairly big-budget games (Outpost springs to mind because I actually _bought_ a copy, Daikatana is another) getting lambasted in their review pages, even when they had previously published fairly glowing previews of the game. Now that they’ve become Yet Another Microsoft House Organ I’m not so sure.

  6. Mitch H. says:

    I would guess that they’ll have the same market they’ve always had, which is young idiots with more of mommy’s money than experience. The kids won’t know it’s a waste of money & attention, because they’re not paying attention *now*. Review magazines rely on ignorance & inexperience. If you already knew which way was up and which way is down, why would you need to read Blue Sky Quarterly or Green Grass Review?

    I labored under the delusion that the brat pack had grown up believing that everything should be online and free, until one of the big anime dealers on the con circuit told a conrunners’ mailing list flat-out “you aren’t our customers, I sell to the kids with money” who presumably didn’t know better than to pay retail for anime DVDs at a con.

  7. Downtym says:

    Man, I had such high hopes for Kane and Lynch. The trailers looked awesome. The cinematic appeal was definitely there. The betrayal game mode sounded cool.

    And they went and cocked it all up. And, on top of it, got a guy fired for giving *the most* honest game review I’ve heard in a long time.

  8. There’s always going to be a dependency there. That happens with every industry. The trick is that there’s usually more of a symbiotic relationship. The industry is just as dependent upon the journalists as the journalists are on the industry leaders (for exclusives, sneak peaks, and – yes, advertising).

    The problem in games journalism is that the dependency is very lopsided. Gaming website & magazine revenues are almost exclusively provided by the makers of the very things they are reviewing. And particularly with all the consolidation going on amongst major publishers (Bioware borged by EA, Activision marrying Blizzard / Vivendi, Atari in danger of going the way of the original owner of the name, Interplay dead… oh, but maybe not…), that makes a pretty unequal relationship.

  9. Anon says:

    Funny how 6/10 is considered “bad” instead of merely “average” or “decent.” The only time in recent memory that I’ve seen a review for a game that was less than 5 was for the Yu Yu Hakusho GBA game. Really, what’s the point of giving anything a rating if you’re afraid to give anything less than a 5?
    Perhaps the best way to rate a game would be to take the common rating(for example, 8 for an average game) and subtract 5.

  10. George says:

    It’s a shame, because that was an amazing review, that told you everything you needed to know about the game itself, and whether it would be worth it.

    Where can you go for good reviews these days? I haven’t seen a magazine review I agree with in a while now.

  11. MintSkittle says:

    It seems to me that ratings are based on grades that you would get in school, where an 8/10 is 80%, or a “B”. So the 6/10 would be a “D”. 5 and under are complete failures.

  12. nilus says:

    Yeah I for one do not understand the review system anymore. I see people bitching that there favorite games get rated a 7 or 8. Isn’t that above average. The reviews go from 1 to 10.

    I also am noticing a trend where the reviews tone sounds like a game is a 7 or 8 but then the rating is 9 or higher. Like the reviewer writes the review and then the editor just smacks a number on it that will make the advertisers happy.

  13. Just A Reviewer says:

    Unfortunately this happens fairly frequently. It’s alright to give a game that isn’t expected to do well a lower score and no one really balks, but if you’re put on a high profile game it’s pretty much mandated that you fall in line with the expected numbers and the numbers given by other reviewers. The results of not doing so range from loss of job, to having the numbers you put in tenderly massaged, reviews pulled down, etc. Most journalists are trying their hardest to give honest helpful reviews, but it’s a classic catch 22. Give a bad review to the hand that is paying for your review… The industry ends up eating itself from the inside out.

  14. mike says:

    This is why I always, always go by player reviews on Gamefaqs. Unlike reviews by gaming mags/sites, they tend to point out the things that actually matter to gamers. Sometimes they’re a little…extreme (20 second load times? 0/10!!) but I still find them the most reliable source of honest opinion regarding video games.

    Amazingly, some of the most brutal game reviews I’ve ever seen were in a PSM (Playstation Magazine), absolutely LAMBASTING upcoming PS2, PS3 and PSP games. Go figure.

  15. Tom says:

    Interesting. I’d missed the Gerstmann story, but it’s not that surprising. Mainstream journalism has had this problem for decades. In print, they lay out the advertising days in advance, and call what’s left for news the “news hole.” Not only does it sound bad, it has the practical effect that stories must be a certain length, and more complex stories or novel concepts therefore must be cut to fit.

    There are well-documented cases of this sort of advertiser pressure in the mainstream media, and of biases based on ownership.

    Now, if I were Gerstmann, I’d sue Gamespot for damages to his career.

  16. Tom says:

    On another thread running through here, IMHO the 1 – 10 rating system is pretty brain-dead. A better system would be to compare the game under review to a handful of other games in the genre. You ask the question “how much better/worse is game X compared to game Y.” Do this against three other games and with a little math you’ve got a solid rating on a 0 – 1 (or 0% to 100%) scale. If you want to compare graphics, sound and gameplay all separately, you do this pairwise comparison for each “dimension” of comparison. The overall rating can then be either another pairwise comparison or just the average (possibly weighted) of the other comparisons.

    Such a system would produce very robust results, with less opportunity for bias (you can call everything that comes your way the best game ever, but then yesterday’s best game won’t be the best, anymore) and a more uniform distribution of ratings (i.e. it’s not all 7, 8 and 9). You’d have to recalculate ratings as you add new games, but the results would also improve (become more robust) with the additions.

  17. Steve, The says:

    The ways reviews are “rated” is silly, but we as a silly people we like simple things.

    A game is a ten, a 10, a 5/5 or such, because many people don’t even read the review, they look at a list of names, a list of numbers, and sort by size. Thus it is highly beneficial if a game gets placed up high where the ADD twitchies can see it before their goldfish-like memories remind them there’s a breasts on the internet.

    Me, I’ve always been a fan of the Something Awful’s Scale (SAS). It’s essentially the same as the “6 outta 10 is crap” scale, but written in a way that makes a little more sense. -5 to 0 to +5.

    Something starts at 0 or indifference. Then if it is liked, it gets a positive rating, if disliked, a negative rating. The closer to zero a rating is, the less impact (good or bad) was done.

    Thus, a game with horrendous bugs might get a -3 in gameplay outta the box, a +1 after the patches becomes;
    “The game went from being pretty unplayable, but after a few patches it worked well enough to get things done. The interface worked well enough, though the ammo counter was hard to read, and it was hard to tell if falling from certain heights was damaging or not without looking at the health display. It could have used sound effects or player grunts of pain to convey it. Still, not too shabby overall. ”

    But that’s just me, and I assume everyone has their own system for doing things.

    A boring fps clone? It gets a 0, it wasn’t bad, it failed to stand out. The -‘s go to those things like Lair’s forced motion controls, as that DEtracted from my enjoyment of the game.
    The people howling for blood after Zelda:TP got an 8.8 I think it was, would likely still claw at this system for giving it a 4.4, but that’s simply mindless fanboyism, and must be ignored in the grander scheme of things.

    Then again, a Game would have to have been pretty damn impressive to score a 5, you might hand one of those out a year. The mighty scores Bioshock got would be pressed to a 4 at best, as it’s great, but not perfect, earth shattering, or the second coming.

    I regret though, that while this would slowly attune you to reviewers that think like you do, allowing you to trust certain reviewers as they rate stuff like you would, the Gamespots would still force them to put 5’s or be fired. That’s not something a rating system such as ours can fix. To fix that problem would require a stiff case of cahones and ethics in the management department.

    Toodles.

  18. RudeMorgue says:

    I don’t mean to defend Gamespot, but looking at their most recent PC game reviews here:

    http://www.gamespot.com/reviews.html?type=reviews&platform=5&tag=subnav;reviews

    I see, out of 15 reviews:

    7.5
    4.5
    6.0
    4.5
    3.5
    7.5
    6.5
    8.5
    7.5
    8.5
    5.0
    7.0
    1.5
    6.5
    6.0

    That gives an average review of 6.0 with some of the worst reviews (a 1.5 and a 4.5) given to titles from Atari and Activision.

    The most recent 15 XBox 360 reviews are slightly higher, but still have a couple of 4.5 reviews in there, including one for an Activision game and a 6.0 written review for Kane and Lynch.

    Wii reviews seem slightly worse than the PC list.

    PS3 reviews are somewhat better, but still have a number of very low scores.

    The only major ad I found on the site was a prominent ad for their holiday gift guide, which is sponsored not by a game company, but rather by Best Buy. Their “top picks” are a little bit suspect to me, since they include “Oblivion” which is both old and kinda lame, in my opinion, but a lot of people love it.

  19. RudeMorgue says:

    Ack, the long URL didn’t wrap and totally screwed up my comment. Sorry.

  20. Cineris says:

    Incidents like these just confirm my bias in believing that the industry is completely fueled by advertising dollars.

    Example:

    Gears of War. I’ve played the game a little bit. It was beautiful, but not amazing. Game of the Year mentions over and over again. Presumably it could’ve been the story that brought that, but realistically I doubt it. The real reason it was so big had to do with Microsoft and building up an unreal level of hype around the game.

    Look now at Crysis. A beautiful game, but that’s about the extent of it. I’m not sure if this game deserves 9.X scores, when it’s just another game with better graphics than the last generation. Despite that the game doesn’t have much new to offer besides the graphics, the hype surrounding the game is unbelievable.

    It hardly seems coincidental that AAA games with big marketing budgets have a review score range of 9.0 – 10. The number of games that are released that get scores of 1-5 is miniscule: What are we to think, that there are no bad or average big-budget titles? Or, even more insultingly, that the games on the lowest end of the scale are all the home-brewed or independently developed ones?

  21. The Gneech says:

    Wait … are you suggesting that NWN 2 -wasn’t- worthy of its 9.9 rating?

    -The Gneech

  22. Curaidh says:

    Well what else is there to say?
    I can only second your thoughts Shamus. It’s the exact same reason I gave up on using ANY review as an indicator to buy something.
    When I was younger and reading the old PowerPlay, I constantly saw Games that got rated between 10 and 20%. The Games that got these reviews mostly just sucked.
    And today? I bought a copy of Gamestar cause it got a 6 page HG:L special. When I flicked through the pages I noticed not a single Game got a rating below 70%.
    Looks like games nowadays are all awesome or at least good. Strange though that I consider “old” games to be the best…

  23. Shamus says:

    The idea that someone could give NWN2 a 9.9 and still have a job at the end of the week fills me with dispair. I don’t expect everyone to carry the deep, festering grudge against the thing that I do, but the problems were obvious and affected every apsect of the game. Story, characters, technology, performance, visuals, sounds, interface, and gameplay were all flawed.

    I weep for the hobby.

    I’m going to go sit and stare into space, twitching occasionally.

  24. gattsuru says:

    You can see sub-5/10 scores, although seldom for big-name games, and the ones that do score that low tend to be truly horrific. Gundam Crossfire sticks in my memory for getting 1/10 level scores from mainstream reviewers (oddly, gamefaqs reviews tended to rate it much higher). It does take a horrible and very flawed game to make that level.

    I think that’s probably a more useful metric than having the average game at 5/10. Half of the games out on the market really aren’t failures, or even ho-hum. Timeshift, for example, was bad enough that I can’t advise paying 40 bucks for it, but it was passable and playable. It probably doesn’t beat 30% of the games out in the field, at best, but even the story, Timeshift’s weakest point, I can’t really give a 3 out of 10.

    On the other side of things, you can find places like Edge magazine, which tends to only give 8+ scores to extremely good games. That doesn’t inherently make them more trustable, though; they’ve made some weird decisions, as well.

    That’s the issue, when good games starting scoring lower than bad ones. To be honest, I doubt merchandizing is the biggest reason for this, but it’s certainly one of them, and one people should be aware of by now.

    Of course, a lot of people who get gaming magazines recognize this, and are more interested in simply seeing a basic concept about games instead of just the box art.

  25. Rob says:

    Even more interesting is that the official website has false reviews on it.

    http://www.gamebump.com/go/official_kane_and_lynch_website_lies_about_its_scores

  26. Roy says:

    If the appearance is what is true he owes his readers the truth.

    Huh?

    He doesn’t owe us a darned thing. I think that it’s one thing to hold a journalist to a standard while they’re actually doing their job. It sounds to me like that’s what he tried to do. But, once he got fired? He doesn’t owe Joe Public anything at that point. He’s got his future to consider and he’s probably looking for a new job. It’s easy to say “Well, if what you’re saying is true, he should out with it!” when it’s not your house payment that’s on the line.

  27. Lebkin says:

    The argument that Halo is better than Mass Effect because the former got a 10 and the latter got a 9.4 is very silly. But gamers do it all the time. Legend of Zelda: Orcana of Time fans still brag about how it is the “best reviewed game of all time.” And because there are lots of fans who care, game companies care. But it isn’t a big deal to me. I can survive the score arguments.

    My complaint is not really about the scores themselves, but when a review doesn’t explain the score. IGN recently did a review of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (Wii). The reviewer spends the majority of the review on negatives, talking about the lack of motion controls, the crummy graphics, poor storytelling technique, and the difficulty. Then he gives the game an 8. It leaves the reader completely confused. Did he like the game or not? If he really did like it, those complaints should have been a minor part, and then the review spent explaining why the game was good. In the end, it was mostly a waste of a review.

    As an aside, if you have a itch for tactical combat, buy Fire Emblem. It has just the right level of complexity to be challenging but fun. The difficulty is very high, forcing you to really think before you act. The story is interesting, because you switch between groups of characters, even to the opposite sides of conflicts. The controls are poor, if you use the Wiimote. Save yourself the frustration and use the Classic Controller. The game was designed with it in mind, and it removed all our complaints. Definitely worth buying.

  28. Joe says:

    Spinal Tap Gaming: Our reviews go up to 11!

    I think the solution to this problem is to have an 800 lb gorilla acting as an eyeball wholesaler in the middle of the transaction. I *think* that Google is trying to be that gorilla. So, a site is like a farm, where the simple farmer uses content as fertilizer (you *know* that’s an accurate analogy, when you look at the most common content, and the most notable natural fertilizer) with which to grow a crop of eyeballs, which he then harvests and ships to the eyeball wholesaler, Google, who then packages them and sells them in bulk to advertisers. The advertisers mix them with products which then undergo a sales reaction to produce revenue. The nice thing about this is that Google doesn’t *care* what the content *is*, just that people like it enough to visit. And the advertisers can’t complain too much about the source of the eyeballs, they can only complain about their quality (you have to mix more low-quality eyeballs with your product to generate the same revenue)

    Now, the best possible outcome is that publishers are faced with choices like:
    -publish crap, and don’t advertise, then go out of business
    -publish crap, advertise, and live off the people who pay more attention to the ads than the content
    -publish quality, don’t advertise, and let the reviewers promote your product for you, wallow in money
    -publish quality, advertise, wallow in money (maybe more, maybe less)

    The big problems here are that reviewers are cheaper than developers, and the eyeballs are not discriminating enough to try and figure out which of those two things a company paid for. If I’m right about some of this, the big change that’s needed is for eyeballs (us) to start caring about where advertising comes from, and start discounting sites where it comes from the wrong place.

    This deserves more thought. I should put more thought into it… Sometime…

  29. Phlux says:

    Think of scores on game reviews a lot like grades in schools….especially colleges. If they were actually a measurement of excellence, they would fall into a bell curve. The largest number of games would be rated a 50/100, and half of the games would be below it, and half of the games would be above it.

    But you don’t get the same number of A students in a class as F students. Grades are not for measuring students relative to each other..they’re for measuring students against defined parameters. You’re an A student if you know X, Y, Z and can complete tasks A, B and C. Few grading systems are designed to scale difficulty so that the results resemble a bell curve.

    Game reviews use a more subjective system than test questions, but the principle of same. There are criteria for what makes up “good audio” and “good visuals” and “fun gameplay”. So it’s no surprise really that very few games score under a 5/10….a C is still 7/10.

    I’m not saying I agree with how reviewing is done, or with the criterion they use…I’m just saying that it’s unrealistic to expect major release titles to score something under 7 on a regular basis.

    Kane and Lynch is probably a 2/10 compared to Twilight Princess, but the grading scale doesn’t compare one game against another…it compares the game against scoring requirements.

    Companies that spend 20-50 million dollars making a game are usually competent enough to release a functional product. That isn’t to say it’s any GOOD, but much like how you get 500 points on your SAT for signing your name, you get a 5/10 for release a game that makes it past the loading screen.

  30. guy says:

    there was a similar incident with a game called universe at war, except that there the review was published before the game went gold, and was running a massive bug fix campaign after problems were found in the beta. And no one was fired, but the review was pulled.

  31. guy says:

    hey, has there been a spam surge? my previous comment said, “your comment is awaiting moderation.” i never saw that before.

  32. Rich says:

    Another thing about number reviews is that numbers are what the majority of people want. When Computer Gaming World was still CGW they dumped the number ratings. The reviewers essentially reviewed the game in a reasonable way and made number reviews from other sources available, IIRC.

    The outcry was such that they switched back. The people got what they wanted.

  33. Curaidh says:

    On the other hand, Games are about taste, no?
    So there isn’t even any scale that could measure if a game is good or not.
    It’s like shamus liking to bash NWN 2. I bought the game and its addon since I got to admit I really liked the story. NWN2 made me really bang my head against the table when I found out the reason I couldn’t complete the scene where you fight with these lizardman guys was because I set the game on Hardcore D&D Rules. That activated area damage effects on friendlies and made the Lizard shaman constantly nuke his own guys which totally broke the script. I WAS furious at the game at that point.
    Then again I’d rate it about 6/10 or something like that. It was not THAT great but it wasn’t a total failure either imho. Grades should always be on a bell curve. Otherwise they are useless…
    You know what a clear 10/10 Candidate was? http://www.bitmap-brothers.co.uk/our-games/past/cadaver.htm on the Amiga Plattform. Maybe I’ll just fire up my WinUAE and indulge myself in memories of better times long gone bye…

  34. Davesnot says:

    The guy’s silence could be more than him holding his tougue so he can land another job.. They may have reached a settlement so that he wouldn’t sue for “wrongful dismissal”.. getting canned for doing your job right is against the law.. knowing this they may have paid him off and part of the deal means he can’t talk about it… I hope he got a big chunk of change and a big golden parachute.. but probably he just got enought to keep him thinking that, “at least they oiled it up before giving it to me.”.. He probably got waylaid by big lawyers and signed a deal before he new really what was going on..

    One of those.. “sign this.. it’s a good deal.” which, of course, means “sign this.. you have us by the shorthairs and we don’t want you to know it!”

    I remember when journalism was journalism.. but I’m 42 years old.. I even remember when news was news.. it was read without any background music to flavor your opinion.. Where is Walter Cronkite!!! (I know.. I know.. it is a metaphorical question)

  35. Viktor says:

    I personally am still holding out for him to bring a lawsuit and get all of this into court. I know it will never happen, but hey, a guy can dream, right?

  36. Barron says:

    I remember when CGW dropped the numbers too, and I was pretty disappointed. I didn’t say anything, but I _like_ to see a score. I’ll definately read the article, but sometimes it’s nice to get a feeling of the quality of the overall experience along with the actual review. I can see why they would drop it, but I’m glad to see it back. I’d rather see the stars though. I don’t read GFW, but I like the podcast, so maybe I’ll pick it up again.

    Personally, I really likes Crysis. Except for the ending, I found it to be very enjoyable. I probably would not give it 9+, but I don’t think it would be unreasonable. I certainly wouldn’t give it a perfect score with the ending in the state it is in, but most of it was a lot of fun for me.

    I also really enjoyed NWN 2. Yes, the campaign had its flaws, but it was much better than NWN 1, and I value the toolset much more than the campaign anyway. Not a perfect score in my book either, but a good one. I haven’t played the expansion yet, which I’ve been meaning to get around to

  37. Joshua says:

    Well, the problem is that you have a review website supported by advertisers who make games and related equipment. It sounds like it makes sense, but there’s a huge conflict of interest that makes things silly. They should theoretically find other advertisers, and the advertisers should find other programs to sponsor.

    Otherwise, you’re in a situation where nobody wins. Do you really want to be paying several million dollars to advertise on a show where the reviewers are pissing all over your game? Do you really want to have pure and unbiased journalism if it means no one will be paying your salaries. Sounds like everyone’s in a tricky situation, and they need to figure out a better way to run the system.

  38. Grue says:

    Gamespot gave Neverwinter Nights 2 an 8.6, and the expansion an 8.0. See

    http://www.gamespot.com/search.html?type=11&stype=all&tag=search%3Bbutton&om_act=convert&om_clk=search&qs=neverwinter+nights+2&x=0&y=0

    I enjoyed both very much and don’t think there’s any scandal here at all.

    I also disagree with the people who think that the current system of numerical scores is useless. I don’t want to spend the time to read every single game review, and I only play a few games per year. It seems reasonable to me to do an occasional search of several sites for the games which get 8 or more, read the descriptions to see if any appeal to me, and possibly buy one of those.

    I’m annoyed too by some of the things Shamus mentions, but to me they are overblown. I don’t really see a good alternative for conveniently searching for and selecting games to play other than sites like Gamespot (although the two I read are Firingsquad and ign.com).

  39. Cineris says:

    @ Joshua:

    What exactly does a professional reviewer offer that an amateur reviewer doesn’t?

    The whole problem is predicated on the idea that reviews need to be paid to be good. I doubt that’s true, although you do need to find people whose tastes align with your own and are capable of expressing themselves well.

  40. Jen says:

    Cineris: I’m on a certain mailing list composed almost entirely of university students studying computing. I’ve been shocked by the amount of raving some of the people on it do based on the graphics for a game. To the point of talking about buying a game solely because the graphics are awesome.

    Like it or not (and I certainly don’t), it seems that graphics is what the market wants

  41. Zaghadka says:

    I think its just shy of f-ing ridiculous that a writer must appear on camera, and do his own voiceovers for a review. I would just assume that GameSpot needed to hire a more charismatic front man.

    You know, someone who has some business being on camera. Brad Pitt. Anything but some quirky looking Jewish guy kvetching about how “ugly” a game is.

    Can you imagine if you or I had to do a video digest that featured our own face and voice? I can’t speak for you, but I know I would be looking for another job if my boss told me I had to do that.

  42. ArchU says:

    It’s amazing that movie critics will happily give a poor rating to a movie if they think it’s merited, with no repurcussion, yet a game critic is treated like a simpleton.

  43. K says:

    I usually resort to game reviews on gamefaqs.com, even though there are a lot very amateurish texts there, if you read the worst 3 reviews any game gets, you know for certain what’s bad about it.

  44. McNutcase says:

    @ArchU:

    That’s completely unsurprising given how games are regarded. Remember, games aren’t art. They’re “toys for kids” (I wouldn’t let any putative kid of mine NEAR Quake, and I wouldn’t expect any kid to understand the backstory of Myth, but there’s still the “games are for kids” mindset on many, many non-gamers, getting Rockstar into heat and causing trouble for Mass Effect in Singapore). So, given that games are just for kids, why should we take them as seriously as movies?

    I gave up on reviews. I ask if anyone I know has played a game (usually someone I know has), and besides, my main gaming machine is now eight years old. And a laptop. Which was very much business-oriented when it was new. It IS distinctly out of spec (over three times as much hard drive as it could have had, and almost twice as much RAM as it can support, according to the spec), but it’s still hardly a powerhouse. But that’s OK, I’m not playing for graphics. If I can see well enough to play the game, I have fun playing the game.

  45. MaxEd says:

    In Soviet Russia… Well, we have that site, Absolute Games, (www.ag.ru), which hands bad reviews left and right, going as far as stamping some games with 1% (out of 100% :) ) rating. They usually criticise games for lack of innovation, weak story (if there is one) and bad gameplay. AND they do mention graphics, but it’s just one of factors, and usually not the major one.

    My only complaint with Ag.ru is their high rating for Test Drive Unlimited, but then, they reviewed its on-line component and I only play offline.

  46. Vegedus says:

    Amen to the preview thing. They’re all over and I really can’t see what they’re useful for besides creating hype.
    Reviews, if you believe them, helps you make informed purchases so you don’t squander your money. Previews… Gives you an vague idea of whether a game that will be finished in years from now might be good or bad.

    I think Shamus send a bit too much flak Gamespot’s way, though. They are in the more criticizing end of game reviewing, after all. They mention when the game is needs better than good system specs, and denotes it as a bad thing, and generally gives lower scores and don’t always give the hyped games the best scores (Zelda Twillight Princess, for instance). Considering they actually catch flak from the community for doing so, it’s not like the publisher’s or the game site is always the perpetrator themselves.

  47. Mistwraithe says:

    I liked the User ratings for Kane and Lynch…

    74.4% of people gave it an Abysmal rating. Average score was 2.7 after 3266 votes!

    Interestingly if you try to submit a new review you get a window saying Gamespot are no longer accepting user reviews for Kane & Lynch (I assume this isn’t a normal message).

    Burn! ;-)

  48. Yahzi says:

    “If I was running a gaming site I’d grab this guy in a second, if only to establish a reputation as a fearless rogue and a tell-it-like-it-is publication. Interesting that nobody has done this yet.”

    That might indicate that there is no value in having a reputation as a fearless tell-it-like-it-is publication.

    It would seem that the industry is already dead.

  49. Roy says:

    In Soviet Russia… Well, we have that site, Absolute Games, (www.ag.ru), which hands bad reviews left and right, going as far as stamping some games with 1% (out of 100% ) rating.

    Damn. I thought it was:
    “In Soviet Russia, the games review you!”

  50. Tryss says:

    I’ve all but stopped reading reviews from “gaming review sites” and prefer personal blogs w/ no advertising. I also watch trailers and dev commentaries…

    This is why a GameFly subscription is useful. It’s similar to NetFlix, except with video games. I can grab some random new games, spend a few hours playing them. If they’re crap, I put them back in the mail and they send me the next one I have on the list.

    I’ve found some random gems in there I didn’t expect (Viva Pinata, Okami, Lego Starwars). I play, finish, then send back the ones with no replay value, and I purchase the ones that have me riveted.

  51. Patrick the Malcontent says:

    More than likely, in order to avoid a large and public lawsuit, he was terminated immediateley, but still paid for another year, under the stipulation he doesn’t talk about his termination in public OR go to work for the competition, or even start his own competing magazine.

    Typical in corporate PR nightmares…

  52. ArchU says:

    #44 McNutcase: yep. Why do people even take movies seriously? It’s all fiction in the end…

  53. Davesnot says:

    #51 Patrick.. More than likely, in order to avoid a large and public lawsuit, he was terminated immediateley, but still paid for another year, under the stipulation he doesn’t talk about his termination in public OR go to work for the competition, or even start his own competing magazine.

    That’s what I was thinking… and that brings to my gaming mind this question… why doesn’t a game reviewer give ripping reviews to earn a nice, year-long, paid holiday.. sounds like a good plan to me.. spend the time getting the ducks in a row for what you’ll be doin’ next.. all on the time of The Man..

  54. McNutcase says:

    Why do people take movies seriously?

    Simple. They can’t remember not having movies around. They don’t take games seriously because they’re still “new”.

  55. TalragSmash says:

    If there ever was a time for Consumer Reports to start doing video game reviews, it would be now, with this man. It is his one and only shot at finding a decent paying job doing what he loves with integrity.

  56. Kizer says:

    In my experience, Nintendo Power has been great about giving bad reviews/previews for mediocre games. For example, the legendary fighting series Soul Calibur hyped up their new adventure title, and Nintendo Power wrote a great preview addressing many aspects of the game as if looking at a work in progress. When the game came out, it was no where near what the reviewers at NP expected and they gave it a low rating. After playing the game for myself, I ended up agreeing with the reviewers. This has happened repeatedly in the seven years I’ve subscribed to the magazine. Of course, this IS a console magazine, and a magazine dedicated to one brand. However, NP has recently switched owners to a company that owns other gaming magazines, yet the quality of reviews/previews has remained untarnished. I think the funniest part of the magazine is when they lambast a game, give it a mediocre score (6 or lower out of 10), yet the game still runs ads in the magazine. :)

  57. fantinu says:

    I don’t think Tomb Raider games are overhyped on Gamespot, quite the contrary. Especially The Angel of Darkness which was supposed to “feed the hungry and heal the sick” :)).

  58. Tesh says:

    Mind the biggish bumps…
    As an artist in the industry, I’ve seen some of the political mess related to reviewers. We’ve had reviewers gush about games we’ve made, then publish scathing reviews. At best it’s two faced, and I hesitate to try to divine what is really going on.

    As a consumer, I tend to take a cross-section of review scores from Metacritic, GameFAQs, and add that to as much hard data as I can find about a game, then try to synthesize the complaints, the worship, and the reality.

    So far, the only places that I’ve felt grossly misled were with MMOs. That’s probably because fans are a bit more rabid (a byproduct of rationalizing subscription?), and I’m not exactly the target audience for the genre.

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