Jeff Gerstmann Explains His Departure From Gamespot

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Jeff Gerstmann Explains His Departure From Gamespot

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In 2007, Jeff Gerstmann was fired from his editorial director role at Gamespot. This afternoon, he finally got a chance to clear the air on exactly what happened.

Backstory: Following a less-than-glowing review of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, Jeff Gerstmann was shown the door by the management at Gamespot. Immediately, the internet burst into a frenzy, claiming that the gaming site was motivated purely by greed, and that Gerstmann's review had marred the group's friendly relationship with publisher Eidos (a company, it should be noted, that was heavily advertising Kane & Lynch on the site at the time).

In turn, Gerstmann went on to form Giant Bomb, a gaming site that has become a success in its own right, both due to its editorial quality, and undoubtedly as a benefit of the furor surrounding Gerstmann's scandalous employment shift.

This morning it was announced that Gamespot parent company CBS had acquired Giant Bomb, and was moving the site's HQ into the same building currently occupied by Gamespot. Realizing the confusion this might caused, both Gerstmann and the Gamespot team decided that it was time to explain exactly what happened all those years ago.

The issue, Gerstmann claimed in a streaming interview, was that a new management team inexperienced in dealing with editorial groups, had come to power at Gamespot and overreacted to what Gerstmann describes as "publisher push-back." According to his recollection, Eidos threatened to pull ad revenue from Gamespot as a result of his review, and though this kind of thing is relatively common in games journalism, the nascent management team panicked and decided that Gerstmann was unreliable. "They felt they couldn't trust me in the role," Gerstmann said.

"We did what an editorial team does. We did what we were supposed to be doing. We reviewed games, we instructed people about the quality of games, and we were completely honest," he added. "This management team buckled when faced with having a lot of ad dollars walk out the door."

Following the incident -- which Gerstmann calls "the craziest thing that's ever happened to me" -- he was deluged with attention. To the point that his parents were getting phone calls from Norwegian newspapers at four in the morning.

Eventually things blew over, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who was present in the gaming world back then who doesn't immediately associate Gerstmann with the incident.

Thus, today's live interview, which Gerstmann and the Gamespot team hope will set the stage for their continued success. The management team who originally canned Gerstmann are no longer with the company, and according to the man himself the content of Giant Bomb will be in no way censored or lessened by this new business agreement.

And with that, a dark chapter in the history of games journalism draws to a close. A setting sun gives way to an even brighter tomorrow, or something. Now who's up for tacos?

Image: Giant Bomb

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Earnest Cavalli:
Now who's up for tacos?

You're teh bias! You're obviously in the pockets of the taco industry! Journalistic corruption continues!

I remember that happening at gamespot. Back and even now I still don't like gamespot too much because their reviews are all over the place some times they praise the hell out of a game but still give it a low score.

Wait wait wait wait.

Pretty much what started (or atleast fueled) the entire "paid reviews" thing in gaming community was proven to be truth, that "low scores = removal of ad revenue, and you say "a dark chapter in the history of games journalism draws to a close"? "A setting sun gives way to an even brighter tomorrow"?

This just give us HARD PROOF that we can't believe reviews in gaming journalistm anymore.

DustyDrB:
Journalistic corruption continues!

Well it kinda does, although I wouldn't exactly call reporting on games "journalism", there was a nice article from just a few weeks ago regarding the issue: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Interviews/larian_studios_pt1/

I don't really trust any major reviews anymore, maybe the opinions of single people etc. but not the reviews of any big publications and they kind of have to attribute that to themselves, Dragon Age 2 specifically finally broke the camel's back for me :P

ForgottenPr0digy:
I remember that happening at gamespot. Back and even now I still don't like gamespot too much because their reviews are all over the place some times they praise the hell out of a game but still give it a low score.

Well, to be fair I think that's an issue with multiple reviewers and some people starting out by taking the ratings seriously and wanting to use the full scale.

See, if I rate a game a "5" or "6" nowadays on a 10 point scale it would be considered a scathing blast on the game, and calling it a piece of garbage, when in reality that's rating it as average or slightly above average.

In reality when you have AAA titles setting the bars so high for technology, it's not unfair to compare them to each other and pretty much figure "meh" unless someone does something that is truely exceptional. Simple improvement from year to year shouldn't be enough to pull above Average because people expect that.

Likewise anyone who is an expert enough to be a credible source on reviewing games should be someone who has been gaming for decades, and put the games coming out into that kind of perspective. In praising a game for great writing the issue shouldn't just be whether it's a good story, or how it stacks up against what else is brand new, but also how it stacks up against other games throughout history since writing does not age. I mean how does say "Mass Effect" compare to say "Planescape: Torment" in the scope of writing?

Overall most games should wind up being around the 4-6 range no matter what their dev budget is, because that's average. Something should really have to be a break out to do better than that, and that should only work once, because what is today's break out becomes tomorrow's average. Not praising someone for doing the same thing someone else did is not unfair because the other guy already did it first.

Saying nice things about a game and giving it a less than perfect rating just means that it's a quality product... but doesn't deserve "OMG high marks for perfection" ratings that seem to be attached to just about every game of the moment. If I personally rate a game a 6 on 10 point scale you should expect me to mostly be saying nice things about it because that's above average. That is shockingly low for this current market though, and isn't consistant with the way professional outlets do things so if one hired me you'd see some clashes until they canned me or I moved on.

That's not how things work though, especially with money involved.

I'll also say that the news in this article is in of itself meaningless. This could be a heartwarming example of peacemaking, but it could just as easily be Gerstmann selling out. The guy who has earned the reputation for honesty due to his history is thus a very valuable commodity as a shill. I'm a pessimist but I can't help but wonder if this alliance (if I understand it correctly) might basically amount to Gerstmann having agreed to sell out for a whole truckload of cash, where he'll shill until people figure it out, and then laugh all the way to the bank right before he retires, or starts acting in the industry under a pseudonym or something. There is no way to know, so we'll have to see what happens.

I boycotted them over this. Glad to know it was justified.

Finally, an age old Internet mystery is revealed...and it's exactly what I expected. Glad Gerstmann has continued to have success.

Dexter111:

I don't really trust any major reviews anymore, maybe the opinions of single people etc. but not the reviews of any big publications and they kind of have to attribute that to themselves, Dragon Age 2 specifically finally broke the camel's back for me :P

There a multiple problems with today's reveiw systems and i think the incident in 2007 was such a HUGE story becuase it acted as a lightning-rod for issues that had been bubbling under the surface.

Review sites like IGN and... well mostly IGN had been at the forefront of a new wave of deals that gave them exclusive acess to to games in order to have the first review in turn for a better numerical score. "Exclusive Review" basically means it is an extension of the publisher's PR. People in the community were getting more and more annoyed by spiraling score infation and what they saw as reviews not matching up to reality.

I could go on for days about this but here it is in a nutshell (can't find the other good one about exclusive reviews); http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/issues/issue_260/7750-1984-Out-of-10

With regards to the actual incident; Publishers do try and bully, arm twist and generally dominate review sites as much as possible. They are paranoid about information. The editorial tream should have known that push-back was a normal part of dealing with other businesses. They should have just told them "Fine pull your advertising, but we are going to put a giant banner in its place saying exactly why it was pulled and how bad of a company you are to deal with". In other words, shove a little back. Play the PR game.

Therumancer:

I'll also say that the news in this article is in of itself meaningless. This could be a heartwarming example of peacemaking, but it could just as easily be Gerstmann selling out. The guy who has earned the reputation for honesty due to his history is thus a very valuable commodity as a shill. I'm a pessimist but I can't help but wonder if this alliance (if I understand it correctly) might basically amount to Gerstmann having agreed to sell out for a whole truckload of cash, where he'll shill until people figure it out, and then laugh all the way to the bank right before he retires, or starts acting in the industry under a pseudonym or something. There is no way to know, so we'll have to see what happens.

That's the first thing that came to mind after reading the article. "Oh hey remember that company that fired me? Well, I'm owned by them again, but I swear they only fired me because they had dumb people in management, and there is totally smart people now! So we coo', come by Gamespot some time".

He used his "underdog" persona to start GiantBomb and rake in the dough while building up that "paid-clean" look, before selling it back to the same company that fired him, because he knew how much it was worth, specially to a group that needed it.

It's all about da money. Same as it ever was.

Therumancer:

See, if I rate a game a "5" or "6" nowadays on a 10 point scale it would be considered a scathing blast on the game, and calling it a piece of garbage, when in reality that's rating it as average or slightly above average.

I don't really think that is the fault of the game ratings business, I actually think is is more of a fault with the American education system as a whole, what with a 70-75% being considered the bare minimum to pass a class nowadays. People then think about stuff on a 1-10 scale in that way, so average games get a score in the 7s. At least, that is my theory as to why scores are "inflated".

Dexter111:

DustyDrB:
Journalistic corruption continues!

Well it kinda does, although I wouldn't exactly call reporting on games "journalism", there was a nice article from just a few weeks ago regarding the issue: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Interviews/larian_studios_pt1/

I don't really trust any major reviews anymore, maybe the opinions of single people etc. but not the reviews of any big publications and they kind of have to attribute that to themselves, Dragon Age 2 specifically finally broke the camel's back for me :P

+1 internet to that. Yahtzee's reviewtainment + youtube videos are the best ways of getting perspective on a game. Also by doing my own research, I can actually find out more about a game than what a reviewer wants to talk about.

BreakfastMan:

Therumancer:

See, if I rate a game a "5" or "6" nowadays on a 10 point scale it would be considered a scathing blast on the game, and calling it a piece of garbage, when in reality that's rating it as average or slightly above average.

I don't really think that is the fault of the game ratings business, I actually think is is more of a fault with the American education system as a whole, what with a 70-75% being considered the bare minimum to pass a class nowadays. People then think about stuff on a 1-10 scale in that way, so average games get a score in the 7s. At least, that is my theory as to why scores are "inflated".

I've been saying that for so long as well.

Plus, I don't really trust reviewers anymore, after the unrelentlessness of "Its a JRPG therefore it sucks." That plagued the early to mid 2000's.

Dexter111:

DustyDrB:
Journalistic corruption continues!

Well it kinda does, although I wouldn't exactly call reporting on games "journalism", there was a nice article from just a few weeks ago regarding the issue: http://www.neoseeker.com/Articles/Games/Interviews/larian_studios_pt1/

I don't really trust any major reviews anymore, maybe the opinions of single people etc. but not the reviews of any big publications and they kind of have to attribute that to themselves, Dragon Age 2 specifically finally broke the camel's back for me :P

Nice article Dexter, you really know how to find the good ones.

Journalism in the mainstream sense is just dead. Not just vg journalism, but all mainstream journalism. Here in the U.S, we have 5 gigantic media conglomerates that own 95% of all the media so what happens? We only get to see the stories that they are ok with us seeing. Cant wait for the cycle

Agente L:
This just give us HARD PROOF that we can't believe reviews in gaming journalistm anymore.

Giant Bomb almost gave Saints Row 3 a GOTY standing. That reeks of journalistic integrity.

I was a longstanding Gamespot member when this went down. I kept a blog going on the site and followed "Gerstmangate" pretty closely. There were guys on there who had this whole thing figured out right back when it happened. They even had the names of the guys who did the actual firing. This isn't really news so much as it is a confirmation.

But anyway, I'm a little unsettled by this. I followed Jeff to Giantbomb and love it. I really like their relaxed atmosphere. I've come to trust Giantbomb and any change makes me uneasy. I trust them though and I expect this will turn out for the better.

So he quit a bad company, didn't manage to make his own company run, then got bought by the very same company he had quit. Sorry if that doesn't leave me in the mood for tacos.

Therumancer:
I mean how does say "Mass Effect" compare to say "Planescape: Torment" in the scope of writing?

See, this is the issue right there. Do you say Mass Effect's writing is good because it compares well to other AAA titles out there who don't give a rat's ass about how well they're written because the player is just supposed to look for the guy with FOLLOW on top of his head or do you say it's bad because it's not as good as the game that is widely considered to be one of the best written games ever? Both are fair comparisons - I mean, if we expect graphics and game design to evolve constantly, so should writing - but no one bothers to inform us what measure is their scale.

Except Kill Screen, but they're Kill Screen. And they don't give numerical reviews any more anyway.

"And with that, a dark chapter in the history of games journalism draws to a close."

So ... ad revenue from publishers is no longer responsible for keeping review sites afloat?
The conflict of interest is the issue here, and if the official line is "it's not as big a deal anymore," it's still a deal isn't it?

The Random One:
So he quit a bad company, didn't manage to make his own company run, then got bought by the very same company he had quit. Sorry if that doesn't leave me in the mood for tacos.

Therumancer:
I mean how does say "Mass Effect" compare to say "Planescape: Torment" in the scope of writing?

See, this is the issue right there. Do you say Mass Effect's writing is good because it compares well to other AAA titles out there who don't give a rat's ass about how well they're written because the player is just supposed to look for the guy with FOLLOW on top of his head or do you say it's bad because it's not as good as the game that is widely considered to be one of the best written games ever? Both are fair comparisons - I mean, if we expect graphics and game design to evolve constantly, so should writing - but no one bothers to inform us what measure is their scale.

Except Kill Screen, but they're Kill Screen. And they don't give numerical reviews any more anyway.

Well, I think the scale is obvious. Planescape: Torment is a video game, so are the other video games. The problem is people insisting such things should be measured by the FPS with "follow" above the guy's head, if that is what most people are doing in the current generation. In reality the bottom line is that if your not doing at least as well a Planescape: Torment, you don't deserve high marks. If your story is garbage or pretty much just tacked on, or interferes with the gameplay, or whatever else then a game deserves increasingly lower marks depending on how bad it gets.

To put things into perspective, a site or periodical basing itself on reviews should have enough reviewers on staff to give the reviewers a chance to do an in depth job with any game they are assigned, even if this means not every reviewer does a column every single installment. Right now the whole excuse by reviewers "well, I'm so busy needing to jump between games to meet a deadline" doesn't really hold water, I expect a reviewer who is getting paid for that (and especially one I pay to read if they are in a magazine I buy or whatever) to do their research and form a complete picture before putting pen to paper, if they don't that makes them a crappy reviewer. If companies are releasing the review copies too soon before release for a playthrough to be viable then this should be noted in the review, and marks should be detracted with the notation that the company isn't allowing reviewers to fairly review the product due to the tight window. Of course being a professional means this is a job, so I'd imagine a high level of quality game playing skill should be a requirement, and if a review copy arrives enough hours before the release to be completed it probably shouldbe. Basically for a 40 hour game, if you've got two days before release I expect a professional to have played through it, that might not be fun, but this is his job, not a hobby, and he's being paid (and I might be paying to read him, or at least supporting his sponsor through viewing ads getting to where his stuff is).

When a game like "Mass Effect 3" comes out, I bloody well expect professional reviewers to have played the game before putting their stuff out. With an ending like the one in that game and the contreversy it inspired I'd expect the pros to have warned people about it. Indeed the reviewers are supposed to be one of our defenses against exactly this kind of BS....

To put it into perspective, while the story is decent, you'd expect something like ME3 to get poor marks for it's ending, and things like the whole sequences with Leng pretty much interrupting the gameplay to magically defeat you "because the plot demands it". Maybe it's not the worst game out there, but it's not a game that really deserves such perfect reviews and priase for it's story given how games like "Torment" did so much better so much longer ago. Likewise in evaluating gameplay, while something like ME3 doesn't suck, it's a valid question that if it's been turned into a third person shooter (which it has been) how well does it stack up against other games in the same genere now that it's not a real RPG anymore. How does the third person shooter action stack up to say "Gears Of War" which arguably put the TPS on the map? If it's not as good overall, then it doesn't deserve high marks for it.

I'm not picking on ME 3 intentionally (at least not in this case) it's just the last game I finished (and not too long ago either) and I'm slowly doing a second play through, so it's on my mind.... and to be fair, with the contreversies surrounding it and it's outrageously high ratings it does form a good example of the problems with the current game review system. An ending which according to some estimates has an 86% disapproval rating is not something that you should see attached to a game carrying so many 9+ ratings under any circumstances, which is frankly almost as bad as the accusations of review bombings. Truthfully people complaint about all the bombings of ME3 the first day it came out, but since pirates had it early (they always do) I can't help but wonder how many of those might have been motivated by that ending.

I don`trust professional reviews too much in general. There are to many games with a lower score that i like way more than the average 90% title. A good source is always the community and reading more than just a single user review. Rent first, if you like it buy it, if you`re not sure wait for a price drop or skip it. With all the DLC,patches and the later game of the year editions waiting is the better option for single player games, it`s not that there are not enough other things to play out there.

RaikuFA:

BreakfastMan:

Therumancer:

See, if I rate a game a "5" or "6" nowadays on a 10 point scale it would be considered a scathing blast on the game, and calling it a piece of garbage, when in reality that's rating it as average or slightly above average.

I don't really think that is the fault of the game ratings business, I actually think is is more of a fault with the American education system as a whole, what with a 70-75% being considered the bare minimum to pass a class nowadays. People then think about stuff on a 1-10 scale in that way, so average games get a score in the 7s. At least, that is my theory as to why scores are "inflated".

I've been saying that for so long as well.

Plus, I don't really trust reviewers anymore, after the unrelentlessness of "Its a JRPG therefore it sucks." That plagued the early to mid 2000's.

It's important to find a reviewer who's on the same wavelength as you. When you get shooterbros reviewing JRPGs (which happens on Gamespot all the time), it's certainly going to be slanted. On the same note you can't go with someone who's going to fanboy gush over everything of a particular type, regardless of quality. You have to shop around, and most importantly look at more than just one review before making a decision.

Its why I don't use this website for any sort of definitive input on.. well.. anything. Their "real" game reviews always seem very slanted and the stench of the advertisers pushing always hangs in the air. Then there is their movie guy who is... schizophrenic at best.

Agente L:
Wait wait wait wait.

Pretty much what started (or atleast fueled) the entire "paid reviews" thing in gaming community was proven to be truth, that "low scores = removal of ad revenue, and you say "a dark chapter in the history of games journalism draws to a close"? "A setting sun gives way to an even brighter tomorrow"?

That's what I thought. They basically gave truth to what everyone thought already lol.

Doesn't the aquisition by CBS mean that Giant Bomb will be subject to 'criteria' set by CBS, the same shareholder set 'criteria' that Gamespot must adhere to ( or get reviewers fired ) ?

Sounds like Jeff has been hired on again by his old bosses, albeit in a rather round-a-bout fashion, and will be stuck with the issue of pleasing the advertisment customers who dont take kindly to less than glowing reviews of thier products, and being honest to his viewers/readers when advising them of the quality of the games.

Thats why you cant trust a mainstream game site, they rely on ad revenue to be a viable business but the ads come from publishers whose games the site must review.
One simply cannot take money to advertise a game on one hand, and then give the game a bad score in a review no matter how bad it is on the other hand... and the larger the publisher the less likely you are to want to risk that publisher pulling out so you will err on the side of favouring the publisher over honest reviews.

... but public opinion reviews are even worse as the majority of players cannot be objective about games, if it doesnt live up to thier expectations the game sucks, 0 / 10 , 0 stars , avoid at all costs.
If they liked it , 10/ 10 , 5 stars , must get.

In the end you must decided if you will take a risk and buy the game and see for yourself what its like , or wait long enough for reviews after the launch date , lets plays of the game and player comments ( mentally filtering out the 0/10's and 10/10's scores ) and then decide... even then you may still end up with a game you dont like.

.

Didn't we already know why Gerstmann was fired?

So according to consensus, most people believe that Jeff Gerstmann and the rest of Giant Bomb are just suddenly dropping all of the journalistic integrity that they left Gamespot to keep in the first place. Surely them moving back to the offices there doesn't mean they've solved any problems they allegedly had with each other and just means they've decided to sell out. Because as we all know, whenever somebody stands to gain a lot of money from something, it is always going to decrease quality. Money has never been used to make things better before ever.

Can you at least wait and see how it goes before you decide that they're assholes who don't care about their readers or morals if a few bucks are involved?

Giant Bomb continues to be the greatest video game website in history and no doubt things will only get bigger and better for them. I love the site so much I'm actually looking forward to renewing my yearly premium membership (which has incredibly awesome benefits and bonus content) in September.

And the icying on the cake is some good friends of theirs who run Tested.com are now working with the MYTHBUSTERS. So freaking awesome.

Therumancer:

See, if I rate a game a "5" or "6" nowadays on a 10 point scale it would be considered a scathing blast on the game, and calling it a piece of garbage, when in reality that's rating it as average or slightly above average.

Ok, but who the hell wants to watch an "average" movie (1:30-3 hours), or play an "Average" video game (6+ hours all the way to 100 hours of gameplay), read an "average" book (a 500 page book should take a week-2 weeks)?

THAT'S why consumers see 5 or 6 as "things to avoid". We have limited time and dont see the need to waste it on an average experience. Hell, in a BAD experience at least there is some enjoyment from how bad something is, the jokes you and your friends have about that crappy movie you saw for example. The "average" game has LESS entertainment value than a bad game for consumers.

So I see what you are saying, but that's because there is a disconnect between what consumers want and what statistics objectively mean. This has been a problem among reviewers in every medium. Remember, the reviewer has no time to waste (this is a job that they get paid for) and rarely buys access to the game/movie/book etc themselves. They know they cannot understand what consumers want exactly, they can just consider objective quality. The fact that this does not line up with consumer opinion is NORMAL

Why do you think consumer reviews tend to be 0 (do not buy) or 10 (buy)?

Zachary Amaranth:

Agente L:
This just give us HARD PROOF that we can't believe reviews in gaming journalistm anymore.

Giant Bomb almost gave Saints Row 3 a GOTY standing. That reeks of journalistic integrity.

If you did listen to their podcast, they managed to convince me that it should have gotten their GOTY...

You see, it's "Their" game of the year, and some people find SR3 more exiting than say, Skyrim.
I do, and I'm what you call a strategy game geek :/

About the only way to spin this positively would be to claim that such posturing ("I'll pull advertising revenue!") is par for the course and anyone who actually listens to it is a pushover. The euphemism for hard-edgned negotiating suggests this may be true, but that doesn't say anything about who usually capitulates.

So... Enough ad capital can make you virtually review-proof. Charming.

I'm guessing we have another five years or so until we start hearing about "leveraging" less-encouraging reviews of competitors' products, then?

I am a huge fan of giant bomb, and to add some clarity they posted a stream about it (while eating pancakes)that the main reason for this is because giant bomb is mostly editors and their becoming pretty successful. So they looked around for a new parent company to handle the business side of things better, while still letting them run giant bomb the way they want to. Which turned out that gamespot's parent company was the best fit. They definitely aren't selling out, or in some conspiracy with CBS to improve their reputation as some have said.

http://www.justin.tv/giantbomb/b/311753835

Start at like 4:00 cause of some technical difficulties.

Following a less-than-glowing review of Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, Jeff Gerstmann was shown the door by the management at Gamespot. Immediately, the internet burst into a frenzy, claiming that the gaming site was motivated purely by greed, and that Gerstmann's review had marred the group's friendly relationship with publisher Eidos (a company, it should be noted, that was heavily advertising Kane & Lynch on the site at the time).

...

This morning it was announced that Gamespot parent company CBS had acquired Giant Bomb, and was moving the site's HQ into the same building currently occupied by Gamespot. Realizing the confusion this might caused, both Gerstmann and the Gamespot team decided that it was time to explain exactly what happened all those years ago.

The issue, Gerstmann claimed in a streaming interview, was that a new management team inexperienced in dealing with editorial groups, had come to power at Gamespot and overreacted to what Gerstmann describes as "publisher push-back." According to his recollection, Eidos threatened to pull ad revenue from Gamespot as a result of his review, and though this kind of thing is relatively common in games journalism, the nascent management team panicked and decided that Gerstmann was unreliable. "They felt they couldn't trust me in the role," Gerstmann said./quote

There was no confusion and they didn't clear anything, what people thought is what happened. We just got played into a publicity stunt to announce this merge by reviving an old issue.

So basically, the situation was exactly what everyone and their dog thought it was. And exactly what Gamespot denied it was. And exactly what Gamespot moderators and admin were suspending, warning and banning people for talking about. No surprise there, but I am relieved to see that my decision to not renew my paid membership there was a good one, and not a result of overreacting.

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