Spot On: GameSpot on Gerstmann

SPECIAL REPORT: Following days of controversy and the first post-Jeff podcast, GameSpot answers burning questions about the most controversial staff change in its history.

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For the past week, controversy has rocked the game news media--a controversy that originated here at GameSpot. The affair began last Wednesday when near-11-year veteran reviewer Jeff Gerstmann's tenure as editorial director ended. In keeping with the human-resources procedures of GameSpot parent company CNET Networks and in accordance with California State Law, no public comment was initially made about his departure.

In the void of information that followed, numerous conspiracy theories sprang up. First and foremost was that, as a result of pressure from publisher Eidos Interactive, GameSpot terminated Gerstmann because of his review of the multiplatform game Kane & Lynch: Dead Men. The game was released on November 13, 2007 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. (The PC version of the game was released on November 20, but has not yet been reviewed.)

Hundreds of reports pointed to the fact that the Kane & Lynch video review was pulled and the text review's copy was altered as evidence substantiating this hypothesis. In many readers' eyes, the fact that the entire GameSpot site was "skinned" with advertisements promoting Kane & Lynch all but confirmed the theory behind his firing. In the gaming press, the subsequent furor has been dubbed "Gerstmanngate."

Due to legal restrictions and corporate HR policy, GameSpot could not initially comment on Gerstmann's departure. Though the site officially addressed the issue on Monday, the full story behind his exit could not be told--until now.

In the spirit of full disclosure to our readership, GameSpot News has been provided the following answers by management to the questions below regarding the circumstances surrounding Gerstmann's exit.

Q: Was Jeff fired?

A: Jeff was terminated on November 28, 2007, following an internal review process by the managerial team to which he reported.

Q: Why was Jeff fired?

A: Legally, the exact reasons behind his dismissal cannot be revealed. However, they stemmed from issues unrelated to any publisher or advertiser; his departure was due purely for internal reasons.

Q: Why was the Kane & Lynch review text altered?

A: Jeff's supervisors and select members of the edit team felt the review's negativity did not match its "fair" 6.0 rating. The copy was adjusted several days after its publication so that it better meshed with its score, which remained unchanged. The achievements and demerits it received were also left unaltered. Additionally, clarifications were made concerning the game's multiplayer mode and to include differences between the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of the game.

Q: Why was the Kane & Lynch video review taken down?

A: Both the text and video reviews of Kane & Lynch went up on Tuesday, November 13. The morning of Wednesday, November 14, the video was taken down due to concerns of quality. Specifically, its audio was deemed inferior due to a faulty microphone. There were also concerns about the limited amount of footage, which was unrepresentative of the game in the review.

Q: Why wasn't the video immediately reposted?

A: Due to the crush of high-profile games being released the following week, there were insufficient resources to reshoot and re-edit the video review.

Q: Why hasn't the video review been reposted since the "Gerstmanngate" controversy broke?

A: A determination was made by GameSpot Live, GameSpot's multimedia division, that reposting it would seem reactive and might exacerbate an inflamed situation. However, in the spirit of full disclosure, it has since been reposted, and is viewable on the site in its original form (See above). For those who want to be sure that it has not been altered after the fact, the video review is also available on YouTube for comparison purposes.

Q: Was Eidos Interactive upset by the game's review?

A: It has been confirmed that Eidos representatives expressed their displeasure to their appropriate contacts at GameSpot, but not to editorial directly. It was not the first time a publisher has voiced disappointment with a game review, and it won't be the last. However, it is strict GameSpot policy never to let any such feelings result in a review score to be altered or a video review to be pulled.

Q: Did Eidos' disappointment cause Jeff to be terminated?

A: Absolutely not.

Q: Did Eidos' disappointment cause the alteration of the review text?

A: Absolutely not.

Q: Did Eidos' disappointment lead to the video review being pulled down?

A: Absolutely not.

Q: Why was GameSpot "skinned" with Kane & Lynch ads when Jeff was terminated?

A: Due to design and development considerations, media buys on GameSpot are made weeks in advance. The timing of said ads was extremely unfortunate but was purely coincidental and determined solely by the game's release date of November 13, 2007.

Q: Why did the Kane & Lynch ads disappear from GameSpot right as the "Gerstmanngate" controversy began to heat up?

A: Advertising sales on GameSpot are sold by the day. The end of the Kane & Lynch "skin" promotion had been predetermined long beforehand. Internal documentation filed before the review appeared shows that the site skin was scheduled to run from November 17 to 29, 2007. Site-wide ad campaigns automatically change at midnight, hence the "skin" being removed after hours.

Q: Was Jeff's termination somehow tied to the departure of former GameSpot Live managing producer Tim Tracy?

A: No. Tim and Jeff are childhood friends and had been colleagues until Tim transferred over to other CNET Networks Entertainment properties. His exit was completely unrelated.

Q: Why didn't GameSpot write about Jeff's departure sooner?

A: Due to HR procedures and legal considerations, unauthorized CNET Networks and GameSpot employees are forbidden from commenting on the employment status of current and former employees. This practice has been in effect for years, and the CNET public-relations department stuck to that in the days following Jeff's termination. However, the company is now making an exception due to the widespread misinformation that has spread since Jeff's departure.

Q: When will the PC version of Kane & Lynch be reviewed?

A: We haven't decided when that will happen.

Q: GameSpot's credibility has been called into question as a result of this incident. What is being done to repair and rebuild it?

A: This article is one of the first steps toward restoring users' faith in GameSpot, and an internal review of the incident and controversy is under way. However, at no point in its history has GameSpot ever deviated from its review guidelines, which are publicly listed on the site. Great pains are taken to keep sales and editorial separated to prevent any impression of impropriety.

For years, GameSpot has been known for maintaining the highest ethical standards and having the most reliable and informative game reviews, previews, and news on the Web. The colleagues and friends that Jeff leaves behind here at GameSpot intend to keep it that way.

For a special report on Jeff Gerstmann's dismissal and a tribute to his legacy, tune in tomorrow to GameSpot's weekly live webcast, On the Spot. For a personal look at Gerstmann's exit, listen to the latest HotSpot podcast in which host Vincent Caravella discusses the controversial event with longtime Gerstmann colleagues Ricardo Torres, Ryan MacDonald, Alex Navarro, and Ryan Davis.

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