For quite a while now GameSpot’s reviewers have been on the receiving end of some pretty negative comments from community members concerning the validity of various game reviews. Comments range from accusations of bias and acceptance of bribes from publishers to general inaccuracies and misleading information. This arguably started way back in 2007 when long time editor and reviewer Jeff Gerstmann was fired from GameSpot shortly after writing an unflattering review for Kane and Lynch: Dead Men (2007). Rumours quickly circulated that his termination was due to outside pressure from the game’s publisher Eidos Interactive who had invested a significant amount of advertising money into GameSpot. It wasn’t until 2012 that Gerstmann was legally able to reveal that this was indeed the reason for his termination.
This turned out to be a far more serious blow for the site than anticipated when it not only lost Gerstmann but also Ryan Davis, Brad Shoemaker, Alex Navarro and freelancer Frank Provo in what Joystiq called the “GameSpot exodus”. These were all well liked and well respected writers amongst GameSpot’s community and their sudden departure, the reasons behind it combined with the subsequent appearance of new faces to the editorial staff undoubtedly contributed to the present distrustful attitude by the site’s readership.
But regardless of what happened in 2007, there has been nothing to indicate that there has been any dodgy activity in how GameSpot reviews games before or since. Gerstmann gave Dead Men a mediocre score despite the money being poured into the site and although it resulted in his dismissal, his review remains published and unaltered. Yet rumours and accusations towards the review team continue to the present day and to be perfectly honest, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of reading time and again the absurd nonsense that is so often spouted by the uninformed (or misinformed) community in both the forums and comments sections.
So, as a response from a tired old GameSpot reader (well, 26) and in defence of a site that has long been at the forefront of professional game journalism, I hereby call it’s dissenters out on their BS.
The most common complaint I keep reading is that GameSpot’s reviews are often biased. One that received particular scorn was Carolyn Petit’s review of Grand Theft Auto V (2013) which came under attack in September last year for suggesting the game was “politically muddled and profoundly misogynistic”. Petit herself was then hit by 20,000 comments, many of which were violent, from an offended community who were presumably expecting the game to be awarded a perfect 10 for simply carrying the GTA label. As someone who does his best to be an objective reader, the problem with calling her review biased was obvious almost immediately. Petit praised virtually every other aspect of the game from its graphics, immersion, storytelling and characters. Everyone was on board with this, they all agreed and everything was rosy. But as soon as she pointed out that the game may have a flaw, all of this positivity – that far outweighed any negative aspect of the game – counted for nothing to most readers and the focus of the community was suddenly on her suggestion of misogyny being present in their beloved game. She was accused of having a secret or personal ‘agenda’ and was inserting her own political and philosophical beliefs into her review. Isn’t it possible that this ‘agenda’ was actually her OPINION – which is what all reviews ultimately boil down to anyway – and that the absurdity of such a claim is only made greater when you compare that to the disproportionate positivity contained within? If she did have some kind of agenda against the game, awarding a 9 and calling it “an exhilarating, fascinating game” seems a curious way to go about it.
I love GTAV but I also love the fact that Petit gave it a 9 instead of a 10. It would have been so easy for her to do so considering the hype surrounding its release, the illustrious pedigree of the previous games in the franchise and it’s immense following. Everybody was expecting something truly outstanding and a game that was even better than GTAIV which HAD been awarded a 10. Perhaps it was us who were being biased for expecting yet another masterpiece – which is fine because we’re fans and that’s what fans do. But as a reviewer for GameSpot, Carolyn stayed her hand. She felt this game did have flaws that needed addressing and that to automatically award a 10 for simply being a Grand Theft Auto game would be wrong. So if anything, Petit was completely unbiased in her review for telling us what she thought – not what we wanted to hear. And she should be applauded for that.
Another common complaint is a perceived bias towards Nintendo among GameSpot editors. Nintendo developed games as well as ports released on the Wii U have been viewed as being awarded lower scores than rival sites like IGN as well as overall scores accumulated by Metacritic. It’s no secret Nintendo have been on the ropes for some time now. Besides the dwindling sales of the console itself, Nintendo have been criticised time and again for a lack of new IPs, releasing too many Mario games and a general decline in innovation across the board. These are opinions shared not just by GameSpot but the majority of game journalists throughout the world. But despite this site apparently being the only one accused of Nintendo bias - and for awarding games like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (2011) and Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (2013) lower than average ratings, they then awarded Super Mario 3D World (2013) a 9 calling it “a game of exceptional craft” on a console most believe to be all but dead and buried. High ratings were also given to New Super Mario Bros. U (2012), The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD (2013), Pikmin 3 (2013) and Nintendo Land (2012). This is a very strange definition of bias being generated by GameSpot’s readership.
When researching this blog I read many forum posts across IGN, Wii Chat and others where users’ accusations of GameSpot’s ‘bias’ boiled down to them awarding lower scores to games like Skyward Sword when “everyone, I mean everyone, gave it a high score” as one poster stated. But THAT’S the problem right there! We can’t expect GameSpot to give a game a high score just because everyone else did! That’s not what they’re here for and it goes against the very point of the site’s existence. If that was how games were rated, there would be no need for sites like GameSpot or IGN, GameSpy, Metacritic, Giant Bomb and countless others out there because we would all have the same point of view.
A specific reviewer frequently on the receiving end for Nintendo bias is Tom Mcshea. He penned Skyward Sword’s review which made him “the most hated man in gaming” according to n4g as well as being lampooned for his suggestion that Nintendo was “trapped by its legacy”. This is where I struggle to explain because despite a gargantuan amount of hate surrounding his articles and reviews, they appear to be…well, true. I believe Nintendo is absolutely trapped by its legacy and that they’ve become a rigid and petulant company too reliant on their core IPs. As for his reviews, I haven’t played Skyward Sword so I can’t comment on that particular game - but I have played BioShock Infinite (2013). The game was released in March last year and as most will know, received almost unanimous critical acclaim, including by GameSpot. In October, as part of the site’s redesign to include reviews by multiple editors, Mcshea posted his own less positive review and again I found myself agreeing with a great deal of it. I adored the story, the atmosphere and, of course, the ending. But like Tom I found the gameplay to be some of the most tedious and unimaginative examples I’ve seen in a very long time. While I don’t agree the game deserved quite as low as a 4.5, I was still glad there was a reviewer who was brave enough to call it as he saw it and offer an opinion alternate to everybody else’s. Whether or not you agree with what he wrote, you simply cannot accuse someone who gives one of the most lauded games in recent history a negative review of being biased. You just can’t.
If nothing else, I think a lot of gamers tend to get angry when they read or hear something they don’t like about their favourite game. I’m speaking from experience as I recall reading Aaron Thomas’ review for Medal of Honor: Airborne (2007). I was a huge fan of the series when it was still set in World War II, I loved everything about it from its single-player campaign to its multiplayer. So when this editor comes along from GameSpot’s *sports* section and posts an average review for a first-person shooter, I was not happy. I felt betrayed and lied to as I never considered for one moment that a sequel to Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (2002) could be anything less than perfect. But he was right. It’s a terrible, terrible game and blemish on the franchise. I think it genuinely taught me not to dismiss a review based on my own opinion I had formed before I had even read it which is a fundamental mechanism for how our own bias can cause us to perceive others of being so when they are anything but.
It is for all of these reasons that GameSpot is the last site I will ever judge to be biased and their continued refusal to be influenced by fan followings, hype or general expectations is why I will continue to read the works of writers like Carolyn Petit and Tom Mcshea – whether I agree with what’s being said or not. And as the site shows increasing enthusiasm for freelance and user written reviews, why should there be any reason to stop?