The Gerstmann affair, or what Gamespot needs to do to restore its credibility. An open letter to Gamespot, Cnet, Eidos and the gaming public.
As everyone is now aware Gamespot is in the middle of a seemingly self induced crisis. It's become apparent that the website fired its long-time editorial director Jeff Gerstmann for giving the newly released game "Kane & Lynch: Dead Men" a score of 6.0 to the dismay of its publisher, Eidos, a company that also pays for its games to be advertised on the site. That after being given what the publishing company considered an unacceptably low review score it pressured Gamespot into firing Mr. Gerstmann. It also then proceeded to withdraw future advertising revenue.
Gamespots credibility has been further eroded by its inability to properly explain why it came to the decision to fire Mr. Gerstmann and why it has pulled the video of the review from its site. Also Eidos's credibility has been tarnished by the publishing on the game's official website of misleading and erroneous reviews and scores from other video game publications, that inflate the scores actually given by those organizations. All of these events together in the minds of gamers lead to the belief of a conspiracy by Eidos to exaggerate the reviews of a seemingly lackluster game (the apparent low quality of the content being known beforehand by Eidos) in a concerted advertising push to make the public believe the game was significantly more desirable then appears to otherwise be the case. And that in their zeal they used their leverage as a major advertiser at Gamespot to press for a good review and when they didn't receive it, exerted their influence in getting Mr. Gerstmann fired, with perhaps Gamespot having a pre-existing desire (legitimate or not) to fire Mr. Gerstmann with this situation providing an excuse.
Whether or not the events surrounding Mr. Gerstmanns firing in truth played out as they've been described is at the moment, beside the point. The public, and anecdotal evidence suggests a large percentage of Gamespots paid subscribers, perceive and assume these events to be true and accurate. And without evidence to the contrary, one can hardly blame them.
Unfortunately the burden of proof is now on Gamespot to disprove the rumors of its motivations in the recent series of events. If there is a reasonable and legitimate reason for firing Mr. Gerstmann we the public need to hear it. And be shown proof of its validity.
But as seems likely the events and the sinister motivations behind Gamespots actions are what we have already concluded them to be, then the burden of responsibility is again on Gamespot. Responsibility to acknowledge them and acknowledge that they were wrong in an attempt to resolve the situation.
First off, after admitting wrongdoing, Gamespot needs to offer to restore Mr. Gerstmann to his former position with no loss of pay, benefits or status.
Then as a bulwark against future scandals Gamespot should feel obliged to create an "accountability tab" to sit alongside its forums, videos, cheat codes, features, downloads, sports and news tabs. The contents of this new tab explaining the entire game reviewing process. Starting with when a game was first received for review, what version of the game was received (whether or not it is the full public version) whether or not the game was provided free for review, the number of and names of the individuals tasked with reviewing the game, information on the time spent reviewing it, and if, when and where possible the reviewers notes on the game.
Efforts to make the reviews more standardized and predictable should be taken. The act of reviewing games should be published as the process by which all games start at a ten until its errors and faults when encountered earn a game a lower score. Explanations of what problems are encountered and how and why they've cost a game a ten must be presented.
Verifiable and predictable patterns should emerge as more objective standards are applied more thoroughly. If a jagged or jerky graphical presentation lowers a games score by five points, then other games with similar problems must be similarly devalued. If an uninspired artistic style reduces a games score by twenty points, then other games with similarly reviewed deficiencies must be similarly devalued. Along with in both cases an explanation of the criteria and reasoning behind labeling something as "uninspired".
All of these suggestions are based around concepts of transparency and accountability. These ideas must also be applied to Gamespot and Cnets finances as well.
In the accountability tab all sources of revenue must be disclosed, with links or information provided regarding Gamespot and Cnets tax filings. All gifts, objects or promotional items given to Gamespot must also be documented. Gamespot should also press upon its advertisers the need to agree to and sign some sort of publicly available and verifiable non interference contract, again to be posted in the accountability tab, that declares an advertisers agreement to exert, at most, a minimal influence on editorial content. Any reviews of products created by an organization that advertises on Gamespot should have links to its products posted directly underneath a quote of revenue obtained by Gamespot, from the advertiser. To help in verifying that no preference for an advertisers products has been shown. Finally as a precaution all advertising links with Eidos should be severed.
This has been my interpretation of the recent events surrounding Gamespot and its firing of its editorial director Jeff Gerstmann, and the steps needing to be taken by Gamespot to restore its credibility.
I like Gamespot, trusted it's reviews and enjoyed the large, active community of gamers that gathered at the site. I would like to see it restored to its former position, and not have to wonder where I'm going to find all the people who may or may not have already scattered based on Gamespots recent actions.