Despite being a GameSpot reader since the Quake (1) days, I've never actually written anything in my GameSpot blog here. And I really can't think of a better issue to start with than the Jeff Gerstmann/Eidos/CNET controversy.
My GameSpot subscription ran out a month or so ago, and I haven't given them my new credit card yet, so I've been treated to a lot of ads on GameSpot recently. I never really thought about the fact that gaming review sites receive large amounts of money from the very product they're attempting to evaluate objectively. And now that I think about it, this does seem to present a bit of a problem.
I did a bit of research. I read a long article on Newsweek's blogs(which I found due to this GameSpot member), which examined amongst other things, the degree to which Internet gaming reviews affect the industry. The availability of information on the Internet, and the ease of collating that information, creates an environment where an end user can immediately determine the quality of a product. The article notes that Metacritic and Game Rankings literally determine the value of a game. Game developers therefore have an interest in influencing game reviews.
There are various ways publishers do this, for example preventing negative or mediocre reviews from coming out before a game's launch, while allowing positive reviews to be released a couple days prior. Publishers also have a history of using coercive methods, such as pulling advertising revenue from a publication, or even going to the point of falsifying reviews.
After reading all of this, I was then thinking, "Should I care?" Now, 80% of the games I buy, I already know I'm going to buy. Some of my purchases in the last six months include Halo 3, Bioshock, and Mass Effect, games I knew I was going to buy over a year before they were released. Reviews come into play with games I'm not sure of buying. It's troublesome to think that publishers are able to influence these reviews I rely on, reviews I rely on to not waste my f***ing money. It doesn't bother me that game companies try to do this, since I expect them to protect their bottom line, but it does bother me that they sometimes succeed. I've relied on GameSpot for years to create the most knowledgeable, professional reviews on the Internet.
Taking a look at this video, we find that CNET generates more than 85% of its revenue from essentially ads on web pages. User subscription fees are less than 15%. So from a corporate perspective, GameSpot's (or at least CNET's) responsibility to game publishers is substantially greater than to its users. This video also noted that over a given period, 50% of Gamespot's reviews will fall into the 7 to 9 range. Now that is a little disturbing. That's not a bell curve.
So what should I conclude from this? I could assume that "7 to 9" thing is a coincidence for the time period considered in that video. I could decide it's a legitimate issue, and conclude I should take that "7 to 9" range into consideration when I'm reading a review.
Should I continue relying on GameSpot? One GameSpot blogger noted, "If Jeff was fired for Kane and Lynch, he was fired because he REFUSED to play ball." "Play ball" in this case being, "compromise his journalistic integrity." That's a very poignant observation. Considering this, and after listening to the GameSpot staff speak on this issue, I think I can--and everyone else should--"trust" GameSpot. The GameSpot staff was very upset about losing Jeff. This incident bothered them as much as it did any of us users out here. GameSpot describes the incident as a management mistake, with said management now asking, "How do we fix this, and also how to we make sure this never happens again?"
This incident brought a lot of troubling issues to the forefront of gaming consciousness. There's a lot of conclusions one can draw from it, and ultimately, I think gamers should avoid jumping to conspiracy-theories. One conclusion I can inescapably come to is that I'm not going to buy Kane & Lynch. So wrapping this up, andall other issues aside, Jeff: 1, Kane & Lynch: 0.
On a final note, don't go complain to Eidos about any of this.