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CURRENTS
Issue #63
December 11, 2007
Purchasing Public Opinion
Front Page

Greetings to all of you who take the time from their busy schedules to read my column. The pleasure is all mine, I assure you. This week's entry consists mostly of one big, long story on the recent controversy surrounding Jeff Gerstmann's firing from GameSpot. We have a few other fun things of course, along with some light number crunching. I'm just glad I was able to get the column finished, what with final exams and such weighing me down. On the bright side, my last two exams are this Wednesday, after which I will be able to devote full and complete attention to this column. At least until the spring semester begins, which I believe is January 14. (Sigh.) I'm also hoping to get some serious gaming done in this month long period, but I'm sure I won't be able to play everything I want, as there's some six or seven titles on my plate. But enough about me, you came here for news. So let's get to it!

Head of GameSpot's Editorial Department Fired After 11 Years of Employment
Was the firing a result of Gerstmann's Kane and Lynch review?
image

The gaming community has been in one heck of an uproar during these past few weeks, as the integrity of one of the largest and most respected news sites on the web has been called into question. Jeff Gerstmann, head of GameSpot's editorial department, was fired in wake of his devoutly negative review of Eidos Interactive's third-person shooter Kane and Lynch: Dead Men. Jeff awarded the game a 6.0 out of 10, which by GameSpot's scale qualifies it as "fair."

In addition, Jeff ripped the game in his original video review, referring to the game as "ugly" numerous times, and generally just finding any way he could to express his disgust. In my opinion, such negativity shouldn't be too shocking. GameSpot is not loathe to hand out negative reviews, I've seen them do it time and time again, occasionally to games that I enjoyed.

But in the case of Kane and Lynch, things become a little complicated. If you happened to visit GameSpot any time during the two-week period prior to the game's release, you'd likely have noted the fact that the main page was skinned with a giant-ass ad for-you guessed it-Kane and Lynch. On top of that, GameSpot featured some rather gimmicky promotions for the game, such as allowing people to splice together their own Kane and Lynch trailer. Why anybody would want to spend their time doing such a thing is beyond me, but that's beside the point.

Look! It's Kane and Lynch!

The video and text reviews were both posted on November 13, the day of the game's release. However, on the morning of November 14, the video review as was taken down. GameSpot said that this was due to "poor sound quality" and a "limited amount of footage" in the video. In addition, "several days later," (I am unsure exactly when) the text review was taken down and altered. According to GameSpot, they did this "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." Strangely enough, right around the time the review was posted, the massive skins on GameSpot's main page mysteriously vanished.

And on November 28, Jeff Gerstmann was fired from GameSpot, after eleven years of employment.

Now the question is: were these actions due to pressure from the game's publisher, Eidos Interactive? Well, whether or not that is the exact cause is unclear. However, it has been confirmed that Eidos did indeed voice its displeasure with the negative review. To quote GameSpot:

"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."

To say the least, it all looks a little suspect. For a few days, GameSpot remained strangely silent on the matter, which only intensified suspicions. However, when they finally responded, GameSpot flatly denied the accusations that pressure from Eidos had been a factor in their "dismissal" of Gerstmann. Jeff himself has not commented on the exact circumstances of his departure, most likely due to some type of non-disclosure agreement, common in matters like this.

No doubt about it folks, the timing here is damningly suspect. Eidos "expressed their displeasure," the ads were yanked, the video review was taken down, the text review was altered, and days later, Jeff was fired. It could all be coincidence, but until CNET comes forth and reveals the exact details behind Jeff's termination, I'm not going to be satisfied. There's so much here that stinks, it's difficult to keep it out by simply pinching your nose.

GameSpot isn't saying much, but in confirming that Eidos did in fact complain about the review, they admit to more than they think. I'm not exactly familiar with how things work in a news conglomerate such as CNET, but to me it seems rather odd that a publisher like Eidos feels that they have the right, or the need, to call a news organization and complain about a negative editorial. Why would they do such a thing? To make a statement? Simply to vent? Or do they actually think that such action may get them a consolation prize like, say, a less negative review? If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say that they must indeed think so, because why else would they waste their time?

And the fact of the matter is that they did get a less negative review. GameSpot admitted that they altered the text "so that it better meshed with its score." I guarantee you that they did not do this until Eidos complained, nor would they have done so had Eidos remained silent. From what I've read, certain words such as "ugly" and "clunky" were removed from the review, and in general the overall tone was reworked so that it didn't sound so "harsh." The score of 6.0 remained unchanged, but it became a decidedly "softer" 6.0, if you will.

Ladies and gentlemen, I have been visiting GameSpot for many years now. Every time they review a game I have even a passing interest in, I take the time to read it. I've read many a negative review from the site, and more often than not, a game with a rating of 6.0 is abused and beaten without apology. Why then, did they feel the need to ameliorate the negative connotations of this particular review? To my knowledge, GameSpot has never done anything like this in the past.

For example, take their recent review of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn for the Wii. GameSpot took the latest entry in a very long-running and respected series, flogged it, and awarded it with the "fair" rating of 6.0. Now, their argument in defense of the review for Kane and Lynch was that a 6.0 should still account for a "fair" review, which Gerstmann supposedly did not deliver. And yet, if you read the review for Radiant Dawn you'll find that there is nothing fair about it. The reviewer, Lark Anderson, lays out several different reasons as to why he thinks the game sucks, and offers nearly no positives in order to balance the ticket. In all, the review is decisively negative in tone, and yet like Kane and Lynch it bears the "fair" rating of 6.0.

Now, I personally think that this particular review is one of the most ridiculous examples of critical evaluation that I've read in a while, but the editorial competency of GameSpot is another debate for another day. The point here is that you certainly do not see GameSpot adjusting this review, which by their supposed standards should be far more offensive than the review for Kane and Lynch. There are countless other examples of this; just browse through the site's review archive. The point I'm trying to make is this: either GameSpot acted upon the pressure from Eidos, or their editorial department has a serious lack of consistency.

The facts being as they are, I think we can safely assume that GameSpot gave the review of Kane and Lynch special and favorable attention in order to appease Eidos. To me, that's fairly easy to see and deduce. However, what remains in question is whether or not Mr. Gerstmann was fired on account of the negative review he wrote. And this is where we step into the realm of pure frantic speculation. As suspicious as it all looks, there's no way to know for sure until a solid source comes forth and confirms, which isn't likely to happen. Rumors are flying here and there, with numerous websites claiming contact with "reliable sources" that confirm the worst, but it's all dubious at best. So, do I personally think that Jeff was fired on account of this? Well, all I will say is if that is the case, then I doubt that it was solely because of Kane and Lynch. Kane and Lynch was probably the breaking point for the higher-ups at CNET, not necessarily the sole determining factor. Perhaps Jeff's editorials have invoked the wrath of a publisher one too many times.

GameSpot is denying this accusation tooth and nail, and that includes the other editors on the site, four of whom made extensive commentary on the debacle in their recent "On the Spot" podcast. Alex Navarro, Ricardo Torres, Ryan MacDonald, and Ryan Davis devoted a half-hour segment to speaking about their former co-worker. The four of them certainly don't seem happy about it, and they spent the majority of the time talking about how horribly the entire ordeal was handled. However, they assert that Kane and Lynch had nothing to do with his firing, and they defend the pulling of the video review. (They say nothing about the editing of the written review).

I don't doubt the integrity of these four. And yet they fail to convince me that everything is, well, roses and lollipops. First of all, they really know nothing about it, as far as I can tell. They may be GameSpot editors, but that's a far cry from a CNET corporate figure. They're probably just as clueless as the rest of us. Secondly, even if they did know, and Jeff was indeed fired over his review, could they divulge the information without the higher-ups of CNET descending upon them in an angry storm? The answer to that is no. That being the case, while I find their commentary honest, I also find it unconvincing.

The question of whether or not Gerstmann lost his job over this debacle is unresolved, but unfortunately, I find it all too difficult to believe that GameSpot was not swayed by complaints from Eidos, or at least out of some sense of bias towards a big name game from a publisher with whom they had extensive advertising deals. We can only hope that this is not something GameSpot practices regularly, and furthermore, we can hope that a writer did not lose his job on account of pressure from an advertiser.

Sources: GameSpot | GamePolitics
Eidos Posts Phony Kane and Lynch Review Scores
More controversy for you

No, it doesn't end there. My guess is that Eidos is pretty pissed over the negative reviews that Kane and Lynch: Dead Men has received. Believe me, Jeff wasn't the only one who ripped the game. The game currently has an average ranking of 68% on GameRankings, based on 36 media outlets. How does the esteemed publisher handle such adversity? Well, aside from whining at said media outlets, they've taken another step and decided that if the positive reviews won't come, then they'll make some up. Take note of the image below.

Ooh, makes me wanna buy the game!

Hmmm, gives the game a mighty positive spin, doesn't it? Glowing captions underneath five big stars, seemingly indicative of perfect scores from both GameSpy and Game Informer. Both of these ads were posted prominently on the game's official site for all to see and admire. However, the sad truth is that neither GameSpy nor Game Informer awarded such scores, and the captions are not even excerpts from their reviews. Rather, they are both excerpts from earlier previews for the game. In reality, GameSpy awarded the game a 3/5, and Game Informer, who doesn't even use a five-star scale, gave the game a 7/10. Kotaku came up with a more accurate, though sadly unused version of the ad, shown below.

On second thought...

I don't think you need me to tell you how ridiculous this is. It's a blatant and shameless misrepresentation of the truth, and a sad attempt to improve public opinion towards a product that Eidos probably knows is crap. Stuff like this only fans the flames of controversy, which are already blazing out of control. Oh, and by the way, my favorite rendition of this ad is from GameBump. And yes, they really did give the game one star.

...ouch

There's much to be said for truth in advertising.

Sources: Kotaku | GameBump
Senators Demand Game Videos Be Posted Online
Apparently they've never heard of YouTube

For a little while, it seemed that the ESRB was in a time of relative peace. And yet in these past two weeks, the organization has come under fire once again. I reported last week on the four presidential wannabes who wrote to the ESRB suggesting that they revamp their ratings system, and in particular, pay special attention to the rating of Wii titles. Well, on the heels of that story comes the report of Congressmen Joe Baca (D-CA) and Frank Wolf (R-VA) voicing their own concerns and requests for the organization. One thing I will say is that, at the very least, they are more specific about what they want. However, their request still borders on the ridiculous. As you probably know, the ESRB does not actually play the games they rate. Rather, they determine their ratings by watching videos supplied to them by the publisher. What these videos do is highlight the most questionable portions of the game in order for the raters to make accurate decisions. What Baca and Wolf are proposing is that the ESRB make these videos available for public viewing, their reasoning being that "The public will be more accurately informed of the substance of games before making purchasing decisions, and the rating process of the ESRB will be brought to light and given more credibility."

Now, I don't find anything offensive about this, nor is it a particularly bad idea. I just think that it's rather unnecessary. For any given release there is a veritable wealth of clips and trailers available for viewing online. Not on the ESRB official website perhaps, but does there really need to be? If it were up to me, I would respond to these senators by simply sending them an e-mail with a link to GameTrailers.com

Sources: GameSpot | GamePolitics
Delaware Politicians Side With ESRB
At last, a patch of sunlight

Not every politician is out for the ESRB's blood. In a curious turn of events, the ESRB is actually working with two Delaware politicians in a campaign created to raise awareness about the ESRB and their rating system. Delaware State Rep. Helene Keely, and Lieutenant Governor John Carney are both on board with the campaign. Interestingly enough, back in 2006 Keely was working with Jack Thompson to pass laws restricting the sales of violent games in the state of Delaware. It would seem she learned her lesson. Rep. Keely's ad is shown below.

Amen, sister

Finally we see politicians doing something that makes sense. As has been proven countless times now, legislation intended to restrict or ban the sales of certain videogames cannot survive a court hearing. Each and every attempt has been struck down on the grounds that it is unconstitutional

A campaign like this, however, is much more practical. Instead of complaining about the supposed ineffectiveness of the ESRB, why not try to improve it? I'd argue that the system is quite effective as it stands now, but hey, this campaign certainly can't hurt anything. Perhaps more politicians will follow suit. And if so, maybe we can finally conclude this idiotic chapter in the annals of videogame history.

Sources: GamePolitics | IGN

The time to crunch numbers is upon us once again. Today I have the software sales for the week of November 25 to December 1. Exciting stuff, to be sure. Yes...very exciting indeed. Just...just read on, already.

Rank Console Title Publisher Week Total
1 Wii Wii Sports Nintendo 325,483 7,031,085
2 X360 Forza Motorsport 2 Microsoft 208,037 1,514,511
3 X360 Marvel: Ultimate Alliance Activision 201,476 1,401,287
4 Wii Super Mario Galaxy Nintendo 188,325 1,294,896
5 X360 Mass Effect Microsoft 113,856 335,798
6 Wii Wii Play Nintendo 112,724 3,149,774
7 X360 Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Activision 106,583 978,669
8 X360 Assassin's Creed Ubisoft 102,501 821,895
9 PS2 Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock Activision 92,441 954,908
10 X360 Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock Activision 81,408 1,068,148

The list is slightly deceiving, because the top three games are included with a certain system. Wii Sports is packed in with the Wii as we all know. Marvel: Ultimate Alliance and Forza Motorsport 2 are both included in the Xbox 360 Pro bundle pack. So in reality, Super Mario Galaxy comes out on top once again. Mass Effect seems to be doing quite well for itself, which I guess isn't much of a surprise. I plan on playing that game...someday. Lord knows when. For now it will just have to occupy space on my ever-growing list of games I want to play. As I believe I mentioned before, Assassin's Creed is first on that list, and judging by its strong sales, that appears to be the case for many people.

Source: VGchartz
RANDOM: Without Which These Relatively Obscure, Yet Inherently Awesome Stories May Not Be Noticed!
I'm not sure this section needs a subtitle
  • I don't know about you, but I find this hi-def war to be quite entertaining. I know most of you are still quite happy with your DVD's, and heck, a few of you are probably clutching your VHS tapes. But still, I think it's important to know which hi-def format will end up being our default entertainment medium of the future. Recently Michael Bay, director of last summer's mega-blockbuster Transformers, has come out and claimed that Microsoft is actually engineering failure for both formats. He claims that they are attempting to move everything to digital downloads, and the only reason they are supporting HD-DVD over the "leading and superior Blu-Ray" is because they want to cause confusion and conflict until they perfect the technology behind digital downloads. Well, I'm sure Mr. Bay wouldn't say such things unless he had good reason. It's not like he's biased towards one medium or the other.

  • Any of you remember the Sega Dreamcast? Yeah? Okay, any of you care about the Sega Dreamcast? No? Thought not. Apparently, nobody in 1999 did either, which is why the system flopped so horrendously, pushing Sega firmly out of the hardware game. Well despite this fact, a rumor has been flitting around lately that Sega may be looking to get back into the race, which is only more competitive now than it was eight years ago. Where did this rumor originate? Well according to Trademork, Sega recently filed a new application to keep the rights to the dreamcast name. As you would expect, the news was passed from one site to another, with the obligatory grain of salt getting smaller every time. However, it was finally squelched when a Sega representative came out and said "Although I think all gamers would like to see a new Dreamcast (including myself), this looks to be more wishful thinking in the rumor mill." Scratch that one, I guess. Personally I think that most gamers are more than satisfied with the three systems we have now. That being the case, I can think of one person who would most definitely be delighted if this were to come true. Care to guess who that is?

  • Boy oh boy, people just love the Wii don't they? Nintendo just can't make enough to meet the demand of the ravenous consumers this holiday season, as they've already publicly admitted. Well, it's come to the point where Nintendo is actually attempting to calm demand instead of incite it. Apparently, they've actually pulled certain ads for the system in the UK and replaced them with DS ads. In the words of a Nintendo spokesman, they want to "take a responsible stance this Christmas and not fuel demand." My take on this? Nintendo is afraid of all the disgruntled shoppers this holiday season who will not be able to place a Wii underneath their Christmas tree. In addition, there are those who may view Nintendo's inability to meet demand as incompetency on their part. Since increasing the supply is obviously not possible, decreasing the demand is seemingly the only other way to deal with this dilemma. Makes sense.
  • I almost wanted to post this in the column, but I decided against it. However, I'd like to supply the link to Penny Arcade's comic strip addressing the Gerstmann controversy. Funny stuff, as always. Unless it actually occurred, in which case it isn't funny at all. Oh, and this strip from 2005 compliments that one nicely. Take a look.
Sources: GameSpot | 1UP | Penny Arcade

Gah! No! I can't be done! If I'm done that means that I have to study for exams! Dash it all. Oh well. This Wednesday represents the end. Less than twenty-four hours from now, I will be a free man. And so next week I shall return to you as a free man, and be able to bring you all sorts of wonderful news without the dark cloud of exams hanging over my head. But, for right now, I still have two exams I haven't studied for, and twenty-four hours of dreadful anticipation. Think of me, if you can spare the time. If not, well, that's okay; we're all busy people. Most of us, anyways.

Oliver Motok (Email Me!)

 

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