Note: The following was first posted on my Gamespot user blog
, then re-posted with more details as an editorial on Trigames
. Below is the Trigames version.
If you haven't been following the podcasts
, I'd begun writing reviews for Gamespot on a freelance basis starting at the end of October. I'm still a regular member on the Gamespot website, though, and am not part of the official staff. On my blog, I wrote this editorial in response to the big news that's hitting the gaming webs with regards to gaming journalism and criticism: Jeff Gerstmann, editorial director at Gamespot.com, has been fired.
The "why" varies depending on who you ask.
The blogosphere maintains that Eidos, furious over the "tone" of Jeff's review of Kane and Lynch: Dead Men, a game that by all rights looks like complete compost, pressured Gamespot and parent company CNET to change the review or it would pull the huge advertising deal that saw CNET getting insanely rich.
Jeff himself can't speak on the subject, so he hasn't.
An anonymous Gamespot insider has claimed that while there was a backlash from Eidos about the game review, it was really director Josh Larson - who replaced ex-site director Greg Kasavin with regards to site business duties - who instigated the actual firing, claiming that Mr. Larson knows nothing about how to run a gaming website and was treating this like a marketing opportunity and effectively breaking the line between editorial and marketing.
Me? Regardless of who did the actual firing, you know that it was rooted in Eidos crying foul. No self-respecting gaming publication would deem it proper to not stand behind its editors; no self-respecting gaming publication would forget that there is a church-and-state separation between editorial and marketing. No self-respecting gaming publication would ever bend over backwards for an advertising relationship; that's for the business end to decide, and hence that goes back to square one: Mr. Larson and Eidos together decided to cross that line, and Gerstmann was sacrificed for it.
Below, finally, is the editorial I posted in response to this news. It bears a little more relevance to me now that it would have before, seeing as I am now getting paid to write for Gamespot - and ultimately CNET. Article: begin.
Annual Subscriber Revenue = A
Good Faith = G
Projected Click-through Advertisement Revenue from Publishers = R
Jeff Gerstmann's Salary = J
Given (A + G) less than (R + J), take the appropriate action.
Actually, it's old math - but when things seem to be going right, people tend to forget what it is.
Substitute J for P, where P = Payment due to a Gamespot staffer or freelancer, and you can see that whatever writer you come up with, perhaps P is not such a sure thing if the writer's honest hard work doesn't appease certain entities such that R is not a sure thing.
So then, what's expected of me?
As a reader and consumer who cares about how the industries of video games and video game coverage conducts itself: I am expected to understand the tenuous relationship between editorial and marketing of a publishing entity, and rather than taking the editorial staff's word for it, dine on each critique with a grain - no, several packets - of iodized salt. I am expected to understand that even niche gaming publications - that is, online or print entities that are geared towards videogame journalism and criticism (do note that the two are different) - are not immune to the pressures from advertising partners that are commonly associated with the mainstream press, i.e. Maxim. I am expected to be an uneducated consumer, but believe that I am educated simply because I read the work of a publication that is being coerced into saying something that could influence my purchase decision.
(Funny tangent: A note on Chris Kohler's blog at Wired, Game|Life, reminded me that just a month ago, CNET had just hired Dennis Publishing ex-president Stephen Colvin to oversee its entertainment stuff. What's Dennis Publishing? Why, it's responsible for Maxim and Stuff of course. Funny I mentioned Maxim - I didn't even realize it, and I had totally forgotten about this little fact. Now I'm quite a bit more certain that there's nowhere to go but down, but I'll remain naively optimistic.)
As a reviewer, specifically a Gamespot freelancer: I am expected to do... what? I don't know. Does the above formula affect me, given that I am really just a gnat; a peon; a speck of dust on the editorial totem pole that is constructed from Alex Navarro, Ryan Davis, Brian Ekberg, Ricardo Torres, Brad Shoemaker, Kevin Van Ord, Jason Ocampo, Andrew Park, Frank Provo, and Brett Todd (the latter being fellow freelancers, but longtime Gamespot veterans as well as industry veterans - and please forgive me if I've forgotten anyone else)? But, let's assume that even as a peon, I'm being scrutinized to the same degree as these aforementioned souls. What happens when Nintendo could have approached CNET Networks with a lucrative advertising deal, but sees that I've been poo-pooing Volleyball?
This, of course, is an exaggeration. I don't think anyone would give a hoot that Volleyball got a 2, especially since Nintendo is probably 100% sure that there are plenty of people out there would download it anyway, it's not a high profile game, and it's not a new game that saps any more than 0.00001% of their revenue in operating costs. But yeah, sure, maybe I'm still expected to neuter my "tone" such that whenever I get whatever Alex throws my way, I treat it like a gentle pet - like a delicate flower to be nurtured, watered and tended to. No, your framerate isn't at all solid and I have trouble playing you, but let's just say that you require just a little more work and that some people might not be able to look past these somewhat noticeable ... "issues." Because the "f" word - that's "flaws", buddy - is too harsh. Because players interested in the genre may still have a "blast" with you.
You know what would be some really awesome math?
I > all
Where I = integrity. Interchangeable with trust, credibility, honesty, truth.
But here's another problematic question. What is the unit of value for I? Dollars? Unique daily hits? Subscribers? The inverse of the delta between actual review scores versus publisher-expected scores - or, how about a fabricated index created to measure the textual, "tonal" expectations of a review by a publisher against the actual result of the review? Because when it comes to cold, hard business, variable I has to have some kind of tangible value that helps them make "the correct decision" but based solely on a quantifiable value.
Because by this point, no one truly knows how variable I should really be measured anymore. No one who matters, anyway.
I guess we don't matter. And selfishly... I guess I don't matter.
You know, sometimes, I love having graduated with a degree in Marketing. It's a fascinating field and an engaging look into how people think, and I had nothing but the utmost pleasure studying the subjects in school.
Suffice it to say, this ain't one of those times.
And you can bet your sweet ass that you know what we'll be discussing on this week's podcast, so please - send your questions to our mailbag (mailbag at trigames dot net). This is something I won't let go away without a heated verbal commentary. read