The most interesting thing to me in this whole GameSpot e-drama is not whether or not GameSpot "sells" reviews. For what it's worth, I suspect the real situation is more complicated then it appears. Check Wired
, Joystiq's Gerstmann interview
, and almost any forum for differing views.
No, the interesting thing is that this is paradoxically the event that will bring integrity to videogame journalism.
For whatever reason, accusations of payola for game reviews have gained little traction over the years. Maybe this is because people are more vocal about low review scores than high review scores. One often got the impression that a publisher's decision to separate editorial and advertising departments was meant more to avoid intracompany turf wars than for any desire for journalistic integrity.
When many of these publications began, the average reader age was lower. Perhaps due to the higher percentage of younger, relatively unsophisticated readers, demand for editorial independence was also lower. Hell, I got Nintendo Power and trusted it, mostly because it didn't give every game a high score. It used to be that a publication suffering from rumors of score inflation could regain its credibility by awarding a high-profile game a low score.
Things are different now. Even if a review source gives a low score to an expensive game, it can be construed either as a) tellin' it like it is, or b) this publisher didn't make it financially worth our while. Now, thanks to GameSpot's actions, we see a healthy and thriving market for independent reviews. I'm sure we'll also see some of the big names clarifying their review procedures and increasing editorial transparency. This includes marketing and advertising account policies, ensuring review text and score consistency, and (where possible) proof that the reviewer(s) played enough of the game to accurately review it.
So in the end, this was a good thing to happen to the industry, even if the rumors aren't completely accurate (well, it's good for everyone except GameSpot). Change often needs a catalyst, and this is sufficiently noteworthy to serve as that catalyst.
*Regardless of whether or not GameSpot sold out, the cashwh0re
theme is completely hilarious and I fully support it.