About Gamespot!

It happens; we all make mistakes, even I (although I do not think I made one). I have been a member of Gamespot, officially since 2005, unofficially several years longer. I reviewed, I wrote and sometimes I complained. So, last week during the E3, where I followed it all for the second year in a row, I was again confronted with the technical flaws from Gamespot during the E3. Now, is it the fault of Gamespot? That is hard to answer, considering that they get a few million plus watchers to see the E3 shows live as many cannot attend the events in person. (it costs a boatload to get to E3 and stay there for 3-4 days). So we see the shows, the live events and the walk through the event.

These items are nearly always flawed because we get a lag, the buffers time out and then the show stops until we restart it and we miss some of it. Such things happen when too many attend (or even too many watching from the distance and your ISP times out). Several steps going wrong and it is unclear to see if there is even any blame. Oh and every time there was a timeout and you reloaded the screen we got the mandatory UBI-Soft advertisement again and again. I reckon I saw the Black Flag advertisement trailer at least 50 times during E3 2013.

That is one side. The other side is different. At times we the viewer would get the chance to ask questions live on the show. These are golden moments and we all hope that our question gets asked. Can you imagine getting personally answered by Hideo Kojima, Nobuo Uematsu or Yoshitaka Amano? In the past I met and spoke with Sid Meijer, Richard Garriott and Peter Molyneux and a host of other game makers. I can tell you that getting a personal response from a man like Hideo Kojima would be similar to Lara Croft walking up to you and asking you to sit down and share a beer with her. These are epic moments we might get once in a life time (if ever). So when I wanted to ask a question last year in regard to Arkham City the following happened.

The Gamespot comment screen shows a ‘log in’. (I was already logged in), but I go to the login screen, I re-entered my name and password and it takes me to the comment screen and I cannot comment, because I am not logged in. I try it half a dozen times and the moment to ask the question is gone. Man was I angry! However, I get that the servers are busy! I complained and let it go. Sometimes technology is not on our sides and we just have to swallow the bitter pill of defeat. This year the same thing happened when I was trying to comment on events and this time I really lost it (which happens to all of us)!

Even when angry I do try to keep my sense of humour about myself. So when I saw the article “E3 2014: Kojima Responds to Metal Gear Solid 5 Torture Controversy“, my pesky and creative inner demon woke up. It was quite an interesting article (at http://www.gamespot.com/articles/e3-2014-kojima-responds-to-metal-gear-solid-5-torture-controversy/1100-6420442/), and I responded on my Gamespot blog roughly (the response was deleted by Gamespot) as stated below:

Perhaps it is an idea to add an Easter egg and let the gamer torture information from the Gamespot web team“. There was a little more, but that was what it amounted too.

So read this carefully! I added ‘Easter egg‘, so something to unlock in a game, more importantly, the game Metal Gear Solid 5. The Metal Gear Solid being one of the most revered gaming franchises in gaming history. I would reckon that the web team would like to be immortalised in such a revered gaming franchise. As you see, I did keep some sense of humour about it, even though as I saw it, the Gamespot system failed twice (perhaps even more often). What was their response? I have now been banned (perhaps for life from Gamespot). It is interesting how some people react to issues.

The response was unbalanced and extremely unfair. I decided to take an additional look at Gamespot. There was a lot on IGN and most of it related to either biased or incompetent moderation. The quote “I have been temporarily banned for voicing my opinion on another member’s poor review of a game, after he continually sent me hostile PM’s” is only one of several voicing the quality of moderation. I did however find something else that made me wonder about the state of affairs at Gamespot. I found this at http://bbs.stardestroyer.net/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=116270

By now, most have heard that Jeff Gerstmann, Editorial Director at GameSpot, is now the former Editorial Director at GameSpot. The short of it, confirmed through our own sources: Gerstmann was fired for his negative review of Eidos Interactive’s Kane & Lynch. But there’s more to the story in which Gerstmann — one of the site’s leading editors for over a decade — was terminated this week.

The GameSpot staff is currently keeping publicly quiet, but CNET, the parent organization of GameSpot, issued a response today. “For over a decade, Gamespot and the many members of its editorial team have produced thousands of unbiased reviews that have been a valuable resource for the gaming community. At CNET Networks, we stand behind the editorial content that our teams produce on a daily basis,” reads CNET’s statement.

We’re told Eidos had invested a sizable chunk of advertising dollars for Kane & Lynch — check the before and after shots above of GameSpot’s front page for proof — and then allegedly threatened to pull the ads if the “tone” of Gerstmann’s “6.0” review (just under the current Game Rankings average score of 70%) wasn’t changed. Gerstmann did alter the tone of his critique ahead of publication, but it looks as if that wasn’t enough for management. When asked about the situation, Eidos declined comment to 1UP. “Eidos is not able to comment on another company’s policies and procedures,” said a company representative.

But pressure from other advertisers may have contributed to the clash with editorial. Just a few weeks prior, GameSpot came under fire from Sony Computer Entertainment America for scoring Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction a 7.5. In his former position, Gerstmann was responsible for overseeing (and defending) all reviews.

1UP did contact Gerstmann, but he declined comment, likely due to signing a non-disclosure agreement upon his termination, common in situations such as these.

What’s interesting is the timing of his termination, though. GameSpot has never been a stranger to review controversy or publisher backlash. Gerstmann himself had a long history of bucking the popular trend with certain review scores over the many years he critiqued games for the site, most recently scoring The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess an 8.8 on Wii. With no transparency into the situation, no one knows if this is something that had possibly been brewing for a while now, but sources point to a recent change in GameSpot management as the real catalyst. Stephen Colvin, former President and CEO of Dennis Publishing — the group responsible for publications like Maxim, Blender and Stuff — became CNET’s Executive Vice President at the end of October. One of Colvin’s jobs would be to oversee the growth of CNET websites, including GameSpot. The editorial in Maxim and Stuff, publications who routinely review games months ahead of their completion and where the line between marketing and editorial is a little less clear, is much different than GameSpot’s. That was apparently reflected quickly when Colvin joined CNET. “New management has no idea how to deal with games editorial,” said one source not long after Colvin came on board. Indeed.

The question becomes what is happening at Gamespot. This is not about the web team, or just the quality of moderation, this goes much deeper. Consider the almost massive amount of advertising that is as I see it UBI-Soft only advertising. I am adding two questions here.

  1. Is UBI-Soft the only one advertising? Which would be rather odd as the gaming industry is a lot larger than just UBI-Soft!
  2. Why was Assassins Creed Black flag reviewed so immensely high? It could be a genuine rating!

I personally saw Assassins Creed a firm notch lower, especially as it contained a repeated 4th generation of glitches. The blog post lights on several issues I had noticed on Gamespot, the first being that early reviews and ratings were less and less common. Consider this quote from Gamespot “We have no player reviews for EA Sports UFC yet“, which is fair enough as the game is not out until…… Yesterday! So that is possible, there is however also no review from Gamespot, which is in my book slightly unacceptable. Are they or are they not a gaming site? I know the E3 just ended, but not all writers went to the E3, did they? The same could be said for Sniper Elite 3, out next week. Not all game developers want their games reviewed early, but at this stage when loads of games are only reviewed after they get into the stores make me wonder why Gamespot is not taking a harder look on this. Over time I have seen several reviews that would not appear until after the games were in the store.

I have been a reviewer myself for 13 years, published in several magazines. In one high point of my ‘career’ I wrote 18 pages in one issue (which was a unique event), which might have been overdoing it a little. For the most, I always wrote positive reviews. As I had at the most space to write about 2-3 games, I had to choose the good ones. I had no intention wasting space on a 30% game if I only had 3-4 pages to write about.

I have seen other opinions from people writing that the 100% game does not exist. Yes, they do, but they are rare moments!

I have given (as far as I remember it) two 100% scored games. The first one was Ultima 7: the Black Gate. When it was released in 1992 in the age of floppies, 640 Kb computers and extended memory, this game was so high above what was released in those days, it was intense. The water views, the houses, the characters. This game was ahead of the games pack by a lot. The second one was Neverwinter Nights. It was released in 2002. This game took RPG in a visible, creative and story based level unlike before. The creation set was just the icing of a very impressive cake. I still regard these two games as bright lights showing the way to game developer as possibilities on how high the quality of a game could go. There were others, but they got a 90%+ rating. Games like System Shock that even, if re-released today, would likely become greater hits then what they were when they were initially launched.

Let’s get back to the issue. I cannot tell how true the blog was. I do however question the influence that is implied in the article on reviewers. I think that GTA-5 is a good game (not my choice of game) and 90% is a view of the reviewer, as was the 75% for Ratchet and Clank. Is the review far below our expectation less value than the one reviewed higher? I have always loved the Insomniac games (I have the bulk of them), which makes me wonder what to make of the ‘star destroyer’ piece and more important are the high reviews too high, the low too low and where do we base the comparison on?

The quote “New management has no idea how to deal with games editorial,” is another matter. A game is software, which means we look at the quality, the play value and the content. Is there a reason to debate Infamous Second Son at 80% when we get 15 hours of play time? Yet, Thief was only granted 60% (which was too low in my mind). A reviewer writes in his (or her) own street of passion, and in my street the games like Ultima, Mass Effect would end up with a high score compared to GTA-5 (which was not my cup of tea). However, no matter what my view is, over the timeline of games reviewed there would be a consistent view, and as such, some will value my views, some will value the view of Carolyn Petit. In the end, reviewers, not unlike columnists will have their own distinct styles and choices which they voice. I believe true reviewers will keep a fair view towards games, even towards games they do not like.

If Gamespot as implied by some has become a mere vessel for advertisement and basic information, then what value is there? The quote “I agree with Gamespot, they use to be good but have gotten far worse” is one that I have seen growing for some time now. I wonder why CBS Interactive is letting, what could be a powerful trademark, slip into something that just seems to become below average. I do not think it is just the people. I immensely enjoyed Johnny Chiodini when he was making Feedbackula (still a shame it got scrapped), Jess McDonell, gaming goddess, wearer of the coolest gaming T-shirts and bringer of excellent news in an upbeat way and there is Cameron Robinson with his Reality Check. They all bring video news in interesting ways. Gamespot also has its share of writers, which makes me wonder why CBS is not taking much harder stance on protecting and ensuring the value of the Gamespot Trademark and the issues that are at hand as I see them. Getting back to Cameron Robinson, you should watch his video “Surprising Facts About Video Games You Probably Didn’t Know” and it only gives a lot more question marks in regards to the implied ‘buckling’ of reviewers to the pressure by the software houses. Is it true? I cannot tell as the only name that keeps coming up is Jeff Gerstmann but the numbers that Cameron Robinson brought states that gaming sales is outperforming the US box office numbers, giving additional power to the question why CBS is not stepping up to the plate fast and immediate.

In the end games are product, they have a represented value and they rely on ‘good’ views. The consumer relies on a trusted portal where they can get reliable information from those with a view on that industry, simply because most people only get to spend money on a game once and they want the best game for them. If Gamespot loses the credibility, then others will step up to the plate, because one does not ignore a market that surpasses the 100 billion dollar mark this year, others will come and take the Gamespot share, whether they will or not will mostly rely on the actions of CBS Interactive.

 

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