Editorial: Questionable Business Practices?
Ever since the GameSpot debacle hit, we've been wondering who the real culprit is. Bear in mind the following is all our own opinion and even possible conjecture, but we have to conclude there are some publishers out there who might utilize questionable business practices. Eidos appears to be one of them, but if they are, we hardly believe they're the only ones. So perhaps the real question is, how deep and how far does this run? How often do the big sites like GameSpot and IGN face the conundrum of either satisfying advertisers or readers? And should that even be a question?
Our experiences with Eidos, while nowhere near as drastic, haven't been much better. Back when we were covering their E3 2004 showcase, Arnold called their featured game, 25 to Life, the "epitome of mediocrity". Immediately after, he received a rather scathing e-mail from Eidos for his impressions, saying PSXE "never covers" their games or news. They also claimed they had sent us plenty of product in the past and tried to contact us about it, but we never saw any such product. They promptly removed us from their press list (which didn't affect us in the slightest because as far as we were concerned, we weren't on it, anyway), and that was that. As this was several years ago, we won't try to claim we were entirely in the right, but let's just say we clashed. At best, it was a miscommunication.
We don't intend to speak badly about Eidos or their business practices, but in combining our experiences with what just happened at GameSpot, we have to say something. If we understand the story correctly, Jeff Gerstmann gave Kane & Lynch: Dead Men a flat 6.0, and evidently, Eidos wasn't too happy with that. They had clearly dropped a sizable chunk of cash in plastering GameSpot with ads for the game, and then they get a less-than-positive review that won't prompt anyone to purchase the title. Now, as for GameSpot, this isn't the first potential example of advertising bias: for starters, examine this GameRankings listing for Mark Ecko's Getting Up. As you can see, the critic average sits at 72% while GameSpot - strangely enough - awarded it a very high 8.7. But why? This doesn't gel with the rest of GameSpot's reviews, or how they compare to other sources.
For the longest time, GameSpot was always accused of underscoring their titles, and even though they've relented a bit in recent years, they still tend to hand out scores that end up on the lower end of the reviewer spectrum. Getting Up is a full 1.5 points higher than the critical average, and that includes a 7.0 from IGN. Why is this significant? Because, if you recall, GameSpot was inundated with massive ads for that game; the situation was extraordinarily similar to the current one with Kane & Lynch. Of course, the game was published by Atari, not Eidos, so it's more an example of the Internet's biggest video game site sacrificing journalistic integrity for advertising bucks. What other conclusion can one reach? All of this leads avid gamers to believe that if they start seeing major ads on certain sites for a certain game, they won't be able to trust the review. ...and that's really not a good position for the industry to be in.
Sarah Cain, a representative of CNet, has recently come out and said this to Joystiq-
“We do not terminate employees based on external pressure from advertisers,” she said. Okay, then why was he fired? Why is it such a big secret? And why is Eidos not allowing any discussion on the matter in their official forums? They've called some of the replies "ugly spam," but have essentially refused to address the situation. From where I come from, that's an admission of guilt, but hey, what do I know? I can only go by the information available.
We are hoping, despite all the evidence acquired so far, that there is more to this story than Gerstmann being fired because he wouldn't change his review, and Eidos was threatening to withdraw advertising money. We hate to believe this is the whole and complete explanation; perhaps Jeff violated some company policy we're not aware of. Or maybe there were other factors involved. But if that is the whole story, than we've got a problem. This means super-huge sites with game ads are immediately going to lose legitimacy. The GameSpot readers are clearly pissed off, and they have every right to be. So will GS or Eidos respond to this? Can we get a reply from another publisher regarding this mess? How often has this been going on? We suddenly have a lot of unpleasant questions that need answers, and unfortunately, we have to realize one thing above all else:
The industry has come a long way in a relatively short span of time, and that growth has been absolutely astounding. But there's always a downside; to steal a line from Poison, "every rose has its thorn." And this is a big f-ing thorn.
12/1/2007 Ben Dutka