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Weekly News We Care About Wrap Up – 11.30.07

posted on November 30th, 2007 by jay

Gamespot editor allegedly fired for giving a bad review
Jeff Gerstmann was supposedly let go because he gave Kane and Lynch a mediocre review (recent updates indicate the firing was a culmination of multiple reviews that angered sponsors). The story goes, Eidos was paying CNET a ton of cash to promote the title and threatened to pull future ads because of the review. It’s true that when this story broke yesterday, the Gamespot site was covered head to toe in stupid K&L ads. The people who say the firing happened because of the review range from Penny Arcade (who confirm the comic isn’t simply a joke in their forum), to a freelance Gamespot writer (who gave Shenmue a bad review…breath in…), to mods in the Gamespot forum who said things like – if we tell you what happened we will be fired, and don’t blame us, it’s all CNETs fault.

First of all, many people use this news to confirm “conspiracy theories.” That the idea that huge amounts of money changing hands can influence integrity is considered a conspiracy theory is absurd. Corporations are corrupt, the government is corrupt, why on Earth would game reviews be impervious to the pressures of power and money? Aren’t people who believe no one has ever been bought the conspiracy theorists?

Assuming this stuff happens is still less painful than finding out it actually did happen. We can add this travesty to the growing list – changed review scores (1up, Gamespot), reviews written from previews (Spider Man on PGNX), stealth edits (Assassin’s Creed review on 1up), front page stories purchased (confirmed by EGM to happen), and embargoes on reviews if the score isn’t high enough (Assassins Creed). Take a moment to think about the piles of dirt insiders have that they cannot reveal because they enjoy eating.

Jeff seems to be saying, “You’re next!”

I wish this were simply a sign of game journalism’s infancy, but lapses of integrity seem to be common place across the board. Pardon the soap box, but the real problem is that we are simply too short sighted and lazy to really care for more than a week. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been outraged by the government or a corporation and done absolutely nothing about it beyond giving them my continued support. I’ve pledged to never go to Gamestop again at least three times. I’ve pledged to bomb the White House at least twice. Yet I am too pacified by the convenience of life as I know it to do anything productive (assuming explosions are productive).

People say I’m being ridiculous for refusing to buy a 360 until they all work properly. Somehow it’s one protest I’ve managed to stick to, but once I have a few hundred extra bucks will I be as strong? And why do so few other people mind that Microsoft is basically selling them a time bomb? Some web forums discussed ways they could stand up to Gamespot and Eidos. A lot of people were willing to stop going to CNET owned sites (I will have to ween myself off Metacritic) but very few could cope with not buying Eidos games. Deus Ex 3 is more important than taking a stand.

So what are we to do about a lack of integrity and a lack of responsibility to customers? I figure I’ll pick which 360 I want on Amazon and hope I make some money for Christmas.

Changing direction, there were many stupid people celebrating Gerstmann’s termination. This seems like an excellent litmus test for fanboys. If you value a stranger attaching a good number to Twilight Princess more than reading reviews that haven’t been bought, you are a fanboy. And an asshole. And quite frankly one of the things wrong with the world. You are bitter, spiteful, and have arbitrary ethics based on furthering your own agenda. You are also ugly and I hate you.

Finally, a lot of people have said the Eidos is just acting in its best interests and should bear no burden of the blame. I am a radical hippy who believes companies should not do as much as possible tear apart families and destroy the earth within legal bounds. A company that doesn’t respect freedom of opinion does not respect you or me. It’s amazing how frequently self declared patriots defend a corporations right to opinion and speech. If the ideals of our government are beautiful, why should we not expect them to permeate throughout all of our society?

Keep in mind blame is easy to throw around and requires no effort on my part. Thus, blaming is much easier than any actual protest.

The other side of the argument.

ESRB rating breakdown for systems
These pie charts are intriguing but ultimately somewhat misleading. Sheer numbers would be more useful than percentages because a system with 10% Mature games can have more Mature titles than a system with 20% Mature games.

The Wii and PS3 breakdown jumped out at me. Nintendo’s console has a huge amount of games rated Everyone. This can somewhat be tempered by the fact that it’s currently winning the hardware race and is thus acting as the garbage can of the industry. Crappy licensed games and shovel ware make up a significant portion of the Wii’s titles and those class of games are almost always aimed at 5 year olds.

Still, shovel ware is not a sufficient explanation for the Wii’s percentage of Everyone games. The PS2 had more Mature rated games than the Wii despite being the big system last generation and being home to hundreds of terrible licensed games for retarded children. If Nintendo is interested in changing their ratings breakdown, they need to court more third party exclusives and more third party support in general. Of course, they may not want more Mature rated games. They seem to have turned their “kiddy” image into an “everyone” image and it’s paying off for them.

On the opposite end of things, Sony has more Mature games this generation. This can possibly be explained by the fact that the system is still in its infancy – it’s been said many times that general consumers adopt a console much later than the hardcore, and the hardcore are more interested in violent, bloody games. But the trend may also feed into Sony’s apparent goal of not being the popular console maker this generation. As I’ve said before, the PS2 and PS1 sold because they were positioned as the everymans console. A low cost combined with breadth of games appealed to people across all demographics. A lineup heavy on Mature titles seems to follow Sony’s new angle of alienating the mass market.

How’d that work out for you, Bernie?

Trilogy Studios hires Satan
Just kidding, they hired Hitler. I mean Bernie Stolar.

Nintendo has no plans to increase Western development
I will take the unpopular position on this one – Good, I am glad. Nintendo seems to expand very slowly and deliberately. Rare and Retro work/ed because top guys from Japan seemed to have a good amount of input in the design process. Talent is something that must be taught sometimes, so the idea that they should use their mountains of yen to hire great people only sort of works. That said, they should probably be expanding slightly faster than they are. Not Sega “we buy any shitty company for no reason” fast, but more than one new developer every few years fast.

Also, I like Japanese games. If anything, more companies should make explicitly Japanese games, not the other way around.

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  1. Pingback: Why we can’t trust reviews from big companies | GAMEFURY on July 26, 2009
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5 Comments

  1. Christian said on November 30, 2007:

    The West stabs at thee

  2. Matt said on December 1, 2007:

    This Gertsmann story will be one of the biggest stories of the year, as it is basically revealing one of the ugliest sides of video game journalism: under the table dealings from advertisers. Many suspected it happened, but this is the first example that basically proves it. Even though it was probably a culmination of different reasons, one of them was giving Kane and Lynch a 6.0, and blasting it in his video review (which had some pretty harsh words, and gave Eidos a reason to be upset). I wouldn’t expect this story to go away anytime soon, and earns my ZOMG Moment award.

  3. Matt said on December 3, 2007:

    You know what’s really interesting with this whole situation? Reviewers put themselves into this position by continuing to stand by an out-dated and dangerous tradition: numbered scores for reviews. Why did Eidos get upset? Because Kane and Lynch was given a 6.0. From a consumer’s standpoint, a 6.0 doesn’t fly. Most gamers see a 7 or lower and turn their heads. Eidos knows this, and is upset that their only big game for the Holiday season was given a thumbs down. And what’s worse is that they spent a reported hundreds of thousands of dollars marketing the title. Of course they’re going to be upset with a 6.0. This is business. They don’t care about what the review said. They know people don’t read them, looking only to the score for their verdict. And when they know their financial forecast will change all because their game got 3 points less than what they really wanted it to be, they’re going to ask for blood, pulling up stakes ASAP. And why is GameSpot as big as it is? Ad money.

    Now, take that numbered score out of the formula, and I’m willing to bet none of this would have happened. A study that was recently published basically proves that games with higher review scores tend to sell better than the ones with lower scores. Sites like Metacritic are popular tools for gamers to see what games to buy, and seeing a 6.0 among the 9’s and 10’s makes it very hard to justify getting a game like Kane and Lynch.

    Basically, reviewers play a part in this little play that we’re watching unfold. Especially GameSpot, as they tend to attach lower scores for their games (looking at that site for the last few years, I’ve always felt they gave games 1-1.5 points lower scores than other publications). This was bound to happen, and will continue to happen unless scores are taken out of the equation. I could go on such a huge rant on why scores do more harm than good, but all I need to say is that this Gertsmann situation was born from all those reviewers’ choice to assign games numbers when writing reviews. It’s amazing it’s taken them this long to see what would really happen. Taking out review scores would give consumers a better picture on what the game really is. Assassin’s Creed is a great example, where people didn’t want to play the game at all, fully based on the rampant 7’s it got. But if anyone had bothered to read those same reviews, they would have seen that most reviewers still suggested for them to play it, that it deserved to be experienced, even when it was filled with flaws.

    It’s like reviewers know what will happen when they assign those scores, but do little to shield themselves from the fallout that will occur when a publisher finds out what’s going to happen when consumers see that two digit number. If reviewers were smart, they would have dropped that silly tradition and forced people to read the review. And if that ever did happen, writers would actually have to focus on their writing skills before they could call themselves a true reviewer, as some of them think a number is all you need to call themselves one.

    Everyone has a hand in the Great Chain.

  4. TrueTallus said on December 3, 2007:

    But scores are what people expect, Matt. I’m with you that Eidos wouldn’t have cared THAT much if Jeff had kept his review number free (though they might have still been pretty upset about the video review), but if that were the case I can’t imagine enough people would care about Gamespot for it to matter. People like things simpler, and as reflexively indexical critters, humans like to make categories. What could be simpler and more spreadsheet friendly than review scores? The popularity of sites like Metacritic can’t be a fluke, and I’m convinced that numbered reviews are what the world wants- regardless of the damage they potentially do.

    With that in mind, I’m not sure what a forward thinking website that aspires to prominence (and the resulting add revenue) can do to combat the inherent flaws of scoring a game, beyond trying to make sure the scores it does give are earnest. Honest reviewers (like Gerstman) have to work with what they’ve got (unless they want to start some kind of lame videogame blog, and who wants to do that? :) and hope that journalistic integrity will help consumers make the best of the situation as it is. It seems like taking a stand by not turning in a score with the write-up would do little more than get the author immediately and quietly replaced.

  5. jay said on December 3, 2007:

    TT is unfortunately right. Readers want scores so publications that want readers give out scores. Even I scour Metacritic on a daily basis (though not recently, down with CNET!) while simultaneously giving similar lectures on the evil of scores and short attention spans.

    This seems like a decent place to mention I am thinking about including a prominent summary with each new game review once the site is redone. Still no scores, but something to scroll to and read over to get the gist of the author’s opinion on the game. I can’t tell if this is selling out or not. Nor can I tell what I’d be buying in to if it is in fact selling out.

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