November 30, 2007

If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.

I'm beginning to feel obsolete. I don't mean because of my readership of four. I mean, mostly, that I'm talking about three-year-old games when what I really want to talk about is CNET firing Gamespot editor-in-chief Jeff Gerstmann for his Kane & Lynch review -- a 6.0 that wasn't quite in harmony with the massive advertising dollars publisher Eidos sunk into the Gamespot front page.

This comes on the heels of Ubisoft apparently throwing a hissy fit over Eurogamer's Assassins' Creed 7 score, and withdrawing all advertising from the site. It's not wholly surprising that in the game industry this is how business is done. It's a little surprising that Eidos, whose one big hit long since descended into comic irrelevance, can still throw their weight around like they're the Corleone family. (Incidentally, my reasons to take less and less of an interest in Deus Ex 3 are piling up -- see previous entry.)

What really burns me up is that this is all over something so insignificant. Like Eidos gives a shit what Gerstmann says, they care about the number. And, by the way, so does everyone else. Review scores. What other industry has this absurd preoccupation with an arbitrary two digit number? Who among those deeming Gerstmann's firing long overdue for giving Twilight Princess an 8.8 (an 8.8? be still my heart!) can recall a single word from that review?

Writing in games (ostensibly the subject of this blog) is not a very popular field, but writing about games? Pissing in the wind. The whole system would run just as well were journalists replaced with random number generators. The content of reviews doesn't matter. All that matters to the wider gaming public is whether the review has a politically acceptable score and whether or not it asserts the superiority of any specific gaming console. Even a less reactionary commentator like Penny Arcade's Gabe is gaining a reputation as an anti-review advocate or something equally asinine. What a completely thankless profession.

I love games. I don't like this industry at all.


Steve gaynor said...

On the other hand, I feel that if you get the chance to play Kane & Lynch on the PC, it's well worth your time. I'm going to post a massive spiel in its praise sometime in the near future, but I just hate seeing the 6.0 floating around, especially since Gerstmann clearly based his bile towards the game on its not being a juvenile wish fulfillment fantasy, and instead dealing with "characters that are impossible to care about" because they're actually flawed, morally ambiguous individuals. I've never been impressed by Gerstmann, and regardless of whether Eidos "got him fired," I'm glad he's gone.

I will admit though that, having played both the console and PC versions of the game, the console version does have flawed controls. The PC version is much superior as the game was clearly designed and balanced for mouse and keyboard but, what's this? GameSpot didn't bother to review the PC release. Interesting.

Duncan said...

First I just wanted to clarify generally that I wrote this post while the story was still developing and I was pretty pissed. Since then it's become more evident that it's not Eidos but CNet who really crossed the line.

I'm not a fan of Gerstmann's writing either, although I haven't read GameSpot regularly in years. I'm not glad he's gone at all though, as it sets the completely disturbing precedent of letting advertising revenue compromise editorial integrity to the extent that people will lose their jobs if they don't play ball. Your criticisms of Gerstmann's review are completely fair, but the relative merits of his reviews weren't why he was fired. Under these circumstances I can't imagine how Gerstmann's departure could possibly improve the quality of GameSpot's journalism.

Keira Peney said...

The problem is, those two digit numbers are so inflated. On a 1-10 scale, you would expect 5 to be average. An 8 would be great. A 9 or 10 would be completely blown away, stellar and life-changing. But pretty much every game with any production values/budget gets at least an 8. And I mean, really, what does 9.2 tell us as opposed to 9.6?

Duncan said...

The "7-9 scale" is sadly pretty standard these days. Everyone's acclimated to that now and knows they shouldn't to buy a game that's scored 6 or lower. I guess it does work in a completely broken sort of way. Shacknews might be the biggest site currently writing unscored reviews, and unfortunately they don't do very many of them. This will never happen but part of me dreams that the industry at large will follow that trend. That's not so much to bring game journalism in line with "serious" journalism since other entertainment reviews all use five-star metrics, but game journalism has abused scores so much that they should be taken away.

King_Rat said...

The problem, in my mind, is that the video game industry is falling even more swiftly than ever into the black hole of business.

It's becoming all about the Benjamins, baby.

When big ad-dollars can make the call as to what we see or read concerning a game's virtues or faults, it's time to realize just where we're headed.

Hollywood and the music industry are the only venues for sell-outs these days. CNet proved that one big time. Other notable examples include (but are not limited to) EA, EA Sports, EA Games, EA Athletic Supporters, and, coming to stores nowhere near you in 2010 (in limited quantities), the EA Integrated Super Nin-Sony-XBox gaming platform.