The story that’s raging all over the internet is the sacking of Jeff Gerstmann. It’s not a new story by any means. The idea of publishers threatening to pull advertising for unfavourable reviews has been around for a long time now. Jeff is not the only person to fall foul of unhappy publishers either. Dan Hsu, editor of Electronic Gaming Monthly, has been warned by Ubisoft, Sony and Midway that EGM could be banned from covering their games should the magazine continue to slate their releases. What does this mean for the gaming community though?
In reading through the various posts on the topic it’s clear that gamers are a bit bewildered by the whole thing. The tendency is to just avoid publications that have proven themselves to be untrustworthy. The news on the street has been circulating that the executives at CNet could be blamed for Gerstmann’s axing. One particular executive is in question as he has allegedly left a trail of destruction across the publishing community. The recent firing of Peter Hammond, a film critic for the US Maxim, for altering his reviews in order to please movie executives has caused quite a stir and has been linked to what happened at Gamespot. Steve Colvin, who recently left his job as president of Dennis Publishing in the US (publishers of Maxim) to take up a position as Executive Vice President at CNet, is the executive in question.
Colvin left Dennis and Maxim got a new editor-in-chief who began to clean up shop. This meant the departure of Hammond. This happens after Gamespot (now under Colvin’s remit at CNet) fired one of their long-standing and most respected reviewers under dubious circumstances. Now as no-one has actually been able to come out and say what happened with Gerstmann the rumour-mill has been working overtime but the most likely reason for his sacking seems to be Eidos’ displeasure at the Kane & Lynch review (embedded at the bottom of this post). It seems that once again integrity has been supplanted by financial gain.
Gerstmanngate, as it has been dubbed on the net, not only brings to light the pressure that publishers can put on the gaming press but also the pressure they exert on developers to make their deadlines. Eidos in particular have a bad track record as far a pressure on developers goes. The problems with Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness and the subsequent sales of the franchise and Core highlight just how badly things can go when a game is released prematurely.
Despite this the trend of recent times has been for games to be rushed out to meet deadlines. This means they’re often cut short or poorly tested and generally put out in an unfinished state. Gamers get disappointed that the titles that they’ve been waiting for turn out to be lame ducks. There are obvious exceptions; developers with enough clout or in-house distribution who can say: “the game will be ready when it’s ready and not a minute before, even if we have to push back the release.” Half-Life 2 might have been a different proposition had Valve not taken their time. The difference between KOTOR and KOTOR 2 is noticable given that Bioware has a big enough reputation that Lucasarts could not pressure them into releasing early. Obsidian, however, despite it’s links with the Baldur’s Gate team succumbed to pressure and the ending of KOTOR 2 suffered heavily as a result.
Do games publishers have too much power? Perhaps. There is a clear trend of publishers putting profit ahead of quality. The examples given show that they are more than ready to flex their financial muscle to get favourable press. The very hint of executives siding with advertisers rather than protecting the writing staff that bring in the readers, must send a shiver up the spine of all honest games writers. These are worrying signs that games journalism could become the preserve of sycophants and yes-men.
Things are still in balance at the minute though. There are plenty of magazines and websites out there that are not afraid to be honest and they remain shining pillars for gamers to rely on.
Here’s what Gerstmann had to say about Kane & Lynch.