30 November 2007

Jeff Gerstmann and why Ziff Davis pwns CNet

Yesterday, Jeff Gerstmann, Editorial Director of CNet's GameSpot and (Since the departure of the huge asset that was Rich Gallup) host of GameSpot's Live Weekly video show On The Spot. Gerstmann ascended to the role of head honcho at GameSpot following the departure of Greg Kasavin, former Editor-In-Chief.

He took over hosting of GameSpot's On The Spot as he was formerly Rich's number two on that show. After a shaky first episode, he got it together and along with Ryan Davis managed to put together a generally good show.

Jeff has been a fixture at GameSpot for 10 years. He is GameSpot. They put him in charge and allowed him to renovate the review system in a bold, abstract way which - despite some unpopularity amongst certain quarters of the GameSpot community - was generally seen as a pretty good system. I have heard reviewers wondering what everyone's problem with it was pointing out that movie reviews carry half as many different possible scores and they are not criticised for it.

As a critic myself, I agree. As someone who has twice held positions similar to Gerstmann's role, I agree. In fact, in that position, I used scales with half the GameSpot system. Never hurt us.

Why then was Jeff Gerstmann, a key CNet and GameSpot asset, who had been appointed the leader and face of GameSpot, summarily fired on the day he was due to appear live in front of millions of gamers worldwide?

Current information points to one thing. Kane and Lynch.

Gerstmann gave Eidos's Kane and Lynch a 6.0. Eidos, who had splashed out on an over-the-top advertising campaign on GameSpot (Which mimicked that given to Halo 3, an easily more deserving title), were none too pleased.

However, apparently this only prompted a change to link the adverts instead to the game's site and not the review.

What seems to be fact is that Gerstmann's video review (Below), which does little more than summarise the points of his text review in his usual casual, likable and irreverent style, was the last straw for CNet's paymasters.



The corporate overlords that run CNet have pulled the video review from GameSpot's site and Gerstmann is now no longer a GameSpot employee.

GameSpot posted no reviews, did not broadcast On The Spot and did indeed do very little of anything yesterday. Rumours abound that the staff are "skittish" - they all seem to have been very much Jeff's men for one thing. For another, they likely approved the review since that is how GameSpot roll.

Furthermore, they can likely see their readers slipping through their fingers. Their journalistic integrity has been wiped away. CNet has sent the message that GameSpot reviews can be bought, editors fired at an advertisers request...What's next?

Furthermore, Gerstmann's exit follows an exodus of key people from the GameSpot team. First to go was Carrie Gouskos. Gouskos was de facto number 2 to Gallup in the GameSpot Live team, at least to the public (Gallup answered to Ryan MacDonald). She was one of the 3 faces of On the Spot (Along with Gallup and Gerstmann) and ran relief for Gallup during live events like E3.

She left to work on the development of Warhammer Online.

After Gouskos, the next big name to leave the GameSpot team (One who went to work at EA on Command & Conquer 3 - and presumably its sequels etc.), was Editor-In-Chief Greg Kasavin. Greg was the boss, He was very much in charge. Respected and liked by all.

Following his departure, there was no clear leader. 2 men, Gerstmann and MacDonald, appeared to have a power share. Gerstmann controlled Editorial content, whilst MacDonald was in charge of GameSpot Live. It was a departure, but the team worked.

The last big name to go, before Jeff, was of course Rich Gallup. Gallup, the face of GameSpot left without a job to go to. He literally walked, apparently to get married back on the East Coast.

If you're a suspicious guy like me, this makes no sense.

Gerstmann was a huge asset, Gallup was huge talent who they let go - seemingly without a fight. But more pressing than these curiosities is the why.

With 3 key people leaving and one of the absolute most important being fired, it begs the question.

What's really going on inside CNet? Did Kasavin and Gallup Leave because they were unhappy with their corporate overlords? It now seems conceivable. Think about it, there could be a huge amount of turmoil in there.

Gallup might have been happy to walk, unhappy with conditions. Kasavin might have been tired of the way CNet was treating him. Gerstmann stood his ground. They shot him down without a second thought.

No other explanation is logical than this: CNet and GameSpot are bitter enemies. Why else would CNet offload the popular head of GameSpot, alienating staff and fans, with the only reasonable explanation anyone can find being a video review of an advertised game. Without warning. On the day he was due to host the site's flagship show?

Until CNet provide answers, this is the view I'm sticking with.

Another key matter: Who replaces Gerstmann?

Assuming half the staff doesn't simply quit in disgust, CNet will likely continue their habit of promoting from within GameSpot. But then, who can they pick? The popular choice would be Alex Navarro. But Navarro is Jeff's man through and through. I doubt they would name him.

As is Ryan Davis, the probable second choice. Brian Eckberg would be best left to sports, to liaise with SportsGamer.Com, which GameSpot now own. So who could they put in Jeff's place?

Noone other than those 3 is an obvious choice. Brad Shoemaker is a wild card candidate, but that would seem to entail promoting over the heads of others and at any rate, he too appears to be a Jeff man. Even simply expanding MacDonald's duties is not going to work - he carpooled to work with Jeff and Alex every day, he's "one of them" from CNet's point of view.

So CNet will have to name someone new. They'll either poach someone from 1Up or IGN, or else name someone from CNet. Should the latter happen, make no mistake, GameSpot is screwed. We've already discussed the possible friction, the staff wouldn't like a corporate move like that were the friction real.

Update: CNet opted to name Ricardo Torres, a senior staffer who'd taken a slightly backroom role in recent times as Jeff's de facto successor.

You might think I'm being melodramatic. But I'm deadly serious here. This is bad news.

Jeff is great. Check out his band here

I'll be watching Tournament TV tonight. After that, I'm going to have to consider leaving GameSpot in protest unless some good explanation is given for this mess.

Jens Out

60 comments:

jcc said...

Very well written post. I feel exactly as you wrote. Its very sad to see what has happened to Jeff. I hope we hear where he lands. I would definitely be interested in knowing that. One person you didnt mention was Bob Colayco [profile on gamespot: http://www.gamespot.com/pages/profile/index.php?user=bobc
He has some excellent things to say about Jeff and the situation. I've been a big fan of the Hot Spot and was saddened when Bob left but Rich was the backbone of the podcast. I would includ him in with the other 3 you mentioned. Those 4 people were the personality of the show. I do like Brad but the rest dont really do it for me.

I have very mixed feeling about CNet right now. However, I do thing I will be doing my surfing elsewhere. REgarding the Hot Spot, I'll keep listening for now. Im hopeful that they can recoop some of the magic the show once had. If not, I'll be looking elsewhere for my gaming info.

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