Speaking with a Gamespot employee yesterday who wished to remain anonymous, we've learned that, despite the neutral nature of the Gamespot news item on the matter, the editorial staff is said to be "devastated, gutted and demoralised" over the firing of former editorial director Jeff Gerstmann. While the termination of Gerstmann, a respected fixture at Gamespot, was pitched to his remaining colleagues by management as a "mutual decision", it was anything but, we're told.
The confusion over the reasons for Gerstmann's termination, compounded with a lack of transparency from management has created a feeling of "irreconcilable despair" that may eventually lead to an exodus of Gamespot editorial staffers. "Our credibility," said the source, "is in ruins". Over the course of the previous days, a "large number of Gamespot editors" have expressed their intentions to leave. Tales of emotionally deflated peers, with no will to remain at the site, were numerous.
Unless cooler heads prevail or concerns are addressed, Gamespot could see "mass resignations", our source revealed.Rank and file employees of the Gamespot organisation are unaware of the real reasons behind Gerstmann's termination. Our source admitted that Eidos was less than pleased with the review scores for Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, but the team has "dealt with plenty of unhappy publishers before". Our contact stressed that "Money has never played a role in reviews before" and that "[Gamespot]has never altered a score". No pressure from management or sales has been exercised to remove or alter content, the source reiterated.
However, the source did speculate that disagreements between Gertsmann and VP of games Josh Larson may have been the root cause of the former being terminated. Larson, successor to former editor in chief Greg Kasavin, was described as out of touch with the employees who report to him. The VP is the one allegedly responsible for telling Gamespot editorial staff that it was Gerstmann's "tone" that was at the heart of his dismissal.
"People used to think of Larson as a sort of non-intrusive cousin of Bill Lumberg from Office Space—an empty suit who was more of an annoyance than a liability", our source told us. "Now, people are referring to him as the moron lieutenant from Aliens who sits around stunned, doing nothing as everyone drops dead around him".
The source also indicated that Larson's paraphrased assertion that "AAA titles deserve more attention" was not necessarily a hint that Gamespot's reviewers be more lenient to those titles. Instead, in light of some rather controversial review scores—for example, the 7.5 for Insomniac Games' Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction—the editorial team needed to be more conscious of accuracy and impact of its scores.
As for the now-pulled video of review, it appears the reasons for it's removal are less nefarious than assumed. "Jeff showed up late. It was thrown together quickly, the sound sucked, there was only footage from the first level of the game—it was a mess", our source said. We were told that the redacting of the clip was based on a producer's decision and not a demand from upper management.
However, rumoured perception from management that Gerstmann's work had become sloppier, more flippant and smacked of a celebrity attitude may have been solidified by the questionable review.
And the removal of the Kane & Lynch site ads, following initial reports? A reflexive action taken by the sales team, a move that may have been executed too late.
What was accurate, according to the Gamespot staffer, was the account of user "gamespot" at sister site Valleywag. The anonymous blow-by-blow "could have been written by a stenographer", indicating that it perfectly captured the sequence of events and emotional landscape at the company—one of confusion, fear and anger.
The overflowing emotions, combined with a lack of transparency from CNET and Gamespot management has lead the full-time editorial staff to near mutiny. Some feel the site's brand has been irrevocably tarnished, that the controversy is "a cataclysmic event in Gamespot history."
At this point, editors at Gamespot seem most frustrated that CNET management isn't listening to their concerns. Poor decision making has been and continues to be a sore spot, with a CNET internal investigation into Gamespot's review practices and code of ethics—one handled by outsider Jai Singh, editor in chief at News.com—adding to that frustration.
Our Gamespot source pointed out that during the course of the week, we may see a more human, more revealing version of the story, as editorial staff will address the situation in podcasts and videos. If parent company CNET will respond to editorial requests for greater transparency of the situation, a move that may help repair the mental health of staffers and the bruised credibility of Gamespot itself, remains to be seen.