Jeff Gerstmann, editor-in-chief of Giant Bomb, and John Davison, VP of Games Programming for CBS Interactive, live-streamed a conversation about Giant Bomb becoming a part of GameSpot today, explaining why Gerstmann would return to the company that fired him back in 2007. Discussions between Giant Bomb and GameSpot over the acquisition began last year, and the deal finally concluded yesterday.
Staffers from Giant Bomb were busy this afternoon moving into GameSpot offices. This has created much commentary in the fan community and in the industry, since back in 2007 multiple GameSpot staffers walked out in support of Gerstmann. Ironically, some of the staffers coming from Giant Bomb apparently are getting the same phone numbers they had when they worked for GameSpot before. One even had some 50 voicemails still in the system left over from when he used to work there back in 2007.
Gertsmann and Davison held the live video discussion in order to put some of the things from the past to rest. "We don't want to dredge up old wounds or anything like that; we want to put it behind us and show people we're very cool with this," explained Davison. The story has never been told before, since legally Gerstmann was unable to talk about being fired in 2007 due to non-disclosure agreements he signed at that time. Gerstmann told Davison at the beginning of their discussion that the story would have to come out if this deal was to go through, and Davison agreed to release Gerstmann from those non-disclosure agreements. (Davison has only been at GameSpot for 18 months, so he was not around when the firing occurred.)
"The developers who created Kane & Lynch: Dead Men later told Gerstmann that yeah, the game wasn't very good. 'Why don't you call up my bosses and tell them that?' said Gerstmann."
In 2007 GameSpot had a new management team in place who hadn't worked closely with an editorial team before. At the time, Gerstmann was editorial director with a primary responsibility for reviews, and he and his team had just rolled out a new review scoring system. There was a noticeable effect on GameSpot scores, which dropped about a full point on average from what they had been before. This didn't really come to Gerstmann's attention until he was called into a room to discuss the low scores for the latest Ratchet & Clank game, which had occasioned angry comments from the publisher. That created great concern among management about possible loss of revenue, but Gerstmann refused to change the review.
The issue seemed settled, but then Kane & Lynch: Dead Men came up for review and received a 6/10 score. The publisher of the game threatened to pull their advertising money, which happens from time to time in the business, according to Davison. In this case the publisher (Eidos) had been advertising the game heavily on the GameSpot site. Davison noted that the standard response to circumstances like this is to make sure there are no inaccuracies in the review, and just move forward and eventually it will blow over. In this case, the management team was not used to the standard operating procedure for game reviewers and thought that this situation represented a major crisis. The review went up, and things were tense around the office; multiple discussions took place about the review, but Gerstmann didn't budge.
There were no management moves immediately, but not long thereafter Gerstmann was taken by surprise when he was called into a room and terminated, effective immediately. The reason expressed to Gerstmann was that management felt they couldn't trust him in his role. "The management team buckled when faced with a lot of advertising dollars walking out the door," said Gerstmann. Penny Arcade picked up on the story, although they could only report rumors and speculation since Gerstmann couldn't talk about the incident. Gerstmann's phone started ringing off the hook, which eventually led to the formation of Giant Bomb. Shortly after Gerstmann's firing, there was an exodus of staffers who left GameSpot in response to the incident; many of them eventually went to work with Gerstmann at Giant Bomb.
The hardest part through all of this, Gerstmann noted, was being in a position where he couldn't say anything at all. Gerstmann felt bad that there was collateral damage from the storm of publicity and fan reaction. In the end, though, the managers who were responsible left GameSpot, and now Gerstmann is returning, so in a sense he's ultimately won.
In a final touch of irony, the developers who created Kane & Lynch: Dead Men later told Gerstmann that yeah, the game wasn't very good. "Why don't you call up my bosses and tell them that?" said Gerstmann. In the end, though, his fight over editorial control ended well for him, and he's back in the same place where he was when the saga began.
GamesIndustry International spoke with both Davison and Gerstmann, so we'll have more insights shortly.