Gamespot: How To Destroy Your Brand And Alienate People

SMS Text

Digg (and the rest of the internet) was ablaze this weekend as gamers took to message boards to protest the firing of Gamespot’s long-time reviewer, Jeff Gerstmann. The incident not only had broad ramifications for the whole game enthusiast industry, it also demonstrated how badly the P.R. division of a major company like CNET, owner of Gamespot, can completely melt down, destroying one of its precious brands in the process.

RSS Readers: click here for the video
If you haven’t been paying attention these past few days, here is the basic story, told largely through rumors and unattributed, though plausible, sources: Gerstmann, a 10-year veteran of the industry, was abruptly fired last Thursday for a negative review of “Kane and Lynch,” a game published by Eidos Interactive. Eidos had purchased hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads on the site and was apparently able to use the contract to pressure CNET into forcing Gerstmann out of a job.
I personally found out about the news on Thursday night from gaming blog Kotaku. By Friday morning it had made several other gaming blogs and by the end of the weekend, the story, along with many blogs discussing the story, had hit the front page of Digg. CNET allowed hours to pass by as people continued to spread word of the firings, creating incensed users everywhere. They issued no formal statement and made no attempt to defuse the situation. Eventually, they came out with what I refer to as a “non-denial denial,” in which they made no reference to the controversial situation, resorting to generalized statements about how CNET is a bastion of “unbiased reviews.”
This blog has discussed the benefits of transparency before, though this incident shows how far many companies have to go to realize its benefits. CNET obviously hoped that no one would find out about the details of the firing and thus, had no plan for what to do when word got out. But in the highly networked world of gaming sites, this was a foolish assumption. Moreover, they believed that firing Jeff Gerstmann would win them the battle. But when the information was unleashed, they lost the battle and the war. In the short-term, hundreds have reportedly cancelled their Gamespot subscriptions. Some are threatening boycotts. The company lost untold numbers of loyal fans, many of whom had been with the site for years.
In the long term, it’s important to remember that the game enthusiast industry is predicated upon a belief that there is a separation between game publisher and game reviewer. Whether that belief is well-justified or not, what the P.R. staff at CNET failed to realize is that once that illusion has been shattered, there is no going back. Unless a public apology followed by a major overhaul in executive staff occurs, every Gamespot review from this point on will be tainted by this controversy. And that’s brand destruction that isn’t worth all the “Kane and Lynch” ads in the world.
[Image from Destructoid]

Cameron Olthuis

Cameron Olthuis

Cameron Olthuis

Latest posts by Cameron Olthuis (see all)

Get the latest news from Search Engine Journal!
We value your privacy! See our policy here.
  • Dustin Brewer

    With the full dynamics of the internet and social media almost nothing is kept a secret for long.

  • Vancouver Island SEO

    When I first read this story it just blew me away. I would have just had another review redo the review in a positive light and rap the reviews knuckles because the publisher had been a sponsor. But to flat out fire someone over something so trivial, just wow!

  • Erik

    It will be interesting to see if this has any real impact on Gamespot. I’m a frequent visitor and it is usually the site I stop at first when I go online and am at longest.
    Unless they offer some formal explanation or apology, they will become my second or third site for gaming news.

  • Quinton Figueroa

    GameSpot is one of the best web sites out there and CNET is a super basass company. It will be interesting to see how this decision plays out. Great post :).

  • Fronz

    Thanks for linking! Glad you enjoyed our new banner 🙂

  • dan

    who’s making the shirts?

  • Will

    I wonder if it was even legal to fire him. I some how doubt he singed a contact that said his reviews must be positive. WTF, I would sue if they fired me over this BS!
    Anyhow, yeah what a bunch of idiots, they obviously did not think this one though, but servers them right. I canceled my subscription as well, as did both of my brothers!!

  • Gab “SEO ROI” Goldenberg

    I wanted to find out about the Harry Potter game. Googled it. Got a big review site #1. The review gave it a 7.8, emphasized the graphics and said it was decent. The site also had plenty of ads on it. Saw another indie review giving it a 4.6, but discounted it, figuring it was too harsh on small issues, especially given the other review.
    Rented the game, largely on the strength of the big-site review. Fun for a bit, then it got incredibly repetitive and sucked terribly. Talk about hurting your brand. EA’s ads bought that review and it’s something I’m going to watch out for in the future, on review sites.

  • Eamon

    Thanks for this. I never realized that social networking could be as powerful as this (nor, I guess, did CNET).

  • Eamon

    After reading this article i think i am going to take much more of an interest in the power / reach of social networking.

  • Reginald

    This post is a good example of the kind of impact online business can have on any business that decides to swim in these shark infested waters.
    It’s great when they are please; however, should you be targeted for whatever reason, as a business, you may not be able to recuperate from the repercussions.
    This is an interesting read. It should compel its readers to some provocative thought.
    Thanks for the information.

  • ليبيا

    Thank you for this wonderful and distinctive theme
    I waited for the next Avaialable