Gamespot: How To Destroy Your Brand And Alienate People

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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.

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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.”
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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

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