Gamespot has been one of the top gaming websites since its inception in 1996. Not to be confused with retailer Gamestop (watch that letter placement!), Gamespot provides up-to-date news, reviews, and forums dedicated to video games across all consoles, PC’s, and even mobile. By all measures, it’s as good a one-stop shop for gaming information as you can find.
And it’s also completely corrupted.
Such an accusation of fraud doesn’t start here by no means. Heck, everything that exists will get accusations of such. However, Gamespot came under fire for a very good reason on November 28th, 2007, when they fired beloved Editor Jeff Gerstmann for what seemed to be giving bad reviews to games that Gamespot was receiving advertising dollars for. (This was confirmed by Gerstmann in 2012.)
It doesn’t take a science degree to recognize the conflict of interest between unbiased game reviews and advertising dollars. I mean, have you seen our Congress? This whole episode really hurt Gamespot’s reputation and opened the curtain on how practically the entire media industry works: game site talks about games, gaming audience follows them devoutly, gaming companies pay game site to advertise to this following for them, gaming companies sell more games. Rinse and repeat.
Where the problem occurs is in how these sites advertise for these game publishers. We’re not just talking about ads as you understand them. What it means is that news is swapped out for ads in a way that you may not even recognize and Polygon is actually the best example of this. Have you ever read an article of theirs about some obscure game that you’ve never heard of and watch them rave about it? That you simply must buy it? Why did they choose this one out of the thousands of others? Do they really expect a lot of interest in it?
These are ads. Sites are often paid to talk about a game they wouldn’t otherwise. Oh sure, the new Star Wars Battlefront will get airtime because a lot of people are interested in it and will bring their clicks. I’m not saying a site won’t talk about something unless it’s paid, but cash does wonders. As we saw above, advertising dollars will effect game reviews as they did with Gamespot and their Ratchet & Clank review.
Well apparently, Nintendo isn’t paying them.
Gamespot’s History of Poor Nintendo Reviews
Before I get started here, let me be clear: I am not accusing Gamespot of bribery or the lack thereof. For reasons I’ll lay out, Gamespot hammers Nintendo in its game reviews with gusto and no remorse. Quite simply, Gamespot cannot be trusted when it comes to reviews of Nintendo games.
Let’s start with the evidence.
First, let’s take a look at some of the Wii U’s best games versus Gamespot’s review scores and what better way to begin than with than Nintendo’s newest game Yoshi’s Wooly World. In what is the system’s best, most unique looking game we get another entry in the fantastic Yoshi’s Island series that has its roots in the Super Nintendo. The game is graphically beautiful and improves on every aspect of the past games from removing the crying Mario (dear god) to its incredible level designs.
Next, let’s look at ZombiU. This was a launch game for the Wii U that I was really excited about! It was a system pusher for sure, an adult-themed game to attract more hardcore gamers to a platform generally associated with family-friendly fair such as Mario and Kirby games. I was all ready to jump in on this when Gamespot released its review: a 4.5/10 by Maxwell McGee.
Metacritic gives it a 77/100.
That’s a huuuuuge discrepancy, so what gives? This review alone caused me to wait almost A YEAR before I finally bought it. The 4.5 score was burnt into my mind. I was convinced it was a terrible game. When I finally did get the game and play (based on recommendations from friends), what I found was an incredible game! Such great mood, such great survival horror. The biggest complaints McGee leveled at the game were inconsequential to me. His subjective take on the game had been so wrong compared to very positive reviews by other big sites like Joystiq and Destructoid.
Could it be that these other sites are being paid off by Nintendo or Ubisoft? It’s possible. However, the reason why I am comparing Gamespot’s scores to Metacritic is because Metacritic doesn’t review games…it just collects all the scores and awards a median of sorts.
When ZombiU Became Zombi
Here’s the most damning evidence of Gamespot corruption.
Recently, Ubisoft re-released ZombiU for other platforms (after a long period of promised exclusivity) including to PS4 and XBox One. Gamespot re-reviewed Zombi, the ported game, a couple of months ago. Recall that the original got a 4.5/10 from the site. In the new review, we’re told “Zombi’s roots as a Wii U launch title include some rough edges, and little work was done in this version to smooth them out,” as well as pointing out that “Zombi still has some unique things going for it, but it has also lost a bit of charm in the transition.”
Obviously, the lack of a GamePad on these system crippled a few features. Part of the game’s plot always was that the in-game device the main character used mapped to the Wii U’s GamePad as a secondary control device, one that does not pause the game while you use it leading to some tense moments!
So what did Gamespot score this un-improved, less-charmful version of ZombiU? A 7/10.
They did what now?!
This is a full 2.5 points higher than the original, a game they state had more charm and was unchanged except for porting the control scheme over. You might be wondering if this is just a mistaken outlier. The new reviewer, Britton Peele, was a fan of the first game. However, Gamespot’s original review still stands and anyone who reads them will see this 2.5-point difference without modification. Perhaps it’s just an innocent mistake made when two different reviewers review the same game.
If you believe that, I present to you Rayman Legends. Anyone who’s played this game knows it’s absolutely incredible. The level design is top notch, the musical levels are legendary, and it’s one of the first games I recommend to new Wii U owners. When Gamespot scored it an 8/10, I ignored them. I’d have given it at least a 9/10, but they didn’t kill the game so no big deal, right?
Well, not too long after its Wii U exclusivity ended they re-released it for the other consoles. The same reviewer, Tom McShea, re-reviewed the game and guess what?
Reading the two reviews, the one-point difference (which is a huge difference) came down to one thing according to McShea. As he puts it, “It uses absurd scenes to imbue this feisty adventure with enough variety to keep you continually amazed, aside from the unfortunately drab Murfy stages.” This is the only difference to him.
Again, let’s turn to Metacritic who grades the game an amazing 92/100. Here are what the other reviews think about Murfy:
Does everyone like the Murfy levels? Of course not, but these levels are a great momentary change in gameplay, frantic fun, and there’s not a whole lot of them. (Maybe one per world.) In these stages, Murfy does the platforming in an AI-controller way while you use the GamePad to move platforms, slice ropes, and augment the stage quickly to keep him going. To me, they’re the highlight of the whole game! They certainly don’t warrant an entire point off on this fantastic game. Take a look at the typical Murfy level and how the GamePad is used for interaction:
Why is Gamespot consistently skewing scores higher on games when Wii U exclusivity ends? These games were specifically designed for the Wii U and, only after the fact, retrofit to other consoles…and they get better?
Why The Bias?
I don’t believe Gamespot is being paid off to score these games any higher or lower than they are. What I do believe is that their crop of reviewers are more inclined to enjoy more mainstream games on the consoles they love most: PS4, XBox One, and the PC. These are the systems modern “hardcore” gamers love most and when a game departs from these ideals they take a hit. I also believe that a game like ZombiU, on a Wii U, skews their opinion on the kind of game it is versus when it appears on a PS4, for example. There’s an expectation that it’s “toned down” even when it hasn’t been.
As another case, why does Mario Kart 8 only get an 8/10 while Smash Bros. for Wii U gets a 9/10? Smash Bros. has a much larger hardcore following than a game with go karts and bananas. Yet, Mario Kart 8 was the first time Wii U’s started flying off the shelves! Were people really waiting 3 years to get a Wii U because they wanted an 8/10 game?
How about Splatoon? It was an excellent new take on multiplayer warfare that makes heavy use of the GamePad for second-screen control. Yet, it features ink over bullets. Squid people over soldiers. Gamespot gave it an 8/10.
And what’s their highest rated game on Wii U? Bayonetta 2 with a perfect 10/10. Now, not too long ago I called this game the best game of all time and I still stand by that. Still, it’s hard not to notice that Bayonetta 2 is another “hardcore” type game that would be treated with more reverence than the equally incredible Pikmin 3 which only got an 8/10.
It’s time that Gamespot selected their reviewers based on the genre of games they like to play. A hundreds-of-hours Destiny player shouldn’t be making judgements on squids shooting orange goop at each other. If you don’t like touch controls in your games, move over, and let’s find someone who’s evolved enough to welcome new ways to interact with games.
Then again, what should I expect from the site that scored frequent Game of the Year winner Shovel Knight a 7/10?
Is Gamespot biased against Nintendo or is this sour grapes based on unfortunate circumstance? Let us know in the comments below!