The recent firing of game reviewer Jeff Gerstmann from Gamespot has been the center of quite a bit of controversy. (If you don't know, he gave the new Eidos game, Kane & Lynch, a score of 6.0 out of 10, and was promptly fired. Gamespot claims it had nothing to do with his scoring, but the fact that Eidos has since pulled several hundred thousand dollars of future advertising off the site seems to say differently.) Questions about the future of gaming, and especially the future of game reviewing sites that rely on game advertising for revenue, are flying. My favorite analysis of the story comes from Wagner James Au, who provides yet another tale of doom for hard-core gaming. However, despite the fact that I've come to expect him nearly always to judge every news story as the one that is going to end gaming as we know it, he does bring up some interesting points about what all this will mean.
This may be the beginning of the end for Gamespot. But really, it serves them right for creating such a conflict of interest. This is site that is supposed to be dedicated to providing honest reviews to gamers - providing a really valuable resource, and becoming a widely popular and respected space. However, when they set up a business model that required them to be entirely dependent on the advertising of these same games that they are reviewing, they made it impossible for themselves to provide truly honest reviews. This leads to review inflation and angry gamers - never a good thing. Au argues that the only way for gaming sites to survive is to consolidate with sites that don't rely so heavily on game advertising. Sites such as Penny Arcade, or Joystiq have much more diverse advertising networks, and therefore are able to provide honest reviews, and maintain loyal readers. Really, it just makes sense to do.
What may seem less obvious, however, is the impact that this will have on the entire gaming industry. Games are expensive to make, and they're getting worse all the time. This makes them expensive for the consumer as well. In addition, really hard-core gamers make up a tiny fraction of the total population, so only so many of these highly expensive games are going to be sold. This makes game reviews unbelievably important to sales. People simply aren't going to spend $60 on a game that they aren't reasonably sure that they are going to like. If the trust is broken between gamers and reviewers (which, on sites like Gamespot, it probably has been), then gamers are going to be considerably more cautious about how they spend their money. This much I can agree with.
Au then goes on to argue that it will lead to game developers backing out of an increasingly risky market and the eventual world domination of more widely-accepted casual games. I think that the hard-core market will always be there, and there is no reason to predict its doom just yet. Especially because sites such as Penny Arcade, which do not rely solely on game advertising, still exist for gamers to put their trust in. But I do think that game reviewing sites are going to become less plentiful in the future, and people may be wary of the motives behind extremely high scores for some time to come.