The freelance reviewer who wrote a video game review that was pulled by GameSpot—and kept on Metacritic nonetheless—says he's sorry for the mistakes in his piece.
"I apologize to the readers and the fans for the factual errors in the Natural Selection 2 review and in any other reviews that I've done that had factual errors in them," writer Eric Neigher told me on the phone yesterday. "There really is a sacred trust between reviewers and their readers. You have to be confident that a publication and a writer are going to be giving you the facts as they exist, and are gonna be giving you an honest opinion. That's always what I strive to do. Unfortunately, I don't always get there."
"Understand that I'm just a human being and sometimes I miss things or get them wrong. It's not my intention to cut the legs out from any game or go after a game because it's not a big triple-A title—I don't do that. I just review games on their merits."
Neigher, an attorney who says he has been reviewing games for ten years, still stands by what he wrote about Natural Selection 2, "except for the stuff that was factually wrong... I feel like the score was definitely accurate. Again, everybody has different opinions. GameSpot reassigned the review to somebody else, and that guy had a different opinion of the game."
So why was it taken down? Neigher said he had a private conversation with GameSpot's reviews editor, Kevin VanOrd, who told him the Natural Selection 2 review would be pulled. Neigher wouldn't comment on what was discussed.
(When I reached out to VanOrd Wednesday as part of this story, he wouldn't comment beyond what he had written in his apology post on GameSpot.)
The main factual inaccuracy in the piece, Neigher told me, was the price, which he wrote was $30. Natural Selection 2 actually costs $25. "I kind of stupidly rounded the price up based on sales tax, as I usually do with store-bought games, not realizing that of course this is a downloadable game which doesnt have sale tax, so that was kind of dumb, but you know, that stuff happens."
Neigher said there were two other common complaints: one omission—"I had omitted to say in the review that there were servers that were dedicated for new players, at the same time I criticized the game for being extremely hard on new players."—and one suggestion that he had exaggerated the game's loading times—"But that's all based on what kind of computer you're using and stuff, so load times are always kind of a subjective deal."
Any other factual errors? "Not to my knowledge," Neigher said. "You know, the load times thing I really don't consider to be a factual error, because you know, that was my experience. Other than those things, no."
When a GameSpot reader asked in the website's comments why VanOrd hadn't just fixed the errors and written a correction, VanOrd responded with an explanation.
"People scream about negative reviews all the time; but a well-argued review is an airtight review, meaning that its factual examples must support the argument," he wrote. "In this case there were multiple factual errors (regarding the price, regarding the load times, regarding the engine) as well as an overlooked but important detail (newcomer-only servers) that—while they could be fixed—cast a shadow over the review as a whole."
The people behind Natural Selection 2 told me that they never contacted GameSpot in any official capacity, although Hugh Jeremy, community manager for developer Unknown Worlds and a popular presence for the Natural Selection 2 team, did leave a comment on GameSpot's review to correct the price, among other things.
As I reported on Wednesday, this isn't the first time Neigher has run into complaints about inaccuracies. In a 2010 review of Elemental: War of Magic for 1up, Neigher talked about the game's multiplayer functionality—functionality that had not yet been out. The review was amended to reflect that.
"I think what happened in that review was I had meant to imply that the upcoming multiplayer would help with the problems and then, when it was edited, it was switched to a direct statement," Neigher told me. "But, yeah, so that was a whole big confusion. There was gonna be a multiplayer and then it wasn't released at the time of the version of the game I reviewed, so I think I put something like 'multiplayer will presumably fix these errors' and I think the 'presumably' got dropped or something like that, so it was just a big confusion."
In 2009, GameSpy pulled Neigher's review of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, also for factual inaccuracies. "We have decided to remove our review of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars after finding some factual inaccuracies in the text," the staff wrote on their website as part of a round-up of reviews for the game.
When I asked Neigher why that review was pulled, he said he couldn't remember. When I asked him about what seems to have been a consistent trend over the past few years, he said I'd have to compare his record to other game reviewers before coming to that conclusion.
"You're drawing a conclusion that there's a pattern that's commonplace," he said, "Presumably that only has value if you're saying that I have a more common instance of people complaining about my reviews for whatever reason. Then you need to at least base that on—it's higher than the average rate. So if other reviewers are also getting the same kind of things at the same rate, then we wouldnt expect it to be a problem with me, it's just endemic to the industry...
"Neither of the two of us knows really the average industry amount of complaints, revisions, and pullings of reviews by a website and by a reviewer," he said. "So it's hard to say—and also, I can only offer anecdotal evidence as far as my own experiences go, but the vast majority of my reviews have not really had any issues at all, and certainly have not been pulled."
Game reviews on major websites are not often pulled—even Neigher admitted that he doesn't think this sort of thing is common—so to an outside observer, two pulled reviews would certainly seem like a trend. Kotaku, for example, has never had to pull a review.
On a WordPress blog that Neigher started this week, he wrote a more in-depth apology.
"The process of savaging reviews is a commonplace occurrence in our industry, and I've certainly had my share of that—sometimes justifiably," he wrote. "This is, unfortunately, one of those times, and I apologize to everybody for dropping the ball."