spyspy.jpg So, you may remember that GSW was on the outraged side about James Wagner Au's new 'Preview Ho' column for Kotaku, which seemed to err on the 'death squad' side of judging game journalism.

Well, ol' Waggie, we take our hat off to you, you've discovered a genuinely disturbing online game site secret - the practice of selling 'gumballs' on the front page of major sites like GameSpot and GameSpy.

As the piece explains: "Gumballs are those thumbnail screenshots you see on the front page of GameSpot, when you visit the site— clicking on these takes you to an article about the game... In the GameSpot invoice I looked at, a gumball for two weeks cost the media buyer’s client over $7000." Au's source notes: “You can purchase messaging plus units that increase the likelihood of an article about your game showing up on their front page."

Though this isn't about the quality or otherwise of the previews (and our previous comments, that we feel the vast majority of previews are unbiased, stand), this seems, at least to me, to overstep the edit/advertising boundaries. I had no idea this was going on, and we've certainly never done it for Gamasutra (we have sponsored sections, like Nokia's on the front page right now, but they are clearly delineated with a dotted line and the word 'Sponsored' in the link.)

I'm aware that the content it links to isn't sponsored, but, for example, which of the article and/or trailer links on the front page of GameSpy has been paid to be fixed in place right now? All? None? Just.. yuck. If this is going to happen, there needs to be some indication that a sponsor has paid for increased prominence.