Something was bothering me yesterday as I trolled Metacritic for PSP game scores, trying to refresh my memory on what's actually worth buying for the system. I have the infinite wisdom of the GWJ community to draw from, but even our collective memory may fail under the strain of nearly two years worth of games. With this is mind, the oft derided aggregate sites we disdain for reducing the quality of a game to a mere number serves a valuable function. If I want to know if Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops is good, I can punch it in and see that most reviewers seem to like it. No spoilers, no outright bias or flaming, just a raw number denoting quality so I can feel safe making the order.
What bothered me was that these scores were missing something. Our input. Not one aggregate site includes the Gamers With Jobs perspective on games because we don't score them. I'm starting to wonder if we should.
We dislike the common review structure so much we call our articles "Perspectives" so that we can do our own thing. While it suits our own purposes, I wonder if we're doing a disservice to the wider audience who may benefit from our perspective but will never be exposed to it because we're unwilling to play ball.
Putting aside the old debate of assigning a number to an experience, there are some broader issues at play that concern me as someone running an independent gaming site. For starters, a number would mean we appear on aggregate sites next to Gamespot, IGN, 1Up and the dozens of others sites that score their games. People who look up a title might see "Gamers With Jobs" and read something they would never have been exposed to otherwise. While we primarily write for out own amusement and our community, I like to think that the internet at large could use more of what we're cooking here.
The second thing that springs to mind is access to games before release. Like it or not, calling your articles "Perspectives" and refusing to assign a score is a total turn-off for a lot of PR people when they're deciding who should get early review code. If you're not going to contribute to the Metacritic pool -- which can determine whether or not they get paid a bonus -- they may be less inclined to offer you coverage opportunities. There are hundreds of gaming sites out there and early code (or even final boxed software) is often limited. It's a tough gig wading through the countless fan sites vying for your attention. On the surface, we're a pretty enigmatic site to understand already.
We also have our writers to think of. As a creative cat herder, I'm more likely to get a review from writers if I can spare them the expense of buying the game themselves. We're blessed with all the great content we get from such talented people, but as paid opportunities come up and personal lives get busy or financially shaky, every little bit can help.
Is getting a Gamers With Jobs review on the podcast or the front page before the release date of a game something readers want, even if it means making our review content a little more in line with what most sites are doing? I don't think assigning a point value to a game suddenly means the content of the articles has to change, but the fear of people skipping to the end of a review is a real one. No one wants their hard work reduced to a final paragraph, a number and a few screen shots.
With all this in mind, I open the floor to you, dear reader. Would we be selling our souls by scoring games? Is there some rating system that both satisfies the intellectual and the more mainstream reader? Maybe we need our own internal aggregate with a final score that reflects the views of many on this site. Help me out!