Watch out, CBS Interactive and News Corp: Your game news sites, Gamespot and IGN, respectively, have ruled the web for over a decade, but as of today, you’ve got competition. In development over the last several months with $8.25 million in funding from Constellation Ventures, the editorial/community site Crispy Gamer, which already boasts a million unique monthly visitors, is coming out of beta.
According to President Chris Heldman, who visited the GigaOM office last week with Co-founder and Editor-in-Chief John Keefer, the site gained this enormous early popularity by word of mouth from gamers who’ve embraced them. That’s probably in response to Crispy Gamer’s stated revenue model. Unlike Gamespot and IGN, which greatly depend on advertising dollars from the very publishers whose games they cover, Crispy Gamer flat-out refuses to run publisher’s ads.
As Heldman put it, “We’re not anti-game publisher, we just don’t want their money.” Instead, they’re using their community’s coveted demographics (males ages 18-49 with average household incomes of $60,000-plus) to attract non-game advertisers, like movies and fast food. By refusing publisher ads and fostering a stable of opinionated writers, their reasoning goes, they’ll build up gamer trust — and eyeballs.
At his former gig, as head of Media and Entertainment at Google, Heldman noted a curious paradox: The game industry was growing in terms of both revenue and mainstream popularity, but the audience for corporate sites like Gamespot and IGN remained flat (and in some cases, even fell). Such stagnation, he reasoned, was a result of audiences viewing the sites as mere promotional platforms for the publishers who provided most of their ad revenue — and thus abandoning them for more opinionated fan sites like Penny Arcade and Kotaku. (We saw this most vividly last year, in the gamer outrage that erupted when Gamespot fired their longtime editor Jeff Gerstmann after he panned a game from a major advertiser.)
While I support Crispy Gamer’s approach, I wonder not only if they’ll be able to remain true to this vision, but if it will prove economically viable, especially during an economic downturn. Some argue that the game industry is recession-proof, but online advertising, as we’re painfully aware, is not. And many of Crispy Gamer’s potential non-game advertisers, like movie studios, belong to parent corporations which also own game publishers. So challenges remain. Then again, it’s a bit easier to stay pure when you already have a million fans.