Heads Up Gamers: New Site Wants You

Crispy Gamer, a new Web site, lets gamers make sure reviews are unbiased.

Dec. 10, 2008— -- As the gaming industry skyrockets and the drive for user-generated content continues to grow, a new gaming Web site is positioned to ride the merged waves.

Crispy Gamer, an online information depot for the gaming community, differs from other review sites in two enormous and experimental ways: It doesn't accept ads from game publishers and gets its content from a core group of independent gaming industry writers.

While most industries we read about these days reflect the pain of the current recession, according to research firm NPD Group, U.S. video gaming sales are up 25 percent over last year. In Europe, sales of Microsoft's Xbox360 console grew more than 100 percent on an annual basis in the month of November alone.

Already a booming business, the video gaming industry has benefited considerably from the advent of multiplayer games, like World of Warcraft and from huge-selling franchises, like Grand Theft Auto and Guitar Hero.

Thanks to Nintendo and its new Wii sports games (like Wii Fit and Wii Sports), the industry has welcomed a whole new set of potential customers into the club.

Those games showed us that consoles are not just about entertainment. No, now these boxes are the device equivalent of a glass of orange juice -- something that provides a daily opportunity to improve our health and well-being.

Nice move, and one that instantly created even more opportunity for entertainment software companies to realize still greater stair-steps up in growth in the years ahead.

Crispy Gamer capitalizes on this growth by incorporating yet another media phenomenon: user-generated content.

Even business bible Harvard Business Review recognized the value of user contribution systems with a recent cover story.

From product design to development to bug checking, savvy companies are harnessing the wisdom of widely dispersed contributors to glean frontline insight into the expectations of the customer base.

Others are leveraging the scale advantage of a massive, volunteer product evaluation team comprised of disparate individuals, "kicking the tires" to improve product features, attributes and functionality.

Adopting user contribution systems is a brilliant way to harness vast troves of valuable intellectual horsepower connected to a product or service. Even a worst-case scenario might be a real-life demonstration of companies outsourcing Q/A to the Tom Sawyer School of Management (remember how he got the fence painted?). In any case, a growing number of companies now recognize that often, greater input from volunteer contributors leads to better output for all.

By refusing to accept ads from game publishers, Crispy Gamer is therefore free to publish unfettered opinions -- the good, bad and ugly about reviewed products. Initially, this policy may mean the company's revenue grows more slowly. But, over time, the site's content will likely become more valuable as readers understand that they are receiving completely unbiased opinions.

To bend the classic advertising line about "your father's Oldsmobile," this is not your older sibling's gamer journal. Rather than hiring a stable of reporters, Crispy Gamer uses what it calls a "Game Trust," a group of independent gaming industry writers who are beholden (hopefully) to the rules of grammar, and no one else. The writers are paid but in no way is their bread buttered by the companies producing the games they review.

This Game Trust starts the conversation, but it is the users who provide the bulk of the site's content. Crispy Gamer is harnessing the mental horsepower of as vibrant, passionate and committed an online community as exists.

Open for just a few weeks, the site has more than 35,000 members, swapping opinions, offering tips, tracking down rumors and aggregating most all of the information that is legit to print about online games.

Lise Buyer, a longtime Silicon Valley investor, is a principal at the Class V Group, www.classvgroup.com.