NYT Games: Time well spent?

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A partial image of a hand holding a smartphone. The NYTimes game Wordle is displayed on screen.

In recent years, the New York Times has made a strategic bet on games, shifting focus from the newspaper to daily interactive puzzles. But what makes NYT Games unique?

Since being introduced at the New York Times in 1942, games and puzzles have been an intentional distraction from the turbulent news cycle. That’s according to New York Times head of games Jonathan Knight, who explained how games are now an integral part of the publication’s strategy.

“Our puzzles are really part of the experience, meant as a diversion from the news – a way to have smart fun, a way to keep your mind sharp and to bring joy to your daily life,” said Jonathan.

As the New York Times transitioned from paper to digital, the trusty (and popular) crossword also made the leap, becoming an app in its own right.

Since the crossword app’s initial launch in 2009, the New York Times has built a hugely successful subscription business alongside their news operation, “creating a really powerful engagement habit,” according to Jonathan.

This year, the New York Times appears to be committing to a new strategy: creating a portfolio of games – including Wordle, Spelling Bee, Sudoku and the newest puzzle, Connections, in which users find groups of items that share commonalities.

Jonathan highlighted just what makes the newspaper’s puzzles so enticing: “What we do that’s truly unique, especially in this AI-powered era that we’re in, is we make human-made puzzles every single day for you to solve … We put a lot of love and care into these puzzles.”

But NYT Games isn’t just about well-designed puzzles to keep your mind sharp. The newspaper has prioritised community engagement by interacting with users on X (fka Twitter) and writing daily stories about the games.

For example, Sam Ezersky, editor of the NYT Games Spelling Bee, engages with the community via social media, helping forge a connection between the puzzle creators and users.

“I think even more important is really the connection between our solvers, our users and each other … When I talk about the power of puzzles to bring people together, that’s what we’re seeing,” said Jonathan.

And the sense of community doesn’t stop there. The ‘share’ option on NYT Games facilitates a conversation, noted Jonathan, with users able to share their results with friends and family via group chats, driving even more engagement across social pools.

“You’re able to reach out every single day and just make a connection with people,” whether in your work, family or social chats, said Jonathan. “It brings them together and reminds them that we have something in common at a time when we all really need that.”

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Main image of a smartphone with NYTimes game Wordle on screen: Web Summit

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