As we've noted before
, the comics and the crossword are not merely cheese on top of the broccoli that is the newspaper. For many, they are more like the hors d'oeuvre that whets the appetite for the main course. In more cases than might seem obvious, readers buy the paper for the crossword; the news is an added bonus.
But outside of the New York Times's famous crossword and the ubiquitous, trendy Sudoku puzzle, newspapers have paid little attention to the value their puzzles provide. Indeed, and perhaps provocatively, the business of newspapers is comprised largely of puzzles. The pleasurable routine of the crossword, the criptoquip, the comic -- all can provide a surprising welcome mat to the rest of the contents of the news. Once one has the paper in hand, and once the crossword is done or abandoned, heck, might as well read the rest of the paper.
Today, it's not just puzzles and crosswords that provide routine, mental exercise, a break from work, or a distraction during a boring conference call. In fact, this is precisely what many online casual games offer.
In the fifteen years of the commercial Internet, numerous sources for online games have arisen, from commercial powerhouses PopCap to independent portals like Newgrounds to new social network-oriented startups like Kongregate.
According to the IGDA Casual Games SIG
[PDF], the market for casual games was worth $2.25 billion in 2007, and growing 20% annually. 25% of Internet users play casual games, amounting to 200 million users. Surely the addition of the iPhone App Store, the Blackberry AppWorld, and the Android Market offer significant additional growth in this sector.
Hindsight is 20/20, but the news business hasn't even bothered to ask itself if the casual games market represents a missed revenue opportunity akin to the lost classifieds business of Ebay and Craigslist. Surely dollars spent advertising stuff for sale far eclipses that of little puzzles, right? Not so fast. Ebay's 2008 revenue weighed in at $2.12 billion
. Add in an estimated $80 million in revenue
from privately-held Craigslist and you still haven't reached the size of casual games. Casual games are a real business, one the news industry hasn't much considered as a potential way out of financial heartache.
Here's an exception, and a smartly played one at that. Despite its conservative age and political leanings, 150 year-old British broadsheet The Daily Telegraph
publishes a website entirely devoted to puzzles and casual games. The site, called CluedUp
, takes a unique approach to the sometimes noisy market of casual games. Instead of competing with the Bejeweleds and Diner Dashes, CluedUp focuses on versions of popular newspaper puzzles like crossword, cryptic crossword, knowledge quizes, and number puzzles. These new versions of existing games fit in nicely with the print paper's tendency to run clever, unique traditional puzzles.
Also not lost on The Telegraph is the revenue opportunity from such puzzles. To play them, subscribers must pony up £4.99 for monthly access or £35.88 for an annual subscription. Given the paper's print circulation of roughly 825,000
, even a small adoption could easily add hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to the paper's bottom line. That's not enough to save the industry, but it might just be enough to keep some of the most at-risk desks operating.
There are some questions that remain unanswered. For one, how to avoid the Ebay effect: given the global nature of the Internet, one good portal can earn all the business. How can localities cater to the puzzle needs of their constituencies?
For another, if the crossword serves as an entry point into the rest of the paper, the "hard news" part of it, how can a casual games site provide access to the meat and potatoes part of the news? The Telegraph's CluedUp site is very separate from its online news, with only small links ferrying the reader from puzzle to headline.
Answers to these questions are not impossible, but they are elusive, for now at least.