Making digital newspaper games for fun and profit
A guest post by Martin Clementz and Maria Nystuen Roheim, two summer interns working on improving the game experience at Aftenposten.no
When someone says 'games and newspapers', what do you think about? You probably think of traditional games like crosswords or sudoku, but digital newspapers have been realising that games could be a lot more than small brain teasers. It’s no secret that big newspapers like the New York Times are investing heavily in digital games. The New York Times bought the popular word guessing game Wordle for 1 million dollars, which has millions of players each day. And In 2021, one third of all apps that were downloaded were games. That equals 55 billion games! We started asking ourselves "is there a way for Aftenposten to tap into the digital games market?"
Aftenposten wanted to expand its game selection and make the overall user experience better. Aftenposten has sudoku, crossword puzzles and quizzes, and some people use them every day. These types of users tend to keep their subscriptions for longer and games could be a nice incentive to make them come back and use the site more.
For the past 8 weeks we have been two interns who have worked together with the Aftenposten product team to improve the game experience. Since games was an unexplored topic at Aftenposten, we structured the internship into four phases: Research, define and prototype, testing and then summary.
When researching games and gamification of news we found that many news publications were doing different things. There were two main paths the publications took when combining games and news. The first approach was to separate games from news, like crossword puzzles and Wordle. The second approach was to integrate games into the stories journalists are telling, like the “Dodging Trump’s tariffs” game from Financial Times. Both approaches were interesting and we talked with both internal and external people about their thoughts on the topic.
After we gathered opinions and data we moved on to defining how the future of games would look like on Aftenposten. We chose to focus on creating a great game experience where games would be separate from news. This opened up many ideas and we began thinking of what types of things we could implement. The ideas were sketched into prototypes, and afterwards we began designing and implementing them. To test our research, we aimed to release two games, while improving the user navigation to find the games that exist.
Previously, you had to scroll down to the bottom of the website, where you could find games in the same widget as today's editorial, e-newspaper and obituaries. Games and obituaries don’t have a lot in common, and it was decided to create a separate widget for games.
We moved this new widget further up on the frontpage, which caused the number of daily unique clicks on the widget to increase from around 1000 to 2290 on average in one month.
The first game we implemented was called 2048. 2048 is a game that was super popular in 2014, but its hype was short-lived and was soon forgotten by the public. This game has a proven track record of engaging users and would be a great addition to Aftenposten. We happened to find an old open source implementation of it in GitHub, which made the development phase go a lot faster. The game was integrated into an article inside an iframe.
The final phases two phases testing and summary, were used to run different tests on the new navigation, improve the games with real user feedback and summarise everything we have learned about games at Aftenposten. We ran A/B tests with different iterations of the game navigation and found that users more frequently clicked on games like sudoku and quiz, surprisingly was the crossword the least popular game! We continued to run different experiments and tweaking small things and learned a lot about user behaviour related to games.
Games and gamification of Aftenposten is an interesting topic that we only touched the surface on during our internship. Even though this blog post concludes our internship, gamification is a relevant topic for the future of all digital newspapers, including Aftenposten. Offering more games, and incentives to keep playing them, will grow our loyal user base. We hope to enable users to play more on our site and in our apps in the future!
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