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NYT Games app is dropping the ball

Despite the continued growth of word games, NY Times is not capitalizing on the gaming community to drive all access subscriptions. It’s not a secret that the mobile word game marketplace has grown significantly in recent years. Friends, families, and even celebrities have their own competitive wordle text chains. The NY Times acquired Wordle in 2022. Since then, the NYT has slowly leveraged this asset to expand their Gaming offering.

NY Times has continued to invest in aspects of their Gaming offering, but has not extended this to app functionality yet. According to Digiday, there is a planned relaunch of the app later this year (2023). Although subscriber numbers specific to games have not be shared, it is estimated that at least 10% of NYT subscribers are gaming only. Pre Wordle acquisition, the Games section had around 1 million. Since that period, other popular games have been added like Wordle and Spelling Bee. Of note, the NYT has evolved its subscription model recently to be more inclusive of all NYT assets and not siloed to games and news.

Currently, NYT drives subscriptions by primarily limiting access to the archives of Crossword and The Mini. While this might make sense for a portion of the market, there are many users that never touch the Crossword and could be subscribers based on other app features. Let’s making some assumptions about KPIs for NYT games:

  1. Total subscriptions

  2. Subscription renewal and conversion (monthly, yearly)

  3. Consecutive active days

  4. Score shared outside the app

Given the lack of advertising in the app, other typical metrics like “time in app” are less applicable but still interesting from a product management perspective. Niemanlab published an article highlighting what the NYTimes looks for in prospective games. If nothing else, NYT needs to find a way to capitalize on the mini communities that share Wordle scores daily and have developed their own tracking mechanisms.

custom Wordle dashboard created by Reddit user euXeu

5 Suggested Product Improvements

🏆 1. Leaderboard by game

Currently there is only 1 “leaderboard” and that is for the Mini Daily. Given the different mechanics of each game, the leaderboard metrics would differ for each game.

  • Spelling Bee → total score

  • Wordle → number of attempts

  • Connections → number of groups matched

Extend user “following” beyond The Daily Mini to all games to drive increased participation across the portfolio. The current app navigation structure would lend itself easily by adding each game as a tab as it has done for the Archives.

NYT Games app screenshots as of 10/13/23

👋 2. Dashboard / Landing View

Currently the primary screen is very focused on spotlighting games limited to subscribed users with significant real estate devoted to “packs”. Refocus this primary interaction point to highlight options that would drive towards KPIs and subsequently lead to subscriptions.

  • Show streaks

  • News articles about benefits of word games

  • Suggestions to try other games

📊 3. Game specific analytics

Based on user engagement, it would be straightforward to extend analytics that would encourage users to repeat. Wordle highlights a user’s history at the end of the game.

  • Spelling Bee → word length, # of pangrams

  • Connections → frequency of each difficulty level (e.g. % of times found all 4, % of times found purple/hardest group)

current end game screens for popular NYT games as of 10/13/23

🙋‍♀️ 4. User activity feed

  • Create a view for the user activity showing games completed.

  • User could have permissions available to show certain things and limit others (e.g. only show whether a game has been completed v sharing the score breakdown)

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 5. Integrate problem solving community

There is a healthy problem solving community for some of the NYTimes games, specifically Spelling Bee. This feels like an extension of the user activity feed as it would provide a bit of credence to a user’s community contributions.

🔮 Closing thoughts?

It will be very interesting to see what comes in the future app releases. Any features that we’ve missed? Send us a note or share this case study :-)

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