Apr 13, 2023 - Technology

The New York Times is developing new games, but not too many

Video game screenshot of a group of numbers and some virtual buttons to press to add, subtract, multiply or divide

Digits. Screenshot: The New York Times

The New York Times is publicly testing a new game called Digits as it explores careful and limited expansion of its puzzle game portfolio.

Driving the news: Digits, a math-based game, entered public testing on the Times’ website this week.

  • Digits challenges players to add, subtract, multiply or divide several preselected numbers to reach specific numerical goals.
  • For example, one of today’s Digits challenges asks players to use 2, 3, 5, 10, 15 and 25 to wind up with 195.

Details: Internal game development, while still only a small part of the Times’ gaming operation, has increased this year after an extended pause, according to New York Times Games general manager Jonathan Knight. His team also manages the paper’s daily offerings of the crossword, Wordle and more.

  • Digits was conceived in an internal, annual game jam in 2021 and briefly tested publicly in the Times app late that year.
  • But internal development of new games was largely shelved last year in favor of efforts to integrate the then-newly acquired sensation Wordle into the Times’ platform. (Wordle, which is offered free of charge and draws “10s of millions of players” a week, according to Knight, acts as a funnel to the rest of the Games offerings.)
  • New game development is now proceeding again with dedicated resources, Knight says. It functions much as it does in other gaming companies, with internal prototypes that are tested and nixed if they don’t show enough potential. The team’s executive producer, Zoe Bell, runs a greenlight process that provides “guardrails,” Knight says, to ensure that only the best ideas are pursued.
  • The Digits beta test, conducted through the website this time to reach more people, will assess whether players understand the game and how many people solve its daily iterations. Knight’s team is hoping to hit a sweet spot of neither too hard nor too easy.

What they’re saying: Development of new games is “important, and we’re definitely investing there,” Knight tells Axios.

  • But the company is balancing a desire to keep its popular portfolio of puzzle games fresh while staying cognizant of the challenge of launching new games.
  • “It's very possible to over-invest in new games,” Knight says. “The odds are if you're working on a new game, it's going to fail.”
  • In February, Ilkka Paananen, CEO of Clash of Clans giant Supercell, blogged about his company’s struggle to make new hits (five hits launched but 30+ other projects killed). “It rang true to me,” Knight says of the post.

The big picture: In recent years, New York Times Games has become a core part of its parent company’s drive for digital subscribers.

  • The company said in December 2021 that it had exceeded 1 million subscriptions to its premium Games offering, though that was pre-Wordle. “It’s a lot more now,” Knight says.
  • The Times says its games were played 4 billion times last year.

What’s next: The Digits test is underway, but even if successful won’t lead to a large wave of new Times games.

  • “We want to be known for a handful of high-quality, human-made puzzles, with a daily solve, that reach as many people as we can,” Knight says.

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