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The rise of games by the New York Times marked a major change for the crossword puzzle app

In March, The New York Times made a small but significant change to the crossword app: removed the “Crosswords” portion of the name in favor of “Games.” It’s a small but significant shift that recognizes how the app has grown from a place to play the crossword puzzle to a hub for many of the NYTs growing library of games.

In addition to the daily crossword, the app now gives you access to mini crosswords (“the mini”), wordcalled a word-spelling game Game matchand, as part of some recent updatessudoku and a visual puzzle game called Floor tiles. On Tuesday, people who subscribe to the NYTs Games or All-Access subscriptions get an extra perk: the NYT rolls out access to the last two weeks of Game match puzzles so subscribers have an archive to sift through.

“The time just seemed right”

Some may have noticed that the web version of the publication’s games collection switched to the Games branding about three years ago. But with the app, “we kind of held on,” Jonathan Knight, head of games The New York Timessays in an interview with The edge. The original crossword puzzle app, which has launched in 2009 on iOS, ranks highly in the App Store for the word “crossword.” “We were careful about tampering with that very healthy funnel,” says Knight. The team took a slow approach to bringing more games into the app, and last month “just seemed like the right time” to make the switch from in-name crossword to games.

I started playing with the app a few weeks ago when I was looking for a good place to play sudoku. (By then it had already switched to be NYT Games.) It has since become one of the few apps I keep on my iPhone’s home screen. I don’t have any kind of NYT subscription, so I can’t access all the features in the app – for example, I can’t play the daily crossword – but I was able to get my sudoku solution, which spell words with Game matchand try to solve something word puzzles.

wordunsurprisingly, has become a central pillar of the NYTs games offer. The NYT bought it in January 2022 for an undisclosed seven-figure sum shortly after the game became a viral hit, and it’s the NYTs by far the most played game, with “tens of millions” of people playing it word every week, says Knight. The next most popular game is what Knight calls “a tight race” between the mini And Game match, “who enjoy a roughly equal audience.” (Game match is “the most played game among our subscribers,” according to Knight.)

I asked Knight what he thinks about the mix of what’s free and what’s subscription-only. “We think there’s a real role for free games to introduce users to our more premium games,” says Knight. He gives the example of how wordwhich is free promote Game match, which requires a subscription after you’ve spelled enough words. “word plays that really important role, and I think we’ll always have games that play that role to give you a taste.

“You don’t have to be in our app 24/7”

Knight’s goal is for the NYT Games section to be seen as “the premier subscription destination for digital puzzles.” For Knight, that means things like clean designs, no nickel-and-dime players, and offering man-made puzzles every day. “It’s time well spent,” he says. “You don’t have to be in our app 24/7. We want you to solve amazing man-made puzzles and come back the next day.

When I hear Knight’s explanation for the team’s philosophy for their games, I think they’re onto something. I’ve been wondering why the NYT Games app, of all the other places to play mobile games, is the one that keeps me coming back. I loved mobile gaming in the early days of the iPhone, but I’ve avoided many recent games designed to chase my worst impulses, and I can’t keep up with the many releases on Netflix and Apple Arcade for the most part.

But in the NYT Games app, with just a minute or two I can download the mini or spell in a few words Game match. When I have five luxury minutes, I race to finish the easy sudoku. Sometimes I zip up Game match to peck a few letters. The puzzles feel fair and it’s always an achievement when I solve them.

Yes, the app has its fair share of prompts to subscribe. But they are usually easy to ignore. And yet they actually kind of work. I’m considering trying full-fledged crossword puzzles, but they’re only available to paying subscribers. That tantalizing puzzle carrot might be enough to make me subscribe — but while I’m thinking about it, I’ll try another sudoku instead.

Shreya has been with australiabusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider australiabusinessblog.com, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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