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The Mother of All Online Magazine Games

National Geographic proves the less generic the better.

Henry Donahue By Henry Donahue
06/30/2008 -08:33 AM

A typically brief and unscientific survey of magazine sites reveals a range of approaches to online games, from "blah" to spectacular.

Mimicking the success of big game sites like Pogo, many women's magazine sites include a set of generic, "casual" games—casino games, solitaire, crosswords, word scrambles, Sudoku, etc. These games are easily licensed from a number of providers. Ladies Home Journal (9.5 million monthly page views) and Reader's Digest (7 million monthly page views) use games as a lure to get visitors to register.

Hearst has taken the concept to the next level, partnering with a game developer Arkadium to create games inspired by their magazines' content. In some cases, the games are not that far removed from their generic versions—Cosmopolitan (35 million monthly page views) has Make-up Mah Jonngg and Strip Poker. Other games are a lot more elaborate. Cosmo's "Boy Toy" is an application where the player guides a virtual boyfriend to fetch cocktails—and avoid a "skanky ex-girlfriend."

The mother of all magazine site interactive applications is National Geographic's award-winning Your Shot, an ingenious combination of user-generated content, photo contest and online games. At Your Shot, visitors can upload photos, compete to have their photos featured in the magazine, and transform photos into online jigsaw puzzles. According to news reports, Your Shot alone drives upwards of 14 million page views per month.

The lesson here is (to paraphrase a publisher I had lunch with last month), "If you act generic, you are generic." Good magazine sites start with the basic idea ("online games drive traffic") and then build on it in a way that fits and reinforces their brands (in Cosmo's case, sex and boyfriend advice; Nat. Geo., photography). Doing that effectively can drive outsized results.

[IMAGE: Rockstar Games; Grand Theft Auto IV]


Henry Donahue By Henry Donahue -- Henry Donahue is the CEO of Discover Media LLC, the publisher of Discover magazine and Donahue was formerly CFO of Primedia's Lifestyles Magazine Group, a 30-plus magazine division, which included Soap Opera, Crafts, Boating, Equine and History titles.

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