Times of India’s “phyigital” game attracts young readers to print newspaper

By Sumeli Chatterjee

Bennett, Coleman & Co. LTD

Mumbai, India


By Alexander Valladares

The Times of India

Mumbai, Maharashtra, India


Housie” (also known as “bingo”) is one of those popular friends-and-family games that is played around the world. Generation to generation, the game has evolved from a physical game played at social gatherings to a popular e-game experienced on mobile screens.

The popularity of the game increased among youth during the pandemic, when many got hooked on e-game versions of classic games like ludo and housie. Was there an opportunity to leverage the attractiveness of the game for younger readers to drive their readership of newspapers?

India’s largest English newspaper, Times of India (TOI), created a unique “phyigital” version of the game called Times Housie Plus, which piqued the interest of youth with its gamification cues and personalised messages, thus successfully recruiting new readers — many of whom were younger than 30 years of age.

How it worked

Newspapers have always been popular for their daily puzzles and games. TOI launched its print-linked digital game, Times Housie Plus, which surprised and rewarded readers as they prepared for the festival celebrations of Dussera and Diwali. TOI added a twist to the classic age-old game housie by reinterpreting it with digital gamification codes like live games, social badges, referral codes, a leaderboard, and pop trivia quizzes.

To play the game, readers needed to solve trivia questions appearing in the TOI newspaper every day for the 22 days running up to the festival, arriving at the numerical answers. These trivia questions could be linked to topical news stories, number puzzles, city trivia, or even brain teasers. These numbers needed to be entered on the readers’ unique digital Times Housie Plus ticket, which was available on the game Web site.

The Times Housie Plus game toggled between the print and digital editions of Times of India.
The Times Housie Plus game toggled between the print and digital editions of Times of India.

The readers needed to register with their own mobile number, which was OTP and reCaptcha validated to weed out bots. Players could claim prizes across categories like top/middle/bottom rows and full housie.

Adding to the festive cheers, there were daily prizes and vouchers up for grabs by guessing the right answers to the questions printed in the newspaper. Basically, the more someone read the daily newspaper, the higher their chances were to win prizes. TOI readers could win home appliances or shopping vouchers to prep their homes for the festive season.

Impact statistics

The game successfully strengthened the daily readership of the print newspaper with 95% of registered players logging in to play the phygital game. The game registration skew was highest among young adults; almost 60% of the players were aged 30 years or younger. Almost 20% of the database were new subscribers of newspapers who shared a willingness to subscribe after registering for this game. Most importantly, the game backend provided us data to understand the daily reading habits that could be analysed by age, gender, and city.

Cross-referencing the game login details and prize claim timings, Times Housie Plus gave us valuable reader analytics data, especially related to timing and frequency of newspaper readership. The game also enabled newspaper advocacy by readers, and more than 15% of the players invited their friends and family through referral codes and social shares.

The game UX was personalised so TOI could send customised messages to reader cohorts to engage them more with game updates, news stories, and/or subscription offers. The game was audited by process validators to remove any biases or glitches and ensure data privacy norms were met.

Thus, the popular game of numbers was reinterpreted with a new twist that combined the Physical (print newspaper) with the Digital (online gameplay) that helped TOI strengthen the youth connect of the newspaper during the festival season.

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