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Newspapers Could Be Saved by… Gaming?

It’s no secret that newspapers are struggling as readers get older and young people stop (or never start) picking up the paper. So what’s a hemorrhaging old brand to do? If it’s the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, create a community-wide game.

It’s no secret that newspapers are struggling as readers get older and young people stop (or never start) picking up the paper. So what’s a hemorrhaging old brand to do? If it’s the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, create a community-wide game.

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Picture the Impossible,” co-developed by the Lab for Social Computing at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, combines three different types of gaming to form a 7-week competition. There is a new Web-based Flash game each weekday, a puzzle or game in the newspaper two days a week, and at least one challenge each week involving players going to specific locations throughout the city to claim a code or clue. Points are tallied up and awarded to one of three factions, and in the end, the 300 top players are invited to a costume gala on Halloween night. Throughout the game, the factions are earning money for charities in Rochester.

RIT Center

It’s not a bad idea, and when the game kicked off Saturday, more than 1,000 people had signed up, three times the expected amount. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle’s obvious hope is that, at least during the seven weeks, local young’uns will pick up a few copies of the paper a week. Along with the two games in the physical paper, the entire back page of the Sunday sports section will be wholly dedicated to the competition.

Microsoft’s Bing search engine awarded the project $13,000 in grant funding, as well as support from Bing Maps. “What rocks for all of us in Seattle, of course, is that Bing Maps will be a key part of the online game play as both reference and part of the puzzles,” Betsy Aoki, a Bing program manager, wrote on the Bing blog. The scavenger hunt Web site SCVNGR is also participating, and Kodak (which was originally founded in Rochester) is donating weekly prizes.

“Picture the Impossible” has been in development since February of 2008, and if successful, could be reimagined and rolled out to other communities. “The idea is that the work we do will turn into a framework that we could implement in other cities,” Liz Lawley, director of RIT’s Lab for Social Computing, told the Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab. “The D&C is a Gannett paper, and Gannett is looking carefully at what they’re doing. We see a lot of potential to expand into other Gannett markets.”

The game kicked off Saturday, and judging by the activity on its Facebook page, it does seem to have active fans. For the Democrat and Chronicle, though, this is only worth it if more people buy the newspaper, and then keep buying it after the game ends. Will this happen? Probably not. But at least the newspaper is trying something new in a field that notoriously lags behind. “The industry in large isn’t using new tools and they’re not experimenting at lot,” Traci Bauer, the D&C’s managing editor for content and digital platforms, told the Nieman Journalism Lab. “We want to be working on projects that put new tools of engagement in the mix.”

[via Nieman Journalism Lab]