Technology

Zach Gage’s Puzzmo gets acquired as the newspaper games space heats up

The battle over newspaper-style puzzle games is intensifying. Hearst — which publishes the likes of Cosmopolitan, Esquire, and the San Francisco Chronicle — has announced that it has acquired Puzzmo, a puzzle gaming platform led by indie developers Zach Gage and Orta Therox. The move puts Hearst directly up against the gaming efforts of The New York Times. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. As a comparison, in 2022 The New York Times acquired Wordle for “an undisclosed price in the low seven figures.”

Puzzmo launched in a limited beta form in October and is billed as a reimagining of the classic newspaper games page. It features a number of notable Gage-designed titles like SpellTower, Really Bad Chess, and Typeshift, along with a streamlined daily crossword puzzle. The site also features community features like leaderboards and multiplayer options. “There’s great stuff out there,” Gage told me in October of the newspaper games space. “But there isn’t this holistic place where people can go and build a community around these games.”

As part of the deal, Gage and Therox will continue to develop Puzzmo, which currently operates as a website, with a mobile app in the works. But Puzzmo will also begin rolling out to readers of more than 50 Hearst publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle and Popular Mechanics.

Additionally, Hearst will be licensing out Puzzmo games to other publishers. According to the company, these deals “are structured as rev-shares on both subscription and advertising revenue.” Each publisher gets a branded version of the Puzzmo site, complete with the same library of games. (In a press release, Hearst explains that “The platform includes zero-code tools for publishers outside of Hearst’s network to tailor Puzzmo’s look and feel, settings, games, and paywall to their unique needs.”)

To start, the list of publishers licensing the service include the likes of Digg, Postmedia, and Polygon (which, disclosure, is part of Vox Media alongside The Verge).

“The power, flexibility, and scalability of what we’ve built makes it a smart choice for publishers, and we’re excited to reach so many players across Hearst’s audience,” Therox said in a statement.

According to Gage, the success of Wordle was important for showing just how big these newspaper-style puzzle games can be. “It’s actually great to have something out there that has proven the scale of the market,” he told The Verge in October. “Because right now, everyone is trying to do it. For us, as a really small company, it’s amazing: we have the exact product for this market.”

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