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Online games, video clips keep visitors coming back to Web sites

Publishing companies are coming up with new ways to attract visitors to their Web sites, keep them engaged during their visits and make them want to return again and again.

Meredith Corp. has added online games geared toward the 8 million women who each month visit the Web sites of three of its magazines. Earlier this spring, the Des Moines-based publisher designed two games, Ditto and Jigsaw Puzzler, for the ladies' Home Journal, Better Homes and Gardens and American Baby Web sites. In March, Meredith teamed up with a national entertainment company, RealNetworks, to expand its selection of games.

"This is a new and a little bit unusual way to offer our Web site visitors something to keep them on the site longer and engage them in new ways," said David Kurns, the editor in chief of Meredith Interactive Media.

With Ditto, the player is timed matching the Oprah card with the Oprah card and the Julia Roberts card with the Julia Roberts card and so forth, like the Memory game played by children. In Jigsaw Puzzler, also a timed game, images appear on puzzle pieces and the player races to assemble the picture, which is sometimes that of a star.

The RealNetworks games include WordJong, Saints & Sinners Bingo and Bejeweled 2. Kurns said Meredith decided to expand its Web sites to offer these games after a recent study of American adults online. According to Digital Marketing Services' Casual Gaming Report, women account for 61 percent of active Internet users and those in their 40s and 50s are the fastest-growing segment for online gameplaying.

"Women are spending a lot of time online as a diversion," Kurns said. "We're trying to build games to engage our regular visitors and also create some new marketing positions as well."

In the near future, Kurns said, online games could generate more revenue for the company's Web sites. Instead of piecing together a portrait in Jigsaw Puzzler, a motion picture company might pay Meredith so that an image from one of its current releases is featured as the puzzle, which takes the game into a new cat category, advergames.

Unlike Meredith, Des Moines-based August Home Publishing Co. rarely has external advertising on its magazines' Web sites, and instead of a diversion, its Web sites' visitors are typically looking for more help with a project.

"If it's games you're after, you're not going to find that on our sites," said Gordon Gaippe, the company's new media manager. "Our magazines are for enthusiasts, and the people who visit our Web sites are how-to people who like to get their hands dirty."

August Home, which publishes magazines such as Woodsmith, Garden Gate and Cuisine, continues to fill its Web sites with video clips, which range from short how-to instructions on techniques up to 30minute productions complete with interviews and demonstrations. There's also animation that shows a project's building process.

"You can do everything from design your own shop using our clickand-drag layout to watch a video on how to build a birdhouse," Gaippe said. "The publishing business used to be print alone, and now it's print, Web and DVD and more. We look at how we can best tell the story for our enthusiasts, and a lot of times, the best way to tell it is with video.

"People spend plenty of time on our Web sites, and that's because there's a lot of content they find useful."