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Girls' Night Logged On

Ditto, Anyone? Women Over 40 Are the Biggest Players of Games Online.

By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page D01

You match the Nicole Kidman card with the Nicole Kidman card, the Julia Roberts card with the Julia Roberts card, the J.Lo card with the J.Lo card. Simple enough. The game is called Ditto, and it's on the Web site of Ladies' Home Journal, and Karen Heal is, at this very moment, too preoccupied playing the game to talk about it.

"This is fun," Karen says minutes later on the phone. She passes along the tip -- LHJ.com has games now! -- to her three sisters, all working moms hooked on online games. She's genuinely excited about this. "You can read the makeup tips on that site and play Ditto at the same time. That works, huh?"

Ditto, on the Ladies Home Journal site: Deceptively simple and simply addictive. (Ladies Home Journal Online)

That the venerable Ladies' Home Journal, founded in 1883 as a supplement to a magazine called the Tribune and Farmer, is the new hotbed of online games comes as a shock. Then reality kicks in.

When it comes to online games, women over 40 play the most often and spend the greatest number of hours doing so, even beating out teenage boys, according to a study conducted by Digital Marketing Services. The study is called the Casual Gaming Report. But there's nothing casual about a 45-year-old mother of two who, day in and day out, logs on to her favorite site -- Yahoo! Games, MSN Zone, Pogo.com, to name a few -- a couple of hours before she goes to bed and a few minutes after she gets out of bed.

In February Meredith Corp., the publisher of some of the biggest names in women's magazines, launched a "games channel" that features diversions such as Ditto and Jigsaw Puzzle on its three most popular Web sites: Ladies' Home Journal (LHJ.com), Better Homes and Gardens (BHG.com) and American Baby (AmericanBaby.com).

Then in March, it teamed up with RealNetworks, a digital entertainment company, to also provide RealArcade games such as WordJong, Saints & Sinners Bingo, and Bejeweled 2 Deluxe.

In total, the three sites reach more than 8 million unique visitors a month, most of them women, says Dave Kurns, editor in chief of Meredith Interactive. It's too soon to figure out how many users are playing these free games, Kurns adds.

On LHJ.com, under the Beauty & Fashion banner, is a link to De-Stress With Games, which is followed by links to My Weight-Loss Planner, Recipe Center and Try-a-Hairstyle. Jigsaw Puzzle isn't only a way to get a working mom to stay on LHJ.com a few minutes longer, Kurns says, but also a way to get more advertising dollars. Think product placement. In the future, a TV show -- "Desperate Housewives," say -- could pay Meredith to use the kitchen of Bree Van De Kamp, the Martha Stewart-ish character on the show, as the actual image that you're supposed to be putting together, Kurns explains.

"We've been looking at the online gaming trend for the past years, and we realized that having these online games would lengthen the amount of time someone spends on our sites," says Kurns. "When the kids are asleep, when the husband is asleep, we know that women find time for themselves at night, to go online."

Curiously, the women who play these games don't necessarily think of themselves as "hard-core gamers."

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