I had the opportunity to chat with Beatrice Spaine of EA about Pogo.com last week. It was really interesting. This whole casual games thing intrigues me because I'm a hardcore gamer, my friends are hardcore gamers, and I sort of target my reviews at hardcore gamers. But these casual games are taking off like wildfire. The most interesting thing is that casual gamers rarely even see themselves as gamers - they're just having fun. In fact, a lot of them spend a helluva lot of time on Club Pogo so maybe they are hardcore. It sort of makes me question the whole use of the term "hardcore".
Here's an example. My father got a Pocket PC last summer and he brought it down the shore for the weekend. He was literally glued to the thing for the whole weekend because he was playing some game where he had to match the color of some balls. I think he even brought it to dinner one night and my mother made him put it away (we had a similar incident earlier in the season when I brought my DS and Nintendogs to the table - hey, Teddy and I were in the middle of a walk). My father is in no way a hardcore gamer, but his behavior reminds me of myself when I get a new game that I fall in love with. What is the real difference between my father playing this ball game and me staying up for 72 hours so I could play through Metal Gear Solid or Medal of Honor? Yes, there was an incident here several years ago with Medal of Honor Rising Sun where my neighbor came downstairs at 2 am to ask me to put the war on hold.
I guess the major difference between my gaming and my father's gaming is the twitch and coordination factor. One has to be reasonably adept in order to target and shoot, whereas it's pretty easy to point at balls with a stylus. But in terms of the love of the game it is the same. I think that's the significant part. People love to play games. Actually, it almost seems like everything alive (with half a brain) loves to play. Not to trivialize the issue, but are my cats casual or hardcore gamers when they're chasing a catnip mouse around the apartment?
So I think I've just stumbled on the bottom line. Gamers want to have fun, pick up a little diversion, and perhaps be challenged. Casual or hardcore, we're all the same on a basic level. And at the risk of sounding silly, game on everyone. Kick back, have fun. Michael Franti and Spearhead sing that "it's not who you love, but do you love", and I think I'm ready to say "it's not what you play, but do you play?"
OK, on to the meeting.
Pogo has 1.4 million registered users of which 76% are women. Club Pogo is a premium service with no advertising. It's free pogo plus thirty exclusive games and enhanced community. The most popular features are the customization features for your avatar called Pogo minis. When you play games against others you can see their avatars and after a while you'll start to recognize each other.
They recently launched microtransactions for tokens which are something you earn and gems which are something you buy. I couldn't believe that they've had 5 million dollars in microtransactions in less than a year. 396,000 concurrent users is their record.
They're moving into downloadable games, like Fairy Godmother Tycoon. Remember fractured fairy tales from Rocky and Bullwinkle? That's what this is like. Save the kingdom by creating a corporation to make potions for saving people. It's essentially a resource management game but very cute and non-threatening. You run your own marketing and sales. You can download it and play for a few hours to see if you like it before you buy it.
The strategy is to make Pogo broader. Pogo Island is five games for DS - Poppit, wordwomp, tri-peak solitaire, squelchies, and flinx. On a WiFi enabled DS you can use the same token system as online pogo so you can take it with you. Unfortunately, it's single player only and has no inter-DS competition.