To the outside world, Pogo.com has always seemed like the redheaded stepchild of Electronic Arts. Bought nine years ago, there's nothing flashy about the site and its core audience isn't likely to buy a lot of other EA games - well, until the next Sims
expansion pack comes around, anyway.
It's a consistent moneymaker, however; one that has generally been left to fend for itself. And it's done quite well. As recently as 2007, in fact, it was handily beating Facebook in terms of time spent by users, according to Compete.com. But the industry is changing fast - and now Pogo.com is being asked to step up its game.
EA wants its digital revenues to hit $750 million this fiscal year - and Pogo is beginning a series of extensions to help the company meet that goal. Tuesday, EA announced games from Pogo would be available in Google's Chrome Web store. Wednesday. A version of the site for the iPhone and iPod Touch
Next up, a Facebook version of Pogo.com, currently in beta with nearly 1 million users, will become more widely available. And, while it's not going into specifics right now, the company says it has plans beyond that.
"We think we can expand the audience," Michael Marchetti, Pogo's senior vice president and general manager tells Gamasutra in an interview. "Right now, about 45 percent of the players on the free side are under 35 years old. That's clearly the target audience we're going after with the iPhone. We've seen on the message boards and the forums and in focus group testing that people wants us there."
There's not a lot of meat on any of the new Pogo arms right now. The iPhone app has just five games. The Facebook version has 10. But EA plans to use the new branches as launch platforms for new franchises that will eventually go cross-platform.
"We're going to be leading with new games on the iPhone that can trickle down to the Web or social media," says Marchetti.
He adds that there will be a "regular cadence" of future releases for both the iPhone and Facebook, but wasn't willing to say how often they would come.
Marchetti also shied away from saying how much of that $750 million Pogo.com was being held responsible for, compared to other EA online ventures, such as Battlefield 1943
and the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic
(which, admittedly, won't contribute at all this fiscal year).
"It's hard to compare them from a dollar to dollar standpoint," he says. "The casual market, in general, is a lot larger (than the core), but the core makes up a larger percentage of income. ... It's kind of an apples to oranges comparison. But the demographic that Pogo attracts is one that has the highest monetization on social networks."
When EA bought Pogo.com in 2001, the site had 17 million registered members. A direct comparison to that number's not available, but today the site boasts 12 million monthly unique visitors and 1.5 million active subscribers.
And Marchetti says he believe there's still plenty of room to grow. "I think mobile [gaming] in general is going to be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, gaming platforms of the future," he says. "You're seeing that already with the success of the iPhone - and even with something like the Kindle from Amazon, the most popular download is Scrabble. Mobile gaming, we think, is going to be a big driver of traffic for Pogo's future."
If nothing else, EA deserves credit for leveraging existing assets as it expands further into mobile and social gaming. The prices on the ongoing land grab in those sectors continue to escalate (a trend, many note, EA started with its $300 million purchase of Playfish a year ago). For a company that has struggled as much as EA has recently, investors are likely to cheer the cost saving - and the use of a proven team.
Mobile and social games aren't sexy - and they're often not breadwinners on the scale of a hit console title - but they're a growing part of the industry and center on players Pogo has been connecting with for years.
Marchetti sees it as a tremendous growth opportunity for Pogo - and a chance for the division to contribute more to EA's bottom line, without dramatically expanding the company's expenditures.
"Given the growth trajectory of social networks and the iPhone, I would be thrilled to have an equal split (between those platforms and Pogo PC visitors) in a year," he says. "Given the growth in those businesses, that would be a goal of ours. Ultimately, for us, though it's about building a deeper relationship with our existing customers and building the base of new players."