Blog Post

Why EA Added Dr. Kathleen to Pogo — and Why You Should Care

drkathleen-mini.jpgWhile Electronic Arts provoked a lot of conversation over the excessive purchase price of hardcore gaming studio Pandemic/BioWare last week, I think a quieter move by EA deserves about as much attention: They recently added a very curious feature to Pogo, its casual gaming site, and it’s not a game — it’s “Stress Queen” Dr. Kathleen Hall.

Hall, who has her own weekly radio show, “Live with Dr. Kathleen Hall,” and whose guest appearances include “Martha Stewart Radio” and “Oprah and Friends,” will answer questions from Pogo players via email in Dr. Kathleen’s Korner. Players can also participate on her co-branded casual game site, Take 5 to Play.

Why is this feature so important? Well, consider Pogo’s popularity compared to a game studio like Pandemic/BioWare or a social network like Facebook:

Last August, according to Comscore, Pogo boasted 13 million monthly active users, averaging 45 minutes of site activity a day. Internet darling Facebook receives disproportionate coverage with 18 million active monthly users in August, but last May, was averaging just 186 minutes in activity a month. The top games from Pandemic/Bioware, which EA just bought for $860 million, attract just a million or so players.

Demographically, 58 percent of Pogo’s users are women over the age of 35, according to EA’s Honey Hamilton, making the audience very comparable to Oprah fans. But while the movie industry and book publishers rightly bow at the feet of Oprah and her audience, the game and Internet industry’s interest in Pogo seems muted at best. Why do we read so little about Pogo in the tech media? Why is it not discussed much at game developer conferences? It can’t be for lack of mass audience appeal, so from a business standpoint, this relative inattention is inexplicable. (Except, perhaps, as evidence of latent and self-destructive sexism.)

EA’s (ERTS) unlikely collaboration with a stress expert came about after Pogo executives met Hall at a panel discussion on how to reach the Boomer demographic.

“Her message and expertise about play and its critical nature in stress reduction and living a balanced life struck a chord with us,” Hamilton told me. “Many of our players go online to play games, connect with friends, and take a break from the stress they face every day.” They worked with Hall to feature games in Dr. Kathleen’s Korner that emphasize this theme, like Poppit! “It shows a stressed-out cactus named Spike under tremendous pressure and stress,” Hamilton explained. “As the player progresses through the game, Spike’s stress melts away and he becomes more relaxed.”

If all goes as hoped, the addition of Hall should succeed in building Pogo’s user base while increasing its already spectacular stickiness. I’ll be watching this experiment closely — though I have to wonder how many others in the Internet biz will be watching with me.

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9 Responses to “Why EA Added Dr. Kathleen to Pogo — and Why You Should Care”

  1. Jesse Kopelman

    Mark, since the 70s? People have been telling us how to live since the dawn of civilization. Most of the Bible, either testament, can be viewed as a self help book and the same goes for most other religious texts. You complaints about this are nothing new either. Go read Polonius’ famous speech from Hamlet that includes such profound wisdom as, “to thine own self be true.” Given that Polonius is a buffoon, it is clear that know-it-alls marketing common sense as trenchant insight were common enough 500 years ago to deserve ridicule.

  2. Fazeel Gareeboo

    I am a great fan of POGO, and I am not in the ‘Oprah fans’ category – I am 44 year old male.

    About a year ago, I was playing their pool game and the tank war one. Then more recently I played the Command and Conquer games, and ended up buying a PC version of C&C Tiberium Wars and becoming an addict of it.

    I also played a lot of chess online there.

    Great site ! And yes, I think you are correct. It is highly under-rated by the ‘Internet Biz’.

  3. Interesting post, Wagner.

    However, I see another side to this: fostering the dependency of the game’s users on expert authorities. I mean, how can one be alive (as in a normal, un-deceased functional Western civilization human being) and not know that play matters? And that play should probably involve some sort of physical exercise to dissipate stress?

    The appearance of experts to tell us how to live is, of course, not unique to Dr. Hall’s appearance here. We see it all the time, all over the media. But it chafes a little every time I hear an expert tell us what we should know from common sense, and we’ve been hearing it since the self-help revolution of the early 70’s.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it struck me as slightly off-putting.